2nd Lt. Robert E. Thorpe
5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron
P-47 Thunderbolt Pilot Missing In Action (MIA)
Robert Eric Thorpe was born August 6, 1923 in Cranston, Providence County, Rhode Island. He attended Cranston High School and worked for his father's pharmacy and was a yachtsman in the Edgewood Yacht Club.
On September 18, 1942 he enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet with Army serial number 11096919 and was trained as a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot in Florida and earned his wings. On August 30, 1943 commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with Army serial number O-810434.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron as a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot. On February 2, 1944 flew his first combat mission and during that month flew seventeen combat missions, including escort missions over Hollandia.
On February 25, 1944 took off piloting P-47D Thunderbolt and the engine seized forcing him to bail out at low altitude but he survived unhurt and kept the D-ring from his parachute as a souvenir.
By April 1, 1944 Thorpe had flown 150 combat hours.
On May 27, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield (Runway No. 5) piloting P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22661 on a strafing mission to against But Airfield west of Wewak. Last seen prior to making a strafing attack. In fact, Thorpe ditched
into the sea to the north of Kairiru Island.
Fate of the Pilot
Thorpe survived the ditching unhurt and used a log to swim southward to Kairiru Island. Ashore, he was captured by natives and volunteer Formosan civilian unit and escorted to the Japanese Navy headquarters at St. John's Mission.
When he was executed, Thorpe was 20 years old.
Thorpe was officially declared dead on May 31, 1944. He earned the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Gil E. Thorpe (brother passed away January 14, 2018)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert E. Thorpe
Missing Air Crew Report
5754 (MACR 5754) created May 29, 1944
Telegram from War Department reporting Robert E. Thorpe Missing In Action (MIA) June 11, 1944
News "5 Japs on Trial For R.I. Man's Death" June 22, 1948
News "Assassin of Local Flyer Now on Trial" June 22, 1948
News "Jap to Hang for Killing Cranston Man" July 6, 1948
News "Cranston Flier's Jap Executioner Pays With Life", May 27, 1949
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert E. Thorpe
FindAGrave - Lieut Robert Eric Thorpe (photos, memorial marker)
Flightpath Magazine "Forgotten Island Aviator" by Michael Claringbould,
Vol. 15, May-June 2004
RI Aviation Hall of Fame "A Rhode Island Family Asks: When is Lt. Robert Thorpe Coming Home?" Oct 15, 2004
North East Independent "Family Hopes to Recover Fallen Soldier's Remains" Oct 22, 2004
The Providence Journal "The Search for a brother nears its end" by Bob Kerr, November 11, 2005
The Providence Journal "A flier's life and death become clear" by Bob Kerr, August 19, 2007
Boston Globe "A Brother Lost: A flyer's siblings in search of closure" May 25, 2008
Relentless Pursuit - The Untold Story of the U. S. 5th Air Force's 39th Fighter Squadron mentions this loss
Thanks to Gil Thorpe, Michael Claringbould and Brian Bennett for additional information
Newspaper Articles via Gil Thorpe, 1948-1949
Artwork by Aerothentic, 2008
Photos by Gil Thorpe, 2004
Photos by Justin Taylan, July 27, 2008