Red Devil gunner settled in Kingston

KINGSTON — For three years of his life, Kingston resident Alba Blackerby was a member of the United States Marine Corps, and served as a gunner for one of the oldest and most decorated fighter squadrons in the corps, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, also known as the Red Devils.

But to him, and his fellow soldiers, it was just another day on the job — the only difference was it had a higher potential for death than other careers.

“It was back before the war started that the Red Devils started,” Blackerby said of squadron’s beginnings. “Why they’re called the Red Devils, I don’t know. They’re still a Marine Corps squadron now. There was not much feeling. It was just a job I had to do, it was a job I had to do.”

The Red Devils was formed in 1925 as VF-3M, and though it had a brief hiatus from 1945 to 1948, the squadron still exists. Blackerby jokingly said the soldiers who fly the planes now wouldn’t have flown in planes commissioned during World War II.

Having entered into service Dec. 8, 1942, he served until Oct. 24, 1945, and saw a lot of skirmishes while acting as a gunner aboard one of the Grumman TBF Avengers’ torpedo bombers.

“He was on the first TBF squadron,” said John Bartlett, who is neighbors with Blackerby, and has gotten to know him and his stories. “Look, even the Red Devil icon is the same now.”

The Red Devils were the first dive-bomber squadron to fly against the Japanese, and Blackerby said he recalls leaving gunner school and heading right out into the field, or air as it where. Many infantry men from the Army would comment they’d much rather be on the ground than in a plane, but he said he preferred it to being wounded in battle. A soldier either lived or died getting shot out of the sky, Blackerby said, and he wasn’t one who wanted to be wounded.

“I got shot down, but I was able to escape and get out of the gun turret,” he said. “I don’t remember it at all. I had two visions. One was I hoped my mom took the insurance and bought food and clothes for all the kids, my brothers and sisters, because we had nothing. And I saw her being approached by the Marines with the card saying ‘Blackie is dead.’ “

Blackerby found himself floating in the water with a leg injury. The plane had flipped upside down in the water when it crashed, Bartlett said retelling the story, but he and the entire crew were able to make it back to camp afterward. Blackerby was given emergency treatment, but turned down hospital admittance and, by default, a Purple Heart award. He said there was no use going to the hospital when he was needed in the field.

On Nov. 9, for his actions during World War II, Blackerby was admitted onto the Enlisted Combat Air Crew Roll, organized by the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, S.C. He said many of the people he served with and who fought in the war are gone and only a few of the veterans remain, their numbers shrinking all the time. He said a lot of his squadron didn’t live through the war, and many died without credit. Forty-nine Marines were lost and 17 aircraft from the Red Devils squadron were shot down during the war.

“I was doing all the good stuff as a private,” Blackerby said. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1945. “I don’t remember a lot of strife while I was in the service. Strife didn’t mean nothing to you while you were serving.”

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