Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Army 1
Birth:
1921 1
Maine 1
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Personal Details

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Person:
Neil A Chapman 1
Level of Education: 4 years of high school 1
Marital Status: Single, without dependents 1
Birth:
1921 1
Maine 1
Residence:
Place: Kennebec County, Maine 1
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World War II 1

Branch:
Army 1
Enlistment Date:
06 Jan 1942 1
Army Branch:
Air Corps 1
Army Serial Number:
11016954 1
Enlistment Place:
Portland Maine 1
Enlistment Term:
Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law 1
Source of Army Personnel:
Civil Life 1
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Occupation:
Sales clerks 1
Race or Ethnicity:
White 1
Source Information:
Box Number: 0058 1
Film Reel Number: 1.51 1

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Military Biography of 1st Lt. Neil Adelbert Chapman

(Typed on thin, light blue carbon paper, stapled at the top left)

Neil Adelbert Chapman was born in Augusta, Maine on July 17, 1921, son of Asa A., and Louise, nee Perry.  He attended Williams Grade School in Augusta, and was graduated in 1935.  Then he entered a commercial course at Cony High School, and was graduated a National Honor Student in 1939.  Prior to entering the service he was employed at Carey's Market, and at George-the-Tailor.

On 6 January 1942 he enlisted a Private in the U.S. Army, and reported to Fort Devens, Mass. for assignment.  His basic training commenced at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and he entered specialized training at the Spartan School of Aeronautics at Tulsa, Okla., from which he was graduated an Aviation Mechanic in 1942.  In October of that year he was appointed an Aviation Cadet, to enter Pilot training at Pine Bluff, Ark., and was subsequently transferred to Bombardier Training Schools at San Antonio and Ellington Field (Houston), Texas.  In June of 1943 he completed the preliminary Bombardier course, and was assigned to advanced training at Big Spring, Texas.  On completion of 110 training hours with both Sperry and Norden bombsights, he was graduated a Bombardier, and commissioned a Second Lt. in the A.F.U.S., on August 26, 1943.  Gowen Field, Idaho was his first assignment following his commission, where he completed primary overseas training in B-24 aircraft on 11 December 1943.  His advanced overseas training, as well as assignment to a combat crew was at Peterson Field, Colo.  On 5 February, 1944, the newly assembled crew departed for Hickam Field, T.H., where they were assigned to the 7th Air Force, 30th Bomb Group, 819th Bomb. Sqdn., and were given a 6-week training period in aerial gunnery, which was completed in April, 1944.  The crew departed Hawaii on 11 April, 1944 for combat assignment and active duty with the 7th Air Force, then based at the Marshall Islands, on Kwajalein.  This was the major point of operations for the 7th, with a staging base at Eniwetok, and from which their raids were dispatched against enemy bases at Dublon, Eten, Param, Moen, and Truk Islands as well as Wake Island and Saipan.  On 16 April, 1944 this crew was one of five selected to fly a special combat raid in conjunction with the U.S. Navy operations in the Pacific.  It was the crew's first combat mission and Lt. Chapman's first bombing mission in W.W. II.

The crew landed on Kwajalein, fresh from overseas training in the States, just one week prior to that memorable 17 April, 1944.  Information had been received by the 392nd Sqd. to dispatch five of its B-24 crews to Eniwetok on 16 April to attend a briefing in preparation for an important mission on the following day.  At the U.S. Navy Hdq. they were informed that they would fly as wingmen for Navy photo-recon ships, with concentrated fire power against enemy planes.  They would also cary a fully complement of bombs to strike raids on enemy installations on Saipan.  The importance of obtaining photos and returning them to the base was stressed to all combat teams, in view of the vital importance such material is to Intelligence Groups and Strategy Planning Groups.  The crew was assigned to fly "Tail-end Charlie", i.e., the last ship in the last element of the formation, and was jokingly called by veteran crews, the "Purple Heart" position.  The Japs were most often known to make their attack on the rear unit of a flight formation.  In the early dawn hours on 17 April, the crew hit the flight line, and checked their equipment for the hundredth time.  This was it!  What they'd been so carefully trained for, and why they were these many miles away from home, to do a job assigned to them by Uncle Sam.  Soon the ships were airborne and the Lib was in position for the 6-hour flight to the target.

(End of page 1)

The formation bore deep into enemy territory and began a close-in climb to 20,000 ft. altitude, where it leveled-off for, what had been officially recorded the "longest combat run in the history of aerial warfare," on this first, land-based bomber assault on Saipan.  The formation swung north and then followed the Jap Ferry lanes southward, over Saipan Tinian and Aguijan; it was spread out over eight miles to allow complete photo coverage of the enemy-held islands.  "Bombs Away", and "Fighters leaving airstrip" came in almost one breath as the bombs fell on enemy radar installations.  Flak was plentiful, tho' inaccurate, as the Japs had been taken unaware, but very soon 30 "Zeros" were trying to make up for it, when they made their attack.  Just as suspected, the "end" position drew their attention; the Navy PB4Y carrying the photos was hit, and one engine quit.  Their fire-power Lib pulled out of formation to give aid, and the Japs swarmed the two straggling planes.  The Navy plane regained its power and continued on, just as the Lib lost one of its engines; it headed back to its base with the important photos.  In the Lib, the pilots struggled with the dead engine and nacelle fire while the crew kept the guns chattering at the Zeros.  The battle lasted about 30 minutes before the enemy fighters gave up and headed for home.  Then damages were surveyed; No. 4 engine was dead; control cables were badly creased but luckily still holding; nine 20-mm, and over 200 7.7mm holes were counted in the ship, but miraculously, no one had been wounded.  They began to lose airspeed in a 20-knot headwind, and jettisoned all loose equipment in an effort to remain airborne.  This was successful, when the plane leveled off at 5,000 ft., but the immediate question was: how much fuel remained to get them to home base?

Not knowing what the outcome would be, each man tried to relax and await his fate.  The strain was terrific; thoughts of home were ever so close now.  With less than 30 minutes flying time left, the pilot ordered the crew to stand-by for "ditching", and the inter-com was alive with encouraging words from all the crew who knew that Chappie couldn't swim.  The radio operator sent frantic distress signals, and the rest of the crew, with the exception of the pilots, went aft, for their "big plunge" into the Pacific.  Then, under tension, the atmosphere literally "screeched with silence".  The nose-gunner smoked the last cigarette he had, and read aloud from his pocket-sized Bible.  The water came closer; when all efforts failed, the radio operator crawled aft and joined the crew after sending his last frantic SOS; the pilot called out the altitude - - - 100 ft., - - - - 75 ft., - - - 50 ft., - - - and then the din was ear-splitting as the big Lib hit the sea and tore apart.  Everyone was dazed and stunned from the shock, but the onrush of cold water brought a beehive of activity as the crew fought for survival.  Four crewmen went out the left waist window; two went out the right waist window, while the crew engineer and bombardier sought to get two life rafts out.  By now, the remaining two were up to their chins in water, and remembering that the Bombardier couldn't swim, the Engineer pushed him out bodily, and followed him underwater.  Together they managed to inflate two life rafts and not until long afterward, did it occur to Chappie that he didn't know how to swim.  Like all the others, he was scared; but during the most strenuous moments, as his fellow crewmen later commented, "he dog-paddled with the best of 'em", and not just that, but he'd pushed a life raft ahead of him and barked orders to the two gunners who sought refuge on one of the plane's wings, to get off and get into the liferaft, because the great Lib was going down fast.  For that matter, in less than two and half minutes, the Lib went out of sight.  The impact of the ditching had knocked both pilots unconscious, when the nose of the ship tore loose and slammed down under 20 ft. of water.  When they revived, they released their safety belts and crashed through the broken plexiglass toward the surface.  They each took one of the two rafts that had been released automatically and paddled over to join the rest of the crew.  In the confusion, and not until heads had been counted, did anyone realize that one

(Page cuts off here, end of page 2)

how one of the crews most excellent swimmers could be missing.  All their search was in vain; Hines was gone; indeed he had smoked his last cigarette, and the words from his Bible remained with the survivors.  He'd been seen getting out of the ship, but no one saw him after that.

Darkness crept in quickly; wounds had been treated as best they could; every body ached, and the ocean splashed incessantly against the tiny rafts.  Every man hoped for survival; they each tried for a few winks of sleep, but the 30 ft. swells of ocean waves constantly threatened capsizing their tiny rafts.  At dawn on their first day afloat, provisions and water were carefully rationed.  Each man took his allotted share without complaint, for they well realized it might be some time before they would be found, if ever.  The sun came up, a welcome sight, on the second day, but it burned mercilessly on the occupants of the crowded life rafts.  Somehow, Chappie had managed to salvage one lone cigarette, which it took nearly hours to light, but well worthwhile, for each man got about two puffs when it was passed around.  That day, they also sighted a B-24, but it was too far away for flares to be seen, for it was still daylight.  All eyes were watchful, but only empty, endless miles of ocean and sky greeted their view.  This second night everyone ached for sleep, but cramped muscles and water-soaked clothes made it impossible.  Another day adrift passed with nothing more momentous than more hunger and more thirst.  On the third day a plane was sighted, flying at low altitude, and it created quite a stir because it looked like a B-26.  The flares were ready to light and fire when the Engineer yelled "It's a Betty"!  Everyone froze for a second and then Chappie screamed out, along with the pilot, to pull the blue side of the tarpaulins over the rafts.  Thus protected, they held their breath and awaited the worst, but the Jap plane droned overhead and then hummed out of sight.  Shaking with relief, the crew broke out a half can of rations, and two swallows of water for each man.  Rigid discipline and strong will power was needed to take only the two small drinks of water allowed, when parched throats and blistered lips screamed for more.  During the third night one of the rafts was capsized by a tremendous wave.  The other crewmen paddled their rafts close and beat the water with their paddles to scare off the sharks, until the capsized raft was righted.  Three nights without sleep; and all that night they were kept awake by a raging storm that constantly threatened doom.  Evenso, the rain was a blessed relief to their salt-dried lips and swollen faces.  The fourth day and fifth night slip into oblivion; they were still adrift.  Morale was surprisingly high, in spite of the ordeal.  Capt. "Eddie" (Rickenbacker) had survived 21 days afloat with his crew; if he could do it, these boys were sure they could too; it became their goal.  Each day they sighted B-24's, but always too far away to be of help.

They embarked on their sixth day adrift.  Each man asked himself the same question; would this day bring rescue or disaster?  Each man had similar hopes and dreams, but tried to hide them in jest.  The co-pilot declared: "When I get a cold drink, I'm going to let it trickle down the inside and outside of my throat at the same time, just to see how it feels!"  One of the gunners vowed he'd eat a whole quart of olives in one sitting if he got the chance.  Chap conceded he'd had a craving for a heaping stack of his Gram's flapjacks, just oozing with maple syrup, and big chunks of butter melting down over them.  Each man had his own little "pipe dream" to contribute, and it helped to pass the anxious hours.  Some remarks prompted broad smiles, but sore lips and blistered faces forbade even a hint of a smile.  Yet the important thing was, they had courage; they were not dismayed in their plight, and that's what really counted.

(End of page 3)

Their little game of "make-believe" was suddenly interrupted by the ever nearing drone of a plane; could it be help or just another false alarm?  All eyes scanned the horizon hopefully, and then one man spotted a Lib bearing down on the rafts.  Flares were hurriedly set off; in the dusk they could see the Lib acknowledge their signal by dipping its wings.  Even out of dry throats, the cheers sounded loud across the water.  Rations and water were broken into unsparingly as the PB4Y dropped supplies.  That friendly Lib circled around all through the hours, sending out 'homing signals' for other rescue craft, and giving the location of the rafts.  It gave the survivors a wonderful sense of protection, which later proved warranted, for they had drifted to within 250 mi. of the Jap stronghold at Truk.  The following morning a Navy PB2Y attempted a water-landing rescue, but its hull burst open on the terrific swells, and was leaking badly when its crew abandoned it and joined their rafts to those of the survivor crew.  However their mission had been accomplished; a rescue craft was underway and would reach their position in the early morning hours.  Meantime they all chain-smoked, ate rations and drank water to their content, until the small destroyer pushed its way toward the tiny rafts.  "It wasn't a big ship," Chap said, "but that familiar gray hulk was the biggest, nicest sight in the world".  Cheers went up from all the hands on deck as they lowered cargo nets over the side to the survivors.  It wasn't until then that the crew realized how tired, or hungry, or exhausted they really were, because it took every last ounce of energy they could muster to make that final step to safety.  With gratitude to the Navy, the crew could enter in their log "Mission Completed".  Some time later, in recalling his experience, Lt. Chapman said: "While there has always been some friendly friction between these two branches of the service, and we argue the merits of each, when it really comes down to "brass tacks", none of us can do without the other, and when we have to, we're side by side in the thick of it.  I guess that's what makes our U.S.A. the wonderful place it is."

For his participation in this mission, Lt. Chapman was awarded the Air Medal by the U.S. Navy, and citation by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as follows:

In the name of the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Medal to

SECOND LIEUTENANT NEIL A. CHAPMAN

UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCE

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

"For meritorious achievement in the line of his profession as a bombardier of an Army B-24 aircraft.  With cool courage and great daring, and in the face of strong enemy fighter opposition, he took part in a hazardous and highly important photographic reconnaissance mission over heavily defended enemy airbases in the Marianas Islands, on 18 April 1944.  The assistance given by him to his pilot in successfully accomplishing his mission of protecting a Navy photographic plane from enemy fighters, and in making a difficult water landing after an engine had been shot out on his own plane was of the greatest importance to the accomplishment of the mission and in saving the lives of his fellow crewmen.  His actions at all times were in keeping with the highest tradition of the United States Armed Forces."

(End of page 4)

Subsequently, he was awarded the Navy Gold Star to the Air Medal, with citation by the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, as follows:

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the GOLD STAR in lieu of the Seventh Air Medal to

FIRST LIEUTENANT NEIL ADELBERT CHAPMAN

ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

"For meritorious achievement in aerial flight as Bombardier of a B-24, attached to the 392nd Bombardment Squadron, during a photographic reconnaissance mission over the Marianas Islands, April 18, 1944.  Providing escort for a photographic plane in a hazardous assignment over heavily defended enemy air bases, First Lieutenant (then Second Lieutenant) Chapman assisted his pilot in fighting off the persistent attacks of enemy fighters and efficiently performed his assigned tasks during a subsequent forced water landing.  By his skill and courage, he contributed to the success of the photographic mission and his devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Armed Forces."

For wounds received in action during this mission, Lt. Chapman was awarded the Purple Heart, as well as the Order of the Fallen Sparrow, for survival of a crash at sea.

After being released from the hospital, and following a short rest leave in Hawaii, the crew returned to their base.  They had a new B-24 in which to continue their combat tour, for a total of 40 missions, and 431 combat flying hours.  It is reasonable to understand that they chose the name of "Bathless" for their new craft (fashioned after the well-known comic strip character, "Bathless Groggins", created by Ray Van Buren), and were distinctly proud of the painting of "Bathless" on the fuselage of their plane.  Among the remaining missions were several of note.  On their 18th mission over Iwo Jima, they were assigned to bomb Japanese shipping.  Lt. Chapman's crew was lead crew, and he was the lead bombardier on this mission.  It was a very successful venture, for 100% bomb hits were reported on the target, and extensive damage to enemy installations.  A tremendous explosion and a smoke column rising to great heights, with subsequent debris scattered over the entire harbor indicated that one, and possibly more, of the Jap ships had been destroyed.  With almost as much danger as on their first mission, their 40th and last before coming home, was near disastrous.  A runaway engine that became uncontrollable on take-off failed to stop them from flying their assigned mission over Chichi Jima and scoring heavy damage to Jap shipping there.  Their faith in their plane was fulfilled when the engine responded to control just before they reached the target.  They had surely earned the right to return home, and Lt. Chapman had certainly earned the decorations he wore: the Navy Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Pacific Theater Ribbon.

(End of page 5)

Following a leave, during which he was married, he reported to the Air Force Rehabilitation Center at Atlantic City, N.J.  From there he was assigned to Bombardier Instructor School at Midland, Texas.  Upon completion of the Instructor course, he was assigned to Carlsbad AAFB, at Carlsbad, N. Mex., where he instructed a group of Chinese cadets in bombardiering.  In September of 1945, the Chinese Detachment was transferred to Midland, Texas, and Lt. Chapman went with this group as Tactical Officer.  He had the distinction of being the first American T/O for the Chinese Detachment.  For five months he performed this duty, and endeared himself to many of the Chinese boys.  It was very difficult for them to make friends for they knew little or no English, and worked almost entirely with interpreters.  However, Lt. Chapman gained more than friends, for he also gained a smattering knowledge of the Chinese language, which helped in his work with the foreign cadets.  When the last class of Chinese cadets had been graduated and commissioned, and training of foreign troops was discontinued after the end of WW II, Lt. Chapman was assigned to temporary duty at Lockbourne AAFB, at Wilmington, Ohio on 1 March 1946.  Here he was assigned as a Student Officer, with the Transition Training Detachment, and later appointed Assistant Base Accountable Officer and Base Claims Officer.  On 2 August 1946 he was transferred to the Eastern Air Command Hdq. at Wright-Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio and assigned as Administrative Assistant to the Sqd. Commander of the 4000th AAFBU, to assist in Troop Administration and performing additional duty as Base Range Officer.  On 18 June 1947 he was permanently assigned as Adjutant of the Sqd., and continued these duties until November 1948 when he was reassigned to the Strategic Air Command, 15th Air Force, Spokane AAFB, Washington.  It was while at this station, that Lt. Chapman completed successfully a U.S. Armed Forces Institute course in English and German, and received his diploma to denote having gained additional education equivalent to two years college training.  He also studied a course in the Russian language at this base, and became quite proficient.  Here he was assigned to an active B-29 crew, and after two months duty and training at this base, he served with this group on a 90-day Training mission overseas, at Sculthorpe, England, and Furstenfeldbruck, Germany.  He returned in May of that year and was assigned to a new crew, which eventually became the lead crew of the Sqd.  With this crew he participated in highly secret missions, and by virtue of his excellent rating as a bombardier, was chosen one of two crews to represent the 15th Air Force at the National Bombing Competition, Tucson, Arizona, in October 1949.  It was this same crew that he entered into active combat duty at the outbreak of the Korean War, on 6 July 1950.  On thsie first mission disaster struck.  Five members of the crew survived, but Lt. Chapman was not one of them.  So the brilliant career, and the life of an exemplary officer came to a close.  Time has surely proven that Lt. Chapman isn't forgotten, nor ever will be.  Many of his friends have joined Chap in like fate; others are scattered over all parts of the globe, but they are still in close touch with Chap's family.  It is only just, to conclude this biography of Lt. Chapman, in quoting the tribute written to him by two of the survivors; Major Allen Thomas, pilot, and Lt. Col. Thomas Hoxie, co-pilot:

"On 3 July 1950, Lt. and Mrs. Chapman were anticipating a quite four day family holiday when word arrived that Lt. Chapman's unit was ordered to immediate deploy.  Nine days later, at 08:30 hours, high in a sunny blue sky over the Sea of Japan, Neil Chapman's life came to an end in a blinding flash as the B-29 aircraft on which Lt. Chapman performed the duties of bombardier, exploded and plummeted to a watery grave.  Details are not necessary.  Lt. Chapman's devotion to duty is best expressed in the citation accompanying the posthumous award of the Purple Heart.  "For fatal wounds

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award of the Purple Heart.  "For fatal wounds received in action against an enemy of the United States of America."

In all his Air Force service, Lt. Chapman was a perfectionist in regard to his devotion to the fateful performance of military duties.  His superiors and subordinates appreciated his cheerful performance of duty, whether routine or dangerous.  It was all the same to a gallant officer, mindful of and devoted to his high mission as an officer in the United States Air Force.

More than a man has left us.  From those who know him came many tears.  From those who fought with him poured words of praise.  Chappie is gone, and a little of each of us has gone with him."

(End of page 7 and of document)

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