Reagan taught US pilots how to recognize the Zero

Ronald Reagan probably helped save a number of lives on the front lines — and not because he was a big hero. In fact, Reagan’s eyesight was so bad, they kept him in the United States. But despite not being fit for front-line duty, Reagan still played his role for Uncle Sam.

While Reagan’s eyesight made him next to useless for combat, he did end up being involved in doing training films, one of which involved recognizing the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Friendly fire has long been a problem — ask Stonewall Jackson.

And yes, friendly fire was a problem in World War II. The P-38 was hamstrung because someone mistook a C-54 for a Fw 200.

Mitsuo Fuchita

A6M2 Zero fighters prepare to launch from Akagi as part of the second wave during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In this training film, “Recognition of the Japanese Zero,” Reagan portrayed a young pilot who had just arrived in the Far East. The recognition angle is hammered home, and not just because of the friendly-fire problem.

Reagan’s character studies silhouettes drawn by a wounded pilot who hesitated too long — and found out he was dealing with a Zero the hard way.

Even with the study, Reagan’s character later accidentally fires at a P-40 he misidentifies, greatly angering the other American pilot. However, when he returns, he takes his lumps, but all turns out okay when the other pilots realizes there is a Zero in Reagan’s sights from the gun camera footage.

Reagan’s character explains that he stumbled across the Zero, then after a dogfight (not the proper tactic against the Zero, it should be noted), Reagan’s character shoots down the Zero.

There’s a happy ending as the earlier near-miss is forgotten and the kill is celebrated.

Colin Powell briefing President Ronald Reagan in 1988. (Photo from Reagan Presidential Library)

The film is also notable in that it revealed to American pilots that the United States had acquired a Zero that had crashed in the Aleutians. The so-called Akutan Zero was considered one of the great intelligence coups in the Pacific Theater, arguably second only to the American code-breaking effort.

So, see a future President of the United States help teach American pilots how to recognize the Zero in the video below.