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Bruce Fenstermaker 1990
Pilot 2nd Lt. John R. Cunningham, O-771325 (MIA / KIA) Jamesville, WI
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. William M. Millner, O-782590 (MIA / KIA) Sebring, OH
Navigator F/O Gerald J. Wachal, T-127638 (MIA / KIA) Cedar Rapids, IA
Bombardier 2nd Lt. Louis D. Clark, 1297840 (MIA / KIA) Modesto, CA
Nose Gunner Sgt Philip J. Marino, 38382711 (MIA / KIA) Norco, LA
Radio SSgt James E. Boettcher, 16117966 (MIA / KIA) Garden Bay, WI
Engineer SSgt Ambrozio B. Tata, 35060137 (MIA / KIA) Cleveland, OH
Waist Gunner Sgt James T. Heerey, 32982942 (MIA / KIA) Middle Village, NY
Waist Gunner Sgt Jewel A. Rivers, 34916756 (MIA / KIA) Whatley, AL
Tail Gunner Sgt Robert J. Gibson, 12220067 (MIA / KIA) Springfield, IL
MIA November 19, 1944
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 5194. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24J-205-CO Liberator serial number 44-41258. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 90th Bombardment Group, 400th Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engines R1830-65A serial numbers a) 44-4355 b) 44-4297 c) 44-3781 d) 44-3880. Installed were Martin / Emerson turrets, gun serial numbers 490423, 490538, 38204, 702353, 670861, 670511, 671345, 671786. Previously, this air crew had completed four combat missions together.
On November 19, 1944 took off from Mokmer Drome on Biak piloted by 2nd Lt. John R. Cunningham armed with five 1,000 pound bombs on a mission against Libby Airfield on Mindanao. Inbound to the target, this B-24 was last seen by 1st Lt. George A. Sutterley, before entering light weather at roughly Lat 1° N, Long 131° E at 6:30am. Afterwards, no radio contact was ever established with the bomber nor were any distress signals. When this B-24 failed to make the rendezvous point, reach the target or return to base. When this B-24 failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
When this B-24 failed to return, alternate airfields were checked in case it landed elsewhere, without result. Fighter units were contacted for any sighting or report, but none were received.
On November 20, 1944 a Catalina "Daylight 30" unsuccessfully searched for this bomber. Also, three B-24s from the 400th Bombardment Squadron unsuccessfully searched for the missing plane.
On November 21, 1944 another bombing mission was conducted to the same area of Mindanao and B-24 crews were alerted to be on the lookout for any trace of this bomber with the formation spreading out to 50 miles wide on each side of their course in hopes of spotting the crew. Also, thee Catalinas, Daylight 31, 32 and 34 also covered the route. In a addition, a B-24 from the 320th Bombardment Squadron sighted a one man life raft at Lat 0° N Long 134° E, it was unclear if the raft was occupied or not. It is unclear if this life raft was further investigated or even associated with this crew. The Catalinas were notified and another B-24 searched this area unsuccessfully.
In fact, this B-24 crashed into a mangrove swamp near the Senindara River, near Kasar northeast of Babo. Japanese forces visited the crash site, including Fujita Kosuke.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, Japanese POW Fujita Kosuke reported the crash and drew a map for Australian authorities. Afterwards, Mr. Mirhadt, inspector of police from Hollandia visited the crash site and recovered two sets of remains and three pairs of shoes, taking them back to Hollandia. Later, these sets of remains were shipped to the U. S. Army at Finschafen, and later to Manila American Cemetery. Their ultimate disposition is unknown.
On June 27, 1947 a RAAF Search Team including S/L Keith Rundle, F/L Morris, F/L Onus, W/O Heywood, W/O McGrath, W/O Gunnourie, Sgt Havenport, LAC Forbes, W/O Kokkelink, Sgt Matheys. Also, Mr. Lewerissa, Mr. Siemelink and Mr. Parunhussa (A.D.O. Babo). They located one wing and rear fuselage, including the bomb bay and tail, and a gun hatch with "Phil May" painted on it (Philip Marino?). No other remains were found.
Bruce Fenstermaker visited the site on August 14, 1990:
"When in the Babo area I also did area surveys for missing US aircraft in this area. At that time I only had access to MACR reports on missing aircraft and could not assume anything other than that any aircraft I came upon was unreported. Information came to me and of a four engine bomber possibly US crashed in the area. I arrived on the shore of a small river and proceeded inland to what appeared to be a large aircraft debris field. The diameter of part of the fuselage barrel proved to be a large aircraft and the R-1830 engines in the river and the one near the wing proved it to be US. I located the lower rear waist access door and two port windows on this door and matched this to a B-24J. Further investigation I identified what was to be the top and left of the nose area with part of the turret, pitot tube and window frame of the aircraft, confirming my identification of type but unable to identify the individual aircraft. Today with access to additional documents, I feel very good that my analysis was correct as to the type and now to identification of the individual aircraft and able to contact surviving family members that it was found, contrary to the family never being told or knowing that it was ever found in 1947.
Do I believe that other remains are still there? Yes, Dynamics of the crash lead me to believe that covered remains under the debris and or trapped remains needs to be investigated further. It took the RAAF about 14 hours to get to the site (I believe because they had an unpowered boat) versus five hours for me (with an outboard motor boat) and because of the enormous workload and heroic effort of the Australians, time was limited then and a thorough examination of the site was not possible and they had to continue elsewhere trying to investigate war crimes and not only our missing but their own countrymen and my workload was enormous also but I wasn't as I thought able to return with help, to investigate further. I pray that someday I will return and give these men a second chance to come home."
The entire crew was declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Wachal also has a memorial marker at Shiloh Cemetery in Hiawatha, Iowa. Clark has a memorial marker at Golden Gate National Cemetery at plot MA, 13. Rivers also has a memorial marker at New Prospect Cemetery in Clarke County, AL.
Rick Wachal (nephew of Gerald Wachal)
"Most everything regarding my uncle Gerald Wachal was lost when my Grandmother passed away when I was a child. I never knew my Uncle other then through stories and photos."
Vince Arnold (great nephew of Ambrozio Tata)
"I am a descendant of SSgt Ambrozio B. Tata and have his tour book for the Jolly Rogers, his Paper signed by JFK declaring him dead and a photo of him w/side arm at his base, would be happy to give you what ever you need to complete the story."
Michael Bruce Tata (nephew of Tata)
"I am the nephew of SSgt Ambrozio B. Tata. I have always been interested in my uncle's fate, because his remains have never been recovered. He has a memorial grave located in Lima, Ohio. I would be grateful if his remains are ever recovered to be returned to his family plot. I am also interested to know if he received an honored military funeral, since we come from a military family and most of us are Vietnam veterans."
Chip Kelmell (nephew-in-law of Phillip Marino)
Philip J Marino Sr. (nephew of Philip Joseph Marino)
Tim Flynn (nephew of James Heerey)
Note, Heerey surname is spelled "Heery" or "Henrey" in some sources incorrectly.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24J-205-CO Liberator 44-41258
"41258 (90th BG) lost Nov 19, 1944, SW Pacific. MACR 12582"
Missing Air Crew Report 12582 (MACR 12582)
Missing Air Crew Report 6028 (MACR 6028) details the loss of A-20G 42-86727 and includes two pages related to this bomber: page 2 relates to the search for Lt. Cunningham, pilot of this B-24. Page 3 is a map of the last known position of this B-24. Both pages are included in that MACR in error.
Legacy of the 90th Bombardment Group page 144
National Archives Australia (NAA) "Report by S/L Rundle on United States Liberator Aircraft Recovered Kasar, Senindara River, Babo Area" July 29, 1947
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John R. Cunningham
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William M. Millner
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gerald J. Wachal
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Louis D. Clark
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Philip J. Marino
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James E. Boettcher
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ambrozio B. Tata
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James T. Heerey
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Jewel A. Rivers
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert J. Gibson
FindAGrave - 1Lt John R Cunningham (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt William M Millner (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - FltOff Gerald J Wachal (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Gerald J. Wachal (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Louis D Clark (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Lieut Louis Dale Clark (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Philip J Marino (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt James E Boettcher (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSgt Ambrozio B Tata (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt James T Heerey (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Jewel A Rivers (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Jewel Alfred "Jack" Rivers (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Robert J Gibson (tablets of the missing photo)
Thanks to Bruce Fenstermaker, Vince Arnold Rick Wachal for additional information
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