If you are familiar with the movements of the 43rd Bomb Group during World War II, you know that their B-17s were phased out in 1943 as Fifth Air Force made the decision for heavy bomber units to fly the B-24. What happened to the trusty B-17s that were transferred out of the 43rd? Below is the story of one aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS (Profile #21 in our book Ken’s Men Against the Empire, Vol. I), with information from the book Claims to Fame: The B-17 Flying Fortress.
After flying 90 missions as an active combat aircraft, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred out of the 63rd Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on October 18, 1943. It entered armed transport service with the 54th Troop Carrier Wing in November and was sent to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group, where it was given the nose number 371. The 433rd was kept busy, not only by transporting troops, but also hauling supplies, equipment, and evacuating wounded personnel and civilians.
CAP’N & THE KIDS was damaged on February 19, 1944 after a C-47 taxied into the plane. It was promptly sent out to the 478th Service Squadron for repairs, then went to the 69th Troop Carrier Squadron four days later. From there, the B-17 as well as another former 43rd B-17, THE LAST STRAW, were flown to Finschhafen for Detached Service. These aircraft would become part of an eight B-17 formation that would drop supplies to the men at Momote on March 1st. CAP’N & THE KIDS made three supply drops, then flew over to the Japanese-held territory and made three strafing runs. Momote was a contested beachhead, and the B-17 attacks also served to distract enemy troops from attacking US soldiers as they grabbed the supplies.
The next day, the crew’s supply mission got a little more interesting when CAP’N & THE KIDS was jumped by three Japanese fighters as it was approaching Momote. The first fighter, a Tony, made a pass, then dove away as the right waist gunner returned fire. Next, a Zero attacked the B-17 from below and did not hit the aircraft. At last came another Tony, which made a couple of attacks as the B-17 pilot flew towards cover provided by nearby American destroyers. The left waist gunner hit the Tony in both the engine and right wing and the attacking aircraft fell away smoking, then hit the water below. Once the fighters stopped attacking the B-17, the crew finished their ammo supply drop mission. After they landed and inspected the plane, they discovered two bullet holes in the tail and they were missing an antenna, which had been shot away during the attack.
More than a month later, CAP’N & THE KIDS joined the 317th Troop Carrier Group to support the landings on Hollandia. The B-17 was used to drop supplies to troops until their airdrome at Cyclops was functional. In May, the aircraft was sent on a mission to Biak, where 7000 pairs of shoes were dropped for the men clearing out the island. August 10, 1944 marked the end of the plane’s service as an armed transport, as it was transferred to the U.S. Eighth Army the following month for a new job as Lt. General Robert L. Eichelberger’s B-17. By this time, Major Charles Downer was a former 403rd Squadron Commander, and he was asked to fly Eichelberger’s aircraft, which had been renamed MISS EM after Eichelberger’s wife, Emaline.
After its service with the Group, CAP’N & THE KIDS was transferred initially to the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. It continued to serve as an armed transport until August 1944, when it was overhauled and turned into a VIP aircraft. The nose of the plane was adorned with a red rose and it was renamed MISS EM, after the wife of the 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, who used it as his personal transport. Maj. Charles B. Downer, former C.O. of the 403rd Squadron, became Eichelberger’s pilot, heading a crew of 43rd Bomb Group veterans. From left to right: Maj. Charles B. Downer, pilot; 2/Lt. Sidney Webb, co-pilot; Capt. Thomas E. Porada, navigator; M/Sgt. Charles R. Cole, crew chief and engineer; S/Sgt. Alfred Goldman, radio operator; Sgt. F.T. Sullivan, waist gunner; S/Sgt. Brian J. Marcorelle, assistant engineer and tail gunner. (Howard K. Anderson Collection)
Downer and the rest of the flight crew thoroughly enjoyed flying MISS EM. It was a reliable aircraft that took them all around New Guinea, the Philippines, and, among other locations, the occasional trip down to Sydney. The crew had an excellent view of operations that were carried out, including the recapture of Corregidor and Manila. MISS EM’s final flight with Eichelberger and his crew may have been August 6, 1945. It was transferred to the Eighth Army and went on to make 160 flights, with 63 of them classified as combat missions. CAP’N & THE KIDS/MISS EM’s long career in the Pacific Theater ended sometime afterward and the aircraft was scrapped at Tacloban in April 1946.