Robert Jarrett 2003
|Pilot 2nd Lt. John R. Weldon, Jr., O-748859 (MIA / KIA) OK
Landed January 18, 1944
Weldon was born in Oklahoma and moved to Strathmore, Tulare County, California with his family at age 6. He graduated Strathmore High School and was an active athlete. He had a brother Lester Weldon and three sisters, all three were married by the early 1940s and lived in the Strathmore area: Ruby (Weldon) Clovis, Editth Mae (Weldon) Perkins and Oval L. (re) Fox. Weldon enlisted in the U. S. Army on March 10, 1941 at Los Angeles, CA as a private serial number 39229303. Later, he was transfered to the air corps and completed flight training. Sent overseas and assigned to the 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron.
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. When lost V-1710-89 and V-1710-91 serial numbers 42-93623 and 42-29892. Weapon serial numbers noted in the Missing Air Crew Report 1912 (MACR 1912).
On January 18, 1944 took off from Dobodura No 12 on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Weldon was flying as the wingman for Major Meryl Smith. Over the target, their formation was intercepted by 25 enemy fighters that dived at the formation at 10:55. Two enemy fighters jumped Smith's flight, causing him to dive down. Weldon was last seen with an enemy fighter on his tail, roughly ten miles south of But at 15,000'. When this aircraft failed to return, he was declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Weldon force landed into kunai grass near Urimo to the south of Wewak. Likely, he survived the
crash and burned the cockpit section then departed the crash site. No trace or report of Weldon has ever been found or reported. Possibly, he died elsewhere or was captured by the Japanese and executed.
Weldon was officially declared dead on January 16, 1946. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing on Manila National Cemetery. He remains Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.
This P-38 remained in situ in kunai grass. The wreckage included the outer wings, tail booms and burn out remains of the center gondola. The fire melted the entire cockpit section and nose. The heat from the fire melted the tip of the right tail. By the late 1990s, the four 50 caliber machine guns were removed by local people and not present at the crash site.
Keith Hopper adds:
"This Lightning was reported by an expat living in Wewak to Richard
Leahy, who over flew the site and located it. I visited it by
helicopter in July 1999, the pilot put down in a beautiful landing,
the peto tube
the props were still attached."
During 2000, a team from US Army CILHI investigated this crash site but
incorrectly believed it to be P-38J 42-67142. No
remains of the pilot were found during their visit nor was a complete investigation or excavation conducted.
On June 12-13, 2003 this aircraft was recovered by Robert
Jarrett / Classic Jets Fighter Museum (CJFM) using the Robert
Greinert / HARS salvage permit for PNG.
Afterwards, the wreckage was in storage at the
Classic Jets Museum. It is unknown if any restoration work was performed in Australia. This P-38 was the subject of a legal dispute between plaintiff Robert
Greinert and defendant Robert
Jarrett over ownership of the salvaged aircraft. The case went to the Supreme Court of New South Wales "Greinert v Jarrett  NSWSC 209 (24 March 2004).
Later, this P-38 was purchased by Mr. Jeff Thomas / Artemis Aviation Group and transported to the United States. On November 17, 2008 FAA registered as N66534.
Offered For Sale
In January 2009, Courtesy Aircraft of Rockford, IL listed a "Lockheed P-38H Lightning Project" for sale, with "documented combat history with the historic 475th Fighter Group". Mark Clark of Courtesy Aircraft confirmed this was indeed P-38H 42-66534 and the asking price is around $495,000 USD.
Jack Shouse (nephew of Weldon)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John R. Weldon, Jr.
Weldon earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart (posthumously) on the mission he was lost.
Missing Air Crew Report 1912 (MACR 1912)
The Fresno Bee The Republican January 27, 1944 "Strathmore Flier Missing In Action" page 15
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John R. Weldon Jr.
FindAGrave - 2Lt John R Weldon, Jr (tablets of the missing)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66534
Possum, Clover & Hades: 475th Fighter Group in World War II pages 115, 289
"In addition to Michener, Lieutenants John Weldon and Joe Robertson of the 431st Squadron were missing in action, Robertson's P-38 was hit by a released belly tank and he bailed out to obscure fate near Wewak. Weldon was last seen a few minutes after eleven o'clock at 15,000 feet a few miles south of Boram."
"Appendix B: January 18, 1944 P-38H1 42-66534. Lt. John R. Weldon disappeared during combat over the Wewak area. One P-38 was seen spinning toward the jungle and may have been Weldon. Other reports mention seeing parachutes, but he never returned."
475th Fighter Group Aviation Elite Units 23 page 122
Classic Wings "Lighting On The Sepik Plains" by Robert & Margaret Jarrett, Issue 43, pg 36-37
with Robert Jarrett (4.2megs, MP3) about recovery and
restoration of P-38 42-66534
Supreme Court of New South Wales - Greinert v Jarrett  NSWSC 209 (24 March 2004)
Courtesy Aircraft January 2009 Lockheed P-38H Lightning Project via Wayback Machine January 27, 2007
FAA registry N66534 - P-38H-1-LO serial number 42-66534
Thanks to Richard Leahy, Keith Hopper, Robert
Greinert and Robert
Jarrett for additional information
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May 3, 2016