Big Sky Treasures #7

From World War II, fearless U.S. Navy aviators piloted the SBD Dauntless dive bomber. (courtesy of Pinterest)

During World War II, countless men and women served unselfishly to preserve freedom and a democratic way of life.  From a small Montana homestead came one of these true heroes.

Born in 1914 under the clouds of the Great War (now called World War I), Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was born in eastern Montana where his family was operating a small farm.  While the homestead site and local post office (Paris, Montana) disappeared long gone, certain memories will always remain.

Following graduation from Circle High School (McCone County in Montana), Vejtasa attended classes at both Montana State College (later renamed Montana State University) and the University of Montana. 

In 1937, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the intention of becoming an aviator.  In 1939, he earned his wings at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.  His first carrier assignment was with the USS Yorktown.  In 1942, he was assigned to the USS Enterprise.

Lieutenant Vejtasa pictured with his 4F4 Wildcat fighter. The Japanese flags displayed on his aircraft represent downed enemy aircraft. He ultimately earned ten. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Vejtasa’s heroic duty as a carrier pilot earned him three Navy Crosses.  He was the only American naval aviator to be awarded medals for both dive bombing and aerial combat. 

On May 7, 1942, Ensign Vejtasa earned his second Navy Cross at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Flying a SBD Dauntless dive bomber from the USS Yorktown, he successfully attacked and aided in the sinking of a Japanese aircraft carrier.

On October 6, 1942, Lieutenant Vejtasa earned his final Navy Cross while flying from the USS Enterprise as a fighter pilot.  In the Battle of Santa Cruz, he and other pilots provided air cover for the carriers Hornet and Enterprise.  Facing intense dogfights with Japanese fighter planes, he remained cool under fire.  With courage and precision, the lieutenant shot down seven enemy aircraft. 

Captain Vejtasa remained a career officer in the U.S. Navy, and he continued to serve his country until his retirement in 1970.

The following video captured memories of combat as shared by Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa.  He described his experiences from the Battle of the Coral Sea.