49th FG c1943
|Pilot 1st Lt. Theron D. Price, O-659841 (MIA / KIA) LA
MIA October 13, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Constructors Number 1027. Project Number unknown. Delivered to the U. S. Army on May 13, 1943. Flown to Sacramento Air Depot (SAD) arriving on May 13, 1943. Next, flown to Fort Mason near San Francisco on May 23, 1943. Disassembled and loaded as cargo aboard a ship bound for "Left" (Brisbane) departing on May 25, 1943. Shipped overseas to Brisbane arriving in early June 1943 and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 9th Fighter Squadron. Assigned to pilot Lt. James Watkins "Duckbutt" nicknamed "Charlcie Jeann" in an old English style font. Nose number 84. Painted on the left side of the cockpit was "Lt. J. A. Watkins" with flags for 11 Japanese aircraft claimed. Operated from Horanda Airfield (Dobodura No. 4).
On July 28, 1943 took off from Horanda Drome at 6:39am piloted by Captain Watkins leading Blue Flight on a mission to escort B-25s on a mission against Cape Gloucester. Over the north coast of New Britain off Cape Raoult at 8:15am, the P-38s spotted twelve to eighteen Ki-43 Oscars were spotted and the P-38s released their drop tanks and attacked. Watkins claimed three Oscars shot down.
When lost engines V-1710-89-9 serial numbers left 42-93881 right 42-29944. Aboard were .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers 459441, 459286, 223590, 459028 also 20mm cannon serial number 58337.
On October 13, 1943 took off at 10:20am from Kiriwina Airfield as part of blue flight and climbed to 15,000' on a mission to escort B-24s on a mission against Rabaul. Meeting a weather front with clouds and rain, the formation was required to fly on instruments. This P-38 was last seen be fellow pilots Johnson, Fanning and Marling over the ocean between New Britain and Kiriwina Island. Possibly, due to bad weather and failed to return.
When this aircraft failed to return it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost were P-38G 42-12698 (MIA) and P-38G 42-12856 (MIA). This aircraft was officially written off on February 25, 1944.
The next day, aircraft searched for this missing P-38 off Kiriwina and Woodlark, but only found a B-24 bellied onto a coral reef, whose crew had already been rescued. Total search time was 5-7 hours.
Price was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Price is also has a memorial marker at Fellowship Cemetery in Hineston, LA.
Price earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster (posthumously).
Note, some sources incorrectly list the serial number for this P-38 as 42-12882. This serial number was assigned to the 1st Fight Group and crashed in England on January 13, 1943.
Individual Aircraft History Card (IAHC) - P-38H Lightning 42-66516
Missing Air Crew Report 1256 (MACR 1256)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Theron D. Price
FindAGrave - 1Lt Theron D Price (tablets of the missing photos)
FindAGrave - Theron D Price (memorial marker photos)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66516
Fighter Pilot page 50-51
"My flight was the first to land, and we waited two hours for the rest of the squadron to straggle in. Three planes were missing - Frank Wunder, Ralph Hays and Theron Price, the pilots. I had my ship refueled and four of us searched until dark without finding a trace of them. Early the next morning we received permission to conduct a full-scale search; for three days we combed the area without success. The fourth day [October 17, 1943] we were needed for another Rabaul raid, so the search was called off."
49th Fighter Group Aces of the Pacific cover artwork depicts this aircraft on July 28, 1943 inside caption incorrectly lists serial number as 42-12882
Thanks to Keith Hopper and Edward Rogers for additional information
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June 19, 2017
October 13, 1943