38th BS November 1943
USAAF Jan 21, 1944
Sake Denched Postcards
Los fantasmas de Tarawa
|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) Woodstock, 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 S-2 (MIA / KIA) Fresno, 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 plus mission markings indicating bombing missions flown and "Lt. M. A. Skaalen" stenciled below the pilot window. The right side of the nose was blank with "Lt. C. A. Swalberg" stenciled below the co-pilot window.
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. Aboard as an observer was Captain George Van Vleet, Jr. from intelligence S-2. This bomber took off on a west to east direction but was unable to attain an altitude of 100'. Both pilots lowered the nose slightly in an attempt to gain speed, then pulled up sharply before impacting Tarawa Lagoon tail first. This bomber exploded on impact roughly 150 yards off the southern shore of Tarawa (Betio) roughly two-thirds of a mile east of the runway. Seventeen minutes later, B-24J 42-72999 also crashed into the sea further to the east.
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.
The wreckage of this bomber settled at a depth of 18" or partially exposed during low tide. 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. The recovered remains were placed into a life raft and moved ashore then placed in a tent under guard until wooden crates arrived to use as burial boxes.
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). One of the sets of remains was designated unknown X-File (X-14), these remains were later identified as Van Vleet. 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.
Postwar, Horney, Busch and LaSota were exhumed and transported to the United States for permanent burial in their hometowns.
The graves of the four other crew members: Underwood, Bailey, Rogers and Van Vleet were lost and never exhumed and their status listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
During June 2017, a row of graves were located by History Flight on Tarawa (Betio) working under contract for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). History Flight recovered three sets of remains remains with dog tag were and were transported to their laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH) for identification.
On September 9, 2017
the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the identification
of 2nd Lt. Donald E. Underwood using dental, anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
On September 22, 2017
the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the identification of TSgt John S. Bailey using dental, anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
On March 22, 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the identification of Captain George Van Vleet, Jr.. He was identified using DNA testing using samples provided by Ann Wanger and Peter Van Vleet plus skeletal, dental and materials analysis, medical examiners were able to make a positive match.
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.
Van Vleet was renamed the Van Vleet Post / American Legion Post No. 594 in Fresno, CA.
Skaalen passed away November 30, 1999. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at section CBE, row 2, site 180.
Underwood earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Underwood 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, his remains were buried on November 28, 2017 at Flat Rock, Michigan next to his mother's grave.
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)
Ann Wanger (daughter of George Van Vleet)
Peter Van Vleet (brother of
George Van Vleet)
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
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24J-1-CO Liberator 42-72982
"72982 (30th BG) lost Jan 21, 1944, Central Pacific. MACR 2818"
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
"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
"Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of Tech Sgt. John S. Bailey 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) - Vincent J. Rogers Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) - George Van Vleet Jr.
"Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of Capt. George Van Vleet were accounted for in 2018. His name is permanently inscribed in the “Courts of the Missing” at the Honolulu Memorial."
Capt Morris Arnold "Mike" Skaalen (photos)
FindAGrave - 2LT Donald Eugene Underwood (photos)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Donald E Underwood (photos, courts of the missing photos)
FindAGrave - 2LT Donald Eugene Underwood (photos, Arlington memorial marker photo)
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, 2017
Washington Top News "WWII remains on Pacific island identified as Michigan man" by AP September 14, 2017
DPAA Release 17-134 "Funeral Announcement For Airman Killed During World War II (Underwood, D.)" Nov 17, 17
Release 18-074 "Funeral Announcement For Airman Killed During World War II (Bailey, J.S.)" June 5, 2018
DPAA Release "Airman Killed During World War II Accounted For (Van Vleet, G.)" March 23, 2018
Thanks to Katherine Rasdorf, Pete Johnston and Bob Livingstone and Jeff Houlihan / March Field Museum for additional research and analysis.
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February 3, 2019
Jan 21, 1944
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