Helldiver Holds Twilight Talk
A hero of World War II highly distinguished for his historic service as a U.S. Navy Pilot, Sanibel’s Ed Sieber will lead a presentation in the February 17 Twilight Talk lecture series hosted by The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.
During the onslaught of naval battles in the Pacific, Sieber played a pivotal role in helping to deliver a death blow to the Japanese battleship Yamato, which for a very brief period, was the biggest battleship ever set to sea. Launched mere days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Yamato has been regarded as the first super-weapon of the 20th Centry. She was almost twice the size of any American counterpart and possessed what were the largest guns ever mounted on a warship. Piloting a Curtiss SB2C, Sieber was among a task force of “Helldivers” that vanquished the Yamato and her crew of 3,000 sailors to the dismal depths of the East China Sea – an event that continues to resonate among the most remarkable of World War II.
Long before he became one of the U.S. Navy’s most distinguished pilots, Sieber was an ordinary kid in Minneapolis doing his best to cope with extraordinary circumstances. At the time, as it was customary in the way of rationing materials, he would have to routinely acquire coupons to be used for gas, sugar and other food goods. Sieber says he got fed-up with the process. “A 20 year old kid doesn’t have a lot of patience,” says Sieber. He decided to enlist in the service, but had already entered an Aero Engineering Program at University of Minnesota. Enlistment typically took a period of time to manifest into actual duty, but in Sieber’s case, two Navy officers arrived at the school looking for him right away. It turns out, within a group of 50 men about to undergo flight training, one had taken sick and the officers sought Sieber to make-up for the loss. As quick as that, Sieber, who had never before ventured beyond Wisconsin, would go on to areas like Iowa City, Pensacola and Virginia for training in the array of aeronautical studies in instrumentation, night and formation flying, and weapon systems. A quick study, Sieber was commissioned as a pilot in approximately ten months which was something of a record in itself by normal Navy standards.
Sieber garnered experience flying a range of aircraft, but the dive bombing SB2C, which could fly longer and carry heavier loads than its predecessors, was hot off the manufacturer’s assembly lines. So unlike military aircraft today, dive bombers would approach targets at a 90 degree angle to fire and drop munitions before pulling-up. Combat and operational losses were more than ten percent during this period, says Sieber. The life span of a dive bomber pilot in combat was estimated at ten minutes.
Beyond his role in the destruction of the Yamato, Sieber would participate in other critical missions which ultimately led to his awarding of the Silver Star, the U.S. Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying ribbons.
His love for flying led him to seek work as a pilot upon his discharge, but work didn’t come particularly easy for even someone with his flying skills. Ironically, despite U.S. victory and acclaim earned by veterans of that era, Sieber says there was also some who held resentment. Some, particularly those responsible for hiring in the airlines, felt too much attention or notoriety had been attached to military pilots. Being a decorated veteran didn’t readily result in getting hired, in fact, with some, it worked against you. Sieber says he and many others kept their lips sealed about what they had done during the war in hope that it wouldn’t be held against them. He finally got lucky by landing a pilot position with Braniff Airlines. Upon his hire, he was summoned into an office and given clear instructions by the personnel manager. “He had my file in his hands and he told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go around talking about the war. The last thing anyone needs to know is that I’ve hired a dive bomber to transport passengers of our airline,’ so I never said anything,” says Sieber.
For all his heroics and involvement in historical events of World War II, Sieber says the Twilight Talk Lecture will mark one of the few occasions when he has an opportunity to engage an audience with his unique perspective on the perils, pursuits and people of that time.
Beyond his powers of recall, Sieber will bring photographs, his medals and newspaper accounts of the Yamato sinking for the presentation.
Sieber will speak February 17, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Old Schoolhouse in the Village. Tickets are $5, but free for members (who must pick up tickets) to attend. The Schoolhouse holds only 35 to 40 people, so museum staff must keep track of ticket sales. Tickets are available in the museum manager’s office in the Old Bailey’s General Store within the Village. For additional details, phone Museum Manager Emilie Alfino at (239) 472-4648.