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Pilot Major Williston M. Cox, O-426370 C. O. 405th BS (POW, survived) TN
Pilot Captain Robert L. Herry, O-421090 (POW, executed August 31, 1943, BR) TX
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Robert J. "Moose" Koscelnak, O-732556 (POW, executed August 31, 1943, BR) Orange, CA
Navigator 1st Lt Louis J. Ritacco, O-660907 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Port Chester, NY
Engineer S/Sgt Raymond J. Zimmerman, 39304264 (MIA / KIA) Clackamas County, OR
Radio T/Sgt Hugh W. Anderson, 38069521 (POW, executed August 31, 1943) Aspermont, TX
Ditched August 5, 1943
On May 12, 1943 this B-25 flew its first combat mission as one of seven bombers on a strike against Finschafen Airfield. In total, this aircraft flew at least fifteen combat missions before being lost on August 5, 1943. When lost, engine and weapon serial number were not noted.
Over the target, the formation broke into pairs of B-25s and dove to minimum altitude and began bombing and strafing targets. Over the target, there was intense anti-aircraft fire from Japanese guns in the area. While approaching Madang, this B-25 was hit by a shell in the right engine. Pilot Herry was able to control the damaged bomber to ditch into the sea landing off Wongat Island roughly roughly three quarters of a mile from Madang.
The bomber landed intact and briefly remained afloat before sinking. Another B-25 in the formation photographed the ditched bomber floating on the surface before it sank. Another photograph was taken of a column of smoke rising from the site of the ditching. Tail gunner Zimmerman was killed in the landing. His body either went down with the aircraft or floated away and remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA). The rest of the crew survived the ditching with only minor injuries.
Fates of the Crew
Soon afterwards, a Japanese search party led by 1st Lt. Binsho Tejima, commander of a medical supply detachment at Madang. When they reached the crew 1st Lt. Tejima knocked over Cox and captured the crew who became Prisoners Of War (POW).
The crew were transported to the Kempei Tai Headquarters at Amron and along the way were beaten by Japanese soldiers they passed. Initially, Major Cox was separated from the crew and questioned. Initially, Cox refused to cooperate because there was no Japanese officer present at his interrogations, and was struck in the face knocking one of his teeth out while two others beat him. Afterwards, Cox was placed in captivity with the rest of his crew.
For the next twelve days, at Amron, the crew were bound, handcuffed and placed into two cells: Major Cox and Captain Herry in one with Lt. Koscelnak and SSgt Anderson in the other. The crew was interrogated and beaten on a daily basis. Each day, the prisoners were questioned about their unit, bomber, base and aircraft strength in New Guinea. Major Cox refused to answer these question, citing the Geneva convention and because he had attended pre-law at the University of Tennessee and was familiar with the rights of prisoners. The other crew members were similarly questioned and refused to cooperate.
Two days into their captivity on August 7, 1943 a Japanese interpreter arrived to question them further. Major Cox requested to be taken to the commanding officer at Madang but was told he was not available. He also requested food and water for his crew, which was provided.
Meanwhile, Ritacco managed to evade capture. After several days without food and unable to swim, he gave himself up to the Japanese and was also taken to Kempei Tai Headquarters at Amron. When Ritacco joined the rest of the crew, the Japanese demanded one of the natives beat Major Cox for not revealing that Ritacco was hiding on the island. Around that same time, Cox witnessed Herry beaten with a bamboo pole 8-10 times for not answering questions. After five days of interrogations and beatings, the crew were neglected for two days and rested.
The next day, Cox and Herry (the most senior officers) were told they would be separated and taken to Rabaul and were transported to Madang. During the trip, other Japanese soldiers met them and took Herry back to Amron instead. This was the last time Cox saw any of his crew, or Herry.
Alone, Cox was marched to Alexishafen Airfield and tied to a coconut palm for three days and beaten on a regular basis by both Japanese and natives. He was given water but no food and remained at this location for a total of five days. On August 17, 1943 Cox was flown aboard a Japanese bomber from Alexishafen Airfield to Rabaul where he was transported aboard a Japanese ship to Japan and interned at Omori POW Camp in Tokyo and survived captivity until the end of the Pacific War.
On August 31, 1943, the other four crew members: Koscelnak, Ritacco and Anderson were blindfolded and escorted from Amron to an execution ground nearby. Each was bayoneted then beheaded. Afterwards, Owen Salvage, the sole survivor of B-25D 41-30221 was also executed. Lastly, Herry was tied between two posts and bayoneted to death.
Post war affidavit L/Cpl Yasukuni Tani. (Kempeitai clerk at Amron) states:
Recovery of Remains
On March 15, 1948, that dental charts for unknowns X-17 and X-14 compared favorably with those of Herry and Koscelneck, but awaited further medical evidence before making an identification. Later, these remains were positively identified as Herry and Koscelneck.
After the identification of the remains of the crew, Koscelnak, Ritacco, Anderson and Herry were transported to the Philippines and United States for permanent burial.
The B-25 is fully intact except for the left engine which is missing (torn off during the ditching). The left wing tip is at 12-15 meters and the starboard wing is at 25 meters. The main body of the plane is at about 18 meters depth. The four machine guns are visible through the damaged nose section and ammunition hoppers visible. There is still a considerable number of 50 caliber rounds inside but they are cemented into place by sea life. Both cockpit hatches are open. Large sponges and fans cover the wreck.
Since discovery, this bomber has become a popular SCUBA diving attraction for anyone diving in Madang and is frequently dived by several dive operators.
Koscelnak, Ritacco and Anderson and Herry were officially declared dead on August 31, 1943 the day they were executed.
Koscelnak was buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot C row 16 grave 59.
Cox passed away on January 4, 1980. He was buried at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville, TN at section 20.
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