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  B-17F-20-BO Serial Number 41-24518  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

Former Assignments
403rd BS

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43rd BG c1943

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IJN May 1943

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Jeff Ridges 2005
Pilot  Captain Byron L. "Dutch" Heichel, O-421699 (POW, survived) Tripoli, IA
Co-Pilot  1st Lt Berry T. Rucks, Jr., O-43786 (POW, survived) Davidson County, TN
Bombardier  2nd Lt. Oscar Melvin Linsley, O-666689 (KIA, BR) Sioux City, IA
Navigator  2nd Lt Marcus L. Mangett, Jr, O-734579 (MIA / KIA) Tiffin, Ohio
Student Navigator  2nd Lt. Eugene D. Bleiler, O-734528 317th TCG, 39th TCS (MIA / KIA) PA
Engineer  T/Sgt John E. Fritz, 16948783 (POW, died en route Japan, MIA) PA
Asst Engineer  S/Sgt Kenneth P. Vetter, 6669847 (WIA , POW, executed Nov 25, 1943, MIA) Rutherford, KY
Radio  M/Sgt Clarence G. Surrett, 6956646 (POW, survived) Dewey, OK
Asst Radio  T/Sgt James E. Etheridge, 6958335 (POW, survived) Palestine, TX
Gunner   S/Sgt Gilbert A. Flieger, 19095893 (MIA / KIA) Moscow, ID
Gunner   Pvt Frank L. Kurisko, 11036019 (POW died en route Japan, MIA) NH
Ditched May 7, 1943 at 11:50am
MACR  16237

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 3203. On July 23, 1942 delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-20-BO Flying Fortress serial number 41-24518. On July 29, 1942 outfitted at Lowry Field. On August 27, 1942 flown to McClellan Airfield (Sacramento Air Depot) then Hamilton Field. On August 31, 1942 departed Hamilton Field on a ferry flight via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
On September 7, 1943 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG) "Ken's Men", 403rd BS (403rd BS). Nicknamed "Reckless Mountain Boys" from the folk song, "The Martins and the Coys" in reference to the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. The nose art depicted a flintlock musket and power horn. The tail had dark green "tiger stripes". This bomber flew with the squadron until late January 1943.

During February 1943 assigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron (63rd BS). Assigned to pilot Kirby.

On January 5, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Adams on a bombing mission against Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul. This B-17 was one of three B-17s from the 403rd Bombardment Squadron along with B-17F "The Reckless Mountain Boys" 41-24518 and B-17F 41-24538 each armed with 100 pound general purpose bombs. On the way to the target, this B-17 aborted the mission due to engine problems.

On February 18, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Neil G. Kirby on a bombing mission against Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville. Returning, this bomber ran short on fuel and landed at Hula Airfield Airfield (Hood Point Airfield). Afterwards, refueled and returned to 7-Mile Drome.

Mission History
On May 7, 1943 in the morning took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Byron L. "Dutch" Heichel without a bomb load on a solo photographic reconnaissance mission over Kavieng. Aboard was 2nd Lt. Bleiler, a student navigator from the 317th Troop Carrier Group (TCG), 39th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS). At 10:00am this bomber sent its last radio message reporting their location to be over the Bismarck Sea halfway between Cape Gloucester and Kavieng and reported the weather to be "squally" with bad weather or rain storms.

At 11:00am over Kavieng at an altitude of 16,500' began the photographic run and immediately encountered sporadic anti-aircraft fire. Meanwhile, six A6M2 Zeros from the 253 Kōkūtai scrambled from Kavieng Airfield to intercept this bomber. The Zeros made firing passes that hit the no. 2 engine setting it on fire, knocked off the ball turret door and badly wounded gunner Vetter. Pilot Heichel dove down to sea level to avoid being attacked from below and headed southward until the the no. 2 engine failed. Repeated attacks by the Zeros also disabled the no. 1 engine. During the attacks, Linsley, Bleiler and Fleiger were hit by gunfire and killed. Three others: Ethridge, Vetter and Mangett were severely wounded.

Damaged, this B-17 ditched onto a coral reef roughly 50 yards offshore from Komalu on the south coast of New Ireland. During the crash, the nose section impacted the reef and broke the fuselage rear of the top turret. The rest of the aircraft remained above water largely intact.

Fates of the Crew
Eight of the crew survived the ditching and escaped through the co-pilot's cockpit window. Meanwhile, the six attacking Zeros strafed the B-17 before departing for Kavieng Airfield. During the attacks, the surviving crew took cover among the coral boulders.

Afterwards, the crew made their way ashore with the help of native people. The three crew members who died in the crash: Linsley, Bleiler and Fleiger were recovered from the B-17 and buried on the beach by the crew with the help of native people.

The survivors were armed with three pistols, a Springfield rifle, a machine gun and a "Gibson Girl" portable radio. Together, they fled to Komalu Plantation then into the hills with a local.

By the time Japanese overseer Tadashi Imamura arrived at the plantation, the crew were gone. The next morning, a gunboat from Rabaul arrived in the area. Also, Japanese Army troops arrived from Namatanai and Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) troops arrived from Kavieng.

Rudolf Diercke the German manager of Komlu Plantation wrote a note in English that was delivered to the crew. It read: "I am a German, and I can vouch for the intentions of the Japanese. It is best that you surrender your arms to the native boy and come to us. We are gentleman and have no desire to maltreat you. Three of your fellow crew members found dead in the airplane have been buried with a simple ceremony in the kanaka [native] cemetery."

Realizing resistance was futile, the entire crew complied with the note and surrendered to the Japanese. Immediately, a stretcher was provided for each prisoner. Each many was searched, interrogated and guarded.

The enlisted men: Fritz, Surrett, Ethridge, Vetter and Kurisco were loaded aboard the gunboat and transported to Rabaul. The officers: Heichel, Rucks, and Mangett were carried on stretchers northward across the mountains to Karu, then by truck to Kavieng for interrogation.

Afterwards, the officers were transported to Rabaul and reunited with the rest of the crew at the Japanese Navy POW Camp at Rabaul operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Keibitai (Naval Special Police), 81st Naval Guard Unit. During captivity, Vetter gave his ring to a Japanese guard who later mailed it to his mother.

Reportedly, on November 25, 1943 Mangett and Vetter plus seven other Americans were taken from the camp and executed by the Kempei Tai at Rabaul.

On July 14, 1943 the remaining crew members: Heichel, Surrett, Etheridge, Fritz and Kurisko plus SSgt Paul J. Cascio, Jr. radio operator aboard B-17E "Flagship Texas No. VI / Strip-Straffer" 41-9207 were embarked aboard a ship and transported to Truk arriving three days later and were again interrogated. Enroute, Fritz and Kurisko died. Afterwards, Heichel, Surrett, Etheridge and Cascio were transported to Japan.

Heichel, Rucks, Surrett and Etheridge were interned at Ofuna Camp near Yokohama and were beaten, interrogated and labored until the end of the Pacific War. All four survived captivity until the end of the Pacific War.

Etheridge was last reported as a POW on September 4, 1945 in Japan and later returned to the United States.

Surret was last reported as a POW on September 4, 1945 at Tokyo POW Camp (Shinjuku) Tokyo Bay Area 35-140 and later returned to the United States.

Heichel was last reported as a POW on October 2, 1945 at Osaka Main Camp Chikko Osaka 34-135 and later returned to the United States.

Rucks was last reported as a POW on October 28, 1945 at Osaka Main Camp Chikko Osaka 34-135 and later returned to the United States.

Search
When this B-17 failed to return, American searches found no trace of the bomber and the entire crew were presumed Missing In Action (MIA).

Recovery of Remains
On May 7, 1943 the three crew members who died in the crash: Linsley, Bleiler and Fleiger were recovered from the B-17 and buried on the beach by the crew with the help of native people. The next day, Tadashi Imamura instructed locals to exhume them and rebury them in the native cemetery at the Catholic Mission. Afterwards, Rudolf Diercke the manager of Komalu Plantation erected a cross over each grave.

Postwar, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) exhumed the bodies of the three buried at the Catholic Mission. Reportedly, an airman's wrist watch was found in one grave. When the dirt was wiped away and winder twisted, the watch began ticking.

Wreckage
On May 8, 1943 twenty or more Japanese soldiers and native police investigated the B-17 crash site including civilian war correspondent Hajime Yoshida who took photographs and shot 16mm cine footage of the B-17 and prisoners. Later, this footage was used in a Nippon News with the narration: "May 7: B-17 which planned an attack on our South Pacific base was shot down by our sea eagles. Once, natives stared wide-eyed with wonder and envy at US & British material civilization. However they are delighted by Japanese strength to actually look at it now. They cooperate with the Imperial Army heartily."

A tripod was mounted over the nose, to extract the Norden bombsight and other equipment. During May 1943, the Japanese dismantled the B-17. One engine was shipped to Rabaul, and the fuselage of the plane was cut up and stacked on the beach under trees.

After their salvage, all that was left on the reef off Komalu were the three of the engines. Today there are just two propellers and a couple of lumps of rusted metal, partially encrusted in coral.

Rod Pearce recalls:
"I went to this village to look for this B-17 around 2003. We met two people there who witnessed the incident. One was an old man who recalled it landing in the water. He recalled the Japanese 'jacked it up' out of the water and took it all away. In the village they had a bit of aluminum under a tree that had been in salt water, it was very corroded."

Memorials
Mangett was officially declared dead on January 3, 1946. He earned the earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Mangett is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.

Fritz was officially declared dead on January 3, 1946. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Fritz is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.

Vetter was officially declared dead on January 3, 1946. He earned Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Silver Star, Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and Purple Heart, posthumously. Vetter is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day. He also has a memorial marker at Calvary Cemetery in Louisville, KY at section 17 plot 493.

Kurisko was officially declared dead on January 3, 1946. He earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Kurisko is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.

Mangett was officially declared dead on January 3, 1946. He earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Mangett is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day. He also has a memorial marker at Saint Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Tiffin, OH.

Linsley, Bleiler and Flieger were officially declared dead May 7, 1943. Postwar, their remains were exhumed by American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) and transported to the Philippines and United States for permanent burial.

Linsley was officially declared dead May 7, 1943. Postwar, buried at Graceland Park Cemetery in Sioux City, IA.

Bleiler was officially declared dead May 7, 1943. He earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. He is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot A row 14 grave 143. He also has a nemorial marker at Grandview Cemetery in Allentown, PA.

Flieger was officially declared dead May 7, 1943. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Flieger is buried at Manila American Cemetery at plot A row 8 grave 133.

Etheridge passed away on April 13, 1981 at age 67. For his World War II service, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Medal. He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Park in Crockett, TX.

Surrett passed away on March 5, 1993 at age 73. For his wounds on the mission he earned the Purple Heart. He is buried at Moore Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, TX.

Heichel passed away on April 2, 2013 at age 97. He is buried at Arlington Municipal Cemetery in Arlington, WA with military honors.

Relatives
Lynda Peck (daughter of Heichel)
"You brought tears to my eyes. Dad said something to all us last weekend as we read looked at those pictures. It went something like this: You kids standing in this room don’t ever have to apologize for that war or your right to live in this country. Your right to live here has been bought and paid for personally by me. He looks at those pictures and says it seems like a dream, so long ago. He says, 'I can’t believe it happened to me'."

Tom Ackerman (nephew of Oscar Linsley)
"My uncle Oscar Linsley was the bombardier on 'Reckless Mountain Boys'. In researching the crash, I obtained documents pertaining to his recovery and verification of remains. He was buried in Sioux City, Iowa May 1949."

Dale Neikirk (nephew of Marcus Mangett)
"My Uncle Marcus Mangett was the navigator on board the Reckless Mountain Boys when it crashed. Your website has provided me with new information which astounds me. I am grateful for it, as his disappearance was a life long agony for my mother and her family, as well as a mystery for the members of my generation. I really can't thank you enough for what you are doing."

Ellen Surrett (daughter of Clarence Surrett)
"Thats my dad in the stretcher looking at the camera [in still from film]."

Jennifer Downing (great niece of James E. Etheridge)

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Berry T. Rucks, Jr.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Oscar M. Linsley
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Gilbert A. Flieger
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Frank L. Kurisko
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17F-20-BO Flying Fortress 41-24518
"24518 ("The Reckless Mountain Boys") delivered to Lowry, July 29, 1942; transferred to Hamilton, Aug 31, 1942; assigned to the 43rd BG, 63rd BS in Hawaii Sep 9, 1942. MIA May 10, 1943."
Missing Air Crew Report 16237 (MACR 16237) created retroactively
Kodochosho (Action Report) 253 Kōkūtai (253 Air Group) - May 7, 1943
Nippon News - May 1943 cine footage by Hajime Yoshida recorded at crash site footage owned by NHK
Asahi Daily Newspaper June 7, 1943
History of Japanese News Film stills from film by Hajime Yoshida with narration as text
News "Pacific Hero Listed Dead Obituary Kenneth P. Vetter, 25, Missing 3 Years" circa 1946
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Byron L. Heichel
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Berry T. Rucks, Jr.
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Clarence G. Surrett
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - James E. Etheridge
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Marcus L. Mangett Jr.
FindAGrave - 1Lt Marcus L Mangett Jr. (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Marcus L Mangett (memorial marker photos) date of death listed as May 7, 1943 [sic]
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John E. Fritz
FindAGrave - TSgt John E Fritz (tablets of the missing)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Kenneth P. Vetter
FindAGrave - SSgt Kenneth Paul Vetter (news, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT Kenneth Paul Vetter (memorial marker photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Frank L. Kurisko
FindAGrave - Pvt Frank L Kurisko (tablets of the missing photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Eugene D. Bleiler
FindAGrave - 2Lt Eugene Daniel Bleiler (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Eugene D. Bleiler (memorial marker photo)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gilbert A. Flieger

FindAGrave - Sgt Gilbert A Flieger (photo, obituary, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2LT Oscar M Linsley (photo, grave photo)
News "Lieutenant Oscar M. Linsley" circa 1943
FindAGrave - James E. Etheridge (obituary, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Clarence G Surrett (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Byron Luther Heichel (obituary, grave photo)
The Herald "Obituary Byron Luther Heichel" April 4, 2013
"Byron was born March 17, 1916 in Tripoli, Iowa, one of seven children; he went to be with his heavenly Father April 2, 2013. Though his family grieves, we know he is with his Creator. Byron served his country during World War II in the Air Force as a pilot. He was shot down and captured by the Japanese, and was a prisoner of war for two and a half years. He was honorably discharged as a Major.
He is survived by his loving wife of 71 years, Julie; children, Susan Christianson, Nadine Heichel, Lynda
(Michael) Peck and Byron Jr. (Rita) Heichel; and five grandchildren, Chad, Chip, Sarah, Brett and Rachel.
A military graveside service will be held Saturday, April 6, 2013, 11:00 a.m. at the Arlington Cemetery. A gathering will follow at the family home in Stanwood."
Pride of Seattle (1998) pages 9, 10, 13 & 28
Flightpath "Somewhere, A Camera Out There" by Michael Claringbould, page 24
Lost Lives Places - New Ireland - The Reckless Mountain Boys (2005) by John M. Glynn
Target Rabaul (2013) pages 254-262
Ken’s Men Against The Empire The Illustrated History of the 43rd Bombardment Group During World War II Volume I: Prewar to October 1943 The B-17 Era (2015) pages 60 (41-24518 assgiment to 403rd BS September 7, 1943), 178-183 (May 7, 1943 mission), 188 (Japanese radio broadcast May 13, 1943 about downing of B-17 on May 8, 1943 [sic]), 199 (POWs to Truk), 219 (Profile 17 B-17F 41-24518), 223 (Profile 17 nose detail) 316 (May 7, 1943 B-17F 41-24518), 325 (63rd BS: B-17F 41-24518), 330 (403rd BS: B-17F 41-24518), 350, 365-366 (Profile #18 B-17F 41-24518, photo), 382 (index Heichel)
Thanks to Byron L. "Dutch" Heichel, Lynda Peck, Tom Ackerman, Dale Neikirk, Ellen Surrett, Jennifer Downing, Rod Pearce, Edward Rogers, Janice Olsen for additional information

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Last Updated
February 18, 2020

 

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