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  PBY-5 "Arkansas Traveler" Bureau Number 08139 Plane Number 71
USN
VP-34
"Black Cats"

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"Black Cat Rescue"
Nicholas Trudgian

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"Flight Out Of Hell"
Nicholas Trudgian

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Kathy Cavoli 1996

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina bureau number 08139. Flown overseas to the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA).

Wartime History
Assigned to Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four "Black Cats" VP-34. Assigned pilot Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon who nicknamed it "Arkansas Traveler" after his home state of Arkansas and the popular song of the same name. Plane Number 71. This Catalina was painted overall black.

Wartime History
On February 15, 1944 took off from Samarai Seaplane Base under the command of Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon on a mission to provide air-sea search and rescue for U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) A-20 Havocs and B-25 Mitchells from the 5th Air Force attacking Kavieng and Kavieng Harbor. Aboard were eleven crew including:

Command Pilot  Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon, 112928 (Morrilton, AR)
First Pilot  Ensign John "Jack" A. Kelly, 251250 (Port Richmond. Staten Island, NY)
Second Pilot  Ensign Walter L. Patrick, 263385 (Des Moines, IA)
Third Pilot  Ensign Leu R. Fulmer, Jr., 278551 (Littlerock, AR)
First Radio  ARM1c Aleck G. Alexander, 3686593 (Superior, MT)
Second Radio ARM3c Robert Murch (Gelndale, CA)
Plane Captain/First Mechanic  AMM1c Wiley R. Routon, Jr. (Corono, Long Island, NY)
Second Mechanic  Joseph "Joe" P. Germeau (Sequim, WA)
Third Mechanic  AMM3c John Brately (Cleveland, OH)
Ordnanceman  AOM2c Paul J. Wodnick (Minneapolis, MN)

For this mission, this Catalina was code named "Gardenia Six" and took up station at a rendezvous point at Vitu Island (Witu) escorted by four P-47D Thunderbolts of the 348th Fighter Group based at Finschafen Airfield. When it received a radio call that an A-20 Havoc had ditched, it proceeded Kavieng to attempt a rescue. Arriving in the area, the sea was rough, with large waves with breakers 15-18' high. During the mission, Gordon made four landings in Kavieng Harbor facing rough seas and enemy gun fire in order to rescue three different crews for a total of fifteen men rescued.

Fist Landing
On their first landing, they searched for the crew of A-20G Havoc 42-86616. They found only "debris - oil, dye marker two life jackets and a half inflated raft". Unsuccessful, the Catalina took off again. [Gordon recalls 1st landing]

Second Landing
A 345th BG, 498th BS B-25 piloted by Major Coltharp radioed that a B-25 had ditched and provided the position. Landing, they found the crew and turned off their port engine in order to rescue the crew of B-25D "Gremlin's Holiday" 41-30041, as gunfire was directed against them from shore. Afterwards, Gordon took off and got another call of a downed B-25. Two of the escorting P-47D departed, short on fuel. [Gordon recalls of 2nd landing]

Third Landing
Proceeded a mile from shore to rescue three of the crew of B-25D "Pissonit" 41-30370. The remaining two P-47D escorts departed short on fuel. Gordon took off again, with ten resuced aboard and left the target area, but the B-25 radioed again that another B-25 had ditched very clsoe to shore. [Gordon recalls 3rd landing]

Fourth Landing
Gordon made his landing approach over Kavieng and landed only 600 yards from shore as anti-aircraft fired at them. They rescued five crew members of B-25D 41-30531. Luckily, no enemy fire hit the PBY. Departing the target area with fifteen rescued aviators aboard. [ Gordon recalls 4th landing ]

Low on fuel and with wounded aboard, Gordon proceeded to Finchafen and landed in Dregerhaffen Harbor. The crew aided the rescued men aboard USS Pablo (AVP-30). After refueling, this Catalina returned to Samarai Seaplane Base.

Medal of Honor
Afterwards, Lt.(jg) Gordon earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and each member of his crew earned the Silver Star. Admiral "Bull" Halsey, mentioned the rescue in a telegram: "Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew - Halsey."

Memorials
Nathan G. Gordon passed away September 9, 2008 at Arkansas Medical Services Center in Little Rock, AR. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Morrilton, AR.

John Bratley passed away in 2007.

Relatives
Michelle Hodges Blanchard (great niece of Wiley R. Routon, Jr.)
"The "Arkansas Traveler" listed Wiley R. Routon as a mechanic AAM1c. He was/is my great uncle. The only info I have one him is that he was born in 1923 and he was named after his father. I am not sure if he is living. His sister, Annie, is my grandmother. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated."

References
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 08139

Austin American Statesman “Twin Engined Angels Save 38 Lost Airmen in 35 Days” by Sgt Gordon D . Marston (Marine Corps Correspondent) February 21, 1944
"News dispatches from the Southwest Pacific Feb. 16 told of the daring rescue of 15 allied airmen by a Navy Catalina [PBY "Arkansas Traveler" 08139 piloted by Nate Gordon] flying boat when eight allied planes were shot down at Kavieng."
Reno Gazette Journal "Navy Aviator Wins Top Medal: Rescue of 15 Brings Award" July 31, 1944
"The Congressional medal of honor was presented today to Lt. Nathan G. Gordon of Morrilton, Ark., navy pilot who landed his Catalina flying boat in Kavieng harbor last Feb. 15 and rescued 15 downed American airmen under the guns of the Japanese. It was the first navy presentation of America's highest military award in the southwest pacific. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kincaid, commander of the seventh fleet, made the award."
Warpath Across The Pacific pages 128-129
The Forgotten Fifth pages 69-70 [ Read Excerpt ]
PBY: The Catalina Flying Boat pages 170-173
FindAGrave - Nathan Green Gordon (photos, grave photo)
"Black Cat Rescue" by Nicholas Trudgian
"Flight Out of Hell" by Nicholas Trudgian
Thanks to Nathan Gordon, Michelle Hodges Blanchard and Edward Rogers for additional information.

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Last Updated
February 17, 2019

 

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Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor Citation
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