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|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
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.
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.
Jim Acker adds:
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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