by Jacob Schaad Jr.
Wildwood, of course, did not suffer the tragic consequences of the biggest war in the history of mankind as did places like Pearl Harbor and London and the worst of all Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But hidden in history with the passage of times are forgotten stories about how the war came to the Wildwoods peripherally and how Wildwood people went to the war heroically. The stories are especially appropriate now as the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor approaches.
Probably the biggest local hero was Wildwood born Philip Leroy Kirkwood, son of Philip Kirkwood who worked in the city’s PR department directed by Jack Kay. The younger Kirkwood came into this world in Wildwood on April 15, 1921 and was to attend Duke University where, as war clouds hovered, he completed his civilian pilot training and on Feb. 23, 1942, a little more than three months after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy as a pilot.
What was to follow were 12 confirmed and one probable shootdowns in the Pacific and the awarding of the Navy cross, the distinguished flying cross and the air medal with five gold stars.
After his military flight training, Kirkwood was assigned to the VF-10 flying F6F Hellcats off the USS Enterprise and gained his first victory and a probable over Truk on Feb. 17, 1944. He shot down three more on the following June 19 in what has become known in military jargon as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
Later, after a hiatus in the states, Kirkwood returned to fighting action and earned the reputation of being an “ace” on March 29, 1945, when he destroyed two planes in the area south of Kyushu. Then, less than a month later, his squadron intercepted a mass Japanese strike group northwest of Okinawa. He scored six more times, picking off six more planes, two of them dive bombers , and he was then credited with being a “double ace.”
In December of 1945, four months after the Japanese surrendered, Kirkwood returned to civilian life and to Duke University to finish his education. But then came the Korean War and in 1951 he was back in uniform. He survived and was a civilian again, but stayed in the Naval Reserves while studying to be a dentist. He eventually succeeded in that goal and practiced dentistry in Clearwater, Fla. for 34 years.
Kirkwood’s accomplishments during World War II did not go unnoticed in Wildwood. Sebastian Ramagosa, an entertainment entrepreneur on the home front, awarded $100 to him and every other Wildwood flyer for each Japanese plane they shot down.
Early in American involvement, World War II came closer to the home front, according to a letter sent to the George F. Boyer Museum by the late attorney Charles Henry James, a war archivist, especially of the Civil War.
He wrote of the time, either in 1942 or 1943, that he and his classmates walked to the beach and saw the bridge of a torpedoed tanker or freighter that had floated ashore. The name on the ships bridge plate was Lemuel P. Burroughs.
James’ uncle was George W. Krogman who was mayor of Wildwood from 1938 to 1944 and a coast watcher for German submarines during the war. One night Krogman was watching at the Leaming Avenue Tower, the site later in peacetime to serve as a comfort station, when he saw a flash of light out in the sea, James reported. He quickly reported this to American headquarters and learned that what he saw was the result of a German submarine torpedoing a tanker.
“This report which was made by my uncle precipitated the dispatch of a blimp from either Lakehurst or Cape May and that blimp sank the German submarine,” James said in his letter of Feb. 5, 1992. “All of this activity along the coast was the subject of a book called ‘Sank Same’ which basically highlighted the incident involving my uncle. The book was in the county library, but I don’t know if it is still there.”
On March 16 of 1942 the war came closer to the Wildwoods when the wreckage of a torpedoed ship floated ashore after the Coast Guard recovered from the ocean two oil covered bodies. One of the bodies belonged to 42-year-old Patrick Francis Sparrow of Massachusetts. His watch had stopped with the hands at 2:16.
In another unrelated drowning the Coast Guard recovered the body of Pittsburgh’s Howard Coppage beneath the capsized lifeboat of an American freighter.
More grim news came from the Philippines, when it was reported that 22-year-old Corville Moseley Jr of Juniper Avenue, Wildwood, died from “natural causes” in a Japanese internment camp. Coppage graduated from Wildwood High School in 1939 and enlisted in the army the next year.
In terms of human contributions and survivals one of the Wildwood largest families, if not the largest, to participate in the war was the Ritchie family. Father Theodore served overseas and he was joined in the military by his five sons, John Raymond, 24; George, 19; Theodore, 27, Walter, 21 and Eddie, 19.
Three of them were wounded but escaped combat death, Theodore twice. The 29-year-old sailor was rescued in the Atlantic after his cargo boat was torpedoed and he struggled in an open boat for 22 days. A year earlier in August of 1942 his ship Kerfusa was sent to the bottom of the North Sea, but he was rescued by a Russian freighter and returned to New York City.
Brother George, a machine gunner, was wounded in action in North Africa and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Walter was also wounded and discharged from the Navy
For one local woman the war came closer on Five Mile Beach than she wanted in May of 1944. Sadie Hornstine, wife of Dr. H.H. Hornstine, the county coroner and city health officer, was spraying rugs while holding a bottle of disinfectant in the sun porch of her home at Young and Pacific Avenues when a bullet soared close to her and then exploded.
At first she thought the bottle had exploded, but then saw a hole in the floor and plaster and splinters flying around.
“I first thought it was a real raid and I fell to the floor,” she was quoted at the time after running across the street and given a sedative by her husband.
The bullet, it was believed, came from a plane on gunnery practice at a local air base.
Mrs. Hornstine, meanwhile, was reported to be “in a highly nervous state and is confined to her home.”
(Some of the information in this article was researched at the George F. Boyer Museum of the Wildwood Historical Society.)