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  B-24D-120-CO Liberator Serial Number 42-40984  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
403rd BS

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Justin Taylan 2003

Pilot  2nd Lt William B. Cox, O-523742 (KIA, BR) Cobb County, GA
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt Patrick J. Byrnes Jr., O-674140 (KIA, BR) Fairfield County, CT
Co-Pilot  F/O Fred L. Evans, T-60667 (KIA, BR) Paris, TX
Navigator  1st Lt. Robert F. Violet, O-659612 (KIA, BR) Worcester, MA
Bombardier  2nd Lt. Fred H. Verhein Jr., O-738949 (KIA, BR) Milwaukee, WI
Engineer  T/Sgt Jacob M. Kesler, 35356999 (KIA, BR) Marion County, IN
Radio  T/Sgt Richard D. Marsh, 32405881 (KIA, BR) Orange County, NY
Gunner S/Sgt George A. Kiferd, 13089529 (KIA, BR) PA
Asst. Radio  S/Sgt Harold E. Kuhn, 12016263 (KIA, BR) Cuba, NY
Asst. Engineer  S/Sgt Stanley Marczak, 16066245 (KIA, BR) Saginaw County, MI
Gunner  Pvt James A. Franklin, 18064953 (KIA, BR)
Stephens County, TX
Passenger  F/O Gerard Michael Keogh, 266551 RAAF (KIA, BR) East Maitland, NSW

Crashed  August 31, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 2061. Delivered to the U. S. Army as B-24D-120-CO Liberator serial number 42-40984. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On August 31, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 3:52am piloted by 2nd Lt William B. Cox armed with 500 pound bombs on a bombing mission to the north coast of New Guinea. Aboard was Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) intelligence officer, F/O Gerard Keogh.

After take off, this B-24 proceeded northward and reached an altitude of 4,000' before impacting into a hillside on the southern slop of the Astrolabe Range in the foothills of the Owen Stanley Mountains. On impact, the B-24 burnt and three of the 500 pound bombs exploded, scattering the wreckage over a hundred yards in every direction and down the cliff face.

Search
On September 2, 1943 a L-4A Cub piloted by Heyer searched for the missing B-24, but ran out of fuel and crashed, killing the pilot and injuring the passenger.

During the middle of September 1943, a search party consisting of chaplain Major Shea and five Australians from the 1st Pack Transport Company with MSgt Stephen Dubinsky of the 403rd Bomb Group searched for two days before locating the crash site and identified the wreckage as B-24D Liberator serial number and searched the site for roughly an hour.

Wreckage
This B-24 crashed near Sogeri to the north of Port Moresby in the present day Varirata National Park. The wreckage is scattered over a wide area down a cliff face and hillside and widely scattered by the impact and explosion.

Recovery of Remains
During the middle of September 1943 the search party located the crash site and identified the wreckage as B-24D Liberator serial number 42-46984 and searched the site for roughly an hour. They found the remains of three bodies inside some of the wreckage and parts of other bodies scattered in all directions. Due to the mangled and torn condition, decomposition and cremation during the fire, none of the remains were able to be identified to individuals. The remains found were collected and buried at the crash site as it was impossible to transport them elsewhere. Personal effects found included a black shoe and a blue sweater, of the type worn by a member of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

During June 1945, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel with Koiari natives attempted to recover additional remains, and found two unexploded bombs at the crash site and additional remains and returned with few remains and the site was deemed too difficult, due to the cliff face and the presence of unexploded bombs.

On August 13, 1983, PNG Museum curator Bruce Hoy visited this crash site and located a ring engraved with the initials "PJB" (Patrick J. Byrnes, Jr.).

During August 19-23, 1983 a team from US Army Central Identification Laboratory (CILHI) including Major Johnny E. Webb, Dave Kelly, Randy Nash, Elmer Buard, Jay Warner and Sgt Blair. this crash site along PNG Museum curator Bruce Hoy on August 19 and 23, plus an EOD from the PNG Defense Force. On August 23, 1983 a single unexploded 500 lb. bomb was found at the crash site and detonated by the PNG Defense Force EOD. Remains were recovered by the team and exported on August 24, 1983.

Bruce Hoy recalls from 1983:
"As far as I recall remains were found. I know I found a ring, I think it was a college ring, and it possibly had an inscription on the inside. I did take photographs, but I would need to check. I know there was nothing substantial as part of the cliff came down over some of the wreckage. The last day the CIL-HI and me were on site, we had the EOD fellows from the PNGDF and they detonated one bomb found there on the surface. I have never heard such a loud bang in all my life and one could hear the shrapnel whizzing through the air. The funny thing, we had taken cover, then the fellow who pressed the delayed detonator came hurtling back counting as he came. He got to zero and nothing so he continued counting. When he reached 10 most of us pulled our fingers out of our ears when about 4 seconds later – bang! I think the bugger did it on purpose just to frighten us!"

Justin Taylan visited the site in July 2003:
"John Douglas took me to this wreck. Its scattered down a difficult cliff face, down a hillside. Wreckage areas include the wing, and main gear and an engine. Lower, a section of fuselage wreckage including the Sperry ball turret and two other engines. Then, one of the powered turrets, and finally, the other wing section. There are reports of wreckage pieces, including a propeller and tail pieces closer to one of the Varirata's walking trails."

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. Postwar, the recovered remains were transported to the United States for permanent burial.

On September 8, 1949 the entire crew, including Australian Keogh were buried in a group burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 82 site 34.

Several of the crew also have memorial markers in their hometown cemeteries. Violet has a memorial marker in Lakeview Cemetery in Wilton, ME.

Relatives
Betty Morrow née Verhein (sister of Fred H. Verhein Jr.)
"My brother, Fredric Holle Verhein, Jr. was aboard this plane. In the U. S. Army records, it lists him as only Fred, but his first name was actually Fredric. Before he went into the service, he worked as a caddy at the golf course and cut lawns so he could save up and took flying lessons and got his private pilot's license at 18 year. His dream was to be a commercial pilot. When he joined the Army, he was took short to be a pilot and was made a bombardier instead. He completed his tour of duty but volunteered to fly this one last mission on August 31, 1943. Growing up, I knew he was buried at Jefferson Barracks with the rest of the crew. During 2008, the U. S. Army contacted us and asked me to do a DNA test. I did an oral DNA test that same year. We never heard anything afterwards. Then, suddenly twelve years later, the Army contacted us again saying they identified Fred and wanted to meet my brother and I on July 31, 2017.”

Barbara Rogers (niece of Fred H. Verhein Jr.)
"My uncle Fred Verhein who was aboard this plane. My mom and my oldest brother did a DNA test and they finally got the results back last week that the remains were that of her brother Fred Verhein, they asked her where she would like the remains to be sent. He has not been buried there yet were looking at next month."

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - William B. Cox
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Patrick J. Byrnes
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Fred L. Evans
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert F. Violet
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Fred H. Verhein, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Jacob M. Kesler
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Richard D. Marsh
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - George A. Kiferd
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Harold E. Kuhn
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Stanley Marczak
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James A. Franklin
43rd Bombardment Group History
1 Sept 1943 "...Yesterday one of our early morning reccos crashed soon after a take off... of the drome. A ground searching party has gone to the wreck but no word from them has been received yet."
2 Sept 1943 "A Piper Cub sent out to search for the B-24 that crashed into the mountains on the 31st of August has failed to return. It is feared that it too has gone down.. The ground searching party has returned. Major Shea [Group Chaplain] who accompanied the party reported that all aboard were killed and burned beyond recognition. Funeral rites were conducted there on the mountain side. Those aboard were.."
3 Sept 1943 "The Piper Cub was found wrecked and Lt. Frederick G. Heyer of 505 Mary Street, Flint Michigan, the pilot dead."
[7/16/15, 9:04:16 AM] Edward Rogers: It is feared that all aboard are dead."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 42-40984
Note, sources incorrectly identify this B-24 as associated with the 90th BG, 320th BS
Statement by MSgt Stephen Dubinsky, 403rd Bomb Group September 18, 1943 via National Archives Australia - F/O Keogh Casualty File page 28 describes the search for the crash site and recovery of remains
The Patriot and Free Press, Cuba, NY, 1943:
"Sgt. Harold Kuhn Lies Where He Fell - Mr. and Mrs. Dana Kuhn of Friendship, formerly of Cuba, have received a letter from the chaplain of the unit which their son, Staff Sgt. Harold Kuhn, belonged when he was killed in action in the South Seas, August 31. The writer, Maj. Thomas F. Shea, speaks of the soldier as a general favorite, and says he was killed when his plane struck a cliff near the top of a mountain and all on board were killed at once.
The priest describes accompanying the search party for two days and a night on foot. As thick jungles and steep ridges made removal of the bodies impossible, the commander of the plane and crew were buried where they fell. 'I have offered Mass for your son and his crew,' said Father Shea."
Bruce Hoy Diary 2 December, 1982
"Thursday, I received a visit from a chap working for the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Ukarumpa near Kainantu, advising me of his discovery of an A‑20G with the serial number of 42‑54085, with sketchy details of another lying in the same vicinity not far from the Saidor Gap. After my visitor left, I immediately wrote to Major Johnie E. Webb Jr at CIL‑HI in Hawaii advising of this, together with details that I had located a person who can lead me to the site of B‑24D 42-40984 and again requesting the assistance of CIL-HI in the museum procuring copies of Missing Aircraft Reports, even at our expense."
Bruce Hoy Diary 13, 19, 23-24 August, 1983
Bruce Hoy Diary 19 August, 1983
Bruce Hoy Diary 23-24 August, 1983
Bruce Hoy Diary 13 September 1983
Legacy of the 90th Bombardment Group page 110
CWGC - Gerard Michael Keogh
RAAFDB - F/O Gerard Michael Keogh
RAAFDB - Consolidated B-24D-120-CO Liberator 42-40984
National Archives Australia - F/O Keogh Casualty File
FindAGrave - Robert F Violet (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Robert F Violet memorial marker
FindAGrave - Fred H Verhein, Jr (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Patrick J Byrnes, Jr (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Fred L Evans (obituary, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Jacob M Kesler (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Richard Dean Marsh (grave photo)
FindAGrave - George A Kiferd (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Harold Eugene "Barney" Kuhn (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Stanley Marczak (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - James A Franklin (grave photo)
Snake Road page 126-127
"...a RAAF Intelligence Officer, Flying Officer Gerald Keogh. Before the war, Keogh had served as an assistant district officer in New Guinea before leaving to become a mine manager. On the outbreak of war, he joined FELD, the RAAF Intelligence operation based at Port Moresby. There are no clear details of exactly what the aircraft's mission was, though it is thought to have been associated with a long-range penetration strike at Japanese targets on the north coast. The whole operation had been mounted in the utmost secrecy.
... until 1983, when the USAF [sic CILHI] again attempted to recover the dead from their jungle resting place. For one week, Varirata National Park was closed to the public while an American recovery team combed the escarpment. It is known that a large aerial camera was found, and some still intact bombs were detonated, but on other details were released, and the office of the military attache at the American Embassy in 1992 claimed to have no details whatsoever. "
1942: Australia's Greatest Peril page 296-297 footnotes 414, 453, 454
Ken's Men Against The Empire Volume 1 pages 21-22, appendix 2
Thanks to Bruce Hoy and Pete Johnston for additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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