Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa
by Ted Edwards
Naval Institute Press, 270 pages
This riveting biography details how Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa, a native Montanan, became a World War II naval hero. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Swede flew an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber and helped sink Shoho, the first aircraft carrier lost by Japan in World War II. The next day, in that same Dauntless, he took off from USS Yorktown and out-flew and out-gunned three Japanese Zeros, making him the only dive bomber pilot to be awarded Navy Crosses for both bombing and aerial combat.
Months later, the day before the Battle of Santa Cruz, Swede was flying an F4F Wildcat fighter off USS Enterprise and had no recourse but to follow orders he knew to be insane. He and his squadron mates flew their predictably empty search legs and beyond, only to discover upon their return to Point Option in the dark, that Enterprise was nowhere to be found. Incredibly, Swede located the oil slick he had noticed seeping from Enterprise during a morning combat air patrol and was able to track it back to the carrier.
Swede" set a record for Wildcat pilot by scoring seven victories in one mission. During the crucial Battle of Santa Cruz, on October 26,1942, the Enterprise and Hornet were repeatedly attacked by large numbers of Vals. The 'Grim Reapers' of VF-10 had their hands full. Leading the "Red Seven" division, Swede caught a string of Val dive bombers headed for the Hornet and quickly knocked down two of them, while his wingman got another. Then he turned his attention to some Kate torpedoe bombers just arriving from the Zuikaku. Dodging their fire as well as American AA, he downed five more of the low-flying torpedo planes. Out of ammunition, he could only watch as the Enterprise was then hit by two bombs.
But the 'Big E' didn't sink, although 23 Wildcats and 10 pilots from the two carriers were lost defending them. The Battle of Santa Cruz was a draw, or perhaps a slight tactical victory for the Japanese. However, the Americans weren't driven off Guadalcanal, and the 150 lost Japanese fliers couldn't be replaced.
Enterprise Skipper Jimmy Flatley recognized that in all likelihood, Swede had saved Enterprise from destruction, and recommended Swede for the Medal of Honor.