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  F4U-1A Corsair Bureau Number 17804  
USN
VF-17

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Ray Fairfield 1967

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Jim Watts 1972

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Pacific War Images 1984

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PNG Battlefields 1984

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Matt Anderson 2001

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Jessie Owens 2002

Pilot  Lt. Charles A. Pillsbury, O-98415 USNR (MIA / KIA) Minneapolis, MN
Crashed  November 21, 1943 at 1:00pm


Aircraft History
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1A Corsair bureau number 17804. This aircraft was painted with blue upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. The U. S. star markings were outlined with a red border. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to Fighting Squadron Seventeen "The Jolly Rogers" (VF-17). No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On November 21, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield piloted by Lt. Charles A. Pillsbury as one of six F4U's led by Pillsbury for a noon Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Empress Augusta Bay and Torokina on Bougainville. The formation patrolled without incident until relieved in the early afternoon.

Returning from the mission, the formation strafed targets of opportunity around Buin. Around 1:00pm, Pillsbury and his wingman Ensign Robert Hogan strafed a line of trucks on a jungle trail. Pillsbury was last seen flying around Kangu Hill. When he failed to return from the mission, he was declared Missing In Action (MIA).

Search
That same day, four Corsairs made a two hour search of the area where this aircraft was presumed to have crashed without results.

Wreckage
This Corsair crashed into a forested area off the the road from Kangu-Buin Road to the west of Kangu Hill on southern Bougainville. On September 4, 1968 the crash site was discovered by surveyor Don Smith roughly 400 meters off the Buin-Kangu Road. When located, the remains of the pilot were still in the cockpit. The tail section was remarkably intact with the U. S. star outlined in red. The engine was separated and the cockpit section was destroyed in the crash. Both wings were located at the site.

Roger Porteous, formally of Bougainville adds:
"The aircraft was found by surveyor Don Smith (currently residing in Coffs Harbour NSW) in 1968 whilst carrying out a restoration of title survey on the boundaries of the Patpatuai Catholic Mission. As Don was staying with my wife and I, I accompanied him to the crash site the next morning. The aircraft was, as stated, in good condition, but only from the rear cockpit fire wall back. The wings were in good nick and guns still loaded. The engine was lying a long way forward of the wreck and cockpit area was completely burned out, non existent. I reported the wreck to the RAAF shortly after, with a description and number off the tail. Several weeks later I did receive a request from the RAAF (Sqd, Ldr. de Frank from memory) asking me to check for more numbers, as the one I gave them did not seem right. Sure enough there was another obscured number on the tail which I duly sent to them. Some time later, the RAAF fellows came to Buin and I took them to the site. They sifted through the wreckage for several days, but reported finding only two vertebrae and one metal Lieutenant bar. No other remains were found. The ones that were recovered came from the ground well beneath the surface amongst evidence of fierce fire. Several months after the find, there was an ABC Radio documentary of the find. I also believe that Lt. Pilsbury's sister received the remains in the U.S."

Reportedly, sometime afterwards in 1968 Robert Diemert removed one or more of the .50 caliber machine guns and ammunition from the wing. Where these guns were taken is unknown.

Ray Fairfield adds:
"I think this may be the same one 'discovered' in 1968, but there was no suggestion of remains when I was there.  Not far off the road from Buin to the beach. My photo was definitely taken on 2nd August 1967.  In my photo the tail is tilted to port, not to starboard [like the 1972 photograph]. The guns are in place but the ammo bins were emptied and the school teacher at Buin had at least some of the ammo.  There was no mention of remains when I was there. I think I was told that some of the mission bois had found it after some roadwork."

Recovery of Remains
After the crash site was discovered in 1968, the recovered remains including two vertebrae were transported to the United States for permenat burial.

Memorials
Pillsbury was declared dead the day of the mission and earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He was officially declared dead on February 8, 1946. Memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. After his remains were recovered in 1968, Pillsbury was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN.

Relatives
Charles Alfred Pillsbury (1842–1899 grandfather)
Mary Ann Stinson * Pillsbury (1841–1902 grandmother)
John Sargent Pillsbury Sr. (1878–1968 father)
Eleanor Jerusha Lawler * PIllsbury (1887–1991 mother)
John Sargent Pillsbury Jr. (1912–2005 brother)
Edmund Pennington Pillsbury (1913–1951 brother)
Ella Sturgis Pillsbury * Crosby (1915–2012 sister)
Jane Lawler Pillsbury * Resor (1920–1994 sister)
George Sturgis Pillsbury (1921–2013 brother)

References
Ancestry - Charles Alfred Pillsbury (photo)
Valley Morning Star "Pillsbury Heir Takes 'Last Fling' in Mexico Then Charles A. Pillsbury will sign up for training in Naval Air Corps" November 20, 1940
"Brownsville - Charles A. Pillsbury, son of John Sargent Pillsbury, chairmen of the board of directors of the Pillsbury Flour Mills Company in Minneapolis, drew near the end of his 'one last fling' here Tuesday afternoon as he boarded a Braniff Airliner for Chicago. Charles had just returned from a 10-day trip to Mexico City via Pan American Airways, with his sister Jane, and his mother and father. Early in December Charles is to report to duty for advanced training with the Naval Air Corps at Pensacola, Fla. He has already completed his preliminary trainings. Charles' father and mother decided to give him 'one last fling' at a good time before he went into service so they brought him to Mexico with his pretty young sister. 'We took everything in Mexico City and vicinity," the elder Pillsbury said here Tuesday, 'And I can't think of a better investment for a trip than a vacation in Mexico. We really enjoyed our short stay. Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury and Jane left for New York City via Eastern Airlines' Silversleeper as Charles departed for Chicago."
The Minneapolis Star "Lt. C. A. Pillsbury Wins Air Medal" August 1, 1944
"The air medal has been awarded Lt. Charles A. Pillsbury, navy aviator reported missing following action in the Solomon Islands area, according to word received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John S. Pillsbury, Crystal Bay, Lake Minnetonka. The missing airman has two brothers in service, Lt. John S. Pillsbury, Jr., navy and Lt. George S. Pillsbury, marines. A third brother, Edmund, is a civilian instructor in the army air force. Their father is chairman of the board of Pillsbury Flour Mills Co."
The Minneapolis Star "Lt. C. A. Pillsbury Wins Air Medal" December 22, 1943
"Lt. Charles Alfred Pillsbury, 26, son of Mr. and Mrs. John S. Pillsbury of Minneapolis, Tuesday was reported missing in action in the Southwest Pacific by Rea Adm. Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel in Washington. Lt. Pillsbury, a naval fighter pilot, attended Blake school, St. Paul's academy in Concord, N. H. and was graduated from Yale university. Two of Lt. Pillsbury's brothers are in the service and third brother, Edmund P. Pillsbury, 30, is a civilian army air force instructor in Phoenix, Ariz. Lt. John S. Pillsbury, Jr. 31, is in naval air combat intelligence, and George S. Pillsbury, 22 is a second lieutenant in the marines. The missing lieutenant's parents left Minneapolis last week of a short trip to Palm Beach, Fla."
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1A Corsair 17804
"17804 (VM-17) shot down by small arms fire near Kahili, Bougainville Nov 21, 1943. Pilot KIA. Wreck discovered in dense jungle in late 1960s."
NARA "Fighting Squadron Seventeen War Diary - 1 November through 30 November (L), 1943"
(Page 10) "21 November continued: At the conclusion of a negative 2 hour patrol over Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, the following pilots strafed ground installations on southern Bougainville:
Lt. C. A. Pillsbury, USNR. Ens. R. R. Hogan
USNR, Lt. W. J. Schub, USNR., Lt. (jg) C. W. Gilbert, USNR., Lt. (jg) G. F. Bowers, USNR., Ens R. H. Hill, USNR
Schub's division strafed huts and bridges along the Monoitu-Kahili trail, leaving several huts smoking. Pillsbury and Hogan strafe five (5) trucks on the trail. Pillsbury was last seen by Hogan flying low on a S. W. heading one mile west of Kangu Hill at 1300/L (0200, 20 November, GCT). No A/A fire was seen, but it is presumed that Pillsbury's plane was hit by light machine gun fire and crashed (See Aircraft Action Report #32)"
(Page 19) "Enclosure (B)-continued: Own Losses: Lt. Charles A. Pillsbury, A-V(N), USNR, file number 98416--probably by enemy A/A fire."
RAAF Status Card, Corsair 17804 (created 23 July 1968)
"Skeletal remains of almost a complete skeleton were unearth. USN authorities indicated remains could be of Lt. C. A. Pillsbury USNR MIA south-east end of Bougainville Island, 21 Nov 43, presumed dead 8 Feb 46."
American Battle Monuments Commission - Charles A. Pillsbury
FindAGrave - Charles Alfred Pillsbury (grave photo)
The Jolly Rogers pages 166
"Tragedy struck the squadron later in what we thought would be a triumphal day. Six Corsairs under 'Chuck' Pillsbury routinely relieved the midmorning CAP over Empress Augusta Bay, and they flew yet another butt-grinding noon-hour CAP mission until relieved in turn by the early-afternoon flight. All six of Pillsbury's F4Us were directed to strafe targets of opportunity along the Monoitu-Kahili Trail, over which the Japanese Army was supplying their ground forces arrayed against the Torokina beachhead. Lt. Wally Schubb's division wan unable to find the Monoitu Mission itself, but the four did expend most of their bullets on bridges and huts along the trail. Meanwhile, Chuck and his wingman, Ens. Bob Hogan, flew an independent course up the jungle-obscured trail and managed to flame five trucks. At about 1300, just before the pair reached Kahili, Hogan idly cut to starboard to pass around 400 foot Kangu Hill. He saw Chuck swing left around the same prominence. Though Bob neither encountered nor saw any signs of anti-aircraft fire, that was the last he saw of Chuck. Bob circled offshore and called Chuck on his radio, but there was no response. Bob was by then running low on fuel, so he called the next CAP flight leader, who sent a division up to look for Chuck. No joy. Fully a quarter century later, Chuck Pillsbury's virtually intact Corsair was located, purely by chance, in the dense jungle near Kangu Hill. Our comrade's remains were still strapped into the cockpit. One .25 caliber rifle bullet had gone through him from below and lodged in his skull. No doubt, Chuck died instantly before the crash." [Note: this reference to .25 caliber rifle bullet or his skull and remains still strapped into the cockpit are not supported by the wreckage or reports of visitors.]
Papua New Guinea Pacific War Images page 18 (photo)
Papua New Guinea Battlefields page 25 (photo)
Thanks to Roger Porteous, Ray Fairfield and Donna Esposito for additional information.

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Last Updated
May 17, 2018

 

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