Samuel Folsom, one of the last surviving Marine fighter pilots of World War II, passed away on Saturday in Sherman Oaks, California. Folsom participated in aerial dogfights and shot down two Japanese bombers during the gruesome battle for the strategic island of Guadalcanal at a pivotal moment in the Pacific war. He was 102.
Mr. Folsom’s son, Gerrit, claimed that his father passed away at the retirement complex Village at Sherman Oaks.
Lieutenant Folsom was a 22-year-old aviator who had never flown at a high altitude and had only once fired the wing guns of his Grumman F4F Wildcat during a training exercise in California when the massive effort to capture and hold Guadalcanal in the late summer and fall of 1942 began.
With little prior flying experience, he entered the war at the age of 22, but he managed to avoid Zeros, destroy bombers, and earn the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Samuel Folsom’s war experience.
“Our noses snapped and we went straight down in a screeching dive,” recalled Mr. Folsom. “The surface ships dropped a tremendous barrage of ack-ack fire.” It landed just above the water, swooped in behind an enemy bomber, and fired volleys from its six 50-caliber wing guns. The bomber’s rear gunner fired back. “The guns in this baby winked at me but never got a hit,” he said.
“Some of my snails must have hit the pilot because not 50 meters in front of me and from about 10 feet he floated in. There was a sudden jerk followed by a spray and I was over him, moving on to the next. I followed the same tactics again, but this guy wasn’t easy prey. When I got back he started sliding from side to side.”
One of the bomber’s twin engines was smoking, but it kept running. “As I got closer, I poked him with the last of my ammunition,” said Mr. Folsom. “This time I was rewarded by seeing him hit the water right wing first. The plane catapulted into the sea.” He later learned that 24 Mitsubishi bombers and six Zeros had been shot down that day. The Americans had lost six planes and two pilots.
The Japanese gave up trying to take back Guadalcanal a month later, and in February 1943 they evacuated their remaining men. By the time the fighting was done, 1,600 Americans had perished, 4,200 had been injured, and others more perished from diseases including malaria and other illnesses. Along with a significant loss of ships, airplanes, and irreplaceable equipment, Japan had also lost more than 30,000 of its most skilled ground troops and airmen.
Guadalcanal served as a strategic marker for the Allies’ shift from defensive to offensive tactics in the Pacific and provided a base in the Solomon Islands for assaults against Japanese forts at Rabaul, Saipan, and Iwo Jima as the noose around Japan’s home islands tightened.
Lieutenant Folsom, a Purple Heart, and Successful Flying Cross recipient had a distinguished military career, leading night fighter units in the Korean War and the Battles of Okinawa. In addition to working at the Office of Naval Operations in Washington and the American Embassy in Norway for two years, he was a high-altitude test pilot. He left the military in 1958 as a lieutenant colonel.
Samuel Folsom’s parents, his date of birth, and his early life.
Samuel and May Folsom welcomed their son Samuel Bruce Folsom Jr. on July 24, 1920, in Quincy, Massachusetts. He, who never used the “Jr.”, was raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, where he attended public schools and received his high school diploma in 1938.
He was adopted as a child by his uncle and aunt, Frank and Florence Lindsey. May and Charles, two younger siblings, grew up in Schenectady, New York, with their mother and other family members.