National POW/MIA Recognition Day

National POW/MIA Recognition Day began in 1998 to remind us of our service members who are still missing and recognize those who were prisoners of war. This day lands on the third Friday of September each year. Currently, there are more than 82,000 missing Americans, most of whom were lost during World War II.

From DPAA: As this map shows, at present, more than 82,000 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts. Out of the 82,000 missing, 75% of the losses are located in the Asia-Pacific, and over 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea (i.e. ship losses, known aircraft water losses, etc.). *Reflects actual number still unaccounted-for. PMKOR database count is slightly higher due to several entries pending administrative review. *As part of DPAA’s data consolidation effort we have validated the number of missing from WWII. This new figure reflects the elimination of duplicative records, erroneous entries, and information that demonstrates the individual was properly accounted for by the appropriate authorities before our Agency inherited those responsibilities. (Click on the image to visit the DPAA’s page with this graphic in a larger format.)

The U.S. Government’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is working to find and identify the remains of missing Americans all around the globe. So far, 146 missing personnel have been accounted for this year. Privately, organizations such as Pacific Wrecks and The Bent Prop Project are also working towards the same goal.

Take some time to remember those who are still missing or were POWs and reread some of their stories. They will not be forgotten.

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Remembering those who did not make it home

Over the last few years, we’ve shared a number of World War II stories with you. With Memorial Day coming up this Monday, we wanted to take a moment to remember everyone who lost their lives during the war and invite you to read some of their stories once more.
 
The Aguirres HONI KUU OKOLE was shot down on May 21, 1943. The crew did not survive.

 
 
McGuire Shot Down The members of 1/Lt. James McGuire’s crew who did not survive their crash landing.

 
 
The Moore crew The crew aboard the B-17 nicknamed KA-PUHIO-WELA, shot down during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

 
 
Strafing a Ship Maj. Raymond A. Wilkins and his crew crashed in Simpson Harbor on Nov. 2, 1943. This brutal day became known as “Bloody Tuesday.”

 
 
Ralph Cheli's B-25 going down over New GuineaMaj. Ralph Cheli and his crew, who were executed by the Japanese after being captured on August 18, 1943.

Christmas in the Pacific Theater

This post will probably look familiar to longtime readers.

ww2 men eating Christmas dinner in 1944 at Dulag

Men from the 500th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group enjoy a turkey dinner on December 25, 1944 at Dulag.

For the men of Fifth Air Force, Christmas was not necessarily a time to take the day off to celebrate the holiday. There were still missions to be flown as the Allies tried to take back the Pacific from the Japanese. Some of these missions, like those of the 386th Squadron (312th Bomb Group) in 1943 were patrol missions. While the 386th was on patrol that year, the 345th, 43rd and 38th Bomb Groups were participating in a major raid on Cape Gloucester.

Three days before bombing Cape Gloucester on the 25th, a 345th B-25, THUMPER, was shot down on a mission over Wewak. The plane crash landed 12 miles from Dumpu, with the crew coming out of the crash uninjured. For five days, the crew trekked along the Ramu River, with a batch of P-40s spotting the men on Christmas Eve. The next day, the crew was seen by a Stinson L-5. The crew aboard the plane dropped supplies for the THUMPER crew. Later that afternoon, the crew received more supplies including ten pounds of turkey and a few other treats for Christmas. They were rescued the following day.

Whether or not any particular group was on a mission varied by year. No matter what, there were always a few hours set aside to enjoy a turkey or ham dinner, attend mass, and enjoy some music. Even though the men were so far away from home during the holidays, they always made the best of the situation.

Memorial Day 2015

As we observe Memorial Day on Monday, please take a moment to remember the men and women who paid the ultimate price during their military service. Here is one story where a crew from the 43rd Bomb Group joined those that we remember each year.

Six B-17s were sent to bomb Vunakanau during the early morning hours of May 21, 1943. There was hardly any antiaircraft fire to evade and mission results were good: fires were seen scattered around the Vunakanau area as they left. Sadly, only four of the six B-17s made it back to base. One of the planes that didn’t return was HONI KUU OKOLE. As the pilot, Capt. Williams, was approaching the target area, a Japanese J1N1 Gekko “Irving” night fighter positioned itself underneath the bombers right wing. The fighter let loose with its 20mm cannon directly into the B-17s right wing.  Both engines on the wing burst into flame and the pilot dove in hopes to escape the fighter. Bombardier M/Sgt. Gordon R. Manuel quickly salvoed their bombs as they left the area. When Williams leveled off at 6000 feet, the crew discovered that they hadn’t managed to shake the night fighter, which shot at the B-17 again. This time, both engines on the left wing were hit, putting the plane into a fatal dive.

Soon, the fire spread to the waist section of the aircraft, getting close to the small incendiary bombs stacked on the floor. Crewmembers began preparing to bail out of the doomed aircraft. In total, three of the men were able to bail out of the plane before it crashed and exploded. Manuel opened the bomb bay doors and jumped through the open hatch. As he fell, from his vantage point of approximately 100-200 feet above the water, Manuel saw a second parachute, which he believed belonged to co-pilot 2/Lt. John S. Rippy. He landed about three-quarters of a mile away from Manuel. Sergeant Robert A. Curry, one of the waist gunners, bailed out and made it to shore, only to be captured by the Japanese and executed at Rabaul.

The Aguirres

Richard U. Aguirre sits in a park with his wife, Margaret, in this photo taken before he was sent out to the Southwest Pacific. Aguirre was the navigator on HONI KUU OKOLE when it was shot down over the New Britain coastline on May 21, 1943. He did not survive the shoot down. (CZNBJL Collection via FindaGrave)

 

When Manuel landed, he was about 300 yards from shore. It took him several hours to swim with one broken leg and the other leg filled with shrapnel. When he reached the shore, he buried himself in dead foliage to keep from being discovered by the Japanese patrols, then fell asleep for a couple of hours. Lt. Rippy was not so lucky. After Rippy swam to shore, he was discovered as he slept by Japanese soldiers, who took him onboard a destroyer and executed him.

When he woke up, he began to walk along the beach, eventually meeting some natives that were working on a dirt road. Once he decided that there weren’t any Japanese among the natives, he stepped out from a hiding place and tried to communicate that he was injured. The leader of the village, Pagnkuf, was among the group and luckily for Manuel, he spoke some English.

For eight months, Manuel stayed at different villages as he eluded the Japanese and recuperated from his injuries. During this time, he was also able to send natives on reconnaissance missions regarding Japanese positions and gun emplacements. This information would aid the Allies, and hopefully his rescue as well. It wasn’t until February 5, 1944 that Manuel finally left New Britain on the USS Gato.

New Year’s Eve with the 3rd Bomb Group

Members of the 3rd Bomb Group rang in 1944 a little differently in New Guinea than they would have back in the States. Despite not having friends and family to celebrate with, they still managed to have a good time.

Adrian Bottge of the 89th Squadron noted the evening’s celebration: “New Years night. A lot of the fellows in the 13th – 89th – 8th & Hdqtrs. shot their Garands, tommy guns, 45 pistols, etc. at midnight. Sounded like war and kept me awake for a time.”

Meanwhile, Clifford Taylor of the 13th Squadron wrote: “Tonight we celebrated a New Guinea New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t too bad as somehow the boys ‘racked’ off some steaks & Bill & I had a couple of bottles of port & a fruit cake. We got pretty jolly on the wine & had a good old-fashioned song-fest. After raising hell until pretty late we were ordered on a mission for 5:30 New Year’s morning.”

The next day, Andrew Weigel commented on the results of the previous night’s festivities: “The [8th] squadron was released today. And that was just as well. Most of the men were pretty much the worse for wear after last night…”

Memorial Day

Today we pause to honor those who have fallen in battle.

At the end of World War II, 1/Lt. Rudolph B. Warner, a 38th Bomb Group unit historian, reflected on the 38th’s journey and how the war affected the men in the group: “The outfit looked like anything but a conquering army entering the homeland of the enemy. It is doubtful if any of them paused to remember that this was the end of the road for the expedition that had set sail from San Francisco harbor in that far-away and long ago time when the Pacific war was new. This was the conclusion of a Saga of island-hopping from Australia to Kyushu, of hardships and privation, of losses in men and aircraft and replacements which were heart-breakingly slow in coming, the end of the battle against mosquitoes, malaria and jungle rot as well as the Japanese. The route was well dotted with small white crosses, for it is axiomatic that those who have given the most to achieve a victory do not share in its fruits.”

Christmas in the Pacific Theater

For the men of Fifth Air Force, Christmas was not necessarily a time to take the day off to celebrate the holiday. There were still missions to be flown as the Allies tried to take back the Pacific from the Japanese. Some of these missions, like those of the 386th Squadron (312th Bomb Group) in 1943 were patrol missions. While the 386th was on patrol that year, the 345th, 43rd and 38th Bomb Groups were participating in a major raid on Cape Gloucester.

Three days before bombing Cape Gloucester on the 25th, a 345th B-25, THUMPER, was shot down on a mission over Wewak. The plane crash landed 12 miles from Dumpu, with the crew coming out of the crash uninjured. For five days, the crew trekked along the Ramu River, with a batch of P-40s spotting the men on Christmas Eve. The next day, the crew was seen by a Stinson L-5. The crew aboard the plane dropped supplies for the THUMPER crew. Later that afternoon, the crew received more supplies including ten pounds of turkey and a few other treats for Christmas. They were rescued the following day.

Whether or not any particular group was on a mission varied by year. No matter what, there were always a few hours set aside to enjoy a turkey or ham dinner, attend mass, and enjoy some music. Even though the men were so far away from home during the holidays, they always made the best of the situation.