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  B-24D-53-CO Liberator Serial Number 42-40352  
USAAF
5th AF
90th BG
321st BS

Click For Enlargement
Click For Enlargement

USAAF May 7, 1943

Pilot  1st Lt Jindrich "Henry" L. Chovanec, O-437926 (MIA / KIA, BR) TX
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt Henry C. Hansen, O-663261 (MIA / KIA, BR) CA
Navigator  2nd It Eugene B. Brown Jr., O-728334 (MIA / KIA, BR) Santa Barbara, CA
Bombardier  2nd Lt Edwin B. Smith, O-730979 (MIA / KIA, BR) Pointe Coupee, LA
Crew  T/Sgt Clarence W. Boyer, 19063174 (MIA / KIA, BR) Los Angeles, CA
Crew  T/Sgt William C. Lowther, 15073206 (MIA / KIA, BR)
Crew  S/Sgt Robert P. Nix, 36350512 (MIA / KIA, BR) IL
Crew  S/Sgt Ernest E. Hansen, 36183066 (MIA / KIA, BR) MI
Crew  S/Sgt Robert A. Ratliff, 17033833 (MIA / KIA, BR) MO
Crew  Cpl Chester O. Coggin, 36054268 (MIA / KIA, BR)
Tail Gunner  S/Sgt Henry C. Simons, 34266381 (MIA / KIA, BR) Crawford, GA
Passenger  F/Lt Leigh Grant Vial, RAAF 253939 (MIA / KIA, BR) East St. Kilda, VIC

Crashed  April 30, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Completed February 23, 1943. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-53-CO Liberator serial number 42-40352. On March 30, 1943 departed Long Beach, CA. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 90th Bombardment Group, 321st Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. This bomber flew bombing missions over New Guinea.

Mission History
On April 30, 1943 took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) near Port Moresby at 8:00am on a reconnaissance and bombing mission over New Guinea. This B-24 was armed with 500 pound bombs. Also aboard was a passenger from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/Lt Vial, a liaison officer assigned to the 5th Air Force. When this bomber failed to return it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). This B-24 crashed in the vicinity of Negifi village, roughly 16 miles south of Bena Bena.

Search
After the crash, search aircraft searched for the missing bomber. Several days later, the wreckage of this B-24 was spotted from the air. Afterwards, General Ennis Whitehead ordered a U. S. Army Air Force search party to locate the wreckage and investigate the cause of the crash. The investigation was tasked to Major Edward T. Imparato plus Lt. Bill Brady, Lewis Lock, Paul Reed and John "Mac" McGovern. After being flown by C-47 Dakota to Bena Bena Airfield, they were augmented by Australians from ANGAU Jack Elston and Gill Timms departed from Sigoiya near Bena Bena on May 1, 1943 and trekked to the crash site arriving on May 7, 1943.

Wreckage
On May 7, 1943 the team located the crash site and investigated the cause of the crash. It was believed this B-24 impacted near perpendicular to the ground. Before the crash, the tail section broke off and landed roughly a mile away. At the crash site, the team recovered and buried the remains of the crew, believed to be ten of the twelve aboard. The remains were buried at the site and a memorial service conducted. Later, the remains were exhumed and transported elsewhere for permanent burial.

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. After the recovery of remains, Australian Vial was permanently buried at Lae War Cemetery at D. D. 9.

Postwar, the American crew members were transported to Philippines and the United States for permanent burial. Four of the crew are buried at Manila American Cemetery. Henry C. Hansen is buried at Plot L Row 5 Grave 31. Nix is buried at Plot A Row 15 Grave 155. Ernest E. Hansen is buried Plot N Row 9 Grave 200. Ratliff is buried at Plot A Row 2 Grave 110.

The rest of the crew are buried in private cemeteries in the United States.
Chovanec is buried at Fayetteville Catholic Cemetery, Fayette County, TX.
Brown is buried in an unknown cemetery in California.
Smith is buried at the Wintergreen Cemetery in Port Gibson, MS.
Boyer is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, CA.
Simons is buried at Sandy Cross Baptist Church Cemetery in GA.
Coggin is buried at Elmwood Cemetery , Flora IL. He is also honored at the World War II Memorial in Flora, IL.

Relatives
Sallie S. Crawford (sister of Simons)

References
Aircraft Serial Number Search - B-24D-53-CO Liberator 42-40352
"40352 (90th BG, 321st BS) crashed in Bena Bena Apr 30, 1943."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Henry C. Hansen
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert P. Nix
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ernest E. Hansen
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert A. Ratliff
CWGC - Leigh Grant Vail
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 42-40352 (incorrectly lists nickname as "Czechem")
Into Darkness by Edward Imparato details a trek to this aircraft
Legacy of the 90th Bombardment Group "The Jolly Rogers" page 196
FindAGrave - Henry L Chovanec (grave photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Henry Hansen (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Edwin B Smith (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Clarence William Boyer (grave photo)
FindAGrave - William C Lowther
FindAGrave - SSgt Robert P Nix (Manila American Cemetery, photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Ernest E Hansen (Manila American Cemetery, photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Robert A Ratliff (Manila American Cemetery, photo)
FindAGrave - Chester O. Coggin (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Henry Claude Simons date of death incorrectly listed as April 23, 1943
RAAFDB - Consolidated B-24D-53-CO Liberator 42-40352
RAAFDB - FltLt Vail, Leigh Grant
RAAF Casualty File, FltLt Vail
Thanks to Daniel Leahy for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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