Marion Daniel Unruh was born February 20, 1910 in Pretty Prairie, Kansas. He married Yozelle Davis and the had two sons: Jack Unruh born July 31, 1935
and Jesse Unruh born November 19, 1936.
As a child, Unruh saw a plane overhead and decided he wanted to fly. On December 10, 1933 he survived the crash of a small airplane near Pretty Prairie that killed his brother, Allen R. Unruh. In 1935 he built his first home made aircraft, a bi-plane.
Unruh joined the U. S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) as an aviation cadet and was commissioned with serial number O-298478. Prewar, stationed to France Field near the Panama Canal with his family. Before leaving overseas, Unruh flew a B-24 Liberator at low level down Main Street of Pretty Prairie to say farewell to his hometown and waggled his wings before departing.
During the Pacific War, Lt. Col. Marion Unruh was the Executive Officer (E. O.) of the 5th Bombardment Group (5th BG) "Bomber Barons" and sent overseas to Oahu then Bomber 1 on Espiritu Santo in New Hebrides.
As a leader, Unruh was beloved by his men for flying combat missions with them. Often, he would lend a hand with maintenance work on the unit's bombers and reportedly knew the first name of everyone under his command.
On March 20, 1943 Unruh piloted B-17E "Goonie" 41-2523 on a night bombing mission against Kahili Airfield (Buin) in southern Bougainville. The formation was a mix of B-17s and B-24s flying in three plane elements on a diversionary strike while U. S. Navy (USN) and U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) aircraft laid mines offshore, the first mine-laying operations by aircraft in the South Pacific (SOPAC). Over the target, the bombers were to remain over
Kahili Airfield (Buin) for nine minutes to distract anti-aircraft fire and searchlights. This bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire that caused a runaway engine. Flying back to base, this B-17 lost altitude until forced to ditch off the Russell Islands.
On August 10, 1943 Unruh became the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of the 5th Bombardment Group and served as until December 30, 1943 when he went missing on a combat mission. His personal aircraft was B-24D 41-24186 that he nicknamed "Pretty Prairie Special" after his hometown in Kansas.
On October 10, 1943 Unruh was leading the formation of twenty-four B-24s from the 5th Bombardment Group on a bombing mission against against Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville. The formation was escorted more than fifty P-38 Lightnings, P-40 Warhawks and P-39 Airacobras. Also participating were fifty U. S. Navy (USN) fighters and dive bombers including eight F4U Corsaris from VMF-214 "The Black Sheep" but two aborted the mission due to mechanical difficulties. Inbound the weather was 3/10 cloud cover and bad weather enroute. Over the target, the formation was intercepted by Zeros and Unruh observed the crash of B-24D Liberator 42-40210 with eleven crew missing.
Missing In Action
On December 30, 1943 took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia piloting B-24D "Pretty Prairie Special" 41-24186 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. Returning with damage, this B-24 was last seen over Saint Georges Channel at 12:37pm.
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
Nine 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. Two of the crew: Bixler and Schaffran were unaccounted for and were listed as Missing in Action (MIA).
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 nine 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 but six were captured and became Prisoners Of War (POW) including: Koebig, Kuhn,
Constantin and Mull.
Unruh and Fessenger managed to escape after the ambush and fled into the jungle and were able to evade capture approximately two weeks until they became separated and were both captured by January 15, 1944 and became Prisoners Of War (POW) of the Japanese Army.
Prisoner of War
After being captured on
January 15, 1944 transported to Rabaul and detained at Rabaul POW Camp. As a prisoner, Unruh was interrogated by the Japanese Army Kempei-Tai. During late Jaunary 1944, 1st Lt. Roger H. Brindos was detained in the ajoining cell next to him and the two were able to speak and he asked Unruh to memorize his wife's address to write her. The two were able to communicate when not being guarded or while sheltering in their bomb shelter during air raids.
On or around February 17, 1944, he was transported to Japan and detained at Omori POW Camp near Toyko. Later, moved to Rokuroshi POW Camp where as the highes ranking officer, he became the commander of the American prisoners. In early September 1945, after the official surrender of Japan, Unruh accepted the surrender of Rokuroshi POW Camp from Lt. Tsuntaro Habo turned his sword over to him and the U. S. flag was raised over the camp and photographed by a U. S. Army Signal Corps photographer. Afterwards, Unruh was debriefed and repatriated to the United States.
Unruh remained in the military and joined the U. S. Air Force (USAF) when it formed in 1947. During the Korean War, he was stationed in Japan. During his retirement, Unruh finished building a home built PPS II-Model 1 biplane he originally started building in 1937 that he nicknamed "Pretty Prairie Special II". On June 27, 1966, his biplane made its first flight. In 1951, he started building another home built aircraft that he nicknamed "Pretty Prairie Special III" powered by a 125 hp Menasco D4 in-line engine.
For his military service, Unruh earned the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) with an oak leaf clusters, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with four oak leaf clusters and the Purple Heart.
Unruh died on April 14, 1968 in a plane crash. He is buried at Lone Star Cemetery in Pretty Prairie, KS.
After his death, his second home built aircraft "Pretty Prairie Special III" was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). In 2006 donated to the Kansas Aviation Museum and in October 2006 was transported by Wayne Lawrence to the museum for display and storage.
Yozelle Davis (wife, deceased February 8, 2010)
Jack Unruh (son, deceased May 16, 2016)
Jesse Unruh (son)
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Unruh Marion D.
last report Oct 10, 1945
NARA World War II Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files - Unruh Marion D.
The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume Four, Chapter 9 The Gilberts and Marshalls page 289
"After Lt. Col. Marion D. Unruh of the VII Bomber Command, had designed a nose turret to correct the weakness, (*) it was installed by the Hawaiian Air Depot in more than 200 B-24's during 1943. (footnote 88)
(*) Unruh later became commander of the 5th Bombardment Group and failed to return from a strike against Rabaul 30 December 1943. In addition to providing the design and conducting his regular duties, Col. Unruh had devoted many long hours to supervision of the initial modifications."
Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) Roger Hugh Brindos
(PDF Page 37) Case History Report For Search Teams For Missing Unidentified 12 October 1945
Statement made by Col. Marion D. Unruh is as follows: On 15 Jan 44 Unruh as taken prisoner and taken to Rabaul, New Britain. The latter part of Jan 44 another prisoner was placed in the cell next to him. He gave his name as Brindos while no guard was watching them. He told he had been shot down by Zeros while flying a Vought F4U. His plane caught fire and he managed to bail out. They got to see each other in a bomb shelter during air raids. One of his eyes appeared very bloodshot and he had several cuts and scratches but was not seriously wounded. He gave Unruh his wife’s address which he in return memorized and promised to write her at his first opportunity. The middle of February, on or about, Brindos was removed from his cell and Unruh never saw him again. On 17 February 44 Unruh was removed to Omari POW Camp [sic Omori POW Camp] at Tokyo and has never been able to learn anything of the fate of the prisoners at Rabaul.”
Center for Research Allied POWS Under the Japanese - Rokuroshi POW Camp (Unruh photos)
Homebuilt Aircraft (Air Progress), Summer 1968, Page 28
FindAGrave - Marion D. Unruh (photo, grave photo)
Kansas Aviation Museum - Pretty Prairie Special III
5th Bombardment Group Association "Expedition to New Ireland: Solving a B-24 Mystery" by Donna Esposito September 21, 2018
Jesse Unruh for additional information