John W. Van Ness (1952/06/07)
"When a pilot heads his plane directly into a withering antiaircraft fire, skimming over the waves at an altitude of 30 feet, he is too busy, and to intent upon sinking his 'pickles' into the belly of an enemy ship to be scared. But after the 'pickles' have been released within 500 yards of the target and the plane is flipped up and away out of danger, then one's mouth fills with cotton and the strength flows out of his knees…" John Van Ness
John Wesley Van Ness was born in Fairbury, Nebraska, on March 25, 1918, to F. W. and Myra Van Ness. In the early 1920s, the family moved to Capitola, California, and he and his four sisters enrolled in the elementary school in nearby Soquel. In 1931 Van Ness began Santa Cruz High School and was graduated in 1935.
After completing high school, John Van Ness immediately enlisted in the US Navy. He was sent to San Diego for basic training and later to Pensacola, Florida. The navy discovered that he had an unusual aptitude in mathematics and mechanics and in 1937 he entered a special program that trained enlisted men as pilots. After his graduation, he was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he served as an air chief petty officer.
When the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, Chief Van Ness was manning a machine gun when fragments of a Japanese bomb hit him in the chin and knocked him into the water. In November 1942, he returned to the mainland and served as a navy instructor in Georgia, Texas, and at Pensacola Florida. Van Ness spent the remaining sixteen months of World War II in the Pacific Theater.
John Van Ness and Helen Shaw were married about 1943, and on January 1, 1945, their first son, John, was born. Later a second son, James, was added to the family. After World War II, Van Ness remained in the navy and served aboard the USS Curtis.
When the Korean War began, Van Ness was sent to the war zone and remained there until September 9, 1951. Upon his return, he was assigned to the Alameda Naval Air Station. In the spring of 1952, Chief Aviation Pilot John Wesley Van Ness was admitted to the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland with an unspecified physical condition from which he died on June 7, 1952. His body was returned to Santa Cruz and following a funeral, was buried in Oakwood Memorial Park.
(SCR November 11, 1942; SCHSC, Page 218; SCSn June 8, 1952 12:4)