Valor Friday

| June 10, 2022

Japanese A6M “Zero” over Pearl Harbor

On the morning of 7 December 1941 a US Navy petty officer, Marcus F Poston, assigned to USS Argonne (AS-10) was enjoying a morning off. Argonne was a cargo ship that served throughout World War II, having originally been commissioned in 1920. She earned a battle star for being present at Pearl Harbor. During the attack, her crew manned their anti-aircraft guns and helped to defend the Pacific Fleet.

Before Argonne was attacked with the rest of the fleet, Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Marcus Poston, was flying over Hawaii. He had been taking flight lessons with the K-T Flying Service. He was in a Piper J-3 Cub flying solo with the owner of K-T Flying Service tailing him in another Piper Cub.

Example of a Piper J-3 Cub in the signature yellow paint

The Piper Cub was a relatively new aircraft at the time, but tens of thousands of them and its derivatives were made during the war for civil and military use (as the L-4 Grasshopper). Cubs remain a popular light aircraft known for easy flyability, cheap operation, and their short take-off and landing performance. They are particularly valued by bush pilots because of this.

As Poston and his instructor Bob Tice flew over the peaceful Sunday morning in paradise, so too were several dozen other aircraft. The vast majority of those additional aircraft bore the red circle of the Empire of Japan.

As the Japanese Navy pilots neared Oahu their path crossed that of Petty Officer Poston and Mr. Tyce. The Japanese pilots, eager for the battle, couldn’t resist the easy target these enemy aircraft provided. A flight of three Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters, led by Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Itaya (who commanded all fighters of the first wave), attacked.

The fusillade of shells from Itaya’s Zero missed. The 20mm cannons and 7.7mm machine guns of his wingmen did not.

Aboard Poston’s plane, he saw the enemy aircraft. He would later describe them as German Messerschmidt Bf-109s with Japanese “red suns” on the wingtips. Surviving the first shots, the second and third planes of the flight ripped into his tiny, wood and canvas plane. Shells struck the propeller, shattering it. They tore into the engine and ripped it completely out of the plane.

Startled, but unharmed, Poston would become the first American air-to-air combat loss of World War II. He grabbed his parachute and jumped out of his stricken aircraft at 4,000 feet altitude.

Poston would land safely. Carrying his parachute out of the valley in which he landed, he would be spotted by some locals and then arrested by the police. Once they sorted out that he wasn’t Japanese, they returned him to Navy control.

Poston would continue service during the war. He was an enlisted naval aviator (one of a small group of non-commissioned pilots in the US Navy) with VP-43 and VB-109.

VB-109 was a bomber squadron organized in April 1943 that flew PB4Y Liberator/Privateer planes, the US Navy version of the venerable B-24 Liberator. They deployed to the Pacific in early 1943. They were redesignated as a patrol bomber squadron in October 1944. They would see extensive service in the Pacific Theater at places immediately recognizable like Gilbert Islands, Wake Island, Saipan, and Iwo Jima.

VP-43 was a patrol squadron raised in July 1944 flying PBM-3D Mariner flying boats. It’s likely that with his experience, Poston was selected to be part of the experienced cadre of the new unit.

VP-43 deployed to the Philippines in early 1945. They would conduct anti-submarine patrols throughout the South Pacific during those waning months of the war.

Poston continued his service and was commissioned somewhere along the way. On the retired list he shows a lieutenant (junior grade) date of rank of 1 July 1945. He wasn’t placed on the retired list until 1958 though. According to family histories it looks like he was stationed in El Paso, Texas, Las Vegas, Nevada, and twice to Pensacola, Florida. It looks like he retired to Florida.

Poston married Eloise Wyatt and they had three children and five grandchildren. He died in 1993 at the age of 76 in Pensacola.

In the many accounts of this event, I did find one person who claimed that this never happened. In that account, Mr. Tyce died on the ground as he was getting into his aircraft. That person said that Poston’s story of combat action was used to explain his absence from his station on that Sunday morning. I don’t know that I believe that, since there are many sources that note Poston’s as the first aircraft to be downed in the war.

Also of note were other civilian aircraft taken under fire during the Japanese attack. One researcher says that they didn’t intentionally target civilians and were only firing on aircraft that could follow them back to their ships. I don’t believe that, since there were multiple civilian aircraft fired upon. One such aircraft was flown by Cornelia Fort. She was a civilian flight instructor and had a cadet with her at the time they took enemy fire on their Interstate S-1A Cadet (similar in size and configuration to the Piper Cub). She would be the second woman accepted into the Army Air Force’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron in 1942. In 1943 she would be the Army’s first female aviator to die on active duty in a mid-air collision.

Category: Historical, Valor, We Remember

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Thank You for sharing this very interesting story.

In researching newspapers from December 1941, I discovered that Robert HoratioTyce (note the spelling of his last name) was shot in the head while on the ground. I also found this account along with the 1941 newspaper accounts which leads me to believe he never was in the air when he was killed:

Here is his gravesite:

I could not cut and paste the news articles on his death on this post.


Thanks, Mason.



We did some research on Marcus Franklin Poston and found some old newspaper articles (1939-1945) from El Paso Texas as well as a 1991 article from Florida.

Marcus graduated from Austin High School in El Paso, Texas, where he was a member of the ROTC. The 1942 articles mentioned that he was involved in shooting down two Japanese planes over the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, not Pearl Harbor.

The 1991 article mentioned his diary that covered his time at Pearl Harbor. In reading the article, it sounds as if he was getting ready to fly, but never took off because of the situation at Pearl Harbor.

A 1941 news article mentioned he contacted his Mom after 7 December to assure her that he was ok. There was no mention of him flying that day or shooting down 2 Japanese planes.

Here is his gravesite:


Welp, either way/story, ninja, the man is a hero in my book. Just being an enlisted Naval Aviator in and amongst ossifers takes courage. And we have to notice that he was flying a Naval Variant of a (GO) Army Bomber…to hunt submarines. We all know that (Beat) Navy has long modified Army Aircraft to suit their needs, even going so far as to putting wings and motors on certain planes wrong. 😜 gabn/rtr/hbtd

Very interesting story, Mason. Thanks!


In a February 1942 news article, Marcus mentions that on 7 December 1941, he was taking a CAA course and that he had just landed his plane at a hangar in Honolulu and was on the way to his ship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

He does not mention anything about being shot while flying or parachuting to safety.

Is there new information on him, i.e. unclassified?


A 1948 El Paso news article mentioned that Marcus Poston received an Air Medal for Meritorious Service for being a First Pilot/Navigator for Patrol Bombing Squadron 43 in Kiska and Attu, from October 1942 to June 1943.


He may have been commissioned in September 1942.

As Mason mentioned, he was not officially retired until 1958. He retired as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Retired Reserves (without retirement pay) with a code of line officer who is qualified for duty involve flying as a pilot.