“Over went our noses and down we went, vertically, in a screaming dive,” Mr. Folsom recalled. “The surface vessels were throwing up a tremendous barrage of ack-ack fire.” He leveled off just over the water, pulled in behind an enemy bomber and fired bursts from his six 50-caliber wing guns. The bomber’s tail gunner shot back. “The guns in that baby winked at me but never made a hit,” he said.
“Some of my slugs must have hit the pilot, for not 50 yards in front of me, and from about 10 feet off the surface, he skimmed in. There was a sudden lurch, followed by a cloud of spray and I was over him, headed for the next one. I followed the same tactics again, but this fellow didn’t fall such easy prey. As I came up astern, he began to skid from side to side.”
One of the bomber’s twin engines smoked, but it kept going. “Closing in again, I peppered him with the last of my ammo,” Mr. Folsom said. “This time I was rewarded by seeing him hit the water for keeps, 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.
A month later, the Japanese abandoned efforts to retake Guadalcanal and, in February 1943, evacuated their remaining forces. When the battle was over, 1,600 Americans had been killed, 4,200 had been wounded, and several thousand had succumbed to malaria and other diseases. Japan had lost more than 30,000 of its most experienced ground troops and fliers, and a heavy toll in ships, planes and irreplaceable matériel.
Strategically, Guadalcanal marked the Allies’ transition from defensive to offensive operations in the Pacific, securing a base in the Solomon Islands for attacks on Japanese strongholds in Rabaul, Saipan and Iwo Jima in the closing noose around Japan’s home islands.
Lieutenant Folsom, who was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross, went on to a distinguished military career, commanding night fighter squadrons in battles over Okinawa and in the Korean War. He was a high-altitude test pilot and also served in the Office of Naval Operations in Washington and for two years as the assistant Naval attaché at the American Embassy in Norway. He retired from active service in 1958 as a lieutenant colonel.
Samuel Bruce Folsom Jr. was born in Quincy, Mass., on July 24, 1920, to Samuel and May Folsom. Samuel, who never used the “Jr.,” was adopted in infancy by an uncle and aunt, Frank and Florence Lindsey, and raised in Peabody, Mass., where he attended public schools and graduated from Peabody High School in 1938. A younger sister, May, and brother, Charles, were raised by their mother and other relatives in Schenectady, N.Y.