|Pilot 1st Lt. Laverne Lallathin, O-021845 (MIA / KIA, BR) Raymond, WA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Dwight Dale Ekstam, O-026656 (MIA / KIA, BR) Moline, IL
Navigator/Bombardier 2nd Lt. Walter Burt Vincent, Jr., O-035808 (MIA / KIA, BR) Tulsa. OK
Radioman Corp John Albert Donovan, 521374 (MIA / KIA, BR) Plymouth, PA
Gunner Cpl Wayne Richard Erickson, 419789 (MIA / KIA, BR) Minneapolis, MN
Gunner Cpl John Daniel Yeager, 478760 (MIA / KIA, BR) New Kensington, PA
Radio Tech Sgt James Austin Sisney, 490911 (MIA / KIA, BR) Redwood City, CA
Crashed April 22, 1944
Built by North American. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-20 Mitchell serial number 41-30769. Assigned to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PBJ-1D Mitchell bureau number 35087.
Delivered to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) as PBJ-1D Mitchell bureau number 35087. Assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW-1), Marne Air Group 61 (MAG-61) to squadron VMB-423. No known nickname or nose art.
On April 22, 1944 took off from Luganville Airfield on Espiritu Santo on a night training mission. Flying in a rain storm, the pilot was attempting to return to Luganville Airfield, but crashed on Espiritu Santo killing the entire crew on impact. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). In fact, this Mitchell crashed into rugged terrain at an elevation of 2,600'.
After the crash, a member of VMB-423 was sent to locate the crash. At the site, he made the decision to have the locals bury the remains of the crew near the crash site.
Ned Wernick adds:
"We know for a fact that the seven bodies are still out there as HQ, USMC records indicate that the "bodies not recovered". Is there any way that you might pass this note on to anyone else for that matter who might help us locate the bodies and from that point on we would have USMC and JPAC follow thru in removing the bodies, identifying them and notifying the next of kin so that they might be put to rest in a manner befitting a US Marine.
During the late 1980s, a group of private citizens visited the crash site. During 2008, a family member of the navigator Vincent also visited the crash site. Reports of these visits plus remains recovered from the crash site were turned over to the Department of Defense, prompting further investigation into this case.
According to the Department of Defense:
"In 1994, a group of private citizens notified the U.S. that aircraft wreckage had been found on the island of Espiritu Santo. Human remains were recovered from the site at that time and turned over to the Department of Defense."
Recovery of Remains
Between 1999-2011, the crash site was visited by at least four different teams from the U. S. Government to search for and recover the remains of the crew.
During 1999 a team from U. S. Army CILHI visited the crash site and surveyed the wreckage. Based on the elevation and terrain the team determined that specialized mountain training would be necessary to safely complete a recovery mission.
Between 2000 to 2011, multiple teams from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) visited the crash site and conducted excavations that located additional human remains, aircraft parts and military equipment. During June 2009, a team from JPAC recovered more remains and dog tags.
During 2012, the entire crew was officially identified by the Department of Defense. On March 6, 2012 Vincent was identified. On March 7, 2012 Erickson was identified.
On March 13, 2012 Yeager was identified. On March 14, 2012 Yeager was identified. On March 16, 2012 Donovan was identified. On March 28, 2012 Ekstam was identified. On May 7, 2012 Lallathin was identified. On May 9, 2012 Sisney was identified.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on April 23, 1945. All were memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at the Courts of the Missing. Ekstam, Donovan and Erickson on court 2. Lallathin, Vincent, Yeager and Sisney on court 4.
Ekstam also has a memorial marker at Rock Island National Cemetery at section MA site 59.
Sisney also has a memorial marker at Golden Gate National Cemetery at plot Y-3772.
After the recovery of remains and identification the crew were transported to the United States for permanent burial.
Erickson is buried at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery in section 88, site 46.
Seven of the crew were buried on October 4, 2012 at Arlington National Cemetery. Lallathin at section 60 grave 10126. Ekstam, Vincent, Donovan, Erickson, Yeager and Sisney in a group burial at section 60 Site 10127.
He was laid to rest with full military honors on Friday July 13 2012.
Memorials the PBJ Mitchell displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum (NMNA) is painted in the markings of this aircraft with overall blue upper surfaces and white lower surfaced with USN bureau number 35087 and nose number "MB 22".
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-20 Mitchell 41-30769
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBJ-1D Mitchell 35087
"35087 (VMB-423) missing in South Pacific Apr 22, 1944. 7 MIA. PBJ at National Naval Aviation Museum has markings of this plane."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Laverne A. Lallathin "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Dwight Dale Ekstam "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Walter B. Vincent Jr. "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Albert Donovan "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wayne R. Erickson "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Daniel Yeager "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James Austin Sisney "recovered and identified"
FindAGrave - Lieut Laverne A Lallathin (grave photo, photo)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Laverne A Lallathin (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Dwight Dale Ekstam (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Dwight Dale Ekstam (photo, memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Dwight Dale Ekstam (Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - Walter B Vincent, Jr (Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Walter Bert Vincent, Jr (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Walter Bert "Dub" Vincent, Jr (photo, memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Corp John A Donovan (Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - Corp Wayne R Erickson (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - CPL Wayne R Erickson (Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - Corp John D Yeager (Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - James A Sisney (photo, Arlington group burial)
FindAGrave - James Austin Sisney (photo, memorial marker photo)
DPAA Recently Accounted For 2012 - Lallathin, Ekstam, Vincent, Sisney, Erickson, Yeager, Donovan
DPMO News Release
"Marine Missing In Action From WWII Identified (Sisney)" July 10, 2012
DPMO News Release "Marines Missing In Action From WWII Identified (Lallathin, Ekstam, Vincent, Sisney, Erickson, Yeager, Donovan)" October 02, 2012
National Naval Aviation Museum - PBJ-1D Mitchell
"The PBJ on display is painted in the markings of an aircraft assigned to VMB–423 that crashed on the island of Vanuatu on 22 April 1944"
Thanks to Ned Wernick for additional information
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June 29, 2019