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  F-7B Liberator Serial Number 44-40422  
5th AF
6th PRG
20th CMS

Click For Enlargement
20th CMS c1944

Pilot  1st Lt. Royce E. Harms, O-675428 (MIA / KIA) WI
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Thomas Rafael, O-735815 (MIA / KIA) CA
Navigator  1st Lt Gerald P. Smith, O-734616 (MIA / KIA) OH
Engineer  T/Sgt Stephen H. Laichak, 33018314(MIA / KIA) PA
Radio  T/Sgt James R. Reynold, Jr., 13005087 (MIA / KIA) NJ
Photographer  S/Sgt Melvin J. West, 13087356 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner  Sgt Harold E. Amos, 17129527 (MIA / KIA) KS
Gunner  Sgt Herbert G. Julian, 32388140 (MIA / KIA) Orange, NJ
Gunner  Sgt Boyd D. Berg, 39043477 (MIA / KIA) CA
Gunner  Sgt Samuel T. Catlin, 20302431 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner  Sgt Raymond T. Weld, 11036161 (MIA / KIA) West Hartford, CT

MIA  September 30, 1944
MACR  12423

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated in San Diego. This aircraft was a B-24J-160-CO Liberator converted to F-7B photographic reconnaissance version. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the South-West Pacific Area.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group (PRG), 20th Combat Mapping Squadron (CMS). No known nickname or nose art. In total, this F-7B flew 14 missions prior to its loss. When lost, engines R1830-43 Serial Numbers: BP 429118, BP 438031, BP 438107, 441229.

Mission History
On September 30, 1944 took off from Mokmer Drome (APO 920) on Biak at 5:15am on mission 274Z-3 over Leyte arriving over the target at noon. At 1:25pm the B-24 rendezvoused with another bomber in the flight and proceeded on heading 124 degrees for the return flight. At 1:45 the pair separated due to bad weather, and was not seen again.

This bomber was expected to return to Biak at approximately 6:00pm. It made radio contact at 16:25 requesting the ground station to send a series of V's. At 6:28 the radio operator made a voice call back. The ground station was unable to establish communication back. At 6:29pm the fighter sector heard a "Mayday" call several times but was unable to establish communications either. Finally at 6:55 another aircraft heard call sign Bondage Able giving a "Mayday" distress call but was unable to reach the bomber. This aircraft was never heard from again. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).

When the bomber failed to return, a search was coordinated by Major Davis, following the approximate course and position of the bomber. On October 1, a search was made by two B-24s and PBY Catalina. On October 2, a search was made by two B-24s and a B-25. Neither found anything and the search area was extended and continued for another 72 hours.

Fate of the Crew
In fact, it was lost in sever weather and force landed in a swampy area in the Sarmi area. All crew survived the forced landing, but did not survive the war.

Reports from the Japanese Army 36th Division diary reveal that four Americans, likely members of this crew were killed in a gun fight with Japanese forces near the mouth of the Verkam River. The Japanese claimed to loose one office and one NCO wounded. Two of the Americans were killed trying to canoe out to sea. One was shot and fell into the river and the other was killed trying to swim away. Three were captured by the Japanese: Lt. Rafael, Sgt Julian, Sgt Catlin. All three were executed near Amisira village.

Rafael and Julian were captured by the Japanese and beheaded during October 1944. Postwar, Japanese Army Captain Satoru Ona was put on trial and found guilty and hanged for this war crime in Manila.

Recovery of Remains
In 1947, the remains of two unidentified bodies believed to be two members of this crew executed by the Japanese were recovered by RAAF Search Team led by S/L Keith Rundle and turned over to the U. S. Army and temporarily buried as "Unknown X-1" and "Unknown X-2" at USAAF cemetery Bosnek #1 on Biak. Afterwards, the remains were buried at USAF Cemetery, Fischaffen #4, at Finschafen as X-19 and X-20. Later, these remains were exhumed by AGRS Detachment No. 2 and transported to Manila and arrived at Manila American Cemetery on June 5, 1947 and redesignated X-115 and X-117.

The entire crew was declared dead the day of the crash. Memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Royce E. Harms, Jr. (son of Royce E. Harms)
"My mother never knew what actually happened. Seems like everyone got the same run a round story until recently."

Dr. James Bertel (nephew of Herbert G. Julian)
"J. R. Reynolds Jr was my uncle. This is all new as to fate aircrew. Why were his parents not notified of actual fate of aircraft? My grandfather only knew the plane disappeared. Col. Ecoff told him of search and was of opinion Harmes managed to ditch. My uncle was TSgt, James R. Reynolds, Jr. His last mission to photo recon Leyte,30 Sept. 1944, was unusual, it was a flight of 3 ships led by 6th Photo Gp. cmdr. Lt. Col Alex Guerra. With Guerra was reporter Lee Van Atta. His story in Hartford newspaper implies Guerra turned back."

Mrs. Dorothy Amos (wife of Harold E. Amos)

Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 12423
None of the crew are officially listed as POWs in NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File, but this file is incomplete for Pacific POWs
The Hutchinson, Kansas News-Herald October 23, 1944, Page 8
"MISSING IN ACTION Ashland--Mrs. Dorothy Amos received a telegram from the war department announcing that her husband, Sgt. Harold E. Amos, has been missing in the Philippine islands since Sept. 30. He was a gunner on a Fortress [sic] bomber."
X-File Finschhafen #4 X-19 (which then went to the Manila mausoleum as X-115)
X-File Finschhafen #4 X-20 (which then went to the mausoleum as X-117)
Courier-Post "Mystery of WWII plane unravels" by Carol Comegno September 5, 2015
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Royce E. Harms
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Thomas Rafael
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gerald P. Smith
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Stephen H. Laichak
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James R. Reynolds Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Melvin J. West
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Harold E. Amos
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Herbert G. Julian
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Boyd D. Berg
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Samuel T. Catlin
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Raymond T. Weld
FindAGrave - 1Lt Royce E Harms (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Thomas Rafael (tablets of the missing - date of death incorrectly listed as October 15, 1944)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Gerald P Smith (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - TSgt Stephen H Laichak (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Melvin J West (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Harold E Amos (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Herbert Julian (photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Boyd D Berg (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Samuel T Catlin (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Raymond T Weld (tablets of the missing) - Crew of the Photo Queen by Dr. James Bertel

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018


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