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USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)
|Pilot Lt. Ronald R. Houle, O-112082 USNR (MIA / KIA) MN
Radio ARM3c Walter E. Mintus, 2507936 USNR (MIA / KIA) Portage, PA
Gunner ACOM Otis E. Ingram, 3465899 (MIA / KIA) FL
Crashed July 27, 1944
Built by General Motors, Eastern Aircraft Division. Delivered to the United States Navy (USN) as TBM-1C Avenger bureau number 45810.
Assigned to Torpedo Squadron 51 (VT-51) aboard USS San Jacinto (CVL-30). No known nickname, nose art or squadron number.
On July 27, 1944 "Operation Snapshot" took off from USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) at 8:30am piloted by Lt. Ronald R. Houle armed with four 500 pound bombs leading a formation of four Avengers on a bombing mission against warehouses, storage buildings on Malakal Island (Ngemelachel) in Palau (target areas 43.1-37.9 to 43.3-38). The formation also included eight Hellcats from VF-51 plus carrier aircraft from USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) including eight SB2C Helldivers from VB-8 and eight F6F Hellcats from VF-8 and eight TBM Avengers.
The formation approached the target area from the the southeast at an altitude of 9,000' when a ship was observed south of Arorumaldon Island. Spotting the vessel, Lt. Houle turned to the south and pushed over into a glide bombing but spotted the Avengers from VT-8 already in their dives and broke off his attack turning to the north until northwest of Arakabesan Island (Ngerekebesang) then turned to the right to attack Malakal Island.
Ahead of the rest of his flight, Lt. Houle alone began a glide bombing attack from 7,000' from the northwest to southeast with the other three planes in his flight roughly 3-5 miles away they last observed him in a dive over or just northwest of Malakal Island at 4,000 alongside a cloud. This Avenger was never seen again and when it failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA) due to unknown causes.
While the other three planes entered their dives, they observed an open parachute with someone hanging below descending into Malakal Harbor about 200 yards southeast of the wharf. Simultaneously, a fire was observed on the water several hundred yards farther to the south, possibly a crashed plane. As the other three planes pulled out of their dives, they observed a plane with square wing tips (possibly an Avenger) 6-8 miles west of Malakal loosing altitude. Later, another flight observed a square wing tip plane ditched in shallow water just inside the outer reef 8-10 miles west of Malakal Island. At the time, no information was available to determine if either of these sightings were related to the loss of this Avenger. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
In fact, while flying low over the target, after this Avenger released its bomb the explosion rocked the aircraft and caused it to crash into the sea. The pilot survived while the gunner and radio operator were killed in the crash.
Pilot Houle bailed out of this Avenger before it crashed but his fate is unknown.
The three crew were officially declared dead on February 4, 1946. All three earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. All three are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Houle also has a memorial marker at Fort Snelling National Cemetery at section MA, site 28-2.
Ingram also has a memorial marker at Barrancas National Cemetery at section 36, site 2778.
This Avenger crashed into Malakal Harbor off Malakal Island.
On March 24, 2014 the crash site of this Avenger was located at a depth of approximately 100' by a team from Project Recover including members of Bent Prop plus staff and students from Scripps Institute of Oceanography including Dr. Eric Terrill and the University of Delaware. The crash site is on a sandy bottom encrusted with soft coral. One of the propeller blades is upright and unbent and the left wing with the intact pitot tube was observed..
Four days later, they also located the wreckage of F6F Hellcat 41881. On March 31, 2014 a flag ceremony was conducted over the crash site with a U. S. and Palau flags. Afterwards, a team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted their own investigation. On April 20, 2014 a documentation dive was made by on the Avenger crash site using sonar and photography.
During February 2018, Kozak’s niece was contacted by the U.S. Navy to provide a DNA sample to potentially verify remains found with pieces of an aircraft were DNA tested by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
On July 25, 2018 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that radio operator Walter E. Mintus was accounted for and will be buried later in the year.
Rich Kozak (nephew of Mintus)
Caroline Kozak (stepsister of Mintus)
Agnes Phillips (sister of Mintus)
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