|Pilot 1st Lt. Herbert "Herbie" W. Cochran, O-743414 (survived) Decatur, Illinois
Ditched July 28, 1944
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Constructors Number 3185. Delivered to the U. S. Army on February 4, 1944. During February 1944 disassembled and shipped from the Port of Oakland, CA and shipped overseas to the Pacific and reassembled.
During March 1944 assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 433rd Fighter Squadron. During early 1944, assigned to pilot 1st Lt. Herbert W. Cochran who originally planned to nickname it "Red II" after his redheaded wife and his first aircraft P-38H "Red" 42-66843. Instead, named "Decatur Illinois" after his hometown to give it some proud publicity. The nickname was painted by the squadron painter. The left side of the nose below the cockpit had three Japanese rising sun flags, representing Cochran's two confirmed kills and one probable. Assigned squadron Number 186 painted in blue on the nose and the outer engine cowlings. Also known as "Blue 186". The propeller spinners were painted white and blue ring. Crew Chief as of late March 1944 was TSgt Ralph K. Dietz.
This aircraft was flown by Cochran during July 2 to July 28, 1944
when ditched. He often mentioned this aircraft in letters to his wife, referring to it as "old 186" or "Red II", although this nickname was never painted on the nose.
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran dated April 1, 1944:
"I had to trade old 186 my faithful "Red" in but I now have a nice shiny silver one with the same number 186 on it and with my same crew chief. I'll will name it "Red II" and I hope it is as good as the old one."
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran dated April 3, 1944:
"My airplane "Red II" flew today but had to snafu due to electrical trouble. I haven't flow it yet. I would have liked to fly it on its first mission but I'll have plenty more chances."
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran mailed May 24, 1944:
"Old "Red II" is sure a good old plane. Since I have had it has only failed to complete two missions and one of those was its first mission. The other was yesterday when I was taking two ships to cover some transports and I had a runaway prop on takeoff. Got it under control O.K. and went part way on the mission but it started to overspeed again so I came back in. 186 has about 130 hours on it since it was new. Of course I haven't put all that on because others fly it on my day off."
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran mailed June 30, 1944:
"Today we had 8 planes flying and I was off. Went down to the line this morning to paint the name on the plane. I was down being bore sighted so I passed time till after lunch then went to work. I made stencils for the job. Got a big "Decatur Illinois" on nose. However the stencils didn't work too good so I didn't get the "Red II" on it. The squadron painter watched my labors to make a neat job ( the old nerves aren't as steady as they used to be) so he took over and edged the red letters in black for me. He said as soon as he had time he'd paint the other name on it for me. I'm hoping I get results for the home town name. From the papers I've been getting there must be hundreds of Decatur boys in this area. I finally found a camera that will fit the one roll of film I have (116). So soon as he finishes I'll get a good picture of old 186 and if you want to get your name in the paper again a picture of the plane with the home town as it should be sure to make the news. Old 186 helped in the destruction of three small enemy ships (boats) the other day. 8 us left all three on fire from strafing." Based on photographs, the painter never came back to paint "Red II".
On July 28, 1944 took off piloted by Cochran from Mokmer Drome (APO 920) on Biak Island as part of a formation led by MacDonald and Charles Lindbergh. Fifteen minutes after take off, the right engine and left engines both failed and he ditched into the sea off Biak. The flight did not see him leave the formation.
When the formation returned from their mission, they discovered Cochran was missing and contacted nearby airfields to see if he landed elsewhere and launched a search mission to search for his plane.
Fate of the Pilot
Cochran survived the landing unhurt and paddled back in his life raft two hours to shore and waked back to Mokmer Drome. In total, Cochran flew 125 combat missions in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) and was promoted to Captain and was credited with two aerial victories and a probable.
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran mailed July 29, 1944 postmarked August 9, 1944:
"Well I'll have to get me a new plane now and name it "Red III" after the sweetheart little redheaded wife in the world.... Now I'll tell you why I wasn't on the mission yesterday. Darling its a good thing I got those pictures of 186 when I did because it is now at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and I was nearly with it.
We took off yesterday morning for our mission and shortly after take off my left engine quit, due I think to a broken fuel line. After feathering the prop I started to turn back to the field to make a single engine landing when the other engine quit. At this time I was only 800 feet above the water too low to use my parachute so all I could do was go straight ahead and land in the water. I just had time to drop my belly tanks and fasten my shoulder straps before I hit. I hit the water with an awful wallop and went skidding along a ways.
By the time the plane stopped and I'd unfastened my safety belt, stood up and inflated my Mae West the water was up to my waist. So I just floated out of the cockpit and tried to swim away before the plane sunk. When it sank, it turned the tail straight up in the air and dove straight down. The tail nearly hit me when it went past. After the plane sank I took my parachute off and got the boat out of the seat and inflated it. Then I just climbed in the boat and lay there to get my breath back. When I looked around I saw I was about 2 miles offshore and about 2 miles down the down the coast from the nearest American camp.
Since no one saw me go down there was no one to rescue me. In the boat are two paddles about 12 inches long with elastic bands to fit over your hands. I put these on and started paddling back. It took about three hours steady paddling to make shore where some fellows came out to meet me and took me back to camp. The fellows on the mission had gotten back and found that I hadn't landed like they thought. They called the other strips in the area and then sent a search flight up. I was nearly to shore when I saw them searching for me. They had given up hope when I came walking in with my boat under my arm. They were sure surprised.
So the only effect I have now are two very sore arms from paddling for so long yesterday. I figure I must have paddled by hand at least five miles. We'll I'll have to get me a new plane and name it 'Red 3' after the sweetest little redhead wife in the world."
After the crash of July 28, 1944, Cochran's flying time was minimal.
After the war, Cochran and his wife Betty returned to Decatur, Illinois. He worked for 39 years as a supervisor of Staley (A. E. Staley). In 1948 they adopted their only son, Jay. He died on March 10, 2004. He is buried at Boiling Springs Cemetery in Decatur, IL.
Jay Cochran (son)
Friend Mike Newland adds:
"I have inherited Captain Herbert "Herbie" Cochran's military flight records, uniforms, letters and personal effects from his life as a P-38 pilot of the 475th FG, 333rd FS during the New Guinea Campaign. Herb flew with many of the South Pacific aces, Purdy, Fisk, Roberts, McDonald, McGuire. He scored two victories and was Capt. Danny Robert's wingman on many missions. I went to high school in Decatur, Illinois with Herb's son. I met Herb once, passed away in 2004. He was regarded as a quiet, dedicated and highly regarded fighter pilot.
I have hundreds of his letters sent home and a book could be written about this brave dedicated P-38 pilot in New Guinea 1943 - early 1945. A letter also states he wanted to name his 2nd plane Decatur Illinois to give his home town city some proud publicity. Quick notes from the letters, Herb saw a lot of action, friends dying, missing friends, battle fatigue, malaria, blindness, pulled teeth, high altitude pains, headaches, homesick, Hot, constant rain, cold at night, was considered a top notch pilot, Danny Roberts wingman, element leader on many of the Rabaul missions, held a one engine P-38 flight home record of 400 plus miles many P-38 pilots. He also lost many of his Classmates of 43-D Luke Field, Arizona: Corrigan, Kirshner, Don King, Dale Meyer, Longman, Neely, Gronemeyer all mentioned in his letters. Don King was his best friend, have letters of Don's wife asking about Don, very sad. Herb's other friends lost were Danforth, Revenaugh. His tent mates were Fisk Malloy and Meyer. He was good friends with Lent, Herb had to write up the crash report for Lent. Fisk was also from Illinois and both trained together. He came home in 1945 and worked for 35 years as a supervisor of Staleys. He was quiet, polite and collected cameras and radios."
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - Lockheed P-38 Lightning 42-104358
Note, some sources incorrectly state this aircraft was P-38J-15-LO Lightning 42-104319, this plane was assigned to the 9th Air Force, 474th Fighter Group, 429th Fighter Squadron lost May 23, 1944 piloted by 2nd Lt. Knox and the subject of Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 5122.
Individual Flight Record - 1st Lt. Herbert W. Cochran - July 1944 notes him piloting a "P-38J" during the month (the exact serial number is not recorded)
Charles Lindbergh and the 475th Fighter Group "MacDonald and Lindbergh, flying with the Possums, led two flights up to 18,000 feet and cleared the thunderheads. Unnoticed, Lieutenant Herbert W. "Herbie" Cochran's Lightning, number 186, was going down after first the right, then the left engine quit. Too low to bailout, Cochran successfully ditched in the sea. So quickly had the lieutenant gone in that later his wingman, Lieutenant Ethelbert B. "E. B." Roberts assumed the downed pilot had snafued and had gone back to Mokmer."
Letter to Mrs. H. W. Cochran from H. W. Cochran mailed July 29, 1944 and postmarked August 9, 1944
Possum, Clover & Hades: 475th Fighter Group in World War II pages 191-193
475th Fighter Group page 56 color profile incorrectly notes serial number as 42-104319
FindAGrave - Herbert W. Cochran (grave photo)
Thanks to Mike Newland for additional information
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January 5, 2018