|Pilot Captain William W. Neel O-431492 3rd BG, 89th BS (KIA, BR) Philadelphia, PA
Passenger 2nd Lt. Charles D. Reeve, O-756024 3rd BG, 13th BS (injured, died, BR) Fairfax, VA
Passenger SSgt James C. Cox, O-753616 3rd BG, 13th BS (wounded, survived) Williamstown, PA
Passenger TSgt Edwin W. Barnett, 37213824 3rd BG, 13th BS (wounded, survived)
Crashed October 10, 1944 at 1:15pm
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. No known nickname or nose art. Possibly, this A-20 was assigned to Far East Air Force - Combat Replacement and Training Center (FEAF CRTC).
On October 10, 1944 took off from Hollandia Airfield piloted by Captain William W. Neel on a courier flight bound for Nadzab Airfield. Aboard were three passengers: Reeve, Cox and Barnett. At approximately 1:15pm, this aircraft crashed near Kerowagi on the Kon River. During the crash, pilot Neel was killed. Passenger Reeve was injured and died at the scene of the crash. The other two passengers Cox and Barnett survived. When this aircraft failed to return, the entire crew was listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
After the crash, native people, yodeling news of the crash from village to village and across valleys to personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 12 Repair and Salvage Unit (12 RSU) detachment at Kerowagi.
The evening, three RAAF enlisted men: Sgt G. McBride, Sgt Charles William Clearson, Cpl Michael B. Lennon plus Australian Army Cpl Andre C. O’Neil and a sergeant from ANGAU sergeant Banfield trekked to the crash site. The group was accompanied by a native stretcher bearer party carrying rations and medical supplies. The group trekked until 11pm and slept in the rain.
On October 12, 1944 the group began trekking at dawn and were met by a native carrying a note from the surviving crew and a pair of U. S. pilot wings. With this native, Sgt McBride Sgt Clearson pushed forward as an advance party with an interpreter, a few bearers and medical supplies. By midday, the advance party climbed Mount Wilhelm then reached the crash site at 3pm.
At the crash site, two of the crew: Cox and Barnett were alive but suffering from exposure and their injuries had become infected. Both were given medical treatment. During the cold night, the group huddled together to keep warm.
On October 13, 1944 the rest of the rescue party arrived and cut a track down the side of the mountainside. Natives carried the Americans. The entire group traveled down the Chimbu Valley back to Kerowagi, were met by a U. S. Army medical officer and flown to a hospital for further treatment.
Afterwards, Cox returned to the United States for further treatment. On December 7, 1944 Cox was a patient at the Army Air Base Hospital at Hamilton Field, for treatment of illness contracted in New Guinea.
Neel and Reeve were officially declared the day of the mission. After the recovery of remains, Neel was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 34, site 3225. During 1947, Reeve was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 12, site 2326.
NAA World War II Army Enlistment Records
- William W. Neel
NAA World War II Army Enlistment Records
- Charles D. Reeve
Missing Air Crew Report 15863 (MACR 15863) page 3 incorrectly lists passenger as "2nd Lt. James C. Cox, O-753616"
NAA "Crash of Boston aircraft of CRTC at Nadzab and rescue of survivors by personnel of No 12 Repair and Salvage Unit Detachment, Kerowagi" (NAA: A9695, 10)
FindAGrave - William W Neel (grave photo)
Charles Douglas Reeve (grave photo)
WW2 Nominal Roll - George McBride, 23429
WW2 Nominal Roll - Charles William Clearson, 18659
WW2 Nominal Roll - Michael Bernard Lennon, 20078
WW2 Nominal Roll - Andre Charles O’Neil, NX45120
Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) "In Army Hospital" December 7, 1944 - page 2
"Williamstown, Dec. 7. SSgt. James C. Cox, veteran of the New Guinea campaign, arrived from overseas by plane and is now a patient in the Army Air Base Hospital, Hamilton Field, Calif., where he is being treated for an illness he contracted in New Guinea."
Four Airmen Organize NG Rescue Party
“Without thought of their own safety and with little knowledge of the country, four RAAF NCOs set out through dense jungle into a range of New Guinea mountains 13,000 feet high in search of survivors of an air crash reported by natives,” states an ANGAU report recently released.
From this report and a letter of commendation received from the US Army Air Force, a RAAF unit in Northern New Guinea has learned that four of its members, with an ANGAU sergeant, in October 1944, performed an epic rescue.
Sgt G. McBride, of Cairns, Q, fitter aircraft; Sgt C. W. Clearson, Bacchus Marsh, Vic, fitter armourer; Cpl M. B. Lennon, Delungra, NSW, fitter engines; and Cpl A. C. O’Neill, Newcastle, fitter engines, were working on a lengthy salvage job on the remote and seldom frequented emergency landing strip at Kerowagi on a high plateau in the Chimbu.
Bush telegraph. The airmen heard of an air crash in the mountains by “tok”—a native system of passing emergency messages by yodeling them from village to village and across valleys. Because of the distance over which the call had been relayed the airmen could get only vague details and a general direction of the accident.
Darkness was approaching, but the four RAAF NCOs set off with Sgt Banfield of ANGAU and a native boy, to be followed by a native bearer party with medical supplies and rations. They went that night along native footpaths and creek beds, labouring into wild mountain terrain, through thickly wooded country and dense undergrowth.
By 11 pm all members of the party were exhausted. Forced to halt, they lay down to sleep in the severe cold and drizzling rain with only ground sheets as a covering. A party of natives arrived a little later and built a lean-to shelter over the Australians as they slept.
At dawn the rescuers went on again. The country grew more rugged and the climbing harder with every step, more intolerable with every hour. At 10.30 they met a kanaka carrying a pair of US pilot’s wings and a note describing the plight of the crew. Sgts McBride and Clearson decided that a forward party would push on with an interpreter and a few bearers with medical supplies. Then they contacted a native who had visited the scene of the crash and who was able to give more definite information about its location.
By midday the advance party had reached the top of Mt Wilhelm after climbing through several miles of moss forest. Trees and stones were grown over with moss, which was an inch thick on the ground. The prolonged physical exertion of the climb, the difficult foot work, and the thinness of the air at this altitude, were telling. Will power kept the party going.
At 3 pm they reached the crashed aircraft, a US Boston bomber. Two of the crew were still alive but suffering from exposure, and their injuries had become infected. Medical treatment was given with such supplies as the rescue party carried.
The cold was intense during the night. To keep the injured airmen warm, the Australians huddled up around them. The following morning a large party of natives arrived and cut a track through the jungle down the side of the mountain range ahead of the rescue party. The native helpers carried the American airmen.
Passing down to the Chimbu Valley, the party met an American medical officer waiting for them at Kerowagi. The injured men were immediately transferred to base hospital by air. The RAAF NCOs went on with their salvage job and subsequently returned to their unit higher up the Island. Their expedition to Mt Wilhelm remained a secret for, with them well, “it was just an incident in a job of work.”
Townsville Daily Bulletin "Epic Rescue by RAAF Men" February 17, 1945 page 5
"How four R.A.A.F. N.C.O's. with little knowledge of the country through which they had to pass, and without thought for their own safety, performed an epic rescue of the crew of a U.S. Boston bomber is told In a graphic story.
In the latest Issue of the R. A. A.F.'s official journal. 'Wings'. A Queenslander, a Victorian, and two New South Welshmen— all fitters — were working on a salvage job in a remote emergency landing strip at Kerowagi, when they learned by 'tok' a native system of passing urgent messages across mountains and valleys by yodelling, of an air crash In the mountains.
Although darkness was approaching, they Immediately set out with an Angau representative, a native boy to act as interpreter, and a native bearer patty following behind with supplies and medical equipment. In Intense heat almost intolerable conditions, and over treacherous mountain paths and creek beds, and at night beset by the cold, the party eventually reached the crashed aircraft. Two of the crew were still alive, but were suffering from exposure. Medical treatment was given on the spot with such supplies as they had available, and to protect the airmen from cold, the rescuers huddled closely around them.
Native carriers arrived next morning and cut a path down the steep mountainside for the return Journey. Passing down the Chimbu Valley, the party met an American medical officer awaiting them. The Injured men were immediately transferred to base hospital by air.
Their work done, the R.A.A.F. N.C.O's. returned to their normal job. But their efforts did not go unheralded. They received a letter of commendation from the U.S. Army Air Force, thanking them for the rescue of its members."
Wings Magazine has an article about this rescue
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis.
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January 5, 2018