April 1st, 1945, in Ready Room Three onboard USS BUNKER HILL. Stationed one hundred miles off the coast of Okinawa, Fighter Squadron SEVENTEEN would remember this day as the beginning of the invasion of Okinawa. The Jolly Rogers would participate in the invasion, providing air support for the amphibious assault and shore bombardment of the area. Fighter Squadron SEVENTEEN's reputation in the Pacific Theater was well known and the Japanese pilots feared the sight of their Skull and Crossbones emblazoned on F-4U Corsairs.
Ensign Jack Ernie and the other squadron pilots completed their preflight briefings and headed to the flight deck of USS BUNKER HILL to man their aircraft. Jack and his fellow pilots had already shot down over 100 Japanese aircraft, and anxiously awaited the day's opportunity to add more kills to their record.
Two hours later, however, over the skies of Okinawa, Ensign Jack Ernie's aircraft began losing engine oil. In an attempt to disengage from the fight with his crippled Corsair, Jack was attacked by two Japanese Zeroes. Without full power of his engine available, Jack was at too great a disadvantage. He fought valiantly, splashing one Zero before being overcome by the second. As his Corsair plummeted earthward, he made two transmissions; "Skipper, I can't get out!" followed by a short pause and then, "Remember me with the Jolly Rogers!"
For his actions that day, Ensign Ernie was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. His remains were not recovered until many years after VF-17 had been decommissioned and the Skull and Crossbones insignia had been adopted by Fighter Squadron EIGHTY-FOUR. After it's commissioning in 1959, in an attempt to trace the history of its squadron insignia, the story of Ensign Ernie was revealed to VF-84 by Jack's family and, upon their suggestion and consent, Jack's skull and femurs were encases in glass and presented to the squadron, thereby fulfilling Jack's last request of being "remembered with the Jolly Rogers."
Although Ensign Ernie was a member of the original VF-17 JOLLY ROGERS, his legend remains intact with the current VFA-103 JOLLY ROGERS. As was a tradition in VF-84, Ensign Ernie's name is a permanent fixture on the VFA-103 officer's precedence list and social roster, and his glass-encased skull and femurs remain on display in the squadron spaces and at all command functions.