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  B-24J-15-CO "Doodlebug" Serial Number 42-73117  
USAAF
5th AF
380th BG
531st BS

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380th BG c1943

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Stephens Jan 19, 1944

Pilot  1st Lt Gorman W. Smith O-522729 (rescued) Sioux City, IA
Aircraft Commander  2nd Lt. William L. Stephens, O-806002 (rescued) Harrisburg, PA
Navigator  2nd Lt. Deane H. Lees, O-683262 (rescued) Scottsbluff, NB
Bombardier  2nd Lt Joseph T. Mendish, O-685806 (rescued) Brownville, PA
Gunner  S/Sgt Wilfred Sawbridge, 32474912 (rescued) Buffalo, NY
Engineer  S/Sgt Boyd H. Lewallen, 34356391 (KIA, BR) Alton, GA
Nose Gunner  Sgt Billie T. Templeton, 18078171 (KIA, BR) Lubbick, TX
Radio  S/Sgt Samuel Zelby, 36505735 (KIA, BR) Detroit, MI
Waist Gunner  Sgt Charles R. Owen, 12142754 (KIA, BR) Long Island, NY
Waist Gunner  Cpl William G. Benshoff 13087953 (KIA, BR) Pittsburgh, PA
Tail Gunner  Sgt J. T. Parks 14047662 (KIA, BR) Stevenson, AL

Crashed  January 19, 1944
MACR  15223
Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego between September 1-8, 1943. First test flight was on September 11. Flown to Tucson, AZ for modification, arriving on September 20. Next , flown to Herington, KS on October 1. Departed overseas from Fairfield, CA on October 8, and arrived at Garbutt Airfield on October 14.

Assigned to the 380th BG, 531st BS and was based at Long Strip. Assigned to crew chief M/Sgt William W. Baker.

This B-24's first combat mission was a reconnaissance of Selaru, Utoram piloted by Bates on December 17, 1943. Second mission was a bombing mission against Amaha piloted by McGee on December 21, 1943. Third mission was bombing mission against Balikpapan piloted by Manley on January 12, 1944.

Mission History
On January 19, 1944 took off from Long Airfield in Northern Territory, Australia on a bombing mission against Ambon. Over the target, the B-24 formation had to make three bomb runs before releasing their bombs. While circling after the first bombing run, this B-24 was intercepted and damaged by Japanese fighters, including Ki-45 Nick and A6M2-N Rufes over Ambon Harbor and the No. 4 engine was damaged.

Leaving the target, two B-24s piloted by McGee and Zageobaki escorted this bomber away from the area. Approximately "120 miles south of Ambon", the damaged B-24 cart wheeled and exploded when it crashed near Seroea Island in the Banda Sea. When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers not listed in Missing Air Crew Report 15223. Also lost was B-24J "Paper Doll" 42-73187.

Fates of the Crew
Five of the crew from the nose section were rescued the next day by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 11 Squadron PBY Catalina piloted by Flt. Lt. D.R. Lawrence. The other crew members were rescued from Keke Island.

Navigator Dean H. Lees recalls via 11 Squadron RAAF:
"When we were in the water, our cover/escort tried to give us some help, by inflating their 'Mae Wests' and throwing them out to us. It turned out to be a generous but futile gesture, we could see the jackets falling as they came out of the aircraft, but the combination of the prop wash, - us being all beat up, - and our bobbing up and down in the large swells with only our faces out of the water, we just couldn't find them."

Steve Birdsall adds:
"Entries in the book says five were killed, five rescued, but another entry shows six killed. The confusion may be over Benshoff, a waist gunner who was with Smith as an 'extra gunner'."

Memorials
The crew members killed in the crash were officially declared dead on January 19, 1944. After the recovery of remains, postwar the crew was transported to the United States for permenant burial.

On December 15, 1949 the remains of Benshoff, Lewallen, Owen, Parks, Templeton and Zelby were buried in a group burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at section 82, site 93B.

Lewallen has a memorial marker at Nails Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in Jewelville, GA.
Benshoff has a memorial marker in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, PA at section 24, lot 223.
Smith died on April 30, 1993 and is buried at Ludlow Cemetery in Ludlow, IL.
Lees died on October 12, 1999 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at plot: 5-EE, 15, 2.
Mendish died in 1998 and is buried at LaFayette Memorial Park in Brier Hill, PA.
Sawbridge died in 1982 and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Newfield, NY.

Relatives
Leigh Stephens (son of William Stephens):
"My Dad was rescued but later killed in 1957 flying a T33 at Craig AFB in Selma, ALA ."

References
Missing Air Crew Report 15223 (MACR 15223)
380th BG Association - B-24J "Doodlebug" 42-73117
380th BG Association - B-24J "Doodlebug" 42-73117 Mission Record
11 Squadron RAAF recollections by Dean H. Lees
FindAGrave - Boyd H Lewallen (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Boyd Harold Lewallen (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - William Gray Benshoff (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - William Gray Benshoff (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - Charles Robert "Bobby" Owen (photos, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - J T Parks (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Billie T Templeton (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Samuel Zelby (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Gorman W Smith (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Deane Harvey Lees (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Joseph T Mendish (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Wilfred R Sawbridge
King of the Heavies - 380th Bomb Group, 1942-1945 by Horton & Horton mentions this loss
Thanks to Steve Birdsall and Ted Darcy additional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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