|Pilot Captain Alexander Rae Berry, 7977 (POW, executed March 15, 1944, BR) Chicago, IL
Radio Sgt Donnelly C. Cameron, 330904 (MIA / KIA) NC
Gunner Cpl Cephas L. Kelly, 421693 (POW, survived) Mount Vernon, IL
Crashed February 28, 1943
Built by Grumman. Delivered to the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Assigned to squadron VMSB-143. Nicknamed "Peggy" after Berry's wife. No known nose art.
On February 28, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal piloted by Berry on a night bombing mission against Kahili Airfield and Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville. Aboard was radio operator Sgt Donnelly C. Cameron and gunner Cpl Cephas L. Kelly (pronounced 'Sethus'). This was the first TBF Avenger bombing mission against Bougainville.
Over the target, this Avenger made a dive bombing a Japanese ship and released their bombs. The concussion of the bombs tore a hole in the wing and "made the plane bounce like a tennis ball" according to sole survivor Kelly. Damaged, this Avenger hit the surface of the sea and flipped over on its back upside down. When their Avenger failed to return, the entire crew was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
After the crash, gunner Kelly was able to escape the aircraft without any trouble. Pilot Berry floated to the surface unconscious and bleeding from his mouth and nose and was aided by Kelly who inflated his life vest and removed his parachute as the wreckage of the Avenger sank into the sea. Radio operator Cameron was never seen again and presumed to have been knocked unconscious or killed by the bomb blast or in the crash and his body likely went down with the aircraft. The two survivors waited for ten minutes in homes that Cameron would appear, then swam towards a small island by daybreak.
On March 1, 1943 the pair reached a small island off Bougainville (likely Erventa Island, Popotala Island or Taurato Island) and rested for the remainder of the day. That night, the pair swam roughly a mile before reaching the shore of Bougainville. During the day the pair slept and after dark walked northward. Neither had any food but collected rainwater to drink. On March 5, 1943 their fifth day behind enemy lines, they reached a village and were given food by the villages. While eating, a local boy warned them the Japanese were approaching and both hid in the bush and fell asleep until kicked awake by a Japanese solider who captured them both and walked them back to the village.
Afterwards, both were transported elsewhere on southern Bougainville (likely Buin or Kahili) and detained in a stockade for roughly thirty days as Prisoners Of War (POW) and endured both interrogations and torture. During April 1942, both were transported Rabaul. Until the end of June 1943, both were detained at the Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison). Both were starved and neglected and suffered daily torture during late June 1943.
Prisoner's Base And Home Again by James Benson:
"The elder who I guessed to be Berry, had a rough bandage on his left leg, otherwise he looked tolerable well, though hunger and desperately tired. The youngster looked pretty sick... These two airmen were still in their cell at the end of June . In later weeks they had been dreadfully tortured - the secret police were in charge at the time - but with magnificent courage they were holding out. Kelly had been given practically no quinine; poor lad, he was desperately ill. It was ten days before I had a chance to whisper to Berry. He was in considerable pain. 'Beat up every day' he whispered; 'hung up by the feet. They want information.' 'Can't you give them false information?' I asked, 'Wont' do. They spot it. Then it's worse.' Surely I thought there was no greater courage than this; the courage of men who, having faced the perils and dangers of combat in the air, must now suffer this inhuman torture. A few words would ease them of this daily pain, but they never spoke. And theirs was an ordeal that went on and on. When I left the prison in late June they had been tortured almost every day. Berry was standing up to it magnificently. But poor young Kelly was nearing the end of hi tether, but he too was holding out. I repeat that surely such persistent, continual courage is fare greater than that of the bravest soldier in action."
Cephas Kelly who was 18 years was described as "appearing to be near death". by Joseph G. Nason in Horio You Die Next. Kelly departed Rabaul with a group of prisoners on November 13, 1943 and was sent to Japan. He survived captivity and was liberated on September 8, 1945 from Tokyo POW Camp (Shinjuku) and returned to the United States. Kelly passed away in 1984.
Alexander Berry had a leg injury and was tortured on a nearly daily basis. During early 1944 after the heavy Allied bombing of Rabaul, Berry and the other Allied prisoners were transported to Tunnel Hill POW Camp. During early March 1944, Berry and other Allied prisoners were transported to Talili Bay and executed. At the end of the war, the Japanese claimed these prisoners were "killed by Allied bombing".
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, the remains of Berry and other prisoners executed at Talili Bay were located and transported to a U. S. Army Cemetery as unknowns X-171, X-173 thru X-193, then transported to Manila Cemetery No. 2 as unknown X-44 thru X-46, file 997 thru 1017. Later these remains were transported aboard USAT Boe shipment SF-167-R to the United States for permanent burial.
Berry was officially declared dead on March 15, 1944. Berry earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), posthumously. After his remains were recovered, he was buried on March 21, 1950 in a group burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery section 78 graves 930-934.
Cameron was officially declared dead on February 28, 1944. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Kelly passed away on October 23, 2001. His burial details are unknown, presumed to be in a private cemetery in Illinois.
Note, some references incorrectly list the date of loss of this Avenger as March 3, 1943.
Marine Aircraft Group Twelve War Diary March 1943 page 2
"1st Lt. Alexander R. Berry, USMCR, Sergent Donnelly C. Cameron, USMC, and Private Cephas L. Kelly, USMC, all missing in action from "BEVY".
AAIR USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List March 1943 incorrectly list the date of loss as March 3, 1943 for TBF-1 06109 VMSB-143 Lt. A. R. Berry
Navy Serial Number Search Results lists Grumman TBF-1 Avenger 06109 incorrectly lists as loaned to Royal Navy Dec 24, 1942 and crashed February 25, 1943.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Donnelly C. Cameron
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File Berry Alexander R. date of death listed as 3/5/44
World War II Prisoners of War Data File Kelly Cephas L.
History of Marine Corps Aviation pages 142-143, 480 (index)
"Neither fate nor the natives were as kind to Lieut. Alexander R. Berry of VMTB-143, a few weeks later. On the first strike TBF's ever made against Bougainville, the night of 28 February, to bomb Kahili airfield and enemy shipping, Berry was shot down. Piloting Peggy, named for his wife, and with Sergeant Donnelly C. Cameron and Pfc. Cehpas Kelly as how crew, Ray Berry dived so low on a ship that the concussion of his bombs "made the plane bounce like a tennis ball." [fn 36] A huge hole was torn in its belly and when Berry hit the water the plane flipped over on its back. Kelly get out without any trouble, the Lieutenant floated up, bleeding from his mouth and nose, but Cameron was never seen again. The pilot was almost unconscious and Kelly helped take off his chute and inflate his Mae West -- then Peggy slid out of sight. They waited ten minutes for Cameron to appear, then struck out for Bougainville. After daybreak they reach an islet off Bougainville coast and spent the day there; that night they swam the mile wide channel to the big island.
They slept and hid all day and at night worked their way north. Although they had no food Berry collected rain water by an ingenious arrangement of broad leaves and hollow reeds which served as conduits. On the morning of the fifth day they came to a native village where they were generously fed , but in the midst of their feast a boy rushed in and warned them that the Japanese were coming. The marines hid in the bush and fell asleep, only to be kicked awake by "a caricaturist's dream, short and fat with huge buck teeth and thick-lensed glasses." They were returned to the treacherous village -- the chief received five kilos of rice for reporting them -- and thence to a stockade where they spent 30 days, during which Berry was hanged by the heels while water was poured down his nose. The Japanese also beat him mercilessly and several times they laid his head on a chopping block to wrest information from him.
In April Berry and Kelly were shipped to Rabaul -- their only comfort was seeing the beached hulk of the vessel they had hit the night they were shot down [likely the shipwreck of the Hitachi Maru beached February 14, 1943]. They were incarcerated together until November 1943, when Kelly was chosen with eight others to go to a prison in Tokyo. Berry, after ten months of questioning, floggings, filth, vermin, malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers and starvation weighed less than a hundred pounds "but he was as game was they come." [fn 37]
Kelly left and rest of the story was told by Lieut. Jose L. Holquin [sic Jose L. Holguin] USA, who was imprisoned with Berry. On 2 March 1944 Rabaul was virtually razed by first caused by Allied bombers, and the prisoners were moved into the hills. On two succeeding nights a group of blindfolded, handcuffed prisoners was removed from the 30 by 5 foot cave in which they were kept, tied together, and moved to unknown destinations. Berry was among those moved the night of the 4th. Two days later Holquin and the remaining prisoners heard that Berry and 39 other POW's had been killed by our own bombers while waiting for a boat to transport them to Watom Island. Of Berry's death Holquin is certain. Of the manner in which death came to Berry he is still in doubt for " . . . we heard rifle shots both nights after the prisoners had been taken out into the darkness." [fn 38]
No finer epitaph could be written than what Pfc. Cephas Kelly wrote of Lieut. Berry:
'His precision bombing, magnificent flying ability and heroic conduct under the most difficult circumstances imaginable were truly in keeping, I'm sure, with the highest and finest tradition of the Marine Corps.'
36. Letter Pfc Cehpas Kelly to Captain Edna Loftus Smith USMCR-W, 8 November 1949
38. Letter Lieut Jose L. Holquin [sic Holguin] to Major General Harris, undated, received some time in 1945."
"Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 2, Number 51, 25 December 1943 "Deeds In Action Win Awards For 18 Leathernecks"
"The other DFC went to 1st Lt Alexander R. Berry of Chicago, now missing in action and cited for his daring work in a night raid against Japanese-hold Kahili Field on Bougainville."
Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 4, Number 38, 29 September 1945 "Safe" [list of POWs liberated]
"Illinois - Pvt. Cephas L. Kelly, Evergreen Park"
Prisoner's Base And Home Again by James Benson mentions both Berry and Kelly
Horio You Die Next by Joseph G. Nason mentions Kelly
USMC Aviators pages 112-113
FindAGrave - Alexander Rae Berry (group burial photo) date of death listed as Feb. 28, 1943
FindAGrave - SGT Donnelly Carlton Cameron (tablets of the missing)
Target Rabaul page 52, 124, 254
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional information and research
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January 5, 2018