345th October 16, 1943
345th October 16, 1943
|Pilot 2nd Lt. Donald Stookey (POW, executed March 3/4, 1944, BR) Portland, OR
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Herschel D. Evans (POW, executed March 3/4, 1944, BR) Little Rock, AR
Engineer SSgt Ernest S. Roberts, 18069713 (POW, executed, MIA / BNR) Arapahoe, CO
Radio SSgt Max Gerstein, 35355778 (POW, executed, MIA / BNR) Indianapolis, IN
Gunner SSgt Thomas H. Laird, 34444568 (POW, executed, MIA / BNR) Savannah, GA
Ditched October 16, 1943
Built by North American as a model D-20. Constructors Number 87-8726. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-20 Mitchell serial number 41-30561. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 345th Bombardment Group, 500th Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. Modified into a D-1 strafer version by the 4th Air Deport at Garbutt Field near Townsville. When lost, engines R-2600-13 serial number 42-77012 and 42-76928.
On October 16, 1943 took off from 17 Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt. Donald Stookey on a mission over Wewak. Over the target, hit by anti-aircraft fire in the right engine and ditched three miles northeast of Cape Moem, remaining afloat for 90 seconds and allowing the crew to escape. Five crew were last seen in life rafts by circling B-25s and P-38s that dropped them rafts.
Fates of the Crew
The entire crew were captured by the Japanese Navy and became Prisoners Of War (POW) and taken Kairiru Island.
Sometime after the ditching, the three enlisted crew members: Roberts, Gerstein and Laird were executed at Saint John's Mission on Kairiru Island.
The two officers: Stookey and Evans were transported to Rabaul. In early March 1944 detained at Tunnel Hill POW Camp. On March 4, 1944 and March 5 1944 both were executed during the Talili Bay Massacre (Tunnel Hill Massacre) and their bodies buried.
Towards the end of the Pacific War, to cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed by Allied bombing during an air raid while at Talili Bay after being evacuated from Tunnel Hill and their bodies were cremated and their bodies were cremated and the ashes placed into a single box.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, the cremated ashes the Japanese claimed were those killed at Talili Bay were turned over to the Allies and divided proportionally based on the number of victims (23 Americans and 5 Australians) with 3/4 of the ashes to the Americans and 1/4 of the ashes to the Australians. The American ashes were transported aboard USAT Albert M. Boe to the United States.
Stookey and Evans were officially declared dead on March 5, 1944. On March 21, 1950 the American ashes were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 78 grave 930-934.
The other three crew: Roberts, Gerstein and Laird were officially declared dead on January 22, 1946. All three are are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. All three remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Harlan N. Hatfield (nephew of Roberts)
"My uncle SSgt Ernest S. Roberts was on this aircraft. He came from Arapahoe, Colorado a small town out near Kansas Colorado border.
He is still MIA but is carried officially as dead in 1946."
USAF USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-20 Mitchell 41-30561
"30561 (500th BS, 345th BG) lost Oct 16, 1943, Papua New Guinea. MACR 935"
Missing Air Crew Report 935 (MACR 935)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Ernest S. Roberts
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Max Gerstein
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Thomas H. Laird
FindAGrave - Donald L Stookey (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Herschel D Evans (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Ernest S Roberts (tablets of the missing photo)
SSgt Max Gerstein (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Thomas H Laird (tablets of the missing)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-25C Mitchell 41-30561
Warpath Across The Pacific
(1996) by Lawrence Hickey pages 61-62, 64, 91, 366, 392, 416
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 19 (footnote 12 - Tunnel Hill Massacre), 94 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners - Evans), 96 (Rabaul's Military Prisoners - Stookey)
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May 31, 2019