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  B-24D-20-CO "Pretty Prairie Special" Serial Number 41-24186  
USAAF
13th AF
5th BG
HQ

Click For Enlargement
5th BG c1943

Click For Enlargement
5th BG Dec 31, 1943

PacificWrecks.com
August 28, 2009
PacificWrecks.com
Randy Watkins 2010

Pilot  Colonel Marion D. Unruh, O-298478 5th BG C.O. (POW, survived) Pretty Prairie, Kansas
Co-Pilot  1st Lt Thomas B. Fessenger, O-663706 (MIA / POW, died July 15, 1944, BNR) CA
Navigator  Major Frederick K. Koebig, O-375573 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Bombardier  1st Lt Anthony Kuhn, O-738645 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Engineer  S/Sgt Lawson Stewart, 3 4425408 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Asst Engineer  Cpl Vincent Wasilevski, 1303815 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Radio  S/Sgt Roy E. Bixler, 35005257 (MIA / KIA) OH
Asst Radio  Sgt John J. Gillis Jr., 20610868 5th BG, HQ (MIA / POW died August 2, 1944) IL
Gunner  S/Sgt Edward T. Constantin, 14123662 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Gunner  S/Sgt Romulus F. Mull, 14187785 (MIA / POW executed March 5, 1944)
Photographer  S/Sgt Albert Schaffran, 13039217 (MIA / KIA) PA

Ditched  December 30, 1943
MACR  1620

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the Pacific.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, Headquarters Squadron to pilot Marion D. Unruh 5th Bombardment Group Commanding Officer (C.O.) who nicknamed the airplane "Pretty Prairie Special" after his hometown of Pretty Prairie, Kansas. Later, the 5th Bombardment Group logo was painted on the nose.

Wartime History
This B-24 operated from Carney Field on Guadalcanal and Munda Airfield on New Georgia, this B-24 flew extensive combat missions over the Solomon Islands. When lost, engines R-183043 serial numbers 42-43512, 41-14865, 42-37030, 42-59069. Weapon serial numbers not noted in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR).

Mission History

On December 30, 1943 took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia leading the 31st Bombardment Squadron on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Inbound to the target, the formation flew northward via the coast of Bougainville. Over the target, the bombers were intercepted by enemy fighters but successfully bombed the target.

Returning, this this bomber sustained some damage causing the bomb bay doors to hang open. About five to ten miles southeast of the Duke of York Islands over the sea, two explosions were observed within the aircraft: one ahead omitting clear blue smoke and causing three of the four doors to fall off. Afterwards, this B-24 rocked its wings to signal that it was dropping out of formation with the no. 2 engine smoking before entering cloud cover. Last seen at 12:37 descending into clouds from an altitude of 10,000' roughly ten miles north of the southern tip of New Ireland under control before ditching into the sea.

Search
The next day, five B-24s from the 5th Bombardment Group took off from Koli Field (Bomber 3) on Guadalcanal for a search mission over the Bougainville and New Ireland area to search for this B-24 and the crew. Three of the bombers reported nothing and returned to base.

The two other bombers piloted by Lt. Robertson and Captain Fitzhenry spotted something white on shore and investigated. It proved to be a parachute being waved by eight men on the beach on the southern coast of New Ireland at roughly Lat 4.43 Long 153.00. They photographed eight white men on the beach plus native people and native huts among the coconut trees, but were unable to determine their precise identity. The bombers circled at 400' and 100' and dropped a medical kit, rations and relayed their position at 11:30am and noon before departing due to lack of fuel. Afterwards, a PBY Catalina "Dumbo" was dispatched to the location but found no one. Additional searched yielded no results and the search was terminated on January 4, 1944.

Fates of the Crew
Two of the crew Bixler and Schaffran were never seen again and are presumed to have gone down with the bomber. The other eight crew members managed to exit the bomber, deploy their life raft and with the aid of natives in canoes that paddled out to rescue them, reached the beach on southern New Ireland.

The eight surviving crew members were captured by the Japanese sometime after December 31, 1943 and transported to Rabaul where they were detained as Prisoners Of War (POW) in cells.

On March 5, 1944 six of the crew: Koebig, Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin were executed at Tunnel Hill.

Two others died in captivity at Tunnel Hill. Fessenger was died on July 15, 1944 and his remains were never recovered. Gillis died on August 2, 1944, and his remains were recovered postwar.

Marion D. Unruh was held as a prisoner at Rabaul, and as a senior officer was transported to Japan. He was detained for the remainder of the war at Rokuroshi POW Camp. As the senior officer at the camp, he became the commander of the American prisoners. At the end of the war, he accepted the surrender of the camp commander, Lt. Tsuntaro Habo, who handed his sword over to him.

Memorials
Bixler and Schaffran were officially declared dead the day of the mission both are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Gillis was officially declared dead August 2, 1944. Postwar, his remains were recovered and identified. He was permanently buried at Manila American Cemetery Plot D Row 6 Grave 1.

Postwar, the remains of six of the crew were recovered from Tunnel Hill and were transported back to the United Sates for permanent burial. On March 21, 1950 Koebig, Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin were buried in a group burial with others at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 78 sites 930-934. The grave lists their date of death as March 5, 1944 for Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin and March 6, 1944 for Koebig.

Constantin has a memorial marker at Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, NC in section two.
Mull has a memorial marker at Mulls Chapel Cemetery in Cooksville, NC.

Marion D. Unruh served in occupied Japan and the Korean War. He married Yozelle Davis. After retiring form the military he returned to his hometown in Pretty Prairie, Kansas and died on April 14, 1968 and is buried at Lone Star Cemetery in Pretty Prairie, KS.

References
Missing Air Crew Report 1620 (MACR 1620) states that five were killed in action, and four declared dead.
NARA "World War II Prisoners of War Data File" Unruh Marion D. last report Oct 10, 1945
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Fessenger Thomas B. last report July 22, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Koebig Fredrick K. last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Kuhn Anthony last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Stewart Lawson last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Date File" Wasilevski Vincent last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoners of War Data File" Gillis John J. Jr. last report August 14, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Constantin Edward T. last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoner of War Data File" Mull Romulus F. last report Mar 5, 1944
Bomber Barons page 41
Deposition of John B. Kepchia, September 8, 1946 "And Sergeant Gillis, from either Chicago or New York, who died about November 1944"
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 41-24186
FindAGrave - Marion D. Unruh (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Frederick K Koebig (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Anthony Kuhn (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lawson Stewart (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Vincent Wasilevski
FindAGrave - Sgt Edward T. Constantin
FindAGrave - Sgt Romulus F. Mull

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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