Lawson Stewart was born on May 10, 1914 in Jones County, Mississippi. In 1940, he was working as a truck driver. In 1941 married Ethel Reeves of Summit, MS. During 1942, worked at Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in San Diego as sheet metal worker building aircraft.
On September 17, 1942 enlisted in the U. S. Army with serial number 34425408. Assigned to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF), 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, Headquarters Squadron as a flight engineer for B-24 Liberators.
On December 30, 1943 took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia as engineer aboard B-24D 'Pretty Prairie Special' 41-24186 piloted by Colonel Marion D. Unruh armed with 1,000 pound bombs leading a maximum effort bombing mission against Rabaul. Inbound to the target, the weather was very poor as the formation flew following the western coast of Bougainville before flying westward towards the target. Over the target, the bombers were intercepted by enemy fighters but managed to successfully bomb Rabaul.
After descending through the clouds, this B-24 was seen by local people with the engine smoking coming from Cape Saint George before the crew bailed out and the bomber crashed into hillside on the southeastern coast of New Ireland.
Fates of the Crew
New of the crew: Unruh, Fessenger, Koebig, Kuhn,
Constantin and Mull parachuted out of the B-24 over southeastern New Ireland. Several of the crew landed in the sea and were aided ashore by locals in outrigger canoes that paddled out to assist them.
By December 31, 1943 nine survivors were together a native village on the coast. At 10:30am they survivors were spotted by two B-24s piloted by 2nd Lt. James D. Robertson and Captain Oscar G. Fitzhenry that dropped a medical kit and rations before departing. They were never seen again by other search aircraft.
Sometime after December 31, 1943 the eight survivors were ambushed at night by Japanese forces that opened fire on the hut they were sleeping inside. During the ambush, the crew attempted to flee.
Prisoner Of War (POW)
After the ambush, six were captured: Koebig, Kuhn,
Constantin and Mull and taken to Cape Saint George then transported to Rabaul and became Prisoners Of War (POW) of the Japanese Army Kempei-Tai. Later, Unruh and Fessenger were also captured. The men became Prisoners Of War (POW) and were detained by the Japanese Army Kempei-Tai at Tunnel Hill POW Camp. On March 5, 1944 six of the crew: Koebig, Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Constantin and Mull were executed during the Talili Bay Massacre.
Recovery of Remains
Postwar, the remains of the Koebig, Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin executed at Talili
Bay were recovered were recovered and transported to the United Sates for permanent burial.
On March 21, 1950 Koebig, Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin were buried in a group burial with others executed at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 78 sites 930-934. The grave lists the date of death as March 5, 1944 for Kuhn, Stewart, Wasilevski, Mull and Constantin and March 6, 1944 for Koebig.
Paige Fontaine (great-grand niece of Lawson Stewart)
"I’d like to honor my great-uncle, who was taken to Tunnel Hill prison camp and later executed there."
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Lawson Stewart
NARA World War II Prisoner of War Data File - Lawson Stewart last report Mar 5, 1944
NARA "World War II Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files"
FindAGrave - Lawson Stewart (photo, group burial photo)
McComb Daily Journal "Reported Missing In Pacific Action" January 17, 1944 (photo)
McComb Daily Journal "Wife Of Pike Airman Cheered By Information" March 13, 1944 page 1, 6
McComb Daily Journal "Is Your Sacrifice Worthy of Theirs?" May 30, 1944 page 5 (photo), 6
(Page 5) "Partial List of Casualties; Dead, Missing, Prisoners In Journal's Area Is Compiled - 46 Boys With Connections In City Dead"
(Page 6) "Stewart, S/Sgt Lawson, husband of former Ethel Reeves of Summit, listed as missing in action over New Ireland Dec. 30, 1943. Army Air Force."
Enterprise-Journal "Presumed Dead S-Sgt Lawson Stewart" February 8, 1946 page 1 (photo)
5th Bombardment Group Association "Expedition to New Ireland: Solving a B-24 Mystery" by Donna Esposito September 21, 2018
Paige Fontaine and Donna Esposito for additional information
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