|Pilot Captain Leonidas Mathers (KIA, BR) Matherville, Mississippi
Crashed August 23, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army, serial number unknown, likely 43-????. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
On August 23, 1943 took off from 3-Mile Drome (Kila Kila) near Port Moresby on a local flight to test an engine. After take off, the P-38 cart wheeled and crashed into the sea. Mather's body washed ashore the next day.
Norbert "Norb" Ruff recalls in Ruff Stuff page 126:
"Now the day before Leon went in we were both together on a combat mission and both he and I had written up our airplanes for problems after we completed the mission. Mine were minor. Leon said his engine would cut out at altitude. The next day were were off of flying. Leon played poker all afternoon. About 4:00pm phone rang - both planes were ready for testing. We drove down to the strip together in a jeep. I check out my plane, all okay, landed and was standing on the wing. I could see Mathers approaching on down wind leg over the bay on a single engine. He was low, the other prop just idling. There is an island in the bay [Local Island in Joyce Bay] He flew low in behind the island and never came out. I still don't know if he feathered the wrong prop or if both engines just quit. He did set it down in the water, drowned. I told [Major Edward] Cragg what I had seen. He asked me to go out with the crash boat the next morning with native skin divers. At this time we thought he was still in the plane. We could bring up small pieces of aluminum, but the major portion was in too deep water to reach. He floated in the next day with his chute still on. Anyway, the Squadron report could report dead rather than 'missing' in action, if you don't have a body, especially if he married."
Afterwards, fellow pilots from the 80th Fighter Squadron used a crash boat to search for his crashed plane with locals to skin dive down to the wreckage. They found small pieces of wreckage but the rest of the aircraft was too deep underwater.
Recovery of Remains
The next day, Mather's body with the parachute still on washed ashore and was recovered.
After the crash, major wreckage was salvage after the crash. Scattered wreckage on the bottom off Scone Island in 10' of water. Wreckage include propeller, oil cooler, wing pylon.
Ruff Stuff by Norbert "Norb" Ruff page 126
"Leon was married about the class of 41-I or H. He came to the 80th FS with the Panama group with Cragg, Kirby, Lundy, etc. He was an excellent poker player. Usually, Leon Mathers would send home the collective winnings like $3-5,000/month."
Thanks to Keith Hopper for additional information
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November 12, 2019