John & Anne Wiley


Bouncing Bettys

As a kid I loved movies that had airplanes in them. I liked jets of course, but the WWII prop planes were my faves. Well imagine my delight in learning soon after we met that Anne’s Dad is a real-life hero pilot for 1942-44 actions in the Pacific. Lately we’ve been scanning stuff saved from that period, and I came across this official Navy photo of him being presented the Distinguished Flying Cross 6/8/45 while then working as a test pilot at Patuxent River, MD.

45-6-8 John F. Humphrey DFC

45-6-8 John F. Humphrey DFC

One of the actions that won him the medal was using his PB4Y-1 (B-24) heavy bomber to chase and shoot down a smaller Japanese “Betty” thought too fast for him to catch. After his success, other bombers of the type he flew managed to shoot down Bettys, but he held the record after bagging several more. Another one, though badly shot up and almost certainly unable to reach base, managed to escape despite literally impacting the ocean surface twice. This highly improbable incident led to a later book about the war having a chapter titled “Bouncing Bettys.” Here’s a fuzzy photo from a book about the squadron, of his bouncing Betty taken by one of his gunners.

2/14/44 Bouncing Betty

2/14/44 Bouncing Betty

Here’s one from a book written by his commanding officer in the Pacific, with his crew in front of their plane that was later destroyed (he obviously did manage to fly the battered bomber back to base).

43 VP-104 crew 12

43 VP-104 crew 12 – John Humphrey top 2nd from right

Before that he flew the beautiful PBY Catalina amphibious search & rescue aircraft, and of course was also commended for heroic deeds in that. Here’s a pic of him with that VP-71 Squadron.

40 VP-71 Squadron

40 VP-71 Squadron – John Humphrey bottom 2nd from right

I love how young and bright he looks, presumably happy to have earned command of his own PBY and crew, and freshly assigned to the squadron. After the war this adventurous and courageous guy raised a family, moved them from CT to CA, started a very successful packaging company, and even briefly produced skateboards in the 1960s. He named it the Humco Surfer, and at age 92 he’s being considered for inclusion (hopefully with correct spelling) in a skateboard documentary. Here’s a pic they took of him last year holding one of his boards.

2011 Humco Skateboard

2011 Humco Skateboard

Interestingly, he married two different women named Betty and outlived them both. Quite an amazing life, eh?

Update – after his passing we created a memorial website for him here:



  1. Thanks Anne for the great pictures! I remember one year uncle John brought his scateboards to G’Dad’s for Christmas and we were all blown away at how far advanced they were than anything we had ridden to that point, thanks Anne, your dad and my uncle was an incredible guy and i have always loved and looked up to him.

    Comment by Anonymous — 2012/03/10 @ 19:48

  2. Loved reading this. Nice pictures.

    Comment by Zubair — 2012/03/20 @ 12:40

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