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Gus Bebas

 

Date and Place of Birth: February 24, 1914 Chicago, IL
Date and Place of Death:    July 19, 1942 Pacific Ocean, off Barber's Point, Hawaiian Islands
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Ensign
Military Unit: Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) US Navy
Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

It is indeed a great honor to the Bebas family to contribute in blood towards the noble cause of liberty. And though we all express a deep sorrow on the loss of a brave young Greek-American, yet the honor bestowed upon the Bebas family will be displayed in the annals of history in honor of young Bebas who fought for the highest ideals of humanity and civilization.
The Greek Star May 21, 1943

Constantine G. “Gus” Bebas was one of six children (four sisters and a brother) growing up in a modest house on the east side of Wilmette, a predominantly wealthy, lakefront suburb of Chicago. His parents, George and Angeline - who operated a fruit and vegetable business - were Greek immigrants who were fiercely proud of their country of birth and equally proud of their new home.

Bebas was educated at Wilmette public schools and graduated from New Trier High School in nearby Winnetka, where he was a star outfielder on the baseball team for three years. He enrolled at Northwestern University School of Engineering at Evanston, Illinois, in September 1934, and pitched for the varsity team between 1936 and 1938. “Gus was always worried about the condition of his right arm,” recalled George Lymper, captain of the 1938 team. “He always massaged it the night before he was to pitch and slept with two pillows under his arm.”[1] While at Northwestern, Bebas served in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps as a platoon leader. He received his commission as an ensign in May 1938.

Bebas graduated from Northwestern in June 1939, with a B.S. degree in commerce. For two weeks, starting June 16, Ensign Bebas trained with the Naval Reserve on board the newly built heavy cruiser USS Wichita at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Upon his return to Illinois he accepted an offer from the Chicago White Sox to play minor league baseball.

He joined the Hickory Rebels of the newly formed Class D Tar Heel League, but pitched just a handful of games before abandoning hopes of an athletic career and took a job with the Hoover Company in Evansville. During the winter, Bebas had given serious thought to becoming a navy aviator and on January 22, 1940, he resigned his commission in the Naval Reserve, enlisting as a seaman second class the following day. He took flight training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Glenview, a suburb of Chicago, and was appointed an aviation cadet on February 19, 1941. The following day, he reported for training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, the hub of the Navy’s air training activities at the time. The summer of 1941 also provided Bebas an opportunity to pitch for the Pensacola Navy baseball team.

On August 4, 1941, Bebas was assigned to Naval Air Station Miami for advanced carrier training and he was appointed a naval aviator on September 5. On September 26, 1941, he was promoted to the rank of ensign and returned home to Wilmette for a brief visit with family and friends. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ensign Bebas was serving with the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Atlantic Fleet.

On December 23, he reported to Bombing Squadron 8 (VB-8) at Norfolk, Virginia, part of the USS Hornet (CV-8) Air Group. At that time VB-8 was equipped with the two-seat Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver, a biplane dive-bomber that had been in service with the Navy since 1938. On March 4, 1942, the Hornet set sail from Norfolk for the West Coast via the Panama Canal with VB-8’s new airplanes—Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless divebombers.

The Hornet arrived at Alameda, California, on March 20, and with her own planes on the hangar deck, she loaded 16 Army Air Force North American B-25 Mitchell bombers on the flight deck, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle. On April 2, the Hornet departed Alameda and, for the first time, the crew was informed of the Army flyers’ mission: a daring bombing raid on Japan. The Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to hit mainland Japan. All 16 bombers were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. But although the military significance of the raid was minimal, it proved to be a substantial morale booster for the American people.

With the B-25 bombers airborne and bound for Japan, the Hornet steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor, and remained there until April 30, when she departed to assist the USS Yorktown and USS Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The battle ended before the Hornet reached the scene and she returned to Hawaii on May 26, and sailed two days later to stop the anticipated Japanese assault on Midway Atoll. On the morning of June 4, 1942, Bebas engaged in his first combat mission as the Hornet launched all available airplanes to search for Japanese aircraft carriers. Loaded with a 1,000-pound bomb, Bebas and the other dive-bomber pilots of VB-8 searched in vain for the enemy carriers. With fuel running desperately low, not all made it back to the Hornet. One plane ditched in the sea and Bebas was among many who had to land at Midway Island. After refueling, he returned to the Hornet.

On June 5, 1942, Bebas was among 20 dive-bombers that were launched from the Hornet to attack a small Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers. Because they would operate at the limit of their combat range the dive-bombers carried the smaller 500-pound bombs. When the fast-moving Japanese destroyer Tanikaze was spotted, Bebas put his plane into a vertical dive, selected his point of aim, and raced for his release point amidst flak bursts from the destroyer’s anti-aircraft guns. Frighteningly close to the huge destroyer, Bebas pressed the electrical bomb release button, pulled out of his dive and closed the dive brakes. Bebas’s bomb fell just 100 feet from the Tanikaze’s port quarter.[2] The following afternoon, he participated in a strike against the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami, scoring a damaging near miss on the latter ship. Following the Battle of Midway, the Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor, where VB-8 became shore-based and returned to operational training.

While on a routine training flight leading three planes on a dive bombing practice off Oahu on the morning of July 19, 1942, Bebas put his Dauntless into a dive to attack a target boat maneuvering off Barber’s Point. He released his practice bomb at 2,000 feeten but instead of immediately recovering and gaining altitude he entered a steep right turn. Whether he blacked out or was unable to overcome the heavy stick force present in the dive is unknown, but his plane crashed into the ocean, killing himself and the observer/rear gunner, Ensign William M. Stevens.

In April 1943, Bebas was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his involvement in the Battle of Midway. The citation accompanying the medal, which was received by his mother, read in part: “With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Ensign Bebas participated in persistent bombing and strafing in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire. His courageous conduct and stern devotion to the fulfillment of a vastly important mission contributed materially to the victory achieved by our forces.”[3]

The following month, his mother and sister, Anne, traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, at the invitation of the Navy, to christen a destroyer escort vessel named in Gus Bebas’s honor. The 1,400-ton USS Bebas (DE-10) was based in the Pacific until the cease of hostilities, performing patrol and escort duties and receiving three battle stars.

“He was a student of whom we all felt proud,” eulogized Dr. Franklin B. Snyder, president of Northwestern University, at a memorial service in honor of Bebas at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on June 27, 1943. “He was loved and admired by the students and his friends, one we knew would have a distinguished record. We regret his death but we take a pride in his heroism and his accomplishments. On behalf of the university, I salute him!”[4]

Gus Bebas and Ensign William Stevens are buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

Year

Team

League

Class

G

IP

ER

BB

SO

W

L

ERA

1939

Hickory

Tar Heel

D

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

 

Gus Bebas

A Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber on the deck of the USS Hornet.

Gus Bebas Grave

 

USS Bebas (DE-10)

USS Bebas (DE-10)

Notes

1. Walter Merryman Paulison, The Tale of the Wildcats: A Centennial History of the Northwestern University Athletics (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Alumni Association, 1951).
2. Through expert evasive maneuvering the Tanikaze avoided being sunk despite being heavily damaged. She was eventually sunk on June 9, 1944.
3. Wildcat News, April 1943
4. Greek Star, July 2, 1943

Thanks to Kevin B. Leonard, University Archives at the Northwestern University Library for help with much of the material used in this biography. Thanks also to Astrid van Erp for help with photos for this biography.

Date Added January 23, 2012 Updated August 1, 2017

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