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  B-24D-85-CO "Pride of the Cornhuskers" Serial Number 42-40682  
5th AF
43rd BG
403rd BS

Click For Enlargement
43rd BG c1943

Click For Enlargement
43rd BG Sept 1943
Pilot  F/O Howard J. Wood, T-000252 (KIA, BR) Douglas County, NB
Co-Pilot  1st Lt Howard R. Thomas, O-790734 (KIA, BR) Broome County, NY
Crew  2nd Lt Ralph M. Hart, O-675188 (KIA, BR) Oklahoma City, OK
Crew  2nd Lt Robert G. McDonald, O-738996 (KIA, BR) FL
Engineer  SSgt John Hrywnak, 33345669 (KIA, BR) PA
Crew  TSgt Charles P. Seip, 7033077 (KIA, BR) PA
Crew  TSgt Hyman Silverstein, 31201941 (KIA, BR) MA
Crew  SSgt Joel L. Herndon, 34082449 (KIA, BR) GA
Crew  SSgt Donald F. Wilcott, 16075243 (KIA, BR) Macon, IL
Crew  SSgt Samuel M. Wilkinson, 33277954 (KIA, BR) PA
Crew  SSgt Samuel B. White, 14044815 (KIA, BR)
Crashed  September 7, 1943 at 4:25am
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego for a cost of $297,627.00. Constructors Number 1759. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-24-85-CO Liberator serial number 42-40682. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS). Nicknamed "Microbe Hunter". Later renamed "Pride of the Cornhuskers" in capital letters with the nose art of a University of Nebraska football player wearing a helmet with "N" on his uniform with a bomb in his right hand about to be thrown like a football. The front wheel hub had a U.S. star insignia with four spikes.

Mission History
On September 7, 1943 around 4:25am took off from 7 Mile Drome (Jackson) near Port Moresby piloted by F/O Howard J. Wood on a reconnaissance mission. Shortly after take off, crashed into a truck convoy loaded with Australian Army 2/33rd Infantry Battalion soldiers on the eastern end of the runway.

On the ground, 59 were killed and 92 injured from the Australian Army 2/33rd Infantry Battalion, D Company. These soldiers were in trucks awaiting orders to board C-47 Skytrains to be flown northward to Nadzab Airfield via Tsili Tsili Airfield.

Veteran William Bentson recalls:
"I was in Port Moresby at the time of this crash. It happen at Jackson Air Strip. The B-24 was fully loaded with fuel and bombs. I went out to Jackson Air Strip, late that afternoon and even by them the crash site was really a mess. Recovery of the dead and aid to injured went on into the night. There were 134 Australian troops, of the 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion AIF, in trucks, waiting to board other aircraft to fly to Nadzab and the B-24 crashed right into the trucks the men were setting in. 73 men were killed and 91 injured. The accident and loss of life was so appalling, it was kept secret from the Australian public for morale purposes. Even after the war it was rarely mentioned. It was the worst loss of the war suffered by the 2/33rd Battalion, which had fought in the Middle East, before campaigning in New Guinea. The the sad part of this crash, these men had survived battles in the Middle East and upon returning to Australia, were sent directly to New Guinea. The survivors were simply loaded on the next available plane and flown off to war, and less than two days later they were fighting the Japanese."

After the crash, a rumor surfaced that "Mexican Saboteurs" caused the B-24 to crash. Investigators found no evidence of sabotage and instead ruled the crash was due to pilot disorientation in the darkness.

The wreckage of this B-24 remained until the 1980s, until the construction of a runway extension, when the remaining wreckage was removed or otherwise disappeared.

Michael Claringbould adds:
"In 1967 myself and several school friends tried to remove one of the main under carriage legs which was still there. The crash site was built over by a runway extension in the 1980s."

The crew of the B-24 were officially declared dead the day of the mission. After the recovery of remains, the crew was initially, they were buried at Ipswich Cemetery (USAF Cemetery Brisbane). Postwar, they were exhumed and transported to the United States for final burial.

Three of the crew are buried at National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl). Seip at plot A grave 552. Wilcott at plot C grave 1607. Herndon at plot B grave 847.

Herndon also has a memorial marker at Bethesda United Methodist Church Cemetery in Hart County, GA.

Silverstein is buried at Sharon Memorial Park in Sharon, MA at section 4 Space 1.

Wood at Fort McPherson National Cemetery at plot Q, site A-5.

Hrywnak is buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery at section 2, site 346.

McDonald at Hopewell Memorial Gardens in Plant City, FL

Thomas at Maple Grove Cemetery in Horseheads, NY.

Wilkinson is buried at Belle Vernon Cemetery in Belle Vernon, PA at section 4 lot 35 grave 3. A memorial marker was established on December 2, 1943. During March 19,1948, his body was buried at the site.

White's burial is unknown, presumed to be in a private cemetery in his hometown.

On September 7, 2018 a plaque commemorating 75th Anniversary of the tragedy was dedicated by the 2/33 Australian Infantry Battalion Association at ANZAC Memorial in Sydney during a memorial Service. The nephew of Hrwynak represented the eleven American families at the memorial service. The plaque reads at the top: "In memory of the 62 Australian soldiers and 11 USAAF flight crew who lost their lives and 90 Australian soldiers injured". The bottom reads "B-24D Liberator bomber 42-40682 'Pride of the Cornhuskers' Jackson's Airfield, Port Moresby 7 September 1943. Each side of the plaque has the service numbers and names of the Australis from the 2/33 Australian Infantry Battalion and USAAF 43rd Bombardment Group air crew.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Howard J. Wood
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Howard R. Thomas
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John Hrywnak
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Hyman Silverstein
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Joel L. Herndon
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Donald F. Wilcott
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Samuel M. Wilkinson
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-24D-85-CO Liberator 42-40682
"40682 transferred to 90th BG, named "Frivolous Sal", later transferred to 43rd BG, 403rd BS and named "Pride of the Cornhuskers". Crashed into Australian truck convoy during takeoff at Jackson Field, Port Moresby, New Guinea Sep 8, 1943. All 11 crew members and 59 soldiers on the ground were killed. 92 were injured."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator 42-40682
FindAGrave - Howard J. Wood (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Howard R Thomas (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Ralph M. Hart (grave photos)
FindAGrave - Robert G. McDonald (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - John Hrywnak (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Charles Seip (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Hyman Silverstein (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Joel L. Herndon (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Donald F. Wilcott (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Samuel M. Wilkinson (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Joel L Herndon (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Joel Leigh Herndon (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - Donald F Wilcott (grave photo)

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Last Updated
December 1, 2022


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