|Pilot 1st Lt Morris A. Skaalen, O-739688 (survived) Boyd, MN
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Carl A. Swalberg, O-743536 (survived) UT
Navigator 2nd Lt. Theodore A. Parsons, O-741808 (survived)
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Donald E. Underwood, O-738751 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wayne County, MI
Engineer SSgt Edward A. Horney, 33236164 (KIA, BR) PA
Radio TSgt John S. Bailey, 33190516 (MIA / KIA) VA
Asst. Engineer SSgt Jack R. Busch, 32474977 (KIA, BR) NY
Asst. Radio SSgt Vincent J. Rogers, Jr., 12169863 (MIA / KIA) Erie County, NY
Tail Gunner SSgt Thomas E. LaSota, 3308941 (KIA, BR) MN
Observer Captain George Van Vleet, Jr., O-917892 (MIA / KIA) Fresno County, CA
Crashed January 21, 1944 at 12:21am
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 2542. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24J-1-CO Liberator serial number 42-72982. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then to the central Pacific.
Assigned to the 7th Air Force, 30th Bombardment Group, 38th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Miss Bee Haven" painted in white with the nose art of a nude figure holding a bomb in her left hand and a pistol in her right hand. On the left side of the nose were mission markings indicating bombing missions flown. On November 12, 1943, this bomber was based at Nanumea Airfield and flew at least eight combat missions, sometimes staging from Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field).
When lost, engine serial numbers R-1830-65 serial numbers 42-90275, 42-90734, 42-91509 and DP-40063. Aboard were twelve .50 caliber machine guns, serial numbers unknown and one pyrotechnic pistol M-8. None of the weapon serial numbers are noted in Missing Air Crew Report 2818 (MACR 2818).
On January 21, 1944 took off from Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) on Tarawa (Betio) at 12:21am piloted by 1st Lt Morris A. Skaalen on a bombing mission against Roi Island at Kwajalein Atoll. This bomber took off on a west to east direction but was unable to attain 100' altitude and the pilots lowered the nose slightly in an attempt to gain speed, then pulled up sharply, but impacted the sea tail first. This B-24 crashed into into Tarawa Lagoon at a depth of 18" and exploded on impact roughly 150 yards southern shore of Tarawa (Betio) roughly two-thirds of a mile east of the runway. Roughly seventeen minutes later, B-24J "Galloping Gus" 42-72999 also crashed into the sea.
Fates of the Crew
Three survived the crash and seven were killed on impact.
The three survivors were able to escape from a hole torn to the rear of the co-pilot's position allowing them to escape. Observing the crash from Tarawa (Betio), Dr. Feves waded out to the crash site and assisted the three survivors into a life raft.
During the crash, the tail section broke off rear of the bomb bay scattering bombs and the tail section landed upside down. The front half of the bomber impacted nose first then spun to the right. The bottom of the nose section was badly damaged and torn. Rear of the co-pilot's position was torn, allowing the three survivors to escape.
Recovery of Remains
After helping the survivors, Dr. Feves entered the wreckage and found the bodies of six of the crew: Van Vleet, Horney, Rogers, Underwood, Bailey and Busch. Afterwards, the six were buried on Tarawa (Betio).
Afterwards, the remains of three of the crew were recovered and buried on Tarawa (Betio) including Horney, Busch and LaSota.
Postwar, they were exhumed and transported to the United States for permanent burial. The remains recovered were placed into a life raft to shore and placed in a tent under guard until burial boxes were made from wooden crates for burial.
On January 22, 1944 the recovered remains were buried in Marine Cemetery No. 33 on Tarawa (Betio) at a depth of 4' with temporary grave markers. Later, the remains of
another member of the crew, presumed to be from this B-24 was recovered and buried in Marine Cemetery no. 33 at plot 13, row 3, grave 2.
In March 1946 the graves of these crew members were exhumed and relocated to Lone Pine Cemetery on Tarawa (Betio). Afterwards, the remains of Busch were exhumed and transported to U. S. Army Mausoleum at Schofield Barracks on Oahu then transported to the United States for permanent burial.
During 2017, a grave with human remains and the dog tag of 2nd Lt. Donald E. Underwood were located on Tarawa (Betio) by History Flight and turned over to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). On September 14, 2017 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the identification of Underwood.
The six crew killed in the crash were officially declared dead the day of the mission and earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
Four of the crew remained listed as Missing In Action (MIA): Underwood, Bailey, Rogers, Van Vleet. All four are memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at the court of the missing. Underwood (identified September 14, 2017) and Van Vleet on court 5.
Bailey and Rogers on court 7.
Rogers also has a memorial marker cenotaph at Yorks Corners Cemetery, Willing, New York.
Horney is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lebanon, PA.
Busch is buried in a private cemetery in New York State.
LaSota is buried at Holy Trinity Cemetery in Royalton, MN.
Skaalen passed away November 30, 1999. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at section CBE, row 2, site 180.
Underwater also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery. On On March 14 2017 a memorial service was conducted attended by his brother, George Underwood. After his remains were recovered and identified in 2017, an interment service is pending. Underwood earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart, posthumously.
During 2015, March Field Air Museum (March AFB Museum) opened an exhibit devoted to SSgt Vincent J. Rogers Jr., in their main hanger, west wall. The exhibit includes Rogers' personal letters home,
a B-24 turret plus six 8' x 4' interpretive panels.
March Field Air Museum Future Exhibits - Staff Sergeant Vincent J. Rogers Jr. Exhibit
"The "Staff Sergeant Vincent J. Rogers Jr. Exhibit" is open. Using six 8' by 4' interpretive panels with period artifacts, sound isolation domes and a newly restored B-24 gun turret the exhibit traces the wartime experiences of Staff Sergeant Rogers. Dedicated to preserving the legacy of the common Army Air Force service members of World War II the exhibit was developed from Roger’s wartime letters. Motion activated sound domes permit visitors to hear Rogers describe each step of his captivating personal journey from recruit to hardened veteran as he teaches us the true cost of war."
George Underwood (brother of Donald E. Underwood).
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Morris A. Skaalen
World War II Army Enlistment Records - Carl A. Swalberg
The Fresno Bee "Prominent Fresno Man Is Killed in South Pacific" February 22, 1944
Missing Air Crew Report 2818 (MACR 2818) date of report February 25, 1944
AFHRA "38th Bombardment Squadron (H) January 1944, IRISNUM: 00043992
Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF)
- Howard T. Lurcott pages 29-34
American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) - Donald E. Underwood
"Recovered: Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of 2nd Lt. Donald E. Underwood were accounted for in 2017. His name is permanently inscribed in the “Courts of the Missing” at the Honolulu Memorial."
American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) - John S. Bailey
American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) - Vincent J. Rogers Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) - George Van Vleet Jr.
Capt Morris Arnold "Mike" Skaalen (photos)
FindAGrave - 2LT Donald Eugene Underwood (photos)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Donald E Underwood (photos, courts of the missing photos)
FindAGrave - TSGT Edward A Horney (photo, grave photo)
TSGT John S Bailey (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT Jack R Busch
FindAGrave - SSgt Vincent Jerome Rogers, J (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT Vincent Jerome Rogers, Jr (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - SSGT Thomas E LaSota
Capt George Van Vleet, Jr (photo, courts of the missing photo)
Sake Denched Postcards - The Guns of Betio includes photos of this B-24 wreckage
Los fantasmas de Tarawa [The ghosts of Tarawa] includes photos of this B-24 wreckage
B-24 Liberator Units of the Pacific War page 37 (photo), 97 (index)
March Field Air Museum Future Exhibits - Staff Sergeant Vincent J. Rogers Jr. Exhibit
DoD News Release "Airman Killed During World War II Accounted For (Underwood, D.)" September 14, 2017
Associated Press "WWII remains on Pacific island identified as Michigan man" by Ed White September 14, 20
Washington Top News "WWII remains on Pacific island identified as Michigan man" by AP September 14, 2017
Thanks to Katherine Rasdorf, Pete Johnston and Bob Livingstone and Jeff Houlihan / March Field Museum for additional research and analysis.
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January 5, 2018