|Pilot 2nd Lt. Henry J. "Bill" Miars, O-750426 (MIA / KIA, BR) New Hope, TX
Gunner SSgt Harley A. Speare, Jr., 13113507 (MIA / KIA) Sharpton, MD
Crashed March 13, 1944 at 12:45pm
Miars was born in New Hope, Texas about five miles from Hubbard, Texas. After graduating High School and working, he volunteered to join the USAAC during 1940 as a clerk and later became an aviation cadet, graduating from Class 43-G and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. During August 1943 he was deployed to New Guinea.
Built by Douglas. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 3rd Bombardment Group, 89th Bombardment Squadron. On March 10, 1944 assigned to the 312th Bombardment Group, 389th Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. When lost, engines R-2600-23 serial numbers (left) 42-83351 (right) 42-154203. Weapon serial numbers not noted in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR).
On March 13, 1944 one of nine A-20s that took off from Gusap Airfield No. 5 led by Major Wells on a strike mission against Alexishafen Airfield No. 1 Strip. At 8:30am, the formation performed a low level strike over the target.
Over the target, A-20G 42-54083 piloted by Wells was hit by anti-aircraft fire and ditched off Sek Island. A-20G piloted by Strauss circled over the downed crew until P-47s relieved him.
The seven remaining A-20s turned back for Gusap led by 1st Lt. Kenneth Hedges. Low on fuel, the formation encountered bad
weather with limited visibility and clouds closing in. They started to climb over the Finisterre
Range southwest of Saidor, but found it impossible to cross the mountains due to the bad weather. Flying along a ridge line at 10,000' three A-20s failed to join the formation and were never seen again. In fact, this aircraft lost along with A-20G
42-54082 and A-20G 42-54117 crashed into a
mountainside in the Finisterre
Range while flying in formation in bad weather.
The next day, eight A-20s from the 389th Bomb Squadron led by 1st Lt. McKinney conducted a search
for this aircraft, taking off at 12:15. Three A-20s searched from Faita to Bogadjim, three searched along the coastline from Bogadjim to Karkar Island and two searched from Bogadjim to Finschafen and Lae. All landed by 2:20pm without results.
That afternoon, a second search by seven A-20s led by 1st Lt. Happ took off at 3:30pm searching Gusap, Dumpu, Madang, Saidor and down the coast to Finschafen and Lae. Nothing was spotted during this flight.
The 310th Bomb Wing was notified of the missing plane and checked at all airfields where this A-20 could have landed, but received no information about it. For the next week, the 312th Bomb Group continued to searched for the three missing A-20s when aircraft were available and all groups were altered to be on the lookout for the missing planes. No trace of these aircraft were ever spotted.
In 1985, Col. Strauss (312th BG C. O.)
referred to the loss of these three planes and six boys as "a damned
and felt responsible for their loss.
This A-20 crashed into a mountain side in the Finisterre Range at roughly 8,000' approximately fifteen miles
south of Saidor, in close proximity to A-20G
42-54082. The crash was observed by local people in the vicinity and known to them since the war. The site was avoided and considered haunted by spirits.
During late December 1982, Jerry Fields of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) was assigned to build a house for Craig Spaulding and his family who would live in the area to undertake bible translation work into the local language. Villagers informed him about three aircraft wrecks in the vicinity. At the time, an elderly man was alive who remember the planes crashing.
Fields was taken by the villagers to the wreckage of two wrecks: this aircraft and A-20G
42-54082. Locals were aware of a third wreck A-20G 42-54082, but it was further away and too far to visit at the time. Fields reported them to Richard Knieriemen, an aircraft engineer with SIL who encouraged him to go back and look for their serial numbers and take photographs. He found the serial number on the tail of one of the aircraft as "254085". Knieriemen reported the finds to PNG War Museum curator Bruce Hoy who verified it as a missing aircraft and on December 2, 1982 reported the discovery to US
Army CILHI Major Johnie E. Webb.
Bruce Hoy adds:
"A-20G 42-54085 and A-20G 42-54117 were discovered, from memory, by a member of the staff of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in 1983, the person being Dick Knieriemen. It was not until 1989 when 42-54082 was located even though it was in close proximity to 42-54085."
Recovery of Remains
Between 1980-1990, this crash site was visited by US
Army CILHI on at least three occasions. Spears' body was never located at the crash site and he remains Missing In Action (MIA).
On August 31, 1983 a three man team from US
Army CILHI visited this crash site and recovered the remains of Lt. Miars, his wrist watch was stopped at 12:45, an inscribed bracelet and his silver pilot's wings.
Second, on July 11, 1989 a team from CILHI with PNG War Museum curator Bruce Hoy visited this aircraft.
Bruce Hoy adds:
"The heli pad [was at 9,850' elevation]. A-20G 42-54085 is located down-slope from the heli pad. I also went on to state that this crash-site was about 500 meters down from the camp which was roughly level with the helipad. Convert meters to feet and subtract that from 9,850'. However, thinking back it is possible I may have over-estimated the elevation between the helipad and 42-54085, as it may in fact have been a little less. I do know that it was an arduous climb back up to the camp site."
During August 1990, a third visit was made by CILHI with Richard Leahy.
The crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. Both were memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After the recovery of remains, on August 14, 1984, Miars was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Hubbard, Texas next to his parents. His personal effects were returned to his family.
Cris Miars (brother of Miars)
Anna Underwood (niece of Miars) adds:
"His sister, Kathryn Hight was excited to learn about this webpage. I can confirm that his remains were returned to the family in 1984. The Miars family held a memorial service with 21 gun salute at the Fairview Cemetery in Hubbard, Texas, August 4, 1984. Unfortunately, we do not know the other two gentlemen. Bill's sister, Kathryn, said that one of them was Spears. She has a letter that was written to their mother from Mrs. Spears. The two women spoke of having the same picture. In the letter Mrs. Spears wrote that her son Harvey said that was the best crew in the Air Force. Kathryn thinks Spears was from Maryland."
Shelley M. Dziedzic (niece of Speare)
Missing Air Crew Report 5890
Dallas Times Herald "Homecoming: Family Buries Long Lost WWII Flyer" August 5, 1984
Rampage of the Roarin' 20's pages 77-79, 347, 363
FindAGrave - Lieut Henry J Miars (photos, grave photo)
FindAGrave - S/Sgt Harley A. Speare, Jr
Bruce Hoy Diary 2 December 1982
"2 December, 1982, Thursday, I received a visit from a chap [Richard Knieriemen] working for the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Ukarumpa near Kainantu, advising me of his discovery of an A‑20G with the serial number of 42‑54085, with sketchy details of another lying in the same vicinity not far from the Saidor Gap. After my visitor left, I immediately wrote to Major Johnie E Webb Jr at CIL‑HI in Hawaii advising of this, together with details that I had located a person who can lead me to the site of B‑24D 42-40984 and again requesting the assistance of CIL-HI in the museum procuring copies of Missing Aircraft Reports., even at our expense."
Bruce Hoy Diary 20 April, 1983
"Wednesday, received a visit from Richard Knieriemen, an aircraft engineer with the Summer Institute of Linguistics. He had offered help in locating missing aircraft, so I provided him with a letter of introduction."
Bruce Hoy Diary 19 May, 1983
"Thursday, prepared a fax to be sent to CIL-HI concerning the planned mission to PNG later in the year, and when finished, I delivered it to the American Embassy for transmission to Hawaii. The fax detailed the aircraft serial numbers for the mission in August: B-17 41-2430, B-25 42-64570, A20G 42-54082, 42-54085, 42-54117, B-24J 42-72899, A-20G, 42-54089, and B-24 42-40984."
Bruce Hoy Diary 12 September, 1983
"Monday, the CIL-HI team arrived in my office with the human remains recovered, and I then delivered them to W A Flick and Company for fumigation. I was briefed on their mission to Rabaul in that on completing the B-25 site, they moved to the B-17 site, (this site was B-17E 41-2430) except they were confronted with a scene of indescribable destruction with countless trees having been felled. With them not having a chainsaw in which to start to clear."
Bruce Hoy Diary 13 September, 1983
"I prepared the appropriate export permit listing the aircraft from which the remains had been gathered by CIL-HI: B-24D 42-40984, B-24D 42-72899, A-20G 42-54085 and B-25C 42-64570. These were later collected by CIL-HI."
Telephone interview with Richard Knieriemen by Justin Taylan August 10, 2013
Thanks to Bruce Hoy, Richard Leahy, Richard Knieriemen and Shelley Dziedzic for additional information
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February 4, 2018