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by John B. Kepchia
The Palace Printer 1996
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|M.I.A. Over Rabaul South Pacific
John Kepchia was the radio operator aboard TBF Avenger 23987. On his 34th combat mission, he and his crew ere shot down over Vunakanau Drome near Rabaul. All three were captured and held as a POWs. Only Kepchia survived the war to be liberated in September 1945.
Briefly, the crew of three of the crew: pilot Atkiss and gunner Lanigan evaded captured and attempted to flee the area. Eventually, they were found by a group of natives who spoke Pidgin English, and they convinced them to help carry Atkiss who was in pain from the the crash landing. Soon afterwards, the crew was captured by the Japanese and transported by truck to Rabaul. On several occasions, they were strafed by Allied planes and forced to take cover in the grass with their captors, and were beaten in retribution.
Kepchia was taken to the crash site of his Avenger, and described the scene (page 57-58): "I was then taken back to the truck and we traveled for a short distance and halted. I was taken out of the truck again. I was led through the forest and thick jungle grow to what looked like a giant had cut a large swath through.
We marched a little farther and and there in front of me was our downed TBF. How strange it looked laying there with outstretched wings, wheels folded up underneath and the engine laying twisted in front. There were large holes on both sides of leading edge of the wings where we had hit the coconut trees coming down. The TBF looked like a giant bird laying on the ground with outstretched wings and a broken neck.
I had on my helmet and was given a cigarette then told to stand on the wing and point to where the radio equipment was housed. While I was pointing, the Jap said something and I laughed to appease him, just then the other Jap snapped my picture. I knew I had been "had". This picture was for propaganda purposes. I never did see the picture."
Afterwards, Kepchia was interrogated by the Japanese, who at first incorrectly believed he was the pilot of the plane and was given an injection against his will by a Major. Kepchia and Lanigan were taken to the Tunnel Hill POW Camp, where they joined native and Allied prisoners.
Review by Justin Taylan
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