Robert J. Mohler, formerly of North Canton and now of Yucca Valley in California, was a Navy dive bomber pilot during World War II, flying from the carrier Wasp. After the war he and his wife, Marjorie, owned and operated a lumber company and hardware store in Ontario, Calif.
In the cockpit of Robert J. Mohler’s Navy dive bomber, war did not have a smell so much as it made a sound. It was a continuous noise — aircraft engines and guns — when it was heard, but it was sounded in short bursts.
“Combat did not last long,” Mohler, a North Canton native, told his grand-niece, Brittany Hays, for a 1999 oral history school project. “With the Marines it lasted hours and days. In flying it lasted a few moments, then it’s gone. You are either shot down or you are not and the instance is over.
“What we had on Guadalcanal, when I was there, was a 5-mile long beach. That was it, that is all we had. You could fly over it in two minutes the long way, and 30 to 40 seconds the short way.”
GOING TO WAR
Mohler, who had graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in engineering, was instead operating a photography studio in North Canton when America’s entry into World War II became imminent.
So, Mohler enlisted in the Navy and, with Charles Lindbergh as his hero, trained to be a war pilot. He was assigned to the carrier U.S.S. Wasp, CV-7, in March of 1942.
“We had catapults on the hanger deck, which ran from one side of the deck to the other,” Mohler said. “Now, the deck was only 60 feet wide. And they would back your plane up on the hanger deck with the tail hanging out on the side of the carrier on a long boom. The wheels of the plane were just on the inside edge of the hanger deck. So we were sitting there looking straight down into the water...”
The catapult would launch the aircraft out of open doors onto the other side of the hanger deck.
Landing at night on unlighted ships was even more exciting, he told his grand-niece.
“The only way you could see where the carrier was, was by the wake of the water. The fluorescent water showed the long streaks. So at the end of the streak, you knew, was a carrier.”
On Sept. 15, 1942, when Mohler and other Navy pilots on his mission returned to the Wasp, they found it easily because of the flames that rose from it. The carrier had been hit by three of the six torpedoes that a lurking Japanese submarine had fired at the ship after 26 planes had taken off. It was ablaze and sinking.
Mohler landed his SBD dive bomber on the sister carrier Hornet. The pilots of the other carrier aircraft similarly were saved. But, almost 200 men aboard the carrier were killed and hundreds more were wounded.
Transferred to fly with Marines at Guadalcanal, Mohler survived an air battle with a Japanese fighter during a mission to dive bomb a Japanese cruiser.
Page 2 of 2 - “He filled the airplane full of holes and you could feel the bullets hit the airplane,” he said. “When they hit the airplane, it sounded like somebody pounded the airplane with a ball bat. ... When we got back to the field and landed, they didn’t let me go back to the revetments where all the aircraft were, they gave me directions to the junkyard.”
Mohler came home on leave in November 1942 and married Marjorie Jane Evans. He served out the war as a Navy combat flight instructor in Florida and Connecticut. Then Commander Mohler was recalled during the Korean War and served from 1951 to 1954 on the admiral’s staff of the aircraft carrier Sicily, stationed out of Japan.
After moving to California in 1950 and finishing his Korean service, Mohler — the son of John B. Mohler, who founded Mohler Lumber Co. in North Canton in 1911 — worked at and then purchased a lumber company and hardware store in Ontario, Calif. He and his wife sold the business in 1987.
Until her death in 2009, they were married for 67 years, raising two sons, Robert and John.
In 1999, Mohler was asked by his grand-niece, then 13, what he was fighting for. His answer was simple.
“To erase madmen in power! I can’t think of anything better than that. Hitler and the Japanese leaders. Just to get rid of them. That’s what we were fighting for. The soldiers and the sailors were not our enemies, but their leaders were.”
Mohler’s war “wasn’t personal,” he said. “My enemies were the planes, the ships, and the troop emplacements. But, not the individuals.”