"Dad, one of the aircraft carriers you were on during the War is now a museum at Alameda. Come to California. I want to see it with you." Alton resident Joe McCollom took up his son Michael's invitation and flew to California in mid-June to visit family and friends.The aircraft carrier USS Hornet was among the friends McCollom visited.
He first met the USS Hornet in February 1945 as a 19-year- old Naval Aviation Radioman in Torpedo Squadron 17. America's war against Japan was in full force, and McCollom's Aviators Flight Log Book records that he participated in air support at Iwo Jima and raids on Tokyo shortly after his squadron boarded the Hornet.
As he boarded the ship in 2003 McCollom said the memories that washed over him were not of the war, but of all the guys who had been aboard, their conversations, playing poker, and his life in the squadron Ready Room. The large hangar deck of the carrier no longer houses the more than 90 airplanes that were there when he was aboard; as a museum it hosts planes from all of its time at sea. The Hornet was in service from World War II to the Vietnam Era, and finished her days as the prime recovery ship for the first two manned Apollo missions to the moon.
McCollom was glad to see that a TBM-3 Avenger (the type of plane he flew on) was in the process of being restored. And the men restoring the plane were glad to meet McCollom. He had brought his Squadron Yearbook.
Tim Conner, director of aircraft restoration, said it was great to meet someone who could give him first hand information about the aircraft's appearance. In the course of their conversation McCollom learned that Conner grew up in Missouri and that his parents, Leon and Gaylia Conner, live in West Plains.
"It was great to meet Tim and all the people working on the Hornet's restoration," he said.
"Seeing the plane was like seeing your old bicycle or first car."
The USS Hornet Museum is docked at Pier 3 in the decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station. For more information visit www.uss-hornet.org.