VICTOR M. GADROW, LTJG, USN
Victor Gadrow '35
Date of birth: May 16, 1913
Date of death: December 22, 1941
From the 1935 Lucky Bag:
At 1200 hrs on 16 December 1941 TF 14 left Pearl Harbor to assist Wake Island, two thousand miles to the west. The formation consisted of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, with 81 aircraft aboard (the 13 F4F Wildcats, 43 SBD-3 and 11 TBD-1 of the carrier Air Group, plus the 13 F2A-3 Buffaloes of VMF-221), three heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, a seaplane tender crammed with Marines and the fleet oiler Neches, one of the oldest and slowest in the fleet, only able to do 12 knots. On 21 December 1941 Wake Island was attacked by Japanese carrier aircraft and TF 14’s commander, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, was warned that he might possibly have to fight a major battle just to get to Wake.
On the morning of 22 December, the ships had closed to about 520 miles northeast of Wake. Rough seas washed over the Saratoga’s plunging bow and greatly hindered the oiler’s efforts to refuel the destroyers. 6 F4Fs of VF-3 flew the early-morning combat air patrol (CAP). At 1021 hrs six other F4Fs took off to relieve them. Taking off into a stiff wind, the division climbed toward patrol altitude, but suddenly Lt.(jg) Victor M Gadrow, the skipper’s wingman, experienced engine trouble. The division leader, Lt Cdr John Thach, turned the lead over to another pilot and, to maintain radio silence, raced back to the Saratoga to give the emergency deferred forced landing signal (wheels up, tail hook down) to warm her that one of his planes needed to land back on board immediately. Gadrow followed in his failing Wildcat but barely got within a mile of the carrier before he stalled and went down. His F4F-3 Buno 3985 sank immediately in the turbulent seas. Racing to the scene, the destroyer Selfridge, acting as plane guard, found nothing.
Gadrow was VF-3’s first wartime loss. Although he graduated from Annapolis in 1935, he was a latecomer to aviation, having earned his wings in the spring of 1941. He had married only a few months before the war broke out.
His wife was listed as next of kin.
Memorial Hall Error?
Victor is not listed on the killed in action panel in the front of Memorial Hall. While not an obvious error, inclusion on the panel for crashes like this (incidental to combat flights) has been inconsistent across WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.