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  SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 54383  
USMC
VMSB-235

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c1944

Pilot  1st Lt. Edward Julius Becker, O-026521 (MIA / KIA) Chicago, IL
Gunner
 Sgt Robert F. Van Derhaeghen, 447740 (MIA / KIA) Chicago, IL

MIA  July 3, 1944


Aircraft History
Built by Douglas Aircraft Company at its El Segundo Plant in California. Delivered to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to VMSB-235. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On July 3, 1944 took off from Green Island Airfield (Nissan) as part of a 75 aircraft strike (45 SBD Dauntelsses and 30 TBF Avengers) on a bombing mission against Tobera Airfield south of Rabaul. he strike was timed so that the aircraft would be diving out of the morning sun. Becker's target was a gun emplacement west of the airfield. The SBDs were to silence the AA fire followed by the TBFs carrying 2,000 pound bombs to crater the runway. The SBDs would come out of the dive doing 350+ mph at 1,000'. During the mission, Becker and Vanderhaeghen apparently saw something that caused them to deviate from the strike plan. They circled back for a strafing run after the TBFs had unloaded. The Japanese had come out from cover and opened up on their aircraft. Becker's SBD lost altitude and plowed through the jungle.

The squadron commander, Edward Willard circled the crash site until the dust cleared and observed the fuselage was still intact, but the wings and engine were torn off before the aircraft came to rest in a dry ravine. Becker was seen slumped over in the front seat and the rear seat was empty.

The next day, July 4, 1944 VMSB-235 made another strike against Tobera and observed no sign of life around the crash site. Vanderhaeghen had probably been thrown out as he didn't like to wear his safety harness for fear of going down with the plane in the water.

Wreckage
After the war, the US Graves Registration could not locate the crash site.

Memorials
Both crew members were officially declared dead on July 4, 1945. Both are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Relatives
Mario Novello (nephew) Sgt Robert F. Van Derhaeghen
"Sgt. Vanderhaeghen's parents received his Purple Heart posthumously. The Marine, Al Prisby, mentioned on the webpage was from Chicago also and they met in boot camp in San Diego, went together to Gunnery School and served together in the South Pacific. They became best friends. They both were due for furloughs. Van was supposed to be Prisby's Best Man, but Van turned down his furlough and stayed in the islands because he had met a buddy from Chicago, Lt. Becker, and wanted to fly with him. So they stayed and were shot down and Prisby went home, married his sweetheart and had many children."

Jim Acker adds:
"
Becker and Vanderhaeghen graduated from the Schurz High School in Chicago and ended up in the same squadron by accident. They were engaged to be married to two girls from the same school. Robert's sister is still alive. I haven't located Becker's family yet. He had a sister, but no brothers. Vanderhaeghen and his sister were the only two children in the family as well.

Robert's sister, Delores Vanderhaeghen Novello was still alive [deceased April 22, 2006]. Her family wrote letters to the President, Commandant, Senators, Congressmen and so forth trying to get Robert's remains returned. The Commandant and Senator or Congressman Taft both said he was MIA/presumed dead.

I got into this because my wife is an antique dealer and found a scrapbook in an estate sale. It had belonged to Bill Marti who was a gunner/observer in VMSB 235. He died in 1950 for reasons I haven't yet determined. His father died in 1954 and his mother in 1999. A distant relative in California said sell everything and send the money. I'm a former Marine and took the book to my office to scan some of the photographs. In the process I found the names and addresses of all of the gunners on the back of a photo labeled, "A Group Of Gunners On Bougainville". The print was in very faded sepia dye with many misspellings. Vanderhaeghen's name was spelled Vanderhaeghan for example. I was able to locate several survivors who have related the story I told you in addition to locating the Vanderhaeghen family. I am personally interested in bringing closure to their family.

Since starting this quest, I've been in contact with several survivors from VMSB-235 and descendents. All have been very encouraging and forthcoming. One of the most notable is Al Prisby. Al's name and photograph was in Bill Marti's scrapbook, but not in the "Group of Gunners" photograph. His name in the scrapbook was spelled Pryz; a shortened version of Przybysz. During my research, I found an artist via the internet, Hayne Coleman, who was looking for photographs of VMSB-235 aircraft. Hayne said he was just putting the finishing touches on a painting called "Caldera". "Caldera" depicts a strike made by VMSB 235 on shipping in Simpson Harbor (Rabaul) during May of '44. An SBD in the foreground is just starting a dive and it was piloted C. C. Morehead with Al Prisby (then Albin Przybysz) manning the guns. I told Hayne I could not only supply photographs of the aircraft assigned to 235, but had an excellent photo of Al Prisby.

Al left the squadron at the end of May '44 after completing 3 combat tours for which he was recently awarded the Air Metal. He got married in the summer of '44 and had planned for Bob Vanderhaeghen to be his best man. The "Group of Gunners" photo was apparently taken in late May of '44 just prior to the 235 squadron being transferred to Green Island. I recently came into possession of the matching photo of the pilots during that same timeframe and am starting to locate some of them. Time is short for obvious reasons."

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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

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