A few years ago, a friend of mine showed me a finished project of his, an extensive compilation of historical resources of Harold William Bauer, a United States Marine and arguably one of the finest Marine fighter pilots in all of Marine aviation. I spent a few hours at my desk going through the compilation in depth and by the end of it, I was amazed.
Harold “Indian Joe” Bauer was born to German immigrants in Kansas, November of 1908. He entered the Naval Academy in 1926, graduating four years later with a commission in the Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines after further training. He was well liked among his classmates and came to earn the the nickname “Indian Joe” because of his dark complexion, height and facial features. Bauer spent time as a coach at the Naval Academy before he was transferred to San Diego and finally, NAS Pensacola where he earned his wings of gold, becoming a naval aviator in 1936. After a number of assignments between various Marine fighter squadrons, Indian Joe found himself the executive officer of VMF-221, the Fighting Falcons. A year after his initial assignment, the attack on Pearl Harbor took place and Bauer and his men prepared themselves aboard the USS Saratoga (CV-3) to go off to war.
Bauer, soon rising to the rank of Major, was made the first commanding officer of VMF-212 when they were stationed in the South Pacific, first at New Caledonia and then at Efate, the Hell Hounds as they were known during WWII. It was with this squadron that he picked up yet another nickname, “The Coach” because of his attention to teamwork and intense training regimens he put his squadron through within a month’s time. Three months after his promotion, in what can only be considered a testament to his dedication and excellence as an officer, Bauer pinned on silver oak leaves and was made a Lieutenant Colonel of Marines, flying on temporary assignment with VMF-223. It was with 223 that Indian Joe performed some of the extraordinary feats listed in his Medal of Honor citation.
On the 28th of September, 1942, Bauer was able to shoot down a Japanese Betty bomber against overwhelming odds (his flight was severely outnumbered by Japanese aircraft). Then, on the 3rd of October, he went up again in his Wildcat, engaging 4 Mitsubishi Zeros and splashing all of them in a quick, methodical manner. In the course of that engagement, all but one of his guns jammed, leaving him without much offensive power. Noticing a Zero pilot attempting to shoot down a helpless Marine aviator in a parachute, who apparently had just bailed from his stricken fighter, Bauer went after the Zero and scored yet another kill. He circled around his fellow pilot, who by this time had landed in the Pacific, marking the spot with his presence and guiding a destroyer to pick up the downed aviator. Later in October on Guadalcanal, Bauer was about to land at the airfield when he noticed Japanese Val bombers, diving to attack a support ship offloading much-needed supplies. Though his fuel tanks were dangerously close to bone-dry, he aborted his landing and went after the Vals with a fury, shooting down four of them in rapid succession before finally landing at Henderson Field. Indian Joe was an ace, and with this recent action, he was destined to be presented the United States’ highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.
Indian Joe went up again on the 14th of November, that year, shooting down another two enemy aircraft 100 miles from Guadalcanal. He was shot down that same day, landing in the ocean. Friendly fighters observed him floating in his life vest without any visible injures. A few comrades landed their fighters, commandeered an amphibious Grumman Duck and flew to the general location of where they had last spotted him. Sadly, he was not to be found, even after an exhaustive search. The Coach had disappeared without a trace. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his inspiring bravery and courage in the face of death, his commitment to duty and his brothers in arms.