On November 21, 1944, a young Marine captain named Carroll McCullah set off from the American airfield to finish off a Japanese vessel that had been bombed earlier. On the way back, he and his wingman strafed four Japanese ammunition dumps; an explosion at the last one sent shrapnel into the oil cooler of his plane. McCullah placed a distress call and made for the island's western reef. Then he tightened his seat belt, locked the canopy back, and turned off the plane's engine switch. Placing his left hand on the cockpit coaming, he braced for impact.
"There was no shock," McCullah later wrote in a mission report. He launched his life raft and swam across the reef, where a rescue aircraft swept down to pick him up. For the rest of his life,
McCullah—who, after his rescue, went back to the base, had a brandy, and then flew another mission the next day—retold the story of that landing. "And many other ones," his son, Patrick, told me by phone from Florida, where McCullah lives (with dementia) at age 92. "His tales were tall, but they were true."