Extraordinary archive of medals and documents belonging to Capt. Benjamin Tappan, Jr., USN, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions at Midway. This lot consists of: a Riker box of Tappan's medals, aviator wings, and badges; a boxed set of his WWII ensign’s shoulder boards; and a large binder containing photographs, letters, documents, and newspaper articles pertaining to Tappan’s illustrious and eventful career.
The Riker box contains a sewn, five medal bar: DFC, Air Medal, American Defense Medal (one bronze star), American Campaign Medal, Pacific Campaign Medal (one silver and three bronze stars); WWII Victory medal; National Defense Medal and ribbon; two AMICO USN Aviator wings (one pin-back, one brooch-back); two Command at Sea badges (one large, one miniature); STRIKFORSOUTH badge (winged lion and sword); USN Aviator tie-clip; and a small cast metal tribal idol. Tappan’s WWII GEMSCO-made bullion wire embroidered ensign shoulder boards are contained in their original 1940s GEMSCO box. The boards are in excellent condition, but do exhibit some verdigris on the underside of the metal snaps.
The large binder starts with a wartime portrait photo of Tappan in Service Dress Blue uniform, and contains important documents signed by superior officers, including his Distinguished Flying Cross citation, signed by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, "C. W. Nimitz." The citation recognizes Tappan's "heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight as a pilot of a scouting plane in the Battle of Midway…In the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire he courageously, without regard for his own safety, attacked the enemy, contributed to their destruction and to the victory achieved by our forces." Tappan was awarded the DFC for his actions in the attack that sank the Japanese cruiser IJNS Mikuma (a Mogami-class heavy cruiser) during the Japanese withdrawal.
Benjamin Tappan, Jr., was the son of a Maryland doctor, and grandson of an Annapolis graduate. He had an early interest in aviation (one of the items in the binder is a newspaper article that details a floatplane mishap he had just over years before winning the Distinguished Flying Cross) and flew an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber off the USS Hornet at Midway as a member of VS-8 'Scouting 8.'
Tappan survived the sinking of the Hornet in her last action at the Battle of Santa Cruz, and was transferred to VC-38, a composite squadron of fighter and strike aircraft operating off of a land base in the Solomon Islands, and conducting strike and interdiction missions against the Japanese around Bougainville, and New Britain. Some snapshots are included that show a bearded Tappan mugging for the camera, as well as reports of an attack he flew against the airfield at Rabaul, in which his wingman was hit. Tappan was able to return safely and discovered that he was the father of a newly born baby boy (the Western Union telegrams he received are also included in the lot). Tappan’s actions while in VC-38 prompted the award of the Air Medal, and the citation, signed by Adm. William Calhoun (coincidentally a classmate of Tappan’s grandfather).
Tappan was made a flight instructor at NAS Jacksonville towards the end of hostilities, and stayed in the Navy following the war. As a Commander, he was assigned to COMSTRIKFORSOUTH (Command, Naval Striking and Support Forces Southern Europe) based in Milan, Italy, and also commanded VF-151, one of the first USN squadrons to receive the then-new F7U Cutlass fighter. Tappan was promoted to Captain in 1959, and retired at that rank. Capt. Tappan passed away in 1988, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a splendid lot of items belonging to a much decorated military aviator. The arc of his career is completely outlined in these pages, which give a glimpse into the life story of a true American hero of the Second World War.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.