Who knew we had a hero in Marin, with “had” being the operative word. On Sunday, Besby Frank Holmes, a World War II flying ace, and the man who shot down the Pearl Harbor mastermind, died from a stroke:
Besby Frank Holmes, a World War II ace who helped shoot down Admiral Yamamoto, the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack, died Sunday at Marin General Hospital. He was 88 and lived in San Rafael.The cause was a stroke, said his son-in-law, Jeffrey Roehm of Virginia.
Holmes’ storied military career included service in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force from 1941 to 1968. His career took him to Japan, Panama, New Zealand, South America, Florida, Arizona and the Pentagon, among other assignments.
He served in three wars – World War II, Korea and Vietnam – earning the Navy Cross, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Legion of Merit and the Air Medal.
But he was perhaps best known for the 1943 attack that brought down Yamamoto, the
naval commander who devised the Pearl Harbor attack. The 1941 ambush killed more than 2,400 soldiers and devastated the Hawaii fleet.
Although Japan was arguably losing the war by the time Yamamoto was killed, the outcome was still far from certain, and the admiral’s death was a serious psychological blow to the Japanese, said Eric Hammel, author of Aces Against Japan and Aces Against Japan II.
“It was one of the critical events of World War II,” said Hammel, a Pacifica resident. “It just took his brain out of the war. Japanese morale suffered because he had been the architect and was lionized by the Japanese public, and certainly the Imperial Navy.”
Stationed on Oahu when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, Holmes rushed to his base and managed to get his plane in the air in the face of intense enemy fire. He saw the USS Arizona as it went up in flames.
A year and a half later, he was part of a special team that went after Yamamoto.
“We had intercepted a message that Yamamoto and his staff were heading for Bougainville from Rabaul,” Holmes recalled in a 2000 interview with the Independent Journal. “Admiral Halsey’s staff instructed us to pick them off when they were on a launch going from an airstrip on Bougainville to an island offshore.”
Sixteen fighter planes, including one flown by Holmes, skimmed close to the water and attacked Yamamoto’s party, which included two bombers and six fighter planes. Yamamoto was aboard one of the bombers.
Holmes and his co-pilot took out one bomber and three Japanese fighter planes, while two others, Rex Barber and Tom Lanphier, shot down the other bomber. Later, it was decided that Yamamoto was in the bomber destroyed by Barber and Lanphier.
“As far as I’m concerned, (Holmes) deserved to be up there with the other two,” Hammel said. “He doesn’t get nearly the credit of the other people.”