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Donation of P-47 Tail Section and Machine Gun
From Neel Kearby's Thunderbolt to USAF Museum

by Robert Greinert
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History of the Aircraft
On 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.

Rediscovery 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
Very 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.

Earlier 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.

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