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      SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA (SWPA, Fifth Air Force): In New Guinea, 170+ B-24s,B-25s and A-20s bomb Hollandia town and airfield and numerous other targets in the area. Thus reads the entry for 16 April 1944 in the COMBAT CHRONOLOGY OF THE US ARMY AIR FORCE compiled by Rudgers University. The attacking aircraft included the Red Raiders, the B-24s of the 22nd Bomb Group. Not reported are the aircraft that provided fighter cover nor the day's losses. Michael John Claringbould, in his definitive BLACK SUNDAY, places the number of airmen killed or missing in action at 54 and of aircraft lost or destroyed at 37. Not a single airman or craft was lost through enemy action. All losses were caused by a tropical storm that blocked their return home. It was the greatest weather related loss in U.S. Air Force history.

      On that day, the 24 Red Raiders, loaded with 69 tons of bombs, took off from Nadzab, New Guinea to strike targets at Hollandia. En route through cloud-shrouded Markham Valley, 408th Squadron's B-24J #42- 109975, encountered turbulence and crashed near Gusap airstrip. Killed were:

Lt. James F. Rayzor, Lt.
Augustus K. Kempkey
Lt. George J. Halaby
Lt. Jules H. Kravet
S/Sgt. Lawrence J. Bettencourt
Sgt. Robert E. Fisher
Sgt. Earl A. Jennings
The others, Sgt. Asa Hatch, Sgt. Lawrence Dickson, and Sgt. Milford Cummings were thrown clear as the plane split open on impact. Australians who were manning a nearby Anti-aircraft battery and witnessed the crash took the severely injured men to the Gusap base hospital.

      About midway to the target, 2nd Squadron's Lt. Don Remillard, turned back because of hydraulic problems. Claringbould writes: Remillard encountered the embryo front, already 'a wall of clouds'. He descended to tree-top height and returned to Nadzab along the coast via Finchhafen, taking only four minutes to pass under the forming front. When they approached Nadzab, there was an additional problem. Nose-gunner Sgt. Hagar Blair was trapped in the nose turret which refused to swivel. The bombardier cut him out with a fire axe prior to landing.

      The remaining Red Raiders continued on to Hollandia. As expected, they encountered no interception nor ack ack. Having successfully dropping their bombs, they headed home in formation. The 2nd Squadron's combat report of the day's events barely touches on the horrible weather conditions the crews encountered after hitting the front that had built up. All six of our planes landed safely, two here at the base and two at Finchhafen and two at Saidor (Actually, four had landed at Saidor.). Weather had closed in at all the bases in the area at the time the strike was to return. Of the 19th Squadron's six aircraft, one landed at Saidar, one at Finchhafen and four made it back to Nadzab.

      The 33rd Squadron reported that its six planes returned safely though they ran into a solid front in the Hansa Bay-Dunnenberg area that threatened to send one of more planes crashing either into the sea or the mountains. For eighty minutes the crews battled heavy winds and heavier rains. In Claringbould's BLACK SUNDAY, navigator 2nd Lt. John Mullady provides details: We entered the front at about 10,000 feet and were on instruments. Shortly thereafter we encountered a fierce downdraft. Control of the aircraft was lost and 'Scrappy' (pilot Lt. Evans) directed the crew to bail out. I attempted to do so, but the forces were so great that I couldn't move. I decided I was going to die in the next few seconds. We were suddenly flying straight and level at 200 feet above the ocean. 'Scrappy' later recounted that at one point the ASI (air speed indicator) had read over 400mph, but took no credit for saving us.

      At about 1445 hours while returning from the target in formation, 408th Squadron entered a thick cloud, at which point Lt. Stone in #42-110000 pulled out of formation. On emerging twenty minutes later, one of the ships was missing and has never been found. Lost were five officers and six airmen:

Capt. Thomas C. Paschal
lst Lt. Frank P. Guigliano
1st Lt. James P. Gullion
2nd Lt. John A. Widsteen
2nd Lt. Leland A. Rehmet
S/Sgt. Elgin J. Luckenbach
S/Sgt Marion H May
S/Sgt Richard F. King
S/Sgt. William Lowery,
Sgt. Marshall Borofsky
Sgt. Walter Barron

      In the meantime, after losing his radios and vacuum system, pilot Lt. Robert Stone in Liberator #42- 110000, took her to 18,000 ft and ordered his crew to bail out. Quoting lst Lt. Truman Henderson, Claringbould writes: There was snow and sleet at 18,000 feet that day. I landed on a mountain side of unsettled New Guinea jungles. I fired three shots from my .45 hoping to gain contact with the rest of the crew, but received no answer. That night I sent up a flare and got no answer, so thought the crew either dead or widely scattered. I spent the night sitting under undergrowth in a downpour of rain. The next morning I decided my closest contact with our forces lay in a northwest course to the sea.

      Henderson, and six others eventually returned to their unit as noted in the squadron report: The seven men on Lt. Stone's crew who fought their way back through the jungles of Saidor will have stories to tell that will send chills down the spines of their grandchildren. Lt. Stone, himself traveled alone through the jungle and underbrush for seven days to the coast before he was found by natives. He was so weak on the last day that he was only negotiating 25 yards at a time on hands and knees. Ass't radio operator Sgt. James Egan had the roughest trip back. He stumbled into the vicinity of Saidor alone, 14 days after he had left the plane, starved, sick and insect bitten. Gunner S/Sgt Joseph Sharp found his way to Saidor after six days alone without food, shelter and protection against the dangerous jungle life in the tropics.

      Lt. Truman Henderson, bombardier, was comparatively fortunate. Three days after leaving the ship he was found by natives, fed and directed to Saidor. Gunner James Richmond landed in a fast moving stream and was catapulted over two medium sized waterfalls before reaching water shallow enough to free himself of his harness. Seven days later he found the coast and being a sturdy man fortunately found himself in fairly good condition after his ordeal. Lt. Carroll Henry, navigator, Sgt. Ronald Stein, and engineer Sgt. John Clayton all met on the second day and found their was back to Saidor together in six days, surviving on 12 squares of chocolate between them. The most general tormenting experience complained of by each was that which was caused by leech bites.

      The co-pilot and engineer failed to show up and were not found. Missing and presumed dead from injury or exposure are:

Lt. Harry Franklin
Pfc. Americo G. Picucci.

      For a detailed account of all unit loses read
BLACK SUNDAY -- When the Fifth Air Force Lost to New Guinea's Weather by Michael John Claringbould (1995, 1998).

Cy Klimesh

I am proud to have served with the Red Raiders

Squadron insignia from THE MARAUDERS, courtesy of Bob Crawford

Keep 'em Flying!