|Pilot 1st Lt Wilburn S. Henderson, O-665558 (MIA / KIA) Butler County, MO
MIA December 27, 1943
Built by Republic at Farmingdale, NY. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 348th Fighter Group, 341st Fighter Squadron "Black Jack". No known nose art or nickname. When lost engine: R-2800-21 serial number: 42-125134. Armed with eight .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers High Standard 588509, High Standard 588173, Colt 297109, Colt 296832, High Standard 588331, Colt 297058, High Standard 588354 and High Standard 588140.
On December 27, 1943 one of sixteen P-47s from the 341st Fighter Squadron took off from Finschhafen Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. James E. Lynch on a patrol mission over Cape Gloucester. The weather was clear along the southern coast of West New Britain.
At 9:00am flying at 7,000' the formation arrived over Arawe and encountered roughly forty Japanese fighters above and below them. The Japanese force included 15 D3A2 Vals from the 552 Kōkūtai and 582 Kōkūtai escorted by 38 A6M Zeros on a mission against Cape Gloucester but due to bad weather diverted to Arawe.
Intercepting the Japanese force, the P-47 pilots claimed the Japanese pilots encountered were the most skilled and aggressive ever encountered and claimed sixteen shot down. Below, U. S. Navy (USN) PT Boats were making high speed evasive turns to evade the enemy fighters.
This P-47 was last seen in air combat with enemy fighters roughly a half mile out to sea off Arawe. Afterwards, a parachute was observed, considered to be that of an Allied airman who was dressed in flying coveralls such that Lt. Henderson was wearing but was not seen to land in the sea. Also lost was P-47D 42-22702 (rescued).
Statement of Capt. Arthur L. Weeks, 341st Fighter Squadron via MACR 2603 page 8
"On the 27 December 1943. at approximately 0900/L, while engaged in combat with enemy aircraft near Arawe, New Britain, I saw a parachute open at about 6,000 feet. I circled the parachute at about 4,000 feet and observed that the parachute was definitely one of ours. The pilot was dressed in flying coveralls as Lieutenant HENDERSON was and he was wearing collapseable raft. The pilot had both hands over his head apparently guiding the parachute down. I did not actually see the pilot hit the water, but he appeared to be uninjured so I climbed back in the fight."
Afterwards, a thorough search of the area was made by U. S. Navy (USN) PT boats and PBY Catalinas without result.
Henderson was officially declared dead December 28, 1944. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-47D-2-RE Thunderbolt 42-8099
Missing Air Crew Report 2603 (MACR 2603)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wilburn S. Henderson
FindAGrave - 1Lt Wilburn S Henderson (tablets of the missing photo)
Kearby's Thunderbolts: The 348th Fighter Group in World War II pages 176
"December 27, 1943 Lt. Milburn [sic Wilburn] Henderson (341) "He was last seen by his wingman a few miles south of Arawe, New Britain in no apparent trouble. He was listed MIA when he failed to return."
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis
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January 5, 2018