Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa
Stanley W. "Swede" Vejtasa is the only World War II carrier pilot to receive Navy Crosses
for both dive bombing and aerial combat. Born in Montana in 1914, Vejtasa attended both
Montana State College and the University of Montana. He enlisted in the Navy in 1937 and
later attended flight training at Pensacola, Florida, where he earned his wings and was
commissioned an ensign. His first fleet assignment was aboard the USS Yorktown
(CV-5) flying Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver biplanes while operating in both the
Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Vejtasa was drawing and checking out in the new Douglas SBD
Dauntless dive-bomber with Scouting Squadron Five when the Japanese struck Pearl
Harbor. The Yorktown and Air Group Five were immediately ordered to the Pacific.
Vejtasa's combat exploits began in January 1942, when he participated in the first
offensive strikes against Japanese targets in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. In March,
during raids on enemy shipping near New Guinea, Vejtasa contributed to the destruction of
three Japanese ships and was awarded his first Navy Cross. By April, the Yorktown
was conducting strikes against Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, and on his second mission,
Vejtasa shared in the downing of a Japanese Zero floatplane. On 7 May, during the Battle
of the Coral Sea, he scored a direct hit and shared in the sinking of the Japanese carrier
Shoho. Just one day later when a swarm of Japanese Zeros ambushed his patrol,
Vejtasa downed three enemy planes and earned his second Navy Cross. Soon after, he was
sent to fly Grumman F4F Wildcats with "The Grim Reapers" of Fighting Squadron
Then on 26 October 1942, Vejtasa permanently made his mark on history while leading a
combat air patrol from the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Santa Cruz.
Finding a formation of enemy dive-bombers just short of their release points, Vejtasa
quickly shot down two. Then he spotted 11 enemy torpedo bombers making a run on the
Enterprise. In very short order, he shot down five of these planes, and scattered the
attackers before they had a chance to finish their torpedo runs. For Swede, it was seven
victories in one day, a feat that earned him his third Navy Cross and quite possibly saved
the Enterprise from destruction. When his combat cruise with "The Grim Reapers"
ended in May 1943, Vejtasa went to Naval Air Station, Atlantic City, New Jersey, to
provide flight instruction to new carrier squadrons being formed there.
After the war, he
continued to serve in the Navy completing over 30 years of distinguished duty as a pilot,
ship's officer, and ultimately the commanding officer of the USS Constellation.
After retiring, he served 25 years as the Secretary of the Ray River Ranch Corporation.
Officially credited with 10 1/4 victories, his decorations and awards include three Navy
Crosses, two Bronze Stars, a Legion of Merit, a Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy
Commendation Medal. Captain Vejtasa was elected into the Carrier Aviation Hall of Fame in
1987 and is currently living in Escondido, California, with his wife Irene. They have
three children, Gene, Dan, and Susan.
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On 8 May 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea, a swarm of Japanese Zeros ambushed Lieutenant Vejtasa's flight patrol. Flying the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber of Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5), Vejtasa fiercely engaged the enemy and was credited with three victories. In the end, although the battle may have been a tactical success for the Japanese, by stopping the Japanese advance on Port Moresby, the Americans had won a significant strategic victory.