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

Click For Enlargement
1943

Click For Enlargement
Ray Fairfield 1967

Click For Enlargement
1968

Click For Enlargement
Jim Watts 1972

Click For Enlargement
Matt Anderson 2001

Pilot  Lt. Charles 'Chuck' A. Pillsbury (MIA / KIA) Minneapolis, MN
Crashed  November 21, 1943 at 1:00pm

Pilot Chuck Pillsbury
Born on 4 April 1917. Educated at St. Paul's School, Concord, NH and Yale University (B. A. Degree) class of 1939. He became an Aviation Cadet on 2 December, 1940, and reported on 9 December to NAS Pensacola for training. On 21 May, 1941, he was designated a Naval Aviator. On 31 May, 1941, he was appointed an Ensign, and on 2 September, 1942, he was appointed Lt(jg) and reported on 10 August, 1942, to NAS New York for duty with the Aircraft Delivery Unit. He reported on 8 October, 1942, to Naval Proving Grounds, Dahlgren, Virginia, and on December 31, 1942, reported to Norfolk Virginia and VF-17. Appointed as Lieutenant on March 1, 1943. During his service, he was awarded an Air Medal and Bronze Star, among other decorations.

Aircraft History
Built by Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN). Assigned to squadron VF-17 "The Jolly Rogers". This aircraft was painted with blue upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. The fuselage U. S. Star was outlined with a red border.

Mission History
On November 21, 1943 one of six F4U's led by Pillsbury that took off from Ondonga Airfield for a noon Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Empress Augusta Bay and Torokina. The formation patrolled without incident until relieved in the early afternoon. Returning, the formation strafed targets of opportunity around Buin in southern Bougainville. 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).

Wreckage
The crash site of this Corsair was discovered by Don Smith on September 4, 1968, 400m off the Buin-Kangu Hill road, just inland from Kangu Beach. When found, the remains of the pilot were still in the cockpit. The tail section is remarkably intact, the engine was detached from the crash site.

Reportedly, during 1968, Robert Diemert removed one or more of the 50 caliber machine guns and ammunition from the wing. Where this gun was taken is unknown.

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."

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 is definitely 2nd August 1967.  In my photo the tail is tilted to port, not to starboard [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."

Memorials
Pillsbury was declared dead the day of the mission and officially declared dead on February 8, 1946. After the recovery of remains, Pillsbury was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN.

References
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."
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 skill and remains still strapped into the cockpit are not supported by the wreckage or reports of visitors.]
Thanks to Roger Porteous and Ray Fairfield for additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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