Born in Wickliffe, KY. Melton joined the U. S. Army and attended West Point class of 1936. He married Lavonia Smith of of San Antonio, TX and had a daughter, Anne who was born in October 2, 1938. Afterwards, the couple divorced in 1940 or 1941 and Harry took custody of his daughter. On June 23, 1941 Melton married Natalie Jean Wilson of St. Petersburg, FL. During 1943, he was the Commanding Officer of the 311th Fighter-Bomber Group. After Melton's death in 1944, Natalie remarried in September 1946 to Captain Wilks O. Hiatt, an Army doctor. Natalie died in January 1987 in North Carolina. Melton's daughter Anne went to live with her grandparents and passed away on December 20, 1999.
During World War II, Melton was the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of the 311th Bombardment Group (Dive). On September 30, 1943 the unit was redesignated the 311th Fighter-Bomber Group (311th FBG). During his service, Melton flew the A-36 Apache and later the P-51A Mustang from Nawadih Airfield and Dinjan Airfield in India on dive bombing and escort missions over Burma.
On November 25, 1943 took off piloting P-51A Mustang 43-6069 from Ramu on a mission to escort bombers over Rangoon in Burma. Weather was good with good visibility. Over the target, Ki-43 Oscar piloted by Lt. Yohei Hinoki from the 64th Sentai was about to land at Mingaladon Airfield when he spotted approaching aircraft and flew to investigate, incorrectly believing they were Japanese aircraft. Melton fired on and scored three hits then performed a split-s maneuver, exposing his belly to Hinoki who opened fire damaging his aircraft. Afterwards, Hinoki broke off his attack to aid his comrades.
When leaving the target area,
Melton's aircraft began trailing black smoke and lost air speed. P-51A piloted by 2nd Lt. Everett Briggs observed him bailing out at 1,000' above the ground then disappeared roughly 100 miles northwest of Rangoon and twenty miles east of the Bay of Bengal. Last contacted by radio with 2nd Lt. Everett Briggs. When he failed to return, Melton was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Fate of the Pilot
Melton was immediately captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW). After he was captured, Lt. Hinoki received a telephone call, telling him that they caught a colonel, and if he was interested in meeting him, but Hinoki declined. But he remembered the name “Melton” and wrote the story in his postwar memoir. Melton was detained at Burma #5 (Moulmein & Rangoon Jail) Burma 16-97. Later, he was transported to Singapore to be transported aboard a ship to Japan.
Melton was one of 2,200 British and Australian prisoners loaded aboard the Rakuyo Maru and departed Singapore on September 6, 1944 bound for Japan. On September 12, 1944 while in the South China Sea off Hainan Island, torpedoed by USS Sealion (SS-315). Her second torpedo hit Rakuyo Maru's bow, and penetrated No. 1 hold filled with rubber. A third torpedo ran directly into her engine room, and the main engine and auxiliary equipment including the generators stopped, and she became unable to make way and began to sink. On September 14, 1944. Melton was in a lifeboat with other POWs when a Japanese destroyer machine gunned everyone in the life boat, including Melton.
The Tragic Story of Colonel Harry R. Melton Jr. by Henry Sakaida
"I tracked down Maj/Gen Charles G. Chandler Jr. who lived in Santa Cruz, CA. He took over the 311th when Melton didn't return. In a letter dated 3 October 1980, he wrote: ...The sole prisoner survivor was the British officer, and he was the person who, after the war, confirmed Col. Melton’s death to the War Department. This same officer also wrote Col. Melton’s wife giving her all of the details. He also enclosed a love letter that Col. Melton had written to his wife while in Singapore. The British officer carried this letter between the insole and sole of his shoe until the war’s end. Believe it or not, this letter was still legible except where folded. I remember reading it shortly after Mrs. Melton received it."
The Ultimate Unreal Real Story by Henry Sakaida:
"Hinoki-san was truly saddened by the way Melton died, and politely asked me to see if I could locate the widow. I thought it was a worthy challenge and I accepted. He composed a letter of sympathy and asked that I deliver it. Hinoki-san died in January 1991 of cancer, but I continued to my search for 30 years until I located her daughter, Kip, to whom I delivered his letter."
Melton remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.
Melton is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. After he went MIA, Melton's five year old daughter Anne Melton accepted his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) awarded to her father for "extraordinary achievement in aerial flight" from Col. Douglas Johnson, C.O. of Mitchel Field in New York.
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 1215
Herald Tribune "Five year old daughter accepts medal awarded father" July 22, 1944
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Harry R. Melton Jr.
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Harry R. Melton Jr.
FindAGrave - Col Harry Ripley Melton, Jr
POW Research Network Japan - Rakuyo Maru
Air War Pacific: Chronology page 253 incorrectly states he was shot down by a Ki-45
Pacifica Military History FREE Sample Chapters incorrectly states shot down by AAA.
Tsubasa No Kessen (Wings of Bloody Combat) by Yohei Hinoki
Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45 by Henry Sakaida page 36
Banzai Newsletter "The Tragic Story of Colonel Harry R. Melton Jr." by Henry Sakaida
Banzai Newsletter "The Ultimate Unreal Real Story" by Henry Sakaida
Thanks to Henry Sakaida for research and analysis