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Brian Bennett 2002
Joel Carillet June 21, 2019
|Pilot 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Freeman, O-672596 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wichita County, TX
Gunner Cpl Ralph A. McKendrick, 12198868 (MIA / KIA, BR) Smethport, PA
Crashed April 5, 1944 at 1:30pm
Built at Douglas. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as A-20G-30 Havoc serial number 43-9469. Disassembled and shipped across the Pacific to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 417th Bombardment Group (417th BG) "Sky Lancers". On March 20, 1944 assigned to the 312th Bombardment Group (312th BG), 387th Bombardment Squadron (387th BS). Tail letter unknown. No known nose art or nickname. The rear fuselage behind the U.S. star had a white diamond 387th BS squadron identifier. Tail code unknown, likely a single letter. When lost, engines R-2600-23 serial numbers (right) 43-103633 (left) 43-103610. Armed with .50 caliber machine guns makers and serial numbers not listed in Another Missing Air Crew Report 468 (MACR 468).
On April 5, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield piloted by 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Freeman with gunner Cpl Ralph A. McKendrick on a strike mission against Hollandia. Returning, this A-20 was observed to fall back from the formation, experiencing trouble with both engines, possibly fuel problems.
Another A-20 piloted by 1st Lt. Glen D. Benskin flew to accompany it, and observed no obvious combat damage, only puffs of vapor from both engines, possibly from Freeman trying to switch fuel selectors. Unexpectedly, the A-20 nosed over and crash into the jungle, near the Clay River, short of a clearing and exploded on impact at approximately 1:30pm roughly 175 miles from Gusap, in the Ruin Mountain area. The crash was observed by Benskin who noted: "After the ship hit I couldn't even find broken treetops, the aircraft simply disappeared without a trace." When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
After the crash, two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Boomerangs searched for this crash without results.
This A-20 crashed into a forested area killing both crew members. During the crash, both engines broke off and the rear fuselage section survived the crash largely intact and upside down. The rear fuselage U.S. star and diamond motif remain visible to this day. The tail rudder has serial number "39469" [43-9469] painted in yellow.
During 1967, the crash site was located by an Australian Patrol officer (kiap) including bone fragments and the dog tag of Ralph McKendrick. At the time, the serial number or type of aircraft was not known.
In 1979, the local Waran people at nearby Likan village on the Clay River invited U.S. missionaries William Butler and Robin Butler to live in their community while they translated the Bible. During their forty years in the area, the Butlers lived near the crash site and often visited the wreckage.
During 2002, the crash site was visited by a team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) with Brian Bennett. Today, This crash site is coded "JPAC 818" by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Recovery of Remains
On November 12, 1967 a U.S. Army team visited the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew.
Both crew members were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Both are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. After the remains of the crew were identified, a rosette was added next to each name to indicate they were identified.
Freeman did not earn the Purple Heart, posthumously, it is unclear if this is an oversight in records.
McKendrick earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
On December 2, 1969 both were interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 81 site 349.
Note, U.S. Army records also spell the gunner's surname as both McKendrick (no space) and Mc Kendrick (space after Mc).
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Thomas E. Freeman
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ralph A. Mc Kendrick
USAF Serial Number Search Results - A-20G-30-DO Havoc 43-9469
"9469 in accident Apr 5, 1944"
Missing Air Crew Report 468 (MACR 468) created April 7, 1944
Another Missing Air Crew Report 468 (MACR 468) microfilm copy at NARA relates to B-17G 44-107040 lost in October 15, 1944 over Germany.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Thomas E. Freeman "remains were recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ralph A. McKendrick "remains were recovered"
FindAGrave - 2LT Thomas Elton Freeman (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2LT Thomas Elton Freeman (grave photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT Ralph Arthur McKendrick (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSGT Ralph Arthur McKendrick (photo, grave photo)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - A-20G Havoc 43-9469
Letter Embassy of the United States 6 June 1967 "Possible remains of Army Air Corps World War II crew member Ralph A. McKendrick, 12198868".
Rampage of the Roarin' 20's (2009) pages 93-94 (April 5, 1944 mission), 348 (April 5, 1944 loss summary), 358 (43-9469), 405 (index Freeman), index 409 (index McKendrick)
YouTube "A Sacred Reminder Memories from Papua New Guinea" March 3, 2020 interview with William Butler
New York Times "A Personal Pilgrimage to a Downed Warplane in Papua New Guinea" by Joel Carillet September 6, 2021
Thanks to Bruce Hoy, Brian Bennett and Joel Carillet for additional information
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