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5th Fighter Command
348th FG 1944
Ray Shearer 1944
Robert Greinert 2001
Justin Taylan 2004
via Robert Rocker 2005
|Pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby, O-21630 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wichita Falls, TX
Crashed March 5, 1944 at 5:20pm
MACR 6579 and 6577
Built by Republic at the Indiana Division of Republic Aviation in Evansville, IN. Constructor Number 419. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-47D-4-RA Thunderbolt serial number 42-22668. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 348th Fighter Group, 342nd Fighter Squadron. Assigned to pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby and nicknamed "Fiery Ginger IV", painted in white script with a black shadow on the left side of the cowl with his score board tally on the left side of the cockpit with five rows of Japanese rising sun flags. The first row had five flags, the second row had five flag, the third row had four flags, fourth row had four flags and fifth row four flags representing Kearby's 22 aerial victory claims.
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 MIA October 22, 1944 piloted by 2nd Lt. Ernest R. Ness, P-47D "Fiery Ginger II" serial number and fate unknown and P-47D "Fiery Ginger III" 42-75908 transfered to the 58th Fighter Group and ultimate fate unknown.
When lost, engine R-2800-21 serial number 42-125473. Armed with eight .50 caliber machine guns manufactured by Kelsey Hayes serial numbers 658292, 660091, 657522, 656672, 659740, 677736, 658880, 656886.
On March 5, 1944 at 4:00pm took off from Saidor Airfield piloted by Col. Neel E. Kearby leading a fighter sweep over the Wewak with P-47D pilot Captain "Dinghy" Dunham and P-47D pilot Captain Samuel V. Blair. The weather was scattered clouds.
At 5:15pm flying at 22,000' the P-47s reached Dagua and saw three Ki-48 Lilys from the 208th Sentai at roughly 500' flying in a "V" formation approaching Dagua Airfield. When the P-47s reached 1,000' the bombers spotted them and began to desend to the west following the north coast of New Guinea. Intercepting, the P-47s closed to an altitude of 200' and Col Kearby fired on the lead bomber causing it to pull up on fire then dive into the ground. Meanwhile, Captain Dunham fired at the bomber on the left and caused it to crash in flames. The third bomber was attacked by Blair an blew up when it hit the ground.
Intercepting, Kearby fired on one bomber but did not observe it to go down and made a turn to setup for another attack. At 5:20pm, while turning, Kearby was intercepted by a Ki-43 Oscar from the 77th Sentai and never seen again. When this aircraft failed to return it was offiically listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
In fact, Kearby was damaged by the Ki-43 Oscar but managed to bail out and when he landed became tangled in a tree and died of bullet wounds. Damaged, his P-47 crashed into the jungle inland from Dagua.
Afterwards, Dunham and Blair called for Kearby on the radio but received no answer at 5:30pm departed for 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.
Recovery of Remains
During 1946, Kearby's remains were recovered by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Searcher Team then turned over to the United States and transported to the United States for permanent burial.
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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