Birney Strong was a Tom Sawyer-type" with freckles and apple cheeks when he went to war as a Navy avaitor in World War II. He was 25.
When the war ended Birney Strong came home to Washington as one of the most decorated heroes of the war. He held three Navy Crosses, the Distinguished Flying Cross, 10 Air Medals, and two Presidential Unit Citations. He had fougth in almost all the great battles of the war in the Pacific and he had come through them all without a scratch.
Last Sunday, Capt. S. Birney Strong, 61, died of cancer in a hospital in Virginia Beach, Va., where he had gone into business for himself after completing a naval career of more than 30 years in 1965. When he left the Navy, he was awarded the Distinguised Service Medal.
By all odds, his life should have ended sometime during the war. For he "wouldn't give up," said John F! Richey, of Paris, tex., Birney Strong's "wingman" for 10 months of the war. "He felt fear, but he had a lot of courage."
Morover, says Richey, Birney Strong was a nice guy. "He was the kind of fellow you could make friends with," he recalled in a telephone interview. "He was young looking and clean-cut, a Tom Sawyer-tape looking guy with freckles and rosy cheesk."
Berney Strong flew off the U.S.S. Yorktown curing the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the Navy finally stopped the Hapanese advance across the Pacific in 1942. By the time the Yorktown was sunk in the Battle of Midway later in 1942, he was stationed aboard the Enterprise, the Yorktown's sister ship and one of the most famous in the Navy.
He was a pilot on the Enterprise, known throughout the fleet as the "Big E," in the hard campaigns through the Solomon Islands. he returned from one mission to find his ship in flames and had to land on another carrier. he flew from Guadaleanal, where the 1st Marine Division made its famous assault in 1942.
In the Solomons engagement, known as the Battle of Santa Cruz, he hit the deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier with two 500-pound bombs.
In July, 1945, only weeks before Japan surrendered, Birney Strong was still in action. Whether the weather was good or bad, he was pressing home attacks on ships in Japanese harbors. On July 14, he disabled an enemy freighter. On July 24, he caused "severe damage to an enemy cruiser with a direct hit" while flying at "an extremely low altitude," according to the citation he received later.
For action of July 14, Birney Strong received his third Navy Cross.
In 1943, he told a press conference how he came to win his second Navy Cross. he said it had to do partly with the time he flew back to find the "Big E" on fire. That, he said, was "one of the most sickening sight I had ever seen."
he memory of that sight came back to him, he said, on Oct. 26, 1942, during the Battle of Santa Cruz.
"I spotted two Japanese aircraft carriers," he said."One of them was the Zuikaku. And being a damn fool, and being mad, I figured I'd get them instead of going back to my own carrier and joining the rest of the force."
So, he said, with the sun fortunately behind him, he put his plane into a dive and hit the aircraft carrier with two bombs, putting it out of action.
When he found those two carriers, he was running low on fuel and other pilots with whom he was flying already had headed back to the Enterprise. On his own way home, Birney Strong and the one plane with him, flown by "Skinhead" Irvine, shot down a Japanese plane.
Lt. Strong won his first Navy Caros during the battle of the Coral Sea. The citation reads that the contributed materially to the sinking or damaging of eight enemy vessels in Tulagi Harbor on May 4 and 7, and again on May 7, while on an antitorpedo patrol."
Capt. Strong's postwar duties included three tours of duty at the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent, Md. He also attended the National War College in Washington and commanded the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington in Pacific in 1959. From 1962 until his retirement in 1965, he was assigned to the Joint War Games Agency in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon.
Capt. strong was born in Washington and graduated from Wilson High School. he entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1937. He received his "wings" as a pilot at the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Fla., in 1940.
His survivors include his wife, Mani Graham Strong, of the home in virginia Beach; a daughter, Cecily, of Richmond, Va.; a son, Graham Birney of Lakeland, Fla; his mother, Catherine Birney Strong, of Washington, and two sisters, Mrs William White, of Penn Yan, N.Y., and Mrs. Carleton Saunders, of Bethesda.