Richard Kolodey grew up near a small airport in Dallas, Texas, and had taken numerous flights in general aviation aircraft. He signed up for the marines at age 17 as soon as he graduated high school, five months after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. He attended training in San Diego, and was one of only two recruits selected for flying.
In this podcast, he describes his training as a gunner. His actual firing from an aircraft didn't occur until he was overseas. His first combat mission occurred over Guadalcanal in August of 1943, bombing a landing strip to allow the navy CBs to repair the strips for American forces. His aircraft was escorted by F-4U aircraft. His group shot down 10 planes and sunk 35 ships.
He served on the TBM, which had a crew of three - pilot and two gunners. During his overseas tour, his aircraft took numerous hits, but he never had to bail out. His mission was to island-hop through the Solomon Islands, securing the islands for American planes to get close enough to Japan to launch missions.
After he returned from overseas, he attended flight training to become a pilot when the war ended.