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  TBM-1C Avenger Bureau Number 16956  
USN
USS Enterprise
VT-20

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USN c1944

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Last Flight Home 2003

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Justin Taylan 2009

Pilot  Ensign Donald E. Baxter, O-299549 (MIA / KIA) CA
Gunner  ARM1c Arthur C. Miller, 2234574 (MIA / KIA, BR) Poughkeepsie, NY
Radio  AOM2c Wesley R. Stuart, 8857537 (MIA / KIA) French Camp, CA

Crashed  September 13, 1944

Aircraft History
Built by General Motors, Eastern Aircraft Division. Delivered to the United States Navy (USN) as TBM-1C Avenger bureau number 16956. Assigned to USS Enterprise to squadron VT-20. No known nickname, nose art or squadron number.

Mission History
On September 13, 1944 took off from USS Enterprise on a mission to bomb Peleliu Airfield. In a steep dive on the approach, this Avenger was hit by anti-aircraft fire, exploded and crashed north of the airfield.

Wreckage
The Avenger's engine landed atop a hilltop ridge, later dubbed "Pope’s Ridge / Walt's Ridge / Hill 100". Other wreckage is scattered over a mile spanning Pope's Ridge and the Horseshoe. After the battle, this crash site was visited by American forces and human remains were recovered, thought to belong to Stuart.

This crash site was generally known since the early 1990s, but had not been precisely identified. During March 5-6, 2003, the wreckage was revisited by Pat Scannon and Daniel O'Brien and others from Bent Prop. They located a data plate confirming it was a TBF Avenger and the US Navy Bureau Number '16956' painted on the external skin. Also a machine gun and other parts of the Avenger and afterwards reported their findings to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).

During the Spring of 2005, this site was re-investigated by JPAC, but failed to recover any additional remains, although some Japanese and Palau remains were found in the same area. Again in 2005, the wreckage was again visited by Bent Prop.

Memorials
Baxter and Miller were were officially declared dead September 14, 1945. Both are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Baxter also has a memorial marker at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA at Whispering Pines, Map 3, Lot 1137, Space 1.

Remains returned to Stuart's Family
The remains believed to be Stuart were temporary buried at the USAAF Cemetery, Manila #2. In 1948, the US Navy returned remains to Stuart's mother but she refused to believe they were her son. Accepting them as someone's son, the remains were interned at the Stuart family's mausoleum in San Joaquin, California.

After the 2005 visit to the crash site by JPAC, Stuart's sister Mary Ellen Stuart-Roberts had the remains exhumed and paid $11,000 for private DNA testing. The results confirmed that the remains could not be those of Stuart and informed JPAC.

In April 2008 the unidentified remains buried as Stuart were accepted by the U.S. Navy and flown from Travis AFB to Hickam AFB and delivered to JPAC. During October 2009, these remains were identified with mDNA testing as those of Arthur C. Miller.

Identification of Miller
During October 2009, JPAC confirmed remains recovered were identified as Arthur Miller. On November 7, 2009 Miller was buried alongside his mother at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, NY at Section 25.

Relatives
Don Haake (nephew of Donald Baxter)

Mary Ellen Roberts (sister of Wessly Stuart)
"Stuart was flying his first combat mission."

Arthur Miller (son of Arthur Miller)
A World War II Purple Heart Veteran Aviation Radioman First Class

References
Baxter was the heir of Baxter Pharmaceuticals (Baxter International). Prior to the mission, the Avenger's regular gunner "Corky" Courtman was replaced by ARM1c Arthur C. Miller for this mission.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - TBM-1C Avenger 16956
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List September 1944 - TBM-1C Avenger 16956
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Donald E. Baxter
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Arthur C. Miller "remains were recovered and identified in 2009"
FindAGrave - Ens Donald E Baxter (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Ens Donald E. Baxter, Jr (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - ARM1 Arthur C Miller (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Arthur Carl Miller (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Wesley Raymond Stuart
Last Flight Home interviews relatives of each crew member and tells the story of this aircraft
Last Flight Home: Arthur C. Miller's son presented flag quicktime movie 5.2 mb
Last Flight Home: Mary Ellen Stuart-Roberts quicktime movie 3.6 mb
Bent Prop: P-Man V Attachment 2 a partially known prior site as a US TBM-1C, 2003
Bent Prop: P-Man VII Final Report Attachment 3 Baxter Avenger BuNo 16956, 2005
SacBee: When DNA proves MIA is still missing, search goes on March12, 2008
CBS: Wrong WWII Remains Sent to Stockton Family April 23, 2008
News 10: Wrong Body Buried In San Joaquin Cemetery March 12, 2008
Oakland Tribune: Airmen MIA again after remains incorrectly ID'ed April 24, 2008
Poughkeepsie Journal "After 65 years, Poughkeepsie airman's family has chance to say goodbye" Nov 3, 2009
Thanks Pat Scannon / Bent Prop for additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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