OCTOBER 11, 1944 — NEW GUINEA
- TRAGEDY STRIKES AGAIN: OCTOBER 11, 1944
By summer's end, gunners and pilots were eligible to rotate back to the United States.
On the morning of October 11th, the 312th arranged to transport several rotating pilots and gunners from Hollandia to Nadzab on three fat cat aircraft. The passengers included Capt. Folmar, Lt. Paul Teague and F/O Rolland M. Rasch, all from the 386th, along with two squadron gunners, Sgts. George H. Emery and Thomas R. Shearin. The assigned plane for the flight was FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, a B-25D to be piloted by 1/Lt. Albert Eddy of the 389th Squadron. Eddy was an experienced A-20 pilot, but he had checked out in the B-25 only the day before. The sky on the morning of the 11th looked threatening, with clouds moving in from the southeast, but Eddy was not concerned about the weather when 1/Lt. Leonard W. Happ, the Squadron Operations Officer, asked if he still wanted to take off. Eddy's co-pilot was F/O Ralph D. Preston. Happ would fly a C-47 with Lt. Dyer as his co-pilot.
The five men from the 386th Squadron loaded their duffel bags on a B-25D operated by the 388th. Everything seemed routine until an officer ordered Emery and Shearin to move to FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. Rather than force the gunners to unload their bags, Folmar offered to look after them.
Eddy and Preston took off at 0755 hours, with S/Sgt. James W. MacElveen as the crew chief and S/Sgt. Albert G. Brockhouse as the radio operator. Also onboard as passengers with Sgts. Emery and Shearin were T/SGT. RICHARD J. ANTHONY, S/Sgt. Anthony F. DiBerandine and Sgt. John J. McKenna from the 388th Squadron; and Sgt. Arthur J. Marcus, Sgt. Sidney Schnell and S/Sgt. Nevin S. Weiss of the 389th Squadron. Lt. Happ took off in the C-47, planning to fly over the Bismarck Sea and then turn right into the Markham Valley.
Back at Hollandia, 2/Lts. Eugene M. Bussard and Walter Hill from the 388th Squadron prepared to fly the second Mitchell to Nadzab. As anxious passengers asked about the weather, Bussard replied, "It's not bad enough to keep us here. We think we can get over it." Bussard was on instruments and climbing to 12,000 feet when he determined that he could not get above the weather. He changed course and tried to fly beneath the storm instead.
The aircraft broke out of the clouds at 1500 feet but then flew into more clouds again. At that moment, Bussard started to experience vertigo and the B-25 dove sharply to the left. The whine of the engines increased and the g-forces pressed the passengers' backs into their seats. Men grabbed for parachutes. Hill wrested control of the aircraft when it was 500 feet above the ocean, then plotted a course back to Hollandia.
Meanwhile, Happ and Dyer hit the storm near Wewak. Rather than try to get above the clouds, Happ decided to "take it right down to the deck." Still not able to escape the heavy rain and turbulence, Happ headed for the coast, where he hoped conditions might be better. He was correct, and the C-47 landed safely at Hollandia. However, FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT never made it.
At 1300 the next day, Maj. Graber, the 389th Squardon Commander, led a three-aircraft flight to search for the B-24, the other pilots were Lts. Slade and Eliot Young. They followed the coast through the Hansa Bay and Wewak areas and then searched along the Sepik River. On the 13th, Col. Strauss led another search, this time with eight aircraft, going down to Hansa Bay before turning back. In all likelihood, New Guinea's weather claimed another plane. The 12 fatalities constituted the biggest single-day loss for the 312th up to this point in the war.
Flight Officer Preston had been with the 390th only a few weeks. McKenna's death was particularly poignant, because he had survived three previous crashes, including one on "Black Sunday." Rather than fly again, McKenna was waiting for a boat to Biak. When the boat did not arrive, he reluctantly boarded the B-25. Later, rumours spread that the Japanese had caught and executed the 12 men, but this is unlikely to have been true, as neither the plane nor any crew remains have ever been found.
On the morning of October 12th, the passengers from the second B-25 landed at Nadzab, still thinking that FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT had arrived the previous day. When Folmar could not locate Emery and Shearin, he went to flight operations, where he learned about the missing plane. After several days at Nadzab, Folmar, Teague and Rasch boarded a C-54 flight to the States.
Eagles Over The Pacific - Volume 3
Rampage Of The Roarin' 20's
The Illustrated History of the 312th Bombardment Group During WWII
Lawrence J. Hickey and Michael H. Levy with Michael J. Claringbould
To a special group of men, the Roarin' 20's.
They had a job to do, and they did it well.