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  B-17E Flying Fortress Serial Number 41-2655  
USAAF
5th AF
19th BG
30th BS

Pilot  1st Lt. Paul M. Lindsey, O-406701 (survived) Canon City, CO
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Robert M. Kernan (survived) West Nyack, NY
Navigator  2nd Lt. Edward R. Budz (KIA, BR) Housatonic, MA
Bombardier  SSgt James E. Houchins (KIA, BR) Coeburn, VA
Engineer  SSgt Houston A. Rice (KIA, BR) Ordway, CO
Ball Turret  Sgt Edward (Ralph) Dietz (survived) Clarion, PA
Waist Gunner  Sgt Henry Buller (survived) Billings, MT
Tail Gunner  Sgt. Vernon O. Elder (survived) La Junta, CO

Crashed  July 14, 1942 at 3:34am
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 19th Bombardment Group, 30th Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.

On July 13, 1942 took off from Cloncurry Airfield to to Horn Island Airfield to stage a bombing mission against Lae the next day.

Mission History
On July 14, 1942 this B-17 was the fourth B-17 that took off from Horn Island Airfield around 3:30am during a tropical storm with most of the crew in the radio compartment for take off. Dietz and Rice were not scheduled to fly the mission but volunteered to fill vacant positions. Soon after take off, this B-17 crashed into the sea roughly a mile from Horn Island into the Torres Strait possibly due to the storm and a strong downdraft. During the crash, the fuselage broke from the impact, trapping some of the crew inside. Elder, Deitz and Rice were washed out of the radio compartment and swept into the sea. Elder's wrist watch stopped at 3:34am. The rest of the crew managed to exit the bomber as it sank. The fifth bomber to take off B-17E 41-2636 crashed roughly 300-400m off Horn Island into the mangrove swamp.

The surviving crew awaited rescue and aided each other in the water. Lindsay and Kernan assisting one of the enlisted men who could not swim, holding him above the surface until rescued. Afterwards, Kernan earned the Soldier's Medal for aiding the enlisted man. The crew reported sharks and crocodiles in the vicinity. Buller swam into the wreckage to retrieve shark repellent.

Rescue
Due to the storm and the fact two B-17s had crashed within minutes of each other, there was confusion on Horn Island and no rescue party was immediately dispatched to this location. An hour and a half later, an Australian crash boat captained by Lance Potter located them and rescued the crew and recovered Rice's body. The crash boat continued searching and at dawn returned to the site to continue searching.

Afterwards, the surviving crew members was given a ten day R&R pass to Cairns to recuperate from the ordeal. Afterwards, the crew returned to flying duty. On August 16, 1942 pilot Lindsey went Missing In Action (MIA) as a passenger aboard B-17E 41-2434.

Wreckage
This B-17 sank into shallow water and was largely intact with the fuselage broken and one engine missing.

In 1997, former crew member Ralph Deltz and his wife Rae visited Horn Island and with the help of local resident and author Vanessa Seekee, he revisited the crash site of his B-17 and removed a small relic as a souvenir.

During 2010, Ken Bledsoe (son of Vernon O. Elder) snorkled the wreckage.

Memorials
The three fatalities were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Their bodies were recovered and they were initially buried in adjoining burial burials on Thursday Island. An Australian Army Chaplain, Archie Harris, conducted services for the three American airmen on July 15 and July 16. During 1943, the three were reburied in the American section of the Townsville Cemetery at Belgian Gardens in Townsville. In July 1945 they were reburied in the USAF Military Cemetery at Ipswich, near Brisbane. Postwar, the crew's remains were transported to the United States for permanent burial.

Budz is buried at Saint Bridgets Cemetery in Great Barrington, MA. The local VFW is in part named after Lt. Budz and his brother Chester, also a veteran with the 19th BG.

Houchins was buried on May 10, 1949 at Temple Hill Memorial Park in Castlewood, VA.

Rice was buried during May 1949 at the Golden Gate National Cemetery at section J, site 1088.

Elder passed away on March 24, 1973. He is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery at Section Q Site 4927.

Relatives
Ken Bledsoe (son of Elder)

References
Lance Potter Diary July 14, 1942
Vernon O. Elder Letter August 10, 1942
La Junta Dailey Tribune "La Junta Lad Escapes Serious Injury In Pacific Plane Crash" circa Juy 1942
FindAGrave - Lieut Edward Robert Budz (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt James Earl Houchins
FindAGrave - Houston Albert Rice (grave photo)
FindAgrave - Vernon O Elder
Fortress Against the Sun pages 177, 221, 388
Horn Island page 197-198
Vernon Elder letter July 22, 1942
Echoes From an Eagle page 41-51, 56-58, 81-85, 109-114, 116, 118, 120-121
Australia @ War: 16 July 1942 - Crash of B-17 Flying Fortress Near Horn Island, QLD on 14 July 1942
Thanks to Ken Bledsoe for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

Tech Info
B-17

SCUBA
8-25'
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