History of the Aircraft
the 5th March 1944 a P-47
Thunderbolt “Fiery Ginger IV”" 42-22668 fell out
of the sky over Dagua on the northern New Guinea coast.
Its pilot Colonel Neel Kearby MOH managed to bail out
and land but succumbed shortly thereafter to his injuries. His body was recovered
in 1947 by an Australian RAAF “Searcher Team” and
transported to Manila where formal identification was
carried out. Kearby finally returned to the USA and
was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas on
July 23rd, 1949.
Six Colonels flew in to act as pallbearers
to one of Americas greats. The fourth highest ranking ace
of the South West Pacific, holder of the Congressional
Medal of Honor as well as other numerous decorations,
was finally laid to rest. As the
years passed by Kearbys uniforms and decorations were donated
to the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio and the shattered wreck
of Fiery Ginger IV lay forgotten in a jungle gully.
of P-47 Wreck Site
In 1995 a report was received
by the curator of Modern History, Charlie Wintawa at the
PNG National Museum of a wreck discovered at a village near
Dagua, west of Wewak. A lot of years had gone by and the
old generation had passed. No one in the village knew why
the plane was there or what had happened to the pilot.
Charlie went to Dagua to investigate, climbing
the 1,800 ft to the wreck site and was able to ascertain
the aircrafts identity from the wonderfully preserved numerals
on the aircrafts fin. Returning to Port Moresby, museum
records revealed the full story of the wreck and its identity.
The story once again slipped into history until 1998 when
P-47 restorer and historian Rob Greinert learned of the wreck
and decided to pay the site a visit.
Overall the wreck could be best described
as disappointing due to the severe impact of the crash but
the site had Rob intrigued. Certain parts such as the fin
were in good condition and the clarity of the numerals was
rare. The historical significance of the wreckage was also
of considerable importance. In 1999 Rob had the chance to
be in the area again and revisited the wreck site. He was
shocked to find that the wreck had substantially slid down
the gully due to a mudslide. A visit in 2000, showed further
slippage, compelling Rob to act.
Following negotiations with the
landowners and having obtained permission from the National
Museum of PNG, Rob proceeded to salvage what unique items
could be saved from the crash site with the idea of presenting
the relics to a museum for preservation.
Initially the items were offered to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in
Canberra. The museum acknowledges, by display, the contribution
of the 5th Air Force in the SWPA and the defence of Australia
and Rob thought it was fitting that one of the “5ths”
greats be remembered in this institution. A good curatorial
response to Rob’s donation proposal was unfortunately
dampened by senior AWM management who responded less than
enthusiastically and the proposal was declined.
Donation to USAF Museum
disappointed but undeterred Rob then approached the director
of the USAF
Museum, Maj General Charles Metcalfe (retired). At
this stage Rob was unaware of the other Kearby material
held by USAF Museum. The museum accepted Robs donation
proposal and as of April 2003, the items are being crated,
awaiting USAF airfreight capacity for shipment to the
USAF Museum. For
Rob, the satisfaction of ensuring its preservation is something
to smile about and one he hopes to repeat more often in the
future. The fin along with a propeller blade, 50 cal machine
gun and some sections of the fuselage “star and bar” have
been saved for posterity.
this year the villagers at Dagua reported that the remainder
of the wreck had slid down the hill in another mudslide
[unconfirmed]. As history continues to disappear from
the New Guinea jungles due to the ravages of time and
scrap metal merchants, the need to preserve and save
these important relics continues.