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  B-24D-15-CO "Sky Lady" Serial Number 41-24043  
5th AF
90th BG
400th BS

Former Assignments
320th BS

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90th BG c1943

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90th BG October 1943
Pilot  1st Lt Warren H. Smeltzer, O-380234 (survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt Russell A. McKinni, O-74244 (survived)
Navigator  1st Lt Charles M. Hynes, O-734566 (survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Lawrence J. Baldwin, O-738606 (survived) New Orleans, LA
Engineer  T/Sgt Roudolph Vetter, 39381460 (survived)
Assist. Engineer  S/Sgt George H. Hermerding Jr., 35456332 (survived)
Radio  T/Sgt Steve Velicoff, 33265647 (survived)
Assist. Radio  S/Sgt Richard J. Leyer, 32143175 (survived) NY
Gunner  S/Sgt Carl L. Nelson, 36032395 (survived)
Gunner  S/Sgt Jack G. Wu, 39168830 (survived) CA
Crashed  October 18, 1943 at 12:45
MACR  1015

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated in San Diego. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24D-15-CO Liberator serial number 41-24043. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 90th Bombardment Group, 320th Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "Sky Lady". Later transferred to the 400th Bombardment Squadron.

Possibly, this B-24 participated in the January 5, 1943 mission against Japanese shipping off Rabaul.

When lost, engines R-1830-43 serial numbers: 42-36526 42-39780 42-38549 and 42-36486. Weapons included three turrets with two .50 caliber machine guns each, a twin belly turret with two .50 caliber machine guns plus two .50 caliber flexible waist machine guns. Weapon serial numbers unknown.

Mission History
On October 18, 1943 took off from 5 Mile (Ward Drome) near Port Moresby on bombing mission against Rabaul as part of a formation of B-24 Liberators from the 43rd Bomb Group, 90th Bomb Group and 380th Bomb Groups.

The formation flew northeast toward Kiriwina Island then northward to Rabaul then encountered bad weather and aborted the mission and instead bombed Sio then flew southward to Lae before crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains at an altitude of 8,000' at roughly 1:00pm.

In bad weather over the range, formation broke up. When last seen, this B-24 was flying in the No. 2 position of the formation, on the left wing of B-24 piloted by Lt. Young. This B-24 was last seen dropping back in the formation near Mount Yule at approximately 1:00pm. When this B-24 failed to return from the mission, it was listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Aboard this B-24, the no. 2 engine feathered and the instruments were not reading normal, with manifold pressure of 45" and fuel pressure of 20 and oil pressure high. Without instruments, the bomber entered a vertical dive before breaking out of clouds. Pilots Smeltzer and co-pilot McKinni ordered the other eight members of the crew to bail out simultaneously while attempting to keep the B-24 trimmed and level while it buckled and the tail fluttered. After circling their parachutes once, the pilots trimmed the B-24 and bailed out.

According to Smeltzer, the B-24 crashed into the ground roughly a half mile away. According to McKinni, the B-24 crashed eight miles northeast of Mount Yule and burned on impact at roughly Lat 8° 5' S and Long 147° 55' E.

In total, four B-24s were lost including this bomber, B-24D "Ben Buzzard" 42-40670, B-24D 42-40885 and B-24D 41-41088.

On October 19, 1943 a search mission was conducted for this missing bomber by B-24 piloted by Major Thornhill (C.O. 400th Bombardment Squadron) and 1st Lt. Young searched a 20 mile radius around where the missing bomber was last reported and from Port Moresby to Yule Island and Kerema and eastward to Salamaua and south before returning to Port Moresby. Their search was hindered by heavy clouds and returned with nil results after five hours.

Fates of the Crew
The entire crew bailed out successfully and regrouped on the ground. Assisted by friendly natives, the crew as fed and stayed in a village. Later, they were then taken to the Catholic Mission at Kerau and cared for by an American missionary and nuns including Father A. Wendling.

The crew used their parachutes to draw the 90th BG insignia (skull and cross bombs insignia) on the ground. Spotted by friendly planes, supplies were dropped to them, and communication was made by signaling with the planes. The crew asked for coffee and cigarettes. Rescue efforts were directed by Captain Phillip W. Casper of the 90th Bomb Group.

Afterwards, the crew walked for two days to an emergency airfield. On November 11, 1942 they were flown out aboard an Australian Tiger Moth, then aboard a C-47 Dakota back to Port Moresby and returned to duty.

Sherl Hermerding Engel (daughter of George Herman Hermerding)
"My father, George Herman Hermerding Jr., did not land successfully. His parachute caught in a tree where he hung for three days before cutting himself loose and dropping a distance of between 100-150 feet to the ground. That drop broke his back. There were indeed friendly natives, one of whom was eventually nicknamed 'Little George' due to the special interest he took in my father's care, who then found my father. It is important that they were blessed enough to be discovered by these natives as opposed to another tribe on the island who were cannibalistic. They attempted to carry him by tying his arms and legs together and hanging him from some type of wooden apparatus (a board or branch of some kind). The pain was more than he wen as able to endure so he requested that he be released and successfully dragged himself twelve miles to the mission. Father received 3/4 disability ruling and a silver star (later stolen). He also experienced what we now term PTSD which caused him to scream all night, every night, thrash about (breaking multiple bedside lamps throughout the years), and sit bolt upright in bed and recite the 23rd Psalm."

Baldwin died on April 16, 2012 and is buried at Saint Joseph Abbey Cemetery in Covington, LA.
Leyer died on June 14, 1974 and is buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, NY at plot south 32, lot 5, grave 19L.
Wu is buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Gardens in Klamath Falls, OR in the garden of prayer.

Missing Air Crew Report 1015 (MACR 1015)
The Black Pirates South West Pacific 1942-1944, page 21
LIFE Magazine January 3, 1944 "New Guinea Rescue" page 48-49
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 41-24043
FindAGrave - Lawrence J "Chink" Baldwin, Jr (obituary)
FindAGrave - Richard J. Leyer (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Jack Gay Wu (grave photo)

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Last Updated
January 16, 2022


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