|Pilot 2nd Lt. Wellman Howard Huey, O-732254 (POW / MIA) Detroit, MI
Crashed February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre"
Wellman Howard Huey was born in 1922 in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating high school, he attended the University of Michigan and Detroit Institute of Technology. He tried to enlist prewar war, but was turned down due to minor medical reasons. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the U. S. Army on February 23, 1942.
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38G Lightning serial number unknown, likely 43-????. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force, 347th Fighter Group, 339th Fighter Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.
On February 14, 1943 one of ten P-38s that took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal piloted by 2nd Lt. Wellman Howard Huey as one of ten P-38 Lightnings plus twelve F4U Corsairs from VMF-124 on a mission to escort nine PB4Y Liberators from VB-101 on a bombing against enemy shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by roughly 30 A6M Zeros from the 204 Kōkūtai and 15 A6M2-N Rufe float planes from Shortland. The fighters engaged in combat between 10:00 - 13:00 with the fighters.
In the ensuing air combat, Huey's shoot down and was not observed. When he failed to return he was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Huey successfully bailed out over Kahili Airfield (Buin) and was captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW). Initially, he was tied to a palm tree near the Japanese headquarters building at the airfield.
At dusk, Zero pilots from 204 Kokutai went to inspect the American prisoner and rough him up. Meeting Huey, they were instead were struck by his friendliness and no one bothered him. Japanese Zero pilot Nakazawa noted in his diary that he was very impressed with the young American's spirit. He told them he was twenty-two years old and had attended the University of Michigan. Another Zero pilot, Ryoji Ohara also remembered meeting Huey.
It is unclear how long Huey was detained at Kahili Airfield (Buin) or what happened to him next. Huey did not survive Japanese captivity and was either executed or died of neglect. Possibly, he was transported to Rabaul. If so, he was executed or died before any surviving American POWs were detained.
During March 1943, Chinese laborer Lin Leow who survived Japanese captivity and gave a statement in October 1945 stating he saw a "white prisoner" who was "dressed khaki" roughly 15 minutes walk from Kahili Airfield. He observed this white prisoner being tortured boiling water poured over him and were "hitting him in the face" and "heard the prisoner screaming as if in paining [sic pain]". Possibly, this account may related to Huey or another American aviator who was taken prisoner to March 1943.
Postwar, the Japanese falsely reported Huey as "Willman Harward Hughie" as lost at sea on either the Kenyo Maru or Nippon Maru which were both sunk January 14, 1944 by U. S. submarines.
During the 1980s, author Henry Sakaida researched the connection between Japanese pilot's memories and connected them with Wellman Huey and helped his brother to correspond with Ohara in 1989 to thank him for sharing his memories of his brother.
Henry Sakaida adds:
"Huey was shot down over a Japanese airfield and captured. They tied him up to a tree next to the HQ. Ohara and his comrades heard about the captured American when they landed, and they had plans to go over there and rough him up. When they met him, Ohara said he was a pleasant guy, intelligent and polite. So they conversed with him via an interpreter. He asked to be taken to Rabaul, and of course, he was. I don't think he was tortured while in custody at Bougainville. They simply kept him there until he could be forwarded to Rabaul, which was the main processing center for POWs in the area. I can't be certain of the date and circumstances, but Huey was most likely executed with others at Rabaul. The information about the meeting with Japanese pilots came from Mr. Ryoji Ohara via Jiro Yoshida (Zero Fighter Pilots Association)."
Huey was officially declared dead on December 15, 1945. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Dale Niesen (cousin) adds:
"I have a report that leads me to believe that Lt. Huey survived his captivity at Rabaul and was being transferred to another location. It appears that he is among those listed as being lost at sea on either the Kenyo Maru or Nippon Maru which were sunk by American submarines on 14 January 1944. His name may be spelled “Willman Harward Hughie” on any list that may exist."
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 584 incorrectly list Huey's take off as from Henderson Field
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Wellman H Huey
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wellman H. Huey
FindAGrave - 1Lt Wellman H Huey (tablets of the missing)
Pacific Air Combats WWII by Henry Sakaida pages 40-43
AWM "Account by Lin Leow" describing Prisoner Of War (POW) tortured near Kahili in March 1943å
A War to be Won "Lieutenant Wellman Huey was not forgotten" by Henry Sakaida July 25, 2016
Thanks to Dale Niesen and Henry Sakaida for additional information.
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September 25, 2018