|Pilot 2nd Lt. John R. Weldon, Jr., O-748859 (MIA / KIA) OK
Landed January 18, 1944
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Constructors Number 1045. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66534. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group "Satan's Angles", 431st Fighter Squadron "Hades". No known nickname, nose art or tail number 1?? (last two digits unknown in the range of 110–139 painted in red).
When lost V-1710-89 and V-1710-91 serial numbers 42-93623 and 42-29892. Armed with Browning .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers 223081, 459154, 113317 and 240534 plus Hispano 20mm cannon serial number 27310.
On January 18, 1944 took off from North Embi Airfield (Dobodura No 12) piloted by 2nd Lt. John R. Weldon, Jr. on a fighter sweep over Wewak led by Major Meryl M. Smith. Inbound, the weather was clear. Weldon was flying as the wingman for Major Smith.
Over the target, at 10:55am the their formation was intercepted by 25 enemy fighters that dived into them from above. Two enemy fighters jumped Smith's flight, causing him to dive. Weldon was last seen by Major Meryl M. Smith with an enemy fighter on his tail at 15,000' roughly ten miles south of But. When this aircraft failed to return, he was declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Major Meryl M. Smith witness statement via Missing Air Crew Report 1912 (MACR 1912) page 9:
"On January 19, 1944, I was leading the 431st Fighter Squadron on a fighter sweep to Wewak. Lieutenant Weldon was flying my wing and was with me when we went into the target area. About twenty five (25) enemy fighters dived down in front of us as we were going in at 1055L. We had started to follow the enemy down and were circling to the right when I noticed two enemy fighters had jumped on our flight. I tried to turn back into them and Lieutenant Weldon was in formation at this time, about one hundred fifty (150) yards behind me. When it was apparent that I couldn't turn into the enemy because it was too close behind, I decided to push over sharply to lead the flight out of the fight. I dived down very steeply and pulled back up into a high speed climb. After this maneuver I was completely alone and could not identify Lieutenant Weldon in the group of P-38's above me. I never saw or contacted him again. When last seen he had an enemy fighter within range on his tail. Last sighted ten (10) miles south of But at an altitude of 15,000 feet."
Fate of the Pilot
In fact, this P-38 force landed into kunai grass near Urimo to the south of Wewak. Pilot Weldon remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day. No trace or report of Weldon has been reported. He might have died at or near the crash site or been captured and executed elsewhere. He is not listed as an official Prisoner Of War (POW) of the Japanese, but not all were reported.
Weldon was officially declared dead on January 16, 1946. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Weldon 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 a flat area of kunai grass until salvaged during June 12-13, 2003. This Lightning made an excellent force landing into kunai grass. Likely, it landed intact as the propellers did not break off from the engines and the pitot tube did not break off from the underside of the wing. The wreckage included the intact outer wings, booms, tails and elevator.
The propellers on the right engine were bent in the landing, indicating the engine was not turning under power when it landed. The tip of the right tail was melted by fire, possibly indicating that flames from the right engine caused the damage before the force landing.
After the landing, the center section and nose were burned by a fire. Possibly the fire was set by pilot Weldon, grass fires or destroyed due to strafing by other aircraft to destroy it.
By the late 1990s, the four .50 caliber machine guns were removed by local people and only the 20mm cannon gun barrel remained 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 pitot tube
the propellers 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.
John Weldon 1889-1939 (father)
Emaline Nancy (Leming) Weldon Ross 1888-1976 (mother)
Lester Lowell Weldon 1911-1993 (brother)
Ruby (Weldon) Clovis (sister)
Editth Mae (Weldon) Perkins (sister)
Oval L. (Weldon) Fox (sister)
Jack Shouse (nephew)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John R. Weldon, Jr.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66534
"66534 (MSN 422-1045) shot down over New Guinea Jan 18, 1944. Part of one wing and tail plane recovered, registered N66534 Nov 17, 2008"
Missing Air Crew Report 1912 (MACR 1912) created January 19, 1944
War Department "Finding Of Death of Missing Person - John E. Weldon Jr." January 25, 1946
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File, 12/7/1941 - 11/19/1946 does not list John R. Weldon as an official Prisoner Of War (POW) but this was not uncommon for those captured in the Wewak area
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
YouTube "60 Minutes Australia - Plane Wrong Part 2" aired September 4, 2016 Interview with Jack Shouse, nephew of Weldon (5:41–6:55) questioning Robert Greinert (7:55–8:11)
Thanks to Richard Leahy, Keith Hopper, Robert
Jarrett and Robert
Greinert for additional information
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January 22, 2019