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5th Fighter Command
|Pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby, O-21630 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wichita Falls, TX
Crashed March 5, 1944
MACR 6579 and 6577
During early March 1944, fellow 5th Air Force fighter pilots Richard Bong and Thomas Lynch were close to breaking the American World War I record of 26 victories scored by pilot Eddie Rickenbacker. Hoping to break the record himself, Col. Neel E. Kearby hoped to score more victories to tie or break his record.
Three other P-47D Thunderbolts were also nicknamed "Fiery Ginger" including: P-47D "Fiery Ginger" 42-8145 pilot Ness MIA October 22, 1943, P-47D "Fiery Ginger II" serial number and fate unknown and P-47D "Fiery Ginger III" 42-75908 transfered to the 58th Fighter Group.
Kearby opened fire on one aircraft, but did not observe it to go down and made a complete circle to attack it again. While performing this maneuver, he was attacked by a Ki-43 Oscars from the 77th Sentai, before wingman Dunham could shoot the fighter down. Kearby never returned to formation.
Afterwards, Dunham and Blair unsuccessfully searched for him until they ran short on fuel and returned to Saidor Airfield. After landing, both pilots insisted on returning to the area to search for him, Dunham had to be physical restrained from taking off again.
In fact, Kearby was observed by local people on the ground to have bailed out and as he descended he became tangled in a tree and died of bullet wounds from the attack.
Recovery of Remains
On June 16, 1949 Kearby was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park, Dallas Texas at Garden Of Devotion Block 13 Lot 19 Space 7 & 8. He is also memorialized on a plaque for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients at Cape Wom Memorial Park near Wewak.
During 2003, the salvaged items were donated to the USAF Museum and put on public display during 2005. The tail section is displayed atop a base and the machine gun in a glass display case. Both are displayed with P-47D Thunderbolt 42-23278 painted in the markings of this aircraft.
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