|Pilot 2nd Lt. Howard C. Welker, O-427069 (MIA / KIA) IN
Crashed July 6, 1942
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Assigned Royal Air Force (RAF) serial number AP377 and painted in a three-color camouflage scheme. Instead, delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 40th Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.
On July 6, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby on a mission over Buna to intercept Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers and A6M2 Zero fighters. Intercepted by A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai, this Airacobra was damaged. Over Buna Bay, Welker bailed out at low altitude and his parachute failed to open and was killed on impact. His Airacobra crashed near Gona Mission.
Recovery of Remains
After the crash, his remains were recovered by Father Benson and buried at Gona Mission.
On July 19, 1942 Sgt Hewitt and Signaler Palmer from the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) arrived at Gona and salvaged parts from this Airacobra, including usable ammunition.
Welker was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Also, he has a memorial marker at Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson, IN.
Missing Air Crew Report 16532 (MACR 16532)
Joe Baugher "Airacobra I for RAF, P-400"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Howard C. Welker
FindAGrave - Lieut Howard C. Welker, Jr (Maplewood Cemetery)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Howard C Welker (Maplewood Cemetery grave photo)
Prisoners Base and Home Again pages 18-19
"I remember with special clarity one other incident before the coming of the deluge. It was early June [sic July 6, 1942], and about eleven o'clock in the morning. The children were out in the playing-field and I was just going across to bring them in when an American fighter [P-400 Airacobra AP377] flew low overhead heading towards Buna. I watched
him until he was almost out of sight; I saw the pilot was heading for another plane far out to sea; I saw them circling, and heard the distant rattle of gunfire; then two other planes came diving out of the cloud, and the American returned on fire and losing height. He came over the palm trees just above our heads: I think perhaps he was trying to land on the playing-field. Miss Parkinson apparently thought so, too, for she called the children off. But it was all over in a flash. I saw something white fall from the plane, then trees blocked my vision.
Miss Parkinson got to him first, to where the poor, broken body lay at the foot of the last of the lovely tulip trees which screen the southern side of the church [Gona Anglican Mission]. The plane, an Aerocobra [sic Airacobra], I think, plunged into the strip of bush beyond the Mission and became in a second a roaring furnace on the bank of the creek. While the two sisters carried the body of the pilot into the church, I rushed towards the creek, but I saw at once that the plane was a single-seater and there was nothing I could do.
The pilot was Lieutenant Howard C. Winkler
[sic Welker] (I think of Chicago, though it may have been Philadelphia - the man's name is clear because of his place in my prayers, but the town of his birth I cannot recall with certainty). When we had sent his papers and identification disc [dog tag] to Buna, we buried Lieutenant Winkler in our little cemetery overlooking the sea and the mountains and that evening I wrote his father. I told him all we had seen, and what we had done. The parachute, it seemed had only partially opened; he had baled out too late. This was the last letter I wrote from Gona. It went to Kokoda with the Government mail, and thence by plane to Port Moresby and so on to Australia. The next day some natives from near Buna told me that they had seen the fight clearly, and that the American was attacked by three Japanese [Zero fighters]. I hope some day Lieutenant Winkler's father may know that."
RAAF Casualty Card - Type unknown 22 Nov 42 New Guinea [relates to P-400 Airacobra AP377]
"455. Dittler, Donald O. 1st Lt. O-430924 22 Nov 42 [sic, this was the pilot of P-40E Warhawk 41-5613]
S/Ldr Rundle reports that Rev. James Benson, who was a P.O.W. at Gona, said that an aircraft crashed at Gona Mission just prior to Aust. [sic, Japanese] full full scale landing at Gona. He thought the pilots name was WITTLER. The pilot was killed in the crash and was buried b the Rev. B. under a large tree near the crash. S/Ldr Rundle considers the aircraft was an Airacobra. The burnt out unidentifiable wreckage was still in existence at Gona in 1946 when SLdr. R and Rev. B searched for the grave but were unable to locate it. They consider it must have been destroyed by bombing. See Enc 608A on 166/1/144."
My Brother Vivian pages 66
"On Sunday, July 19 Sergeant Hewitt, of the P.I.B. and Signaler Palmer arrived at Gona on their way through from Buna, and, as they had a few days to spare, they decided to salvage [what they could out of] the American aeroplane that crashed on our station."
40th Fighter / Flight Test Squadron Associate "2nd Lt. Howard C. Welker" by Edward M. Rogers, 2006 [via Wayback Machine August 8, 2008]
40th Fighter / Flight Test Squadron Associate "WWII Honor Roll" [via Wayback Machine July 23, 2008]
Eagles of the Southern Sky page 7, 200-201
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis
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January 5, 2018