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Nelson D. Flack, Jr.
P-40 Warhawk pilot, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron

Background
Nelson DeCoursey Flack, Jr. was born in 1923 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Wartime History
Flack enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps on March 10, 1942 as a private with U. S. Army service number 13054951. Atter completing flight training, he was sent overseas and assigned to the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron as a P-40 Warhawk pilot. As a 1st Lieutenant, he began flying combat missions in New Guinea.

First Aerial Victory
On November 7, 1943 Flack took off from Guasp Airfield in the morning as part of a four plane fighter sweep over Alexishafen. Over the target, he claimed his first aerial victory, shooting down a Ki-43 Oscars taking off from Alexishafen Airfield.  Flack followed up the attack with a wide deflection shot on one of them shooting it down. After landing at Guasp Airfield he was met with cheering welcome and only one bullet hole in his own plane.

Second Aerial Victory and the "Flack Incident"
On February 14, 1944 Flack took off took off from Guasp Airfield piloting P-40N Warhawk 42-104986 on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Flack was flying as "Yellow Flight" leader with wingman Lt. Jim Reynolds. Over the target, Flack broke formation and went after a Ki-61 Tony then engaged in a turning dogfight with the fighter, resulting in a high G turn, and a head on attack against his opponent. Flack's fire hit the fighter, killing the pilot and the Tony crashed into the water in a shallow dive, his second confirmed victory. Flack's wingman was Lt Jim Reynolds, confirmed his kill. But, machine gun fire from the Tony had damaged his cooling system, causing his oil pressure to rise. Separated after the dog fight, Flack proceeded back towards base alone. Due to an overcast, he was unable to locate his wingman and was heard over the radio calling for him by other pilots in the formation and back at base.

Flack force landed in a kunai field near the Sogram River northeast of Siniap, north of the Ramu Valley near Tauta, roughly 60 miles north of Gusap. During the landing, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken arm. When he awoke he exited the cockpit before the plane caught fire and exploded. At the time of his landing, this area was behind enemy lines.

Search
Immediately, three L-5s from "A" Flight of the 25th Liaison Squadron took off from Gusap Airfield on a mission to locate and rescue Flack. Roughly 60 miles north, L-5 Sentinel 42-98066 piloted by MSgt Eugene Salternik was the first to spotted the burning P-40 wreckage. He observed a grass field suitable for landing about a mile from the crash site. In fact, the field was covered with 6'-8' tall kunai grass. Unable to abort his landing, the tall grass caused his aircraft to flip over, breaking the propeller. Salternik was unhurt in the crash landing. He searched for Flack until nightfall, but was unable locate him and remained with his crashed aircraft overnight.

Rescue
The next morning, L-5's from Guasp Airfield returned to dropped supplies and equipment to Salternik and told him to stay at the crash site. Meanwhile, Lt Hector Henstridge of the Australian Army 2/7th Commando Company volunteered to parachute down to aid him, although he had never parachuted before and only flown on an airplane once before. On February 16, Henstridge successfully parachuted from another L-5 and reached Salitrnik. The next day they located Flack and the three men spent the next two days clearing a landing ground they dubbed "Flack Field" for another L-5 to land and rescue them.

On February 21, 1944 two more L-5's took off from Guasp Airfield in an attempt to land at the landing ground. L-5 "Termite" 42-98085 piloted by James D. Nichols landed successfully but his landing gear went "spread eagle" damaging the airframe beyond repair and leaving a third person stranded at the site. Next, L-5 piloted Sgt Thomas Stallone successfully landed at the clearing, but was unable to take off carrying any additional passengers and departed alone. After the loss of so many rescue aircraft, the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group decided no more planes could be risked in the "Flack Incident".

On the ground, the group of four lead by Henstridge began walking 35 miles in dense jungle to rendezvous with an Australian patrol.  After departing, other L-5's were unable to locate the group and all were declared Missing In Action (MIA) and the search was abandoned. On March 3, 1944 after ten days in the jungle, the group ran out of food, forcing them to scrounge nuts and fish from the jungle and streams. All contracted malaria and lost 20-35 pounds each during the trek.

On March 10, 1944 they encountered an Australian Army patrol, who were pursuing Japanese troops who were also searching for them. Taken to a shelter to recover, on March 12, 1944 they were evacuated from Faita Airfield aboard a RAAF Walrus back to Guasp Airfield. Afterwards, the Henstridge was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross, and the two L-5 pilots, Salternik and Nichols were awarded the Silver Star for their parts in saving P-40 pilot Nelson Flack. Flack got a Purple Heart for his injuries, and an Air Medal for the confirmed kill over the Tony that mission.

Making Ace
Flack was promoted to Captain. On November 1, 1944 he claimed his third aerial victory. On November 2, 1944 he claimed his fourth and fifth victories, making him an ace. In total, he was credited with five aerial victories during World War II.

Postwar
Flack remained in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and served in the Korean War. He retired as a Major. Flack passed away on March 27, 1975 and is buried at Neshaminy Cemetery in Hartsville, PA.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Nelson D. Flack Jr.
USAF Aerial Victory Credits World War II - Flack, Nelson D Jr [PDF]
Protect and Avenge page 216 describes Flack's second [sic first] victory, 234-235 Flack incident
Air Force Magazine "Valor: Jungle Rescue" John L. Frisbee Vol. 75, No. 5 May 1992
The Nelson Flack Incident by John Douglas
49th Fighter Wing "Capt. Nelson Flack: The rediscovery of a Black Sheep" [PDF]
"Skeletons in the Grass - An Epic WWII Rescue" (Ghost Wings Magazine Issue 12 by John Douglas & Justin Taylan) also tells the story of this incident.
FindAGrave - Maj Nelson D Flack, Jr

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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

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