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  B-17F-5-BO "Dumbo" Serial Number 41-24429  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

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Ernie Vandal c1942

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via McLawhorn c1942

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Brian Bennett 2004

Pilot  1st Lt Lewis A. Anderson, O-416252 (MIA / KIA, BR) Kansas City, MO
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt William K. Fox, O-660475 (MIA / KIA, BR) Davenport, OK
Crew  2nd Lt Robert W. Schleh, O-735205 (MIA / KIA, BR) Omaha, NE
Crew  Sgt Joseph J. Conde, 15016544 (MIA / KIA, BR) Youngstown, OH
Crew  SSgt Archibald B. Hodge, 7006759 (MIA / KIA, BR) Nashville, TN
Crew  SSgt Vernon R. "Bud" Kaylor, 14053672 (MIA / KIA, BR) Hickory, NC
Crew  Sgt Richard M. Keeley, 35258646 (MIA / KIA, BR) Louisville, KY
Crew  M/Sgt Milton Kelkey, 6995318 (MIA / KIA, BR) Philadelphia, PA
Crew  T/Sgt Albert C. Nies, 6943388 (MIA / KIA, BR) Johnstown, PA

Crashed  December 4, 1942 at 12:42am
MACR 15685

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing. On June 29, 1942 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-5-BO Flying Fortress Serial Number 41-24429. Ferried by Captain Jamese O. Ellis via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd Bombardment Squadron. The left side of the nose included the Walt Disney cartoon character "Dumbo" painted by Sgt Ernie Vandal. No nickname was written on the bomber, but it was known as "Dumbo" by the squadron.

Operated from Mareeba Airfield and 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby, flying combat missions over New Guinea. When lost, engine and weapons serial numbers unknown.

Mission History
On December 3, 1942 one of eight B-17s that took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt Lewis A. Anderson at roughly 11:25pm on a mission to locate and bomb a Japanese cruiser reported in the vicinity of Buna.

Over the target area on December 4, 1942 at 12:25am the cruiser was not located, despite good weather conditions. After leaving the Buna area, this B-17 was never seen or contacted by radio.

Afterwards, the formation then proceeded to secondary target of Lae, but it was clouded in, with a low ceiling, poor visibility and thunderstorms. While trying to skirt a severe storm five miles off Finschafen a light, possibly from this B-17 was seen to signal "S.O..." and about 30 seconds later, directly ahead, a reddish yellow explosion was seen."

When this B-17 failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).

Wreckage
In fact, this B-17 crashed at 12:42am in the Mongi valley east of the Mongi River at approximately 1,000' elevation, rougly eight miles southwest of Finschhafen.

On August 1, 1946, a RAAF Searcher Team that included F/O Lloyd Cogswell located the wreckage of this bomber at roughly Lat 6.40S Long 147.41E. At the crash site, the team identified the aircraft from a piece of the fuselage with the number of the aircraft. They also located a wrist watch that was stopped at 00:42, likely the exact moment of impact.

During March 2004, the crash site was revisited by JPAC with Brian Bennett and recommended this MIA case be reopened.

Recovery of Remains
During the August, 1, 1946 vist by the RAAF Searcher Team, five sets of remains were recovered in and around the wreckage. Bones of a sixth individual were located nearby. Two were positively identified by their dog tags: Kelkey and Fox. A copy of the team's report was forwarded to S/L Keith Rundle and American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) were notified of the discovery.

The remains of five individuals (Keeley, Fox plus three unknown others) recovered by the RAAF on August 1, 1946 were transfered to the U. S. Army and buried at USAF Cemetery Finschafen #5. Postwar, their remains of this crew were exhumed and transported to the United States for final burial.

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission.

On June 6, 1950 the six of the crew were buried in a group burial at at Zackary Taylor National Cemetery at section I site 174-175. The grave includes remains deemed to be associated with Anderson, Schleh, Conde, Hodge, Nies and Keeley.

Three of the crew were individually identified:
Fox was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hugo, OK.
Kelkey is buried at Roosevelt Memorial Park in Trevose, PA.
Kaylor has an unknown burial, likely in a private cemetery in his hometown.

Relatives
Debbie Roush (niece of Archibald Hodge) adds:
"I have in my possession 3 handwritten diaries he kept from April 1940 through Nov. 28, 1942 (just a week before the plane went down). I have typed a transcript of these diaries as they are very worn and we don't want to lose this valuable information. I also have all the letters from the President to my great grandmother about him being missing and then declared dead."

Angela McLawhorn (great niece Vernon R. "Bud" Kaylor) adds:
"My great uncle was S/Sgt Vernon R. Kaylor, his nick name was Bud. I am still looking for more information and I was told another family member has a lot so I am going to see what I can find and then will share with you."

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Vernon R. Kaylor
NARA
Missing Air Crew Report 15685 (MACR 15685) was generated retroactively
RAAF Casualty Card - Fortress 41-24429 mentions the recovery of Miltion Kelkey and W. K. Fox
NAA "Fortress - Missing U.S. Aircraft, Fortress B17 41-24429" page 18
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17 Flying Fortress 41-24429
Pride of Seattle page 8
43rd BG History, microfilm frame 425
FindAGrave - Lewis A Anderson (grave photo)
FindAGrave - William Kenneth Fox (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Robert W Schleh (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Joseph J Conde (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Archibald B Hodge (grave photo)
FindAGrave - No burial can be found for Kaylor
FindAGrave - Richard M Keeley (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Milton Kelkey (Roosevelt Memorial Park grave)
FindAGrave - Albert C Nies (grave photo)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall, Brian Bennett, Daniel Leahy and Richard Leahy for additional information.

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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