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  PBY-5 Catalina Bureau Number 08436  
USN
VP-34

Pilot  Lt(jg) Aljah W. Wright, Jr., O-114662 "Buck" (POW / MIA, KIA) Dewitt, AK
Crew  Ensign Paul J. Malatesta, O-283995 (POW / MIA, KIA) Medford, MA
Crew  Ensign Isaac J. Osborn, O-251308 (POW / MIA, KIA) Lavalette, NJ
Crew  ARM 3/c Robert W. Henderson, 6333461 (MIA, KIA) Los Angeles, CA
Crew  AOM 2/c James Knight, Jr., 6024803 (MIA / KIA) Cookeville, TN (or MD)
Crew  AMM 2/c Jack B. Posey, 6327727 (MIA / KIA) Richfield, KS (or CA)
Crew  AMM 2/c Lowell I. Snow, 6262833 (MIA / KIA) Kokomo, IN
Crew  ACMMA Alfred W. Sommerfeldt, Jr., 3002011 (MIA / KIA) Milwaukee, WI
Crew  ACRMA George L. Spear, 4013925 (MIA / KIA) Norfolk, VA (or CA)

MIA  January 9, 1944

Pilot History
Wright came from the town of Olena, Arkansas (town that no longer exists). His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Aljah Wolford and Nina (Coffield) Wright He graduated in 1939 from ASTC (Arkansas State Technical College, today University of Central Arkansas).

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) to squadron VP-34. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On January 9, 1944 took off from Samarai Seaplane Base at Samarai Island. The aircraft's last known location was approximately 100-200 miles due north of New Ireland at roughly Lat 2.38 Long 150.45. Another source lists it as crashed at Nago Island. This aircraft either ditched or crashed, due to unknown causes.

Henderson and Snow were probably killed on the day of the mission, when the aircraft went down.

Fates of the Crew
At least five of the crew including Wright, Malatesta and Osborn (the other two are unconfirmed) were captured by the Japanese, and held as prisoners at Rabaul by the Japanese Navy 81st Naval Guard Unit. The five were last seen by another POW, John M. Arbuckle (pilot PBY Catalina 08428 shot down November 22, 1943) remembered Wright, Malatesta and "another Ensign" [Osborn].

Father Joseph Lemarre (also a prisoner at Rabaul) said that Spear, Sommerfeldt, Posey and Wright were in Rabaul. He also said that two of the crew had been killed [in the crash].

RAAF searcher records indicate that seven of the crew (Wright, Malatesta, Osborn, Knight, Spear, Sommerfeldt and Posey) were captured and held prisoner (and died) at Rabaul.

Osborn is listed as died April 12, 1944, executed or died of disease at Rabaul. Jose Holquin and James McMurria saw Osborn escorted out of the camp blindfolded and handcuffed (Holquin said this was on 19 March 1944, McMurria stated it was on 10 March 44).

Japanese records (falsely) claim Malatesta and Knight were aboard Kokai Maru bound for Japan and on February 20, 1944 and Osborn was killed by Allied bombing on 12 March 44.

The fates of the crew are unknown, but probably executed or died of neglect. None survived the war.

Memorials
The entire crew (aside from Osborn) is officially declared dead on January 14, 1946 and are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

References
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - PBY Catalina Bureau Number 8428 [sic 08428]
Bless 'Em All: The Adventures of a Navy "Black Cat" Squadron in World War II
VP-34 Mishap Summary Page references by Michael Moskow related to 08436
Thanks to David Forrester for additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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