|Pilot 2nd Lt. Harold Ralph Stewart, O-011447 (MIA / KIA) AZ
MIA February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre"
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1 Corsair Bureau Number 02249. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
Delivered to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to squadron VMF-124 "Whistling Death/Wild Aces". No known nickname or nose art.
On February 14, 1943 one of twelve F4U Corsairs that took off from Guadalcanal on a mission to escort nine PB4Y-1 Liberators from VB-101 on a daylight mission against Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville. Additionally, ten P-38s of the 347th Fighter Group, 339th Fighter Squadron also escorted.
Over the target, the PB4Y-1s bombed the Hatachi Maru and damaging another ship. Intercepted by enemy A6M Zeros and A6M2-N Rufe floatplanes from Shortland. This aircraft was damaged by machine gun fire that holed the fuel tank, causing the tank to drain. Pilot Stewart dove down from 20,000' while pursued by Zeros and ditched into the sea. Enemy fighters strafed the plane and the deployed yellow life raft.
Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
Stewart was officially declared dead on January 10, 1945. Memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1 Corsair 02249
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List February 1943 - F4U Corsair 02249 lists pilot as "Harold B. [sic] Stewart'
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Harold Ralph Stewart
2Lt Harold Ralph Stewart (photo, tablets of the missing)
History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II page 135
"On 14 February, their third day in the combat area, the F4U pilots learned that Japanese flyers had not lost their skill or aggressiveness. About 50 well-alerted Zeros were waiting from the raid on Kahili Field in southern Bougainville. The Japanese shot down two F4U's, two Navy PB4Y's, two P-40's [sic, those were lost February 13, 1943] and the entire top cover of four P-38's, with a loss to themselves of only three Zeros, [sic only one was lost], one of which collided with a F4U. This 'Saint Valentine's Day massacre' was a painful blow to the Guadalcanal-based flyers of all services."
Corsair page 30
"Two F4U's were also lost with their pilots, Lieutenants Lyon and Stewart.... only 3 Zekes were downed and one of them had collided with Lyon's Corsair... Stewart's element leader, First Lieutenant Lloyd B. Pearson reported what happened... 'Stewart's plane was racked with machine-gun fire diagonally across the main fuel cell. When Stewart rejoined me after the melee, I could see the gasoline spraying out of the numerous bullet holes. He appeared to be okay. After approximately ten minutes with us his fuel gave out, he waved goodbye and nosed down to the water from about 20,000 feet. The zero's then followed him down, shooting at him all the while. He made a successful water landing and I thought I could see a yellow spot (his life raft) beside the cockpit. However, the zero's continued to strafe him. We never heard from Stewart again."
Thanks to Paul Rosles for additional information
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January 5, 2018