Martin Doan Carmody
Rear Admiral, United States Navy
EARL SWIFT, The Virginian-Pilot
The second time they met was at a party in Virginia Beach. It was 1979, maybe 1980, at Doan Carmody’s place on Little Neck , and Carmody was talking about the war. As he spoke, Jenks Ponvert again felt the tropical heat, heard the roar of radial engines, peered up through the leaves at the streaks of blue, the big white stars.
Until then, Ponvert had no idea that she and her new neighbor had met before. No idea that half a world away they’d come within a few feet of each other; he in the cockpit of a Navy dive bomber buzzing loud and low over a camp in the Philippines, she in the rags of a prisoner of war.
That day gave me one of my biggest thrills, Carmody was telling someone at the next table: to fly over those people and let them know we were on the way. We were coming for them. We’d returned.
Heck, he said, I don’t know whether they even saw us. But it felt good to do it.
That’s when Jenks Ponvert introduced herself.
We saw you, she said.
I saw you.
Call it coincidence. Call it evidence of a divine plan. A girl grows up in Durango, Colorado, trains as a nurse, winds up a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II. A boy from rural California joins the Navy, learns to fly attack planes and gives that girl a gift of hope, a promise that her years of hunger and fear are near an end. Years later, both wind up in Virginia Beach, in the same neighborhood, only one house separating their properties.
They’ve been friends since the party, if for no other reason than: What are the odds?
“The coincidence was just amazing to me,” said Carmody, who retired as a rear admiral after service in three wars, including command of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in the waters off Vietnam. “I was flabbergasted. It blew my mind. I couldn’t believe it.”
“It just fit in the conversation,” Ponvert said.
“It did,” Carmody said in an awed tone. “We didn’t even go on speaking about it. We moved on to another subject.”
Carmody is 88. Ponvert is 90. War seemed an abstraction in her sun room on the Lynnhaven River. The house was quiet around them. The river sparkled in the cold light of a December morning. Birds hopped on the lawn.
“I just stepped into the bushes and watched you fly over,” she said, speaking up so he could hear.
“Well, we hoped you saw us,” he said, his own voice raised, “for it to be a morale boost.”
“Oh, yes, it was.” She shook her head. “We thought, 'We just might make it.’”
She’d lived in the Philippines for a year when she learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ponvert was Opal “Jenks” Mabry then, married to a lumber company executive on Negros, an island south of Manila, Philippines. She recognized at once what the news meant: “We knew we were trapped.”
Ensign Martin Doan Carmody was in Corpus Christi, Texas , when he heard the news, learning to fly the dive-bombing Douglas SBD Dauntless off carriers. They followed very different paths to their first meeting. Both were perilous.
The Mabrys stockpiled food and fled into the mahogany forests, where they hoped to outlast the Japanese in a rude village they built with their neighbors. The invaders responded with a warning: Return, or be hunted down and killed. Not long after the refugees straggled home, they were herded onto trucks and into imprisonment at an old Filipino Army camp. A few weeks later, they were shipped to the emptied campus of Manila’s Santo Tomas University.
Mabry shared her room, which was not large, with 56 women. Their cots swarmed with bedbugs. At night, Japanese guards lifted away the women’s mosquito netting and stared silently down at them. These worries were minor next to the hunger that gripped the camp as the months passed: Unless they had money, prisoners were limited to a few spoonfuls of watery rice porridge a day.
Carmody joined a just-minted Navy squadron and shipped out to Hawaii. On October 16, 1942, he flew aboard the carrier Enterprise and 10 days later found himself in the war. That morning, he was 200 miles from his ship, closing in on a pair of Japanese carriers. “And boy,” he said, “we were hit by seven Zeros .”
The vaunted Mitsubishi Zero fighter was more than a match for Carmody’s Dauntless, and in the tight turns and screaming dives that followed, his plane was raked with machine gun fire. Even so, his back-seater shot down one of the Japanese fighters, and Carmody’s wingman took out another before the Navy planes escaped into heavy clouds.
They stayed hidden on the long flight back to their battle group, dead reckoning their course. Nearing their goal, they came out of the soup, “and here is a carrier on fire, smoke everywhere,” Carmody said. “And planes still diving on it, Japanese planes.”
It was the Hornet, destined to sink later in the day. Carmody and his wingman veered away, found the Enterprise, and ran out of gas seconds after hooking onto the deck. They took cover in the squadron’s ready room as Japanese planes bombed the ship.
In the Philippines, Jenks Mabry, growing thinner and weaker by the day, was granted a reprieve: The Japanese knew she’d been a nurse in the States and transferred her to a children’s hospital in Manila.
“I was lucky because they had food over there,” she said. “But the kids were full of lice and worms – great big, long worms. And the fleas – I had to wear a real tight cap to keep the fleas off of me. I used to take the little mattresses out and stomp on them, trying to kill the bedbugs.”
Partially repaired, the Enterprise carried its air wing to Guadalcanal, where Carmody again went up to sniff out the enemy. He found 10 troop ships arranged in two files, escorted by a phalanx of destroyers.
“I wrote a message for my radio man, and he sent a message out with the lat itude and longitude,” he said. “That’s supposed to be the most accurate report of World War II.”
He chuckled and pointed to his own face. “These are the eyes.”
Carmody’s orders were to attack, so he climbed to 10,000 feet and swooped on the convoy. “It never occurred to me there might be fighter protection,” he said. “And all of a sudden I see a covey of about 20 Zeros. And boy, are they coming for us.”
He pressed on with his dive, pulling out late, his plane just 200 feet off the water. With Zeros on his tail and his gunner firing at their pursuers and the ships below, Carmody just missed careening into a destroyer, then raced into the overcast.
Later in the day, he got a second shot at the ships and planted a 1,000-pound bomb dead center in the lead transport. It almost cost him: Three Zeros got on his tail and wouldn’t shake. His back-seater got one. Navy fighters got the others.
In May 1943, the Japanese announced that the Mabrys and more than 2,000 other civilians would be moved to a new camp at Los Banos, a former agricultural college 25 miles from Manila. It was “an ideal health resort noted for its hot springs,” the announcement read, “where new buildings will be erected for your housing and where you will enjoy fresh air and find easy access to fresh meat and vegetables, part of which you may be able to cultivate yourselves.”
In truth, Los Banos was a study in deprivation. “I joined the kitchen crew,” Ponvert said. “You had to work, so I worked there and was able to get a little extra rice that I was able to bring to my husband. He worked in the garden, and he’d bring back extra vegetables.”
Just the same, she dwindled to 84 pounds.
Across the Pacific, Carmody and the same trusty back-seater flew into a mammoth storm in the New Hebrides Islands northeast of Australia, wandered blind and lost until they’d used up their fuel, and ditched their plane. The pair spent a miserable night in a life raft, soaked and cold, before spotting an island at dawn and fighting the current to reach it.
Thirsty and exhausted, they followed a footpath off the beach and into the hills, where they encountered a native sitting in a hut. He wordlessly led them on a three-mile climb through the jungle, Carmody said, “and there’s Shangri-La. There’s a village, and flowing through the village is a nice river.”
The entire population turned out to touch Carmody’s red hair. “We lay on our stomachs by that small rivulet, which was maybe 6 or 7 feet wide, and put our faces in it, and just drank and drank and drank,” he said. Villagers brought them bananas and pineapples and led them to a hut to sleep.
Later, they made their way to a lookout post high in the mountains and used its radio to call for rescue.
Los Banos was a crowded place, its civilian inmates packed into long, low dormitories that were themselves shoehorned onto the campus. As U.S. forces drew ever loser, the Japanese trimmed the prisoners’ already meager rations. The dormitories became scenes of misery. Many prisoners hovered close to death.
Back on the job, Carmody was ordered stateside and into the cockpit of a new Navy dive bomber, the SB2C Helldiver. By January 1944, following a stint at Chesapeake’s Fentress Field, he was back at Pearl Harbor, and that summer his squadron supported the Marine landings at Saipan and Tinian. He flew runs over the beaches at Palau. He softened the way for General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.
Later in the year, Carmody was assigned to take out some shipping targets off the Philippine coast. The day’s flight plan took him not far from a known POW camp, one of several marked on Allied air charts. His orders were to steer clear of them.
But en route to the targets, he got to thinking about the prisoners down there. He flew on to the ships, “did more than scratch them,” then led his flight of 12 Helldivers, escorted by Navy fighters, to strafe Japanese air units at Clark Air Base outside Manila.
After ruining a large number of parked enemy aircraft, they struck for home. Again, he mulled the POWs. Wouldn’t it be great, he recalled thinking, if we let them know we’re on our way?
“I don’t know whether it was an impulse,” he said. “I was a rebel, I guess. So I decided to do it. I spread the word around that it was my intention to go near the camp.”
At that moment, Jenks Mabry, hoping to augment the camp’s buggy porridge with whatever greens she could find, was outside picking weeds. She heard an approaching rumble.
Carmody had arranged his bombers single file and was bearing down on the camp in the lead aircraft at 135 knots. Helldivers were big machines, with wingspans of nearly 50 feet and throaty, 1,900-horsepower engines. They made an awful racket.
“The guards started running all over the place,” she said. “They thought we were going to be bombed. I had enough sense to know that wasn’t going to happen.
“We weren’t allowed to look up at any planes . I just stepped into the bushes, and watched them fly over.”
The dark blue paint, the white stars on their wings – there was no doubt they were American. The lead plane rocked its wings. The others followed suit.
“I got such a good feeling,” Carmody said. “I could see all the people down there.”
For Jenks Ponvert , the moment was electrifying, “a thrill for me.”
It took only a second or two for Carmody’s plane to cross the breadth of the camp. Carmody nosed into a climb. “And that was all,” he said. “That was the end of it.”
For the Mabrys, it was more a beginning. On New Year’s Day 1945, bombers and fighters flew over the camp firing a Morse code message with their guns – the letter “V,” for victory. In early February, prisoners learned that Santo Tomas had been liberated and friendly troops were moving toward them.
The prisoners’ increasingly desperate jailers cut the food ration again, then fed them unhusked rice, which was tantamount to no food at all; it was inedible in that state, and removing the husks spent more energy than the finished rice provided. On Feb. 23, a rumor circulated that the garrison planned to execute the prisoners. The Mabrys nervously turned out for a 7 a.m. roll call – and saw parachutes in the sky.
Army paratroopers and Filipino guerillas stormed the camp and, in what is hailed as one of the greatest rescues in history, wiped out the guards and spirited every one of the camp’s prisoners to safety.
Carmody had many touch-and-go moments in the year that followed. He went on to fly dozens of missions in Korea. He piloted Navy jets when they weren’t known for their manners. He became executive officer of the carrier Oriskany, skippered a Navy stores ship, did several Pentagon tours, and in 1965 took command of the Kitty Hawk. Of his year on the ship, he spent eight months in the Far East.
He retired in 1977 as the senior aviator in the Navy. He and his wife, Barbara, lived at the Beach, in a place on West Little Neck Road. Barbara joined the local garden club and met the neighborhood’s grand dame, who’d moved to the Beach decades before, lost her husband in a 1966 traffic crash and remarried. She went by “Jenks,” for Jenkins, her maiden name.
When the Carmodys threw a party, they invited Jenks Ponvert.
“We had about five tables set up,” the admiral said. “I’m at this table, and somebody asked me – and I don’t talk about war things much – but somebody asked, 'What’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you, flying?’
“I said, 'I can’t really remember, but I got a thrilled feeling when we flew over this POW camp.’” Carmody, red hair now white but as fit as a much younger man, pointed to Ponvert. “She was listening, apparently.”
Ponvert nodded. “He was saying, 'I wonder whether anybody in the camp knew who we were or even saw us.’”
Carmody said: “And I remember exactly what happened. You spun around in your chair and said: 'So you’re the one.’”
A girl grows up in Colorado. A boy from California learns to fly. They wind up far from home, his rocking wings a promise: Help is coming.
They spend years remembering the moment, a small gesture in the midst of grand-scale chaos. They meet again decades later and are finally bound as friends.
Call it whatever you like.
Martin Doan Carmody was born at Indian Harbor, Indiana, on October 27, 1917, son of Martin Hugh and Philinda Salinia (Doan) Carmody, both now deceased. He attended San Jose (California) State College, from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in March 1941 and, as Aviation Cadet, had flight training at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas. Completing his training there, he was designated Naval Aviator and commissioned Ensign, USNR, to date from October 14, 1941. He subsequently progressed in rank to that of Rear Admiral, to date from June 1, 1968, having transferred from the Naval Reserve to the Regular Navy on December 4, 1944.
After receiving his "Wings" in 1941, he had carrier air training at San Diego, California, and in April 1942 joined Scouting Squadron TEN, attached to the USS ENTERPRISE, to serve as Assistant Flight and Maintenance Officer. "For heroism and extraordinary achievement… during the engagement with the enemy Japanese forces off Guadalcanal on November 14 and 15, 1942…" he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is also entitled to the Ribbon with star, and facsimiles of the Presidential Unit Citations awarded the USS ENTERPRISE and the First Marine Division, Reinforced.
In July 1943 he reported as Executive Officer of Bombing Squadron Eight and as such participated in Combat operations from March to November 1944, while attached to the USS BUNKER HILL. He was awarded the Air Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Distinguished Flying Cross for outstanding service during operations against enemy Japanese forces at Palau, Woleai, Hollandia, Truk and in the vicinity of New Guinea, the Carolines, Marianas, Bonins, Philippines, Formosa and Rykyus. In addition he was awarded Gold Stars in lieu of the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Air Medals and a Gold Star in lieu of the Third Distinguished Flying Cross for completing thirty combat missions in the Pacific area during the Period May 1 to October 14, 1944. He is also entitled to the Ribbon for, and a facsimile of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded the USS BUNKER HILL.
In January 1945 he joined Bombing Squadron NINETY-EIGHT to serve as Operations and Executive Officer and in April 1946 assumed command of that squadron. From November 1946 until July 1948 he served as Assistant Operations Officer on the Staff of Commander Carrier Division THREE, which operated with Task Force FIFTY EIGHT in the Western Pacific. Following instruction at the General Line School, Newport, Rhode Island, he reported in July 1949 as Assistant Professor of Naval Science with the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Unit at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
For two years (July 1953-July 1955), he headed the Attack Aircraft Branch, Air Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. Assigned next to fleet Air, Alameda, headquartered at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, he remained there until July 1957, when he assumed command of Carrier Air Group EIGHT. Detached in July 958 he returned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, where he served as Head of the Fleet Air Training Section until December 1959. The next month he reported as Executive Officer of the USS ORISKANY (CVA-34), which was deployed to the Western Pacific.
In February 1961 he became Assistant Director of Attack Programs in the Bureau of Naval Weapons, Navy Department. He remained there until August 1962, after which he served as Director of the Air Planning Requirements Branch, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In November 1963 he assumed command of the USS ZELIMA (AF-49) and in June 1965 transferred to command of the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63). While commanding those vessels he participated in operations in the Vietnam area. "For exceptionally meritorious conduct…as Commanding Officer, USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63) and as Commander Task Group SEVENTY SEVEN POINT SIX during combat operations in Southeast Asia from November 15, 1965 to June 6, 1966…" he was awarded the Legion of Merit. He is also entitled to the Ribbon for, and a facsimile of the Navy Unit Commendation awarded the KITTY HAWK for action in the Vietnam Area from November 26, 1965 to May 14, 1966.
He reported in August 1966 as Project Manager, Reconnaissance Electronic Warfare Special Operations and Naval Intelligence Processing Systems Project (REWSON), Naval Material Command, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. He remained there until September 1967, when he as Director of the Command Control and Electronics Division (his title was changed on November 4, 1968 to Director of the Electronic Warfare and Tactical Command Systems Division), Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In that capacity, he also served as one of the originators and Chairman of the Navy Quick Reaction Capability Board. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious service from September 1967 to September 1969…" in that assignment.
In September 1969 he assumed command of Carrier Division ONE and in December 1970 was detached for temporary duty with the FIRST Fleet. "For exceptionally meritorious conduct…as Commander Carrier Division ONE, Commander Task Group SEVENTY-SEVEN POINT THREE, and for designated periods as Commander Task Group SEVENTY-SEVEN POINT ZERO from April 1970 to October 1970 during combat operations against enemy forces in Southeast Asia…"he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Third Legion of Merit.
In March 1971 he reported as Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia and in June of that year was assigned additional duty as Assistant Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. "For exceptionally meritorious service…during the period March 1971 to January 1974…" he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. The citation further states in part: "Through his exceptional leadership, professional competence, and able administration, Rear Admiral Carmody effectively directed the efforts of over 480 assigned projects and Department of Defense joint test projects, providing both the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense with the necessary operational information to aid the decision-making process for weapon system acquisition…"
Since February 1974 he has been Commandant of the Twelfth Naval District, with additional duty as Commander Naval Base, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with two Gold Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Gold Stars, the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V," the Air Medal with eight Gold Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Rear Admiral Carmody has the American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two silver stars (ten operations); World War II Victory Medal; China Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal; the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Vietnam); and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. He also has the Korean Presidential Unit Citation Badge and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device.
His official home address and that of his wife, Mrs. Barbara Ann Carmody, is 18200 Elwood Road, San Jose, California. He has two sons, Russell D. and Bert M. Carmody and a stepdaughter, Catherine Jean Clark.
The Admiral was laid to rest with full military
honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 21 May 2008.
Posted: 16 May 2008