March 13, 2021

The story of SNJ-2 BuNo 2549. Three scenes, three entwined stories, the loss of three brave men


These three commissioned paintings depict not only individual moments in history, but importantly are also connected to each other.

'Never give up, Never Forget'

On the 13th February 1942 during the final leg of a delivery flight from the factory; four Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats encountered severe weather conditions en route to NAS San Diego. Overdue at their destination, search missions commenced the following day to locate the missing pilots. Participating in the search was North American Aviation SNJ-2 BuNo 2549; piloted by Ensign William Wallace Page and accompanied by observer Ensign Louis Massie Winn Jr; flying in a wing position of a three plane section over the southern Santa Rosa Mountains. SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 disappeared during the search in the vicinity of Rabbit Peak and this commissioned painting depicts their final moments.


'Never give up, Never Forget'

ACCIDENT REPORT....

“At 1130 hours, pilot was flying a wing position in a three-plane section engaged in a search flight operating in vicinity SW of Santa Rosa Mountains. The leader of the section noticed this particular aircraft to be missing after having sighted him approximately one minute before. Leader kept his original course for another two minutes, then circled and waited for #2549 to show up. The section retraced its course to the point where #2549 was last seen and started to search. This search was continued for five days. The terrain where #2549 was last seen was at 3000’ rising to 4000’ and 5000’, rather rugged and with infrequent snow patches.”

BuNo 2549 and it’s crew would remain missing but the section leader that day would not forget his wingmen, as Ensigns Page and Winn were also students assigned to the same advanced carrier training group where Patterson had served as an instructor. When he was reassigned to the San Diego area in 1944, now Lt Commander Patterson retraced his path from 31 months earlier, flying over the Santa Rosa Mountains and spotted what he believed was the wreckage of BuNo 2549.


Lt Patterson Commander James Franklin Patterson (Centre)

During a three-day hike in late September 1944, Patterson, accompanied by marines from El Toro Air Station, along with Captain Miles B Miller, journeyed through the rugged terrain. The last five miles were so difficult that the party could only travel 200 yards an hour. Finally reaching the wrecked SNJ-2, the bodies of Page and Winn were identified by a ring and dog tags. Patterson sprained both ankles in the search, while Miller was rescued by a second search party from the Navy Auxiliary Air Station at the Salton Sea. Ensigns Page and Winn’s bodies were retrieved and buried with full military honor in their respective hometowns of Ontario and San Diego California.


LEFT: Ensign William Wallace Page. RIGHT: Ensign Louis Massie Winn Jr

SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 was recovered in the 1990’s from it's crash site in the mountains near Palm Springs. (photo courtesy of aircraftwrecks.com)


Unfortunately all that remained of 2549 was scrapped by the NHHC (Naval History & Heritage Command)

An amazing project to return SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 to the skies

VCS Aviation has been restoring vintage World War II aircraft for over 20 years and have taken on the project of building an air worthy replica of SNJ-2 BuNo 2549. The man behind the project is David Kenney who has extensively researched everything you are reading in this blog (and so much more!). His research and attention to historic accuracy will ensure that 2549 will be authentically replicated.

See further below how you can own limited edition signed prints of each of the featured scenes; as well as support the rebuild.


David Kenney

'Son of the San Joaquin Valley'

Patterson who was from California’s San Joaquin Valley (Maricopa, Ca) was commanding officer for VC-94 Squadron serving on the USS Shamrock Bay escort carrier when on April 9th 1945 Pattersons FM-2 Wildcat was hit by AA Fire whilst investigating enemy positions over the island of Okinawa, near the infamous Hacksaw Ridge. Following a strike to his engine Patterson then collided with Curtis SOC-3 Seagull BuNo 1125 from the USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) piloted by Lt Walter Palmer Lathrop.


'Son of the San Joaquin Valley'

'Brown Shoe Navy'

Here we see SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 three years earlier in 1941 prior to the crash, flying over the USS Saratoga CV-3 alongside SB2U-2 BuNo 1343.



“Brown Shoe” is a slang term for an aviator. Traditionally, Naval aviators wore brown footwear with the surface Navy wearing black. With the establishment of Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) in 1921, the “brown shoes” gained an approximately equal place at the naval table. Part of that new group was Aubrey Wray “Jake” Fitch, who earned his wings at age 47. He would go on to command the Navy’s first three aircraft carriers and was promoted to Rear Admiral in July 1940 assuming command of Carrier Division One.

Fitch was a capable pilot and frequently flew a variety of shore and ship board aircraft including SB2U-2 BuNo 1343 and SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 that were both suitably marked “Commander Carrier Division One” (it has not been verified if BuNo 2549 flew off the Saratoga due to Fitch’s pre 1942 flight log’s being lost).


This painting is a composite that blends Fitch’s two assigned aircraft from that time, SB2U-2 BuNo 1343 and SNJ-2 BuNo 2549 with his flagship, USS Saratoga (CV-3).


Rear Admiral Aubrey Wray “Jake” Fitch

Lt Commander James Franklin Patterson


Born in 1915 in the small city of Maricopa, California, Patterson was a member of the Boy Scouts and attended the local high school, graduating in 1932. Later, he worked in a steam boiler shop as a harvester in local agricultural fields while attending three years at the nearby Taft Jr. College.

After graduation, Patterson enlisted in the US Naval Reserve June 4, 1937. Sent to NARB Long Beach, he successfully completed 6 weeks of elimination flight training by July 13, 1937 in Curtiss N2C-1 trainers. In August 1937, Patterson was appointed as an Aviation Cadet and transferred to NAS Pensacola for flight training. There, in a twist of fate for BuNo 2549, Patterson would report to commanding officer, (then Captain) Aubrey Fitch. In the pre 1939 training syllabus, flight school encompassed both land and seaplanes, training that would serve Patterson well when he was later assigned the temporary duty of ferrying a variety of naval aircraft around the country.

July 14, 1938 Patterson was designated a Naval Aviator and later in August, was transferred to his first duty assignment with Scouting Squadron 2 (VS-2) aboard USS Lexington (CV-2). Patterson was then commissioned as an Ensign on September 1st, 1938 and would later marry his wife, Evelyn, on August 26th, 1939. VS-2 would later alternate between the Lexington and the USS Saratoga (CV-3) during various fleet exercises until September 1941.

Having completed three years of duty in the squadron, Patterson had distinguished himself as an outstanding pilot, particularly in dive bombing. As a result, he was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as a scout bomber flight instructor at ACTG San Diego. Patterson would be featured in a Life magazine article entitled “Pilots and Planes are Made For Jobs”.

Continuing his progression within the Navy, Patterson was promoted to full Lieutenant in June 1942. He was then transferred to NAS Jacksonville, Florida in November 1942 to serve on the staff of Rear Admiral Arthur B. Cook, Chief of Naval Air Operational Training. There he would interact with another Lieutenant, Robert A. Winston and make a favorable impression. Winston would later request Patterson’s transfer in August 1943 to become his executive officer with Fighting Squadron 31 (VF-31) aboard the USS Cabot (CVL-28). This group’s encounters flying Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats in the Pacific would later be detailed in Winston’s best-selling book “Fighting Squadron”. With Patterson’s assistance in forming and training VF-31, it would become the highest scoring light carrier squadron and not lose a single pilot in a six-month span.

Serving in his position until March 1944, Patterson was dispatched back to the United States. Upon return, he was promoted to Lt. Commander and assigned his own composite squadron VC-94. Originally formed at NAS Sand Point Seattle Washington, VC-94 was later transferred to NAS Pasco, Washington for training. In September 1944, the squadron was assigned to NAS Brown Field at Otay Mesa, above National City, CA.


Ensign William Wallace Page


The last pilot of SNJ-2 BuNo 2549, Ensign William Wallace Page.

Page was born in Oklahoma in 1916 and raised in the city of Ontario, California. Working as a laboratory assistant at the GE Plant in his hometown of Ontario, he attended two years of Chaffey Junior College. Satisfying his academic requirements by the age of 25, Page enlisted into the aviation cadet program of the US Naval Reserve on February 7, 1941.

After enlistment, Page was transferred to NRAB Long Beach in March 1941.There he successfully completed his first stage of elimination flight training and accepted appointment as an Aviation Cadet. Page then continued flight training at NAS Pensacola Florida from April 1941 until 26 weeks later in the fall of 1941, earning his pilot rating and commission as a Naval Ensign. He then returned to California to complete further operational training in aircraft gunnery, tactics and carrier landing qualifications at ACTG, Pacific Fleet San Diego. Ensign Page was on his way to a future fleet assignment.

However 2/14/42 during a three-plane search flight including SNJ-2 BuNo 2549, Ensign Page and his observer, Ensign Louis Winn Jr, were flying over the dense Santa Rosa mountain ranges. Their aircraft disappeared and was presumed lost.

In the ensuing wartime years, Page’s father Willard would make repeated trips to search for his son. Finally in September 1944, a Marine search party would locate the wreckage of SNJ-2 BuNo 2549. Ensigns Page and Winn’s bodies were retrieved and buried with full military honors in their respective home towns.


Ensign Louis Massie Winn Jr


The other flight crew member aboard BuNo 2549 when it crashed in February 1942 was Ensign Louis Massie Winn Jr.

Winn was born in 1916 and took a different path to becoming a Naval Aviator. Growing up in the Mission Beach neighborhood of San Diego, California, Winn worked as a veterinary assistant before enlisting in the Navy in September 1934 at the age 18. Serving honorably during his time with the fleet Navy, one humorous antidote was discovered in Winn’s service history. He apparently used the liberty of his fellow sailor, was discovered and sentenced at an Admiral’s mast for the loss of $12 pay for being found to be AWOL. Winn completed his four year tour with service aboard the battleship USS California BB-44 , then later the hospital ship USS Relief AH-1. Winn was then honorably discharged August 1938.

He later attended two years at San Diego State University to satisfy his academic requirements. Winn then reenlisted at USNRAB in Long Beach, California on February, 11, 1941 in the V-5 program. By March 1941, Winn had successfully completed primary elimination flight training with a standing of third in a class out of 61. Winn was accepted as an AvCad and transferred to NAS Jacksonville Florida and then to NAS in Corpus Christi, Texas in April 1941 for flight training.

26 weeks later in the fall of 1941, Winn earned his pilot rating and commission as a Naval Ensign. He then returned to California to complete further operational training in aircraft gunnery, tactics and carrier landing qualifications at ACTG, Pacific Fleet San Diego.

After the discovery of the wreckage of BuNo 2549 in September 1944, Ensign Winn’s remains were returned to his family and buried back in his hometown of San Diego.


LIMITED EDITION SIGNED PRINTS. 15% of each sale goes to VCS Aviation and the build of SNJ-2 BuNo 2549



If you would like to commission a painting for yourself or as a gift, then please visit the commissions page for details.


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