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  B-24J-190-CO Liberator Serial Number 44-40979  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
403rd BS

Former Assignments
64th BS


USAAF c1944-1945
Pilot  2nd Lt. Robert S. Clark, O-775795 (WIA, survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Harold L. Bernstein, O-816400 (WIA, survived) Newton, MA
Navigator  1st Lt. Godfrey A. Lewis, O-698208 (WIA, survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Emerson A. Young, O-699086 (survived)
Engineer  TSgt Madison R. Skeen, Jr., 14149569 (KIA, BR) NC
Asst Engineer  TSgt Clarence L. Clark, 39310852 (KIA, BR) WA
Radio  TSgt Joseph A. Kernan, Jr., 34076398 (KIA, BR) LA
Asst Radio  SSgt James A. Keenan, 12047186 (KIA, BR) NJ
Gunner  SSgt Ancle A. Alexander, 37073183 (KIA, BR) KS
Tail Gunner  SSgt Mero A. Chludil, 16149944 (WIA, survived)
Photographer  Pvt Richard V. Buchanan, 18125504 (KIA, BR) TX
Crashed  March 7, 1945
MACR  14144

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 4915. At the factory completed with an aluminum finish. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24L-5-CO Liberator 44-40979. Ferried oversea via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) arriving in late September 1944.

Wartime History
During October 1944 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG) Ken's Men, 64th Bombardment Squadron (64th BS). On October 14, 1944 flew its first combat mission. During December 1944 assigned to the 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS). No known nickname or nose art. On the right side of the nose was "0979" (last four digits of the serial number) in large black stenciled numbers.

When lost, engines R-1830-43 serial numbers BP-440450, 42-3220, BP-444134 and BP-40979. Aboard were .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers 9538694, 1202296, 1202548, 1538673, 1254229, 1253248, 942761, 943360, 1538217, 1538374.

Mission History
On March 7, 1945 at 8:00am took off from Tacloban Airfield on Leyte piloted by 2nd Lt. Robert S. Clark armed with eight 1,000 pound bombs on a bombing mission against Balete Pass in northern Luzon. The weather was local cumulus clouds over the Caraballo Mountains with a base at 4,200' and tops at 6,500' and 9/10 coverage. Over the target, the formation attempted to get below the clouds to bomb, but made only a dry run. Last seen at 10:15am over the Caraballo Mountains at roughly Lat 16° 5' N Long 120° 53' E.

Last seen by SSgt James O. McNair aboard another B-24 in the formation (via MACR 14144 page 5:
"I looked back after we had cleared the mountain and saw a plane, apparently broken into [sic], falling down the side of the mountain (B-24J #44-40979). I called the pilot on the interphone and by that time the plane was lost in the trees below. The last things I saw was a cloud of smoke floating up."

In fact, this B-24 was following the flight leader and entered a cloud and began instrument flying. At 10:50am this bomber impacted a mountain at 5,400' roughly ten miles southwest of Balete Pass. The charts showed this mountain to only be 5,000'. The bomber stalled out and impacted trees then slid down the side of the mountain, breaking up and catching fire. At the time of the crash, the bombs came loose, two rolled down the mountainside and exploded. Also lost was B-24L Liberator 44-41481 (MIA).

Search
After the crash, ground station near the scene of the crash advised the flight leader that a U. S. Army search patrol would be sent out immediately. The name of the person tasked with the search or the extent of search made is unknown.

From the air, B-24s from the 403rd BS conducted an aerial search of the area including barrio Tayug, Santa Rose, Santa Fe and Conversion near the junction of Nueva Ecija Province, Nueva Vizcaya Province and Pangasinan Province. Between 6,000 to 9,000', the remains of this bomber were seen on a hillside with one vertical stabilizer still intact. A mirror was observed flashing in the vicinity on three occasions. Also three brown spots, possibly survivors were observed. At a group of huts, probably Maleco), cloth panels were observed forming a white cross in a clearing near huts and parachutes in trees. Supplies were drooped in response to these cloth panel signals. A search plane dropped a white chute with emergency rations and first aid equipment was dropped in the vicinity and it was apparently recovered.

Fates of the Crew
After the crash, pilot Lt. Clark, co-pilot Lt. Bernstein, navigator Lt. Lewis and Lt. Young survived the crash. In the crushed nose section, Young was trapped with his legs pinned and was pulled free by the other survivors with a broken leg and twisted knee and was given morphine. No other survivors were found in the vicinity.

After the crash, Lt. Lewis was able to remove some supplies from the wreckage including parachutes, a pack, a canteen and a couple medical kits. As the least injured, Lt. Lewis began walking in search of help using his compass and a small map.

The other three survivors at the crash site waited for rescue and managed to signal searching B-24s with their mirrors. After four and half days of walking, Lewis crossed seven rivers and passed an empty Japanese camp site. Finally, he located soldiers from the U. S. Army 32nd Division and was given aid. Afterwards, he was flown aboard a L-5 and spotted the crash site of his bomber and dropped supplies to the three survivors but they rolled down the mountainside and were not retrievable.

Finally, a patrol from the U. S. Army 128th Infantry Regiment led by Lt. Hovious reached the crash site and reached the other three survivors on March 12, 1945 who were given aid and were transported to a camp at the base of the mountain to rest while the bodies of the deceased crew were recovered. On March 14, 1945 the patrol and survivors departed the area the next day on March 15, 1945 at 5pm reached American front lines.

Tail gunner SSgt Chludil survived the crash in the tail turret but was knocked unconscious on impact and the tail section broke off and landed 1,000' away from the rest of the wreckage. When he awoke he gave himself first aid and spent the night on the mountain unable to locate any other survivors. On March 8, 1945 he searched the crash site then departed down the mountain alone. He observed C-47s and started a fire to attract their attention, but was not seen. On March 9, 1945 he started another fire to signal a passing B-24 that acknowledge it with a red light. At 3:00pm, signaled an L-5 and spent the night in an abandoned grass hut. On March 10, 1945 departed to the west towards grass plains and on March 11, 1945 saw two Filipinos and found an outpost manned by D Company, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division and was given food and first aid. On March 12, 1945 was taken to their headquarters at 4pm and was turned over to the 19th Air Support Party and reunited with Lt. Lewis who had also survived the crash and left in search of help.

Memorial
The six crew that died in the crash were officially declared dead the day of the mission.

Clark earned the Air Medal, Purple Heart, posthumously. He is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot D row 16 grave 204.

Buchanan earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. He is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot F row 5 grave 47.

Skeen is buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, NC.

Kernan is buried at Saint Theresa of Avila Catholic Cemetery in Gonzale, LA.

Keenan is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Pennsauken, NJ.

Alexander is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Emerson, NB.

Bernstein passed away on December 13, 1996 at age 82. He is buried at Mount Feake Cemetery in Waltham, MA at section P, lot 403, Hansen Path, grave 1.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Harold L. Bernstein
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Emerson A. Young
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Madison R. Skeen, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Clarence L. Clark
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Joseph A. Kernan, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James A. Keenan
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Mero A. Chludil
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24L-5-CO Liberator 44-40979
"40979 (43rd BG) lost Mar 7, 1945, SW Pacific. MACR 14144"
Missing Air Crew Report 14144 (MACR 14144) created March 8, 1945
Col. James Pettus' Manuscript, Commander of the 43rd Bomb Group, edited by Jim Cherkauer, page 75
"March 7, 1945. It was a bad day for the strike squadrons and the 403rd in particular. The target was ground support near Balete Pass and the weather was not good. The planes tried to get below the clouds and fly up the valley that was narrow. The planes could not turn after "bombs away" and thus tried to climb to clear the overcast and the surrounding hills. Tragically two 403rd planes hit the mountains. One of those planes, #979 [sic #481], hit the hill squarely and exploded killing all on aboard. The other plane, #481 [sic #979], struck the very top of the ridge in a full stall so that the forward section fell on one side and the tail section on the other side. Amazingly 5 men survived this crash."
KensMen - T/Sgt Loren C. "Red" Bates
"But the saddest memory I have is losing our two wing aircraft by accident during a mission [March 7, 1945] over Luzon. Perhaps this is because our Navigator and Co-Pilot were aboard the one lost on our left wing. Our target was Belete Pass and we were bombing Japanese Soldiers on the ground. We had a heavy load of anti personnel bombs. There were six aircraft on the mission stacked in two elements of three each. We were lead aircraft of the back element. I can remember very clearly that we were specifically warned at the briefing about the 6000 feet mountain peaks we would have to climb over after leaving the target. On the first pass we found the target overcast so we were ordered to make another go around and let down lower. Still not being able to find the target on the second pass the lead aircraft ordered another go around and to let down still lower. Lt. Bauer radioed the lead aircraft warning about being to low because we in the back were stacked still lower. On the third pass we found the target still overcast and attempted another go around. I was in the back with the gunners observing out of the hatch as we climbed out and saw the B-24 on our right wing stall out, spiraling to the ground. About that time the left gunner said look over here; there we say the B-24 on our left wing hit the mountain top. The plane literally busted in half with one half rolling down one side of the mountain and the other half down the other side. Now you can imagine how close we came to hitting the mountain. Our nose gunner said he braced for impact. Our Navigator and Co-Pilot both survived the crash and escaped through enemy lines and our own mine fields to find our Infantry. Both returned to fly with us again. Three others also survived the crash of that plane but all were lost on the crash of the B-24 that stalled out off our right wing."
FindAGrave - Madison R Skeen, Jr (grave photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Clarence L. Clark
FindAGrave - TSgt Clarence L Clark (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Joseph Adam Kernan, Jr (obituary, grave photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT James Alfred “Jimmy” Keenan (photo, Arlington Cemetery)
FindAGrave - SSGT Ancle A Alexander (grave photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Richard V. Buchanan death date listed as July 5, 1945
FindAGrave - Corp Richard V Buchanan (grave photo) date of death incorrectly listed as July 5, 1945
FindAGrave - Harold L. Bernstein (grave)
Ken’s Men Against The Empire The Illustrated History of the 43rd Bombardment Group During World War II Volume II: October 1943 to 1945 B-24 Era (2019) pages 195 (map), 248-249 (March 7, 1945), 362 (Personnel MIA), 374 (64th BS), 380 (403rd BS)

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Last Updated
March 14, 2020

 

Tech Information
B-24

Map
Map
March 7, 1945
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