|Pilot Ensign Walter F. Milburn, Jr., O-263989 USN (MIA / KIA) IL
Gunner AOM2c Edward J. Fisher, 2444905 (MIA / KIA) NJ
Radio ARM2c Louis T. Zeghibe, 2024119 (MIA / KIA) MA
MIA April 21, 1944
Built by General Motors, Eastern Aircraft
Division as a model G-40. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as TBM-1C Avenger bureau number 25138. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
Assigned to Torpedo Squadron 305 "The Red Ass Squadron" (VT-305). No known nickname or nose art.
On April 21, 1944 took off from Piva North Airfield (Piva Uncle) on Bougainville Island piloted by Ensign Walter F. Milburn, Jr. on a bombing mission against Rabaul. The mission was aborted due to bad weather and overcasts over the primary and secondary targets on New Britain an were ordered back to base.
Returning from the mission, the formation encountered bad weather. Radio operator AOM2c John B. Kepchia flying aboard another Avenger piloted by Atkiss was the last to observe the plane in formation, and believed he was having some kind of difficulty. When the formation exited the overcast, this Avenger was missing, the loss attributed to bad weather.
M.I.A. Over Rabaul South Pacific page 90
"I could look down into the cockpit of Ens. Milburn's TBF which was below me at the time. I could see his hands on the stick and everything seemed okay. We went through the heavy overcast. It was impossible to see the plane next to you. I don't know how we managed, or how the squadron manage, to pass through the clouds without any of the planes colliding with each other, be we all came though the clouds except Ens. Milburn's TBF."
When this aircraft failed to exit the overcast, Kepchia encouraged Atkiss to leave formation and circle the area, but did not see any trace of the aircraft or crew in the sea.
That same day, Avengers from VT-305 led by Ensign Conner took off at 1355 to search for the missing plane. The weather was still fully overcast and the formation flew in a line abreast formation roughly 1-3 miles apart. They followed a route from Torokina to Cape St. George, to the southeast coast of New Ireland, then to Green Island and Feni Island, then back towards Cape St. George and returned to Torokina by 1850. The search was negative.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on January 17, 1946. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Zeghibe also has a memorial marker at New Calvary Cemetery in Mattapan, MA in section 3.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - TBM-1C Avenger 25138
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List April 1944 - TBM-1C Avenger 25138
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Walter F. Milburn Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Edward J. Fisher
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Louis T. Zeghibe
FindAGrave - Ens Walter F Milburn, Jr (photos, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - AOM2 Edward J Fisher, Jr (tablets of the missing)
Louis Thomas Zeghibe (photo, memorial marker photo)
ARM2 Louis Thomas Zeghibe (tablets of the missing photo)
M.I.A. Over Rabaul South Pacific page 88-93
"Once when I was taken up to the interrogations hut with Sukahara, I asked him if any other TBF from our Squadron was shot down and the crew captured? [Inquiring about Milburn's crew] He told me that he would check and let me know. About two weeks later he called me up to the hut and informed me that one TBF had impacted on the runway near Rabaul and that there were no survivors." I knew that it was not Ens. Milburns plane because he was lost on an aborted mission over Rabaul and disappeared on the way back to Bougainville."
John Kepchia for additional information.
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July 25, 2018