|Pilot 2nd Lt Dwight M. Kelly, O-748674 (MIA / KIA) CA
Crashed January 20, 1944
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Constructors Number 2129. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South Pacific and reassembled.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 347th Fighter Group, 339th Fighter Squadron. Nicknamed "Hollywood Hep Cat". When lost, engines (left) V1710-91 serial number 42-95349 (right) V1710-89 serial number 42-31383. Armament included 20mm M-2 cannon manufactured by General Motors serial number unknown and four .50 caliber machine guns, serial numbers unknown.
On January 20, 1944 took off from Stirling Airfield on a mission to escort bombers over Rabaul. Over the target, the escorting P-38s engaged in air combat against Japanese fighters. At 1:30pm, Kelly's P-38 was last reported to be near the Warangoi River The combat report stated: "Plane was not seen after combat occurred. The information received is not reasonably conclusive evidence of death.”
Henry Sakaida adds:
"[Captain Cotesworth B. Head had ditched in P-38J 42-67155]. Two days later, 2/Lt Dwight M. Kelly parachuted and was seen by Head, who went looking for him. I surmise that on 20 January, the two P-38 pilots found each other. Then, they saw a dogfight and a parachute. Thinking that the parachutist was American, they went to look for him but instead found Ishida a Zero pilot from the 253 Kokutai instead.
Ishida was stunned to come face-to-face with two Americans! One of them had a pistol in his hand. Ishida smiled and approached them, as if he was going to shake hands. The Americans, knowing that he was unarmed, let their guards down, smiled, and closed. Suddenly, Ishida kicked the gun out of the American’s hand. He hit him between the eyes with his fist and a vicious hand-to-hand struggle ensued.
The details are unclear, but the Zero pilot strangled one opponent with a leather belt. Ishida was a 2nd degree Judo Black belt. He probably killed both of them. He fled in the direction where he heard engine sounds and was rescued by an Army patrol. Undoubtedly, the patrol went looking for the two Americans, but according to my research, their names do not show up as prisoners."
This P-38 crashed over a wide area into jungle near the Warangoi River. According to Tolai people in 1969, after the crash, a Japanese patrol visited this P-38 afterwards and did not locate any human remains. Likely, this patrol salvaged machine guns and equipment from the crashed aircraft.
In early 1969, the crash site was relocated in the boundaries of the Kalas Timber area, scattered over an area of approximately three acres. No trace of the fuselage was found. The wreck was reported to H. W. West, District Commissioner of East New Britain District who reported the site to the Department of the Administration on April 30, 1969.
The wing with traces of the US star, tail plane and engine were found. Dataplates and stenciled were located on the wreckage identifying it as this aircraft, including the radio call sign data plate reading "267618" and traces of the nose art "Hollywood Hep Cat" on the fuselage. They located left engine serial number 42-95349. Also, traces of the "squadron number" [sic US Army serial number] on the tail as 257?18 [sic 267618] noting the last three numerals were damaged. No armament was found at the site.
In 1982, Brian Bennett visited this crash site and reported it to U. S. Army CILHI. During 2001, JPAC conducted an investigation at the crash site. During July 2006, JPAC conducted another investigation at the crash site.
Brian Bennett recalls his 1982 visit:
"This wreck was known since probably the 1960s. Frank Hollander was out there doing logging selectively back then. I was out there around 1982 when there was a road there. One of the boys told me about it, and I had a look at it. There was wreckage all through the bush. I reported it back then to CILHI. I saw the tail, found the serial number and outer wing panel with constructor number stencil. That is faded now due to the sun. I recovered the tail section and main gear for the Kokopo Museum in 1999 because it was in danger of being scrapped."
Kelly was officially declared dead on January 17, 1946. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Dwight M. Kelly
FindAGrave - 2Lt Dwight M Kelly
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38J Lightning 42-67618
NAA "Research for missing personnel SWPA information relating to US aircraft & crews" - Crashed Jungle Aircraft by H. W. West 30 April 1969
Jungle Encounter by Henry Sakaida
Thanks to Brian Bennett, Henry Sakaida and Edward Rogers for additional information
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February 4, 2018