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About the Title, Point Option

During World War II, the term, Point Option, is an important part of the system used in coordinating the navigation activities of all (air, surface and subsurface) units of a Naval force. The term itself refers to a designated point which at a specific time has a geographic position (latitude & longitude), and a designated course and speed in the same manner as a ship might have. The Commander selects the position of "point option" and designates its course and speed which is in consonance with the overall desired movement of the force for a given period of time. It can be thought of as the intended average position for the Naval force. As the day`s activities progress, each unit of the force must keep track of "point option" and conduct its movements in relation to it rather than to other units of the force. "Point option" then is a common reference point, which everyone depends on as an indication of where they are in relation to the intended center of the force.

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Click Here for the Hancock during the Vietnam Era and before being decommissioned in 1976

The 'Fighting Hannah' - the U.S.S. Hancock CV-19
Each time a flight departs the ship on a mission of any kind the pilot is given the current position of "point option" with its course and speed, which he plots on his navigation plotting board. Sometimes the latest position of "point option" is flashed to the pilot on a huge chalk board just before he is launched. As the mission is flown, the pilots keeps track of "point option". It would be impossible to keep track of the mother carrier with the many unpredictable speed and course changes which operating carriers are bound to make during the course of a few hours. The returning aircraft then simply navigate back to the constantly moving "point option" with high hopes that the carrier will be within sight when he gets there. When radio silence is being maintained, the returning flight is notified by message telling them where the carrier or force is in relation to "point option". For example, the returning flight may receive a message: "AT 1600 THE CARRIER FORCE WILL BE LOCATED 40 MILES FROM POINT OPTION BEARING 090 DEGREES. SHIP ON COURSE 300 DEGREES AT 30KNOTS. READY DECK." Of course, the pilots all hope that their flight leader hasn't made any mistakes in his navigation and knows the exact location of "point option" as he quickly works a relative motion intercept problem on his Mark III plotting board. Soon he turns to the new heading which will intercept the mother carrier. Just in case the leader might have made a mistake you can bet that several other pilots in formation will work the navigation problem too. Of course, there are always some in the flight who for some reason or another have been unable to keep up on his navigation and is totally dependent on the leader to get him home. These guys believe in miracles and always seem happier than anyone else when they do get back aboard.

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A Diving Hellcat
Late one afternoon while operating off the Japan`s mainland, I was leading a flight of fighters returning to the task force under conditions of radio silence. It had been a long flight and everyone was watching their fuel gages move ever too fast toward empty. Our engines were all throttled back and the fuel mixture leaned out trying to make dwindling supply last as long as possible. I calculated that by maintaining our present course and speed we would arrive over "point option" in 15 more minutes. The clouds were scattered at various altitudes from 15,000 feet all the way down to the deck. On the surface of the water were light and dark patches, some bright with sunlight from the setting sun and some dark with areas of poor visibility & showers. The color of the clouds and the reflections were in beautiful shades of pink, purple, blue and gray. They blended together so well that the horizon was not well defined. Our anxious eyes were trying hard to make out the tell-tale wakes of ships of the task force which should be visible soon. Many times when the conditions are right, a task force can be seen by the returning pilots quite a distance away. But this time we were not having that kind of luck. A time or two I thought I could make out the tell-tale signs of the fleet, but as I watched, it would soon dissolve into something that didn't look right. It was a pretty sight from an art point of view, however it was "a bit puckering for the ol`sphincter valve" to say the least.

Before very long, the tense situation was eased a bit when a flight of four F4U-4 Corsairs suddenly appeared and gave us the "join up or follow me" signal to lead us back to base. After 15 minutes or so on the new course, we were treated to the beautiful sight of the white streaks of foam that trailed out astern of the ships of our task force. The carriers were already steaming into the wind and ours had a deck open and ready for us. We tightened up our formation as we approached our carrier and then broke off from the formation one at a time carefully taking proper landing interval as we turned and flew single file down wind. As I turned on the cross leg with my wheels and flaps down my speed had slowed to around 90 knots. Soon I had the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) in sight. This was a time to fly a perfect approach so that I wouldn't have to go around again. I was rewarded with a "Roger" signal from the LSO all the way around the final approach to the "Cut" --- and bam! I was on deck surging forward against the solid restraints of my tight shoulder straps and being brought to a stop by the arresting gear. When I received the "hook up" signal from a "Yellow Shirt", I moved the "hookup" control and blasted my plane out of the arresting gear with a liberal nudge of the throttle which sent my hellcat charging up the deck and across the barriers so that the next plane behind me could get aboard. By the time my plane was parked and I had climbed down from the cockpit, the entire flight was aboard and their planes were being gingerly moved forward into the crowded "pack" forward of the island. As I tucked my trusty Mark III plotting board under my arm and started waddling toward the island, I was joined by several members of the flight who were also trying to get the circulation going again in their "setters". Needless to say, we were all glad to be back aboard again. Once more, we had met the challenge of keeping track of "Point Option".

As time went by, more sophisticated and more secure communication and navigational equipment has been developed and made available to the fleet, making it a lot easier for planes to return to base.

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Hersch's painting 'Point Option' - the name was changed to 'Martha's Vineyard in memory of John-John Kennedy
Years later, after having many dreams about keeping track of point option, I did an oil painting of 'POINT OPTION'. While violating many of the rules observed by most artists, in this oil painting I tried to capture the beauty of the ocean as it reflected and blended with colorful sun lighted clouds of an afternoon, reflecting the usual character of this elusive navigation point. As I have seen many times, the painting only hints at the possibility of the task force being present in the picture, under a cloud or in the edge of a shower area. However, missing from the picture is my plotting board and my fuel gage indicating near "Empty". I called the painting "POINT OPTION" and dedicated it "WITH GREATEST RESPECT FOR ALL NAVY PILOT-NAVIGATORS."

In the year 1999, after young "John-John" Kennedy had the misfortune of encountering similar atmospheric conditions on his fateful last flight, I with the greatest respect, renamed the painting in his honor



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October 1, 2007