Escoe Elroy Palmer was born on June 10, 1915 in Gainsville, Hall County, Georgia. On May 15, 1942 he enlisted in the U.S. Army with the rank of private with serial number 34269270 at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia.
Assigned to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, 31st Bombardment Squadron as an engineer aboard B-24 Liberators.
On September 2, 1943 engineer aboard B-24 #252 piloted by Lt. Bill Fallin on a bombing mission against Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville but some of the bombs did not release Returning, when the bomb bay closed, one of the hung up live bombs fell out of the rack and landed on the closed doors. Lt A. J. Pjura, Sgt W. W. Downs and Sgt Escoe Palmer stood on the catwalk lifted the live bomb, opened the doors and threw the live bomb out safely and manually released the remaining hung up bombs.
On March 5, 1944 took off as engineer aboard B-24J Liberator
42-73469 piloted by Captain Lewis W. Haire on a bombing mission against Tobera Airfield near Rabaul. After the bomb run on a southeasterly course, this B-24 was executing a wide right turn when it suffered two direct hits from anti-aircraft fire, possibly 40mm fire. The first impacted the nose and the second hit the main fuel tank and caused a fire. Several seconds later, the B-24 exploded mid-air over the Saint Georges Channel roughly five miles off the southeastern coast of East New Britain.
When this bomber failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Missing Air Crew Report 15147 (MACR 15147) page 2
"Letter (filed in AG 704 file) from Escoe E. Palmer (a returned crew member) reads in part as follows: On March 5th 1944 I was on board the air plane piloted by Capt. Haire on a raid to Tolara [sic Tobera Airfield], near Rabaul on New Britain Island, we had dropped our bombs and were in a long right turn, when we were hit by light anti-aircraft fire, I think it was 40mm shells that hit us and so far as I know no one on board was killed or injured badly by the shells. At the time the plane exploded it was on a southeast course and was about five miles off shore from New Britain. At the time the plane exploded it was on a southeast course and was about five miles off shore from New Britain."
Before the explosion, Palmer was the only member of the crew that managed to bail out and landed on East New Britain. Alone, he managed to evaded capture and attempted to walk towards the Cape Gloucester area in hopes of reaching Allied lines.
Prisoner Of War
On March 13, 1944 after eight days behind enemy lines, Palmer was captured by a Japanese Army patrol and became a Prisoner of War (POW) and taken to Rabaul where he was imprisoned by 6th Kempei Tai (military police) at Tunnel Hill POW Camp.
He survived captivity until the end of the Pacific War and was one of the seven Allied prisoners that survived at Rabaul until the official surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. In early September 1945 transported aboard HMAS Vendetta (D69) to Jacquinot Bay. On September 8, 1945 the surviving POWs were treated at the Australian Army 2/8th General Hospital at Jacquinot Bay and was photographed speaking to Red Cross Superintendant K. Lawrie. For his World War II service, he earned an award, possibly the Soldier's Medal or the Air Medal.
After returning to the United States, he moved back to his hometown of Gainsville, GA. Back at home, he became a civil engineering upon his return, married and had one child but the couple soon divorced and he became sickly and suffered from alcoholism.
Palmer passed away on December 6, 1977. He is buried at Crest Lawn Cemetery in Atlanta, GA in the Garden of Roses.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Escoe E. Palmer
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File does not list Escoe E. Palmer as a POW, but this list is not complete
Missing Air Crew Report 15147 (MACR 15147) was created retroactively circa 1945-1946 and incorrectly states three crew were rescued by US Navy Catalina [sic RNZAF Catalina]
NARA USS Coos Bay AVP-25 War Diary March 5, 1944, page 1
(Page 1) "5 March 1944. PBY 5, Patrol Plane Commander Ft/Sgt J. B. Monk, R.N.Z.A.F. effected rescue... members of crew of B-24J, No. 2-37469 [sic] attached to 31st Bomber Squadron, 5th Bomber group based at Munda. The rescue was in the vicinity of 4° 25' South Latitude, 152° 25' East Longitude where the B-24 exploded and crashed in the water after being hit b A/A fire over Tobera."
FindAGrave - Escoe E. Palmer (grave photo)
Jose Holguin Memoir by Jose Holguin
"Sgt. Escoe Palmer was a B-24 gunner shot down in late December 1943. He was a member of the 5th Bomb Group stationed in Guadalcanal. He was a very unassuming and shy individual. He never learned to speak either Pidgin English or Japanese. His quiet personality kept him out of trouble with the Japanese as well as with his fellow prisoners. Palmer passed away in 1979 [sic 1977] in his hometown of Gainesville, Georgia. I came upon this sad news in 1982 when five of the seven survivors decided to have a reunion and began a search for him. We located his family utilizing Kepchia’ connections in the United States Postal service. During the reunion Kepchia, Nason and I visited the family and had a long, friendly talk... Sgt Palmer had passed away in 1979 and, therefore, could not attend, but in 34 years that had elapsed since our liberation, Palmer and McMurria never sought each other out though they lived only 100 miles apart."
Horio You Next Die! (1987) by Joseph G. Nason pages 144, 184, 186
(Page 144) "One week later, the lone survivor of a B-24 downed over Rabaul came in Escoe Elroy Palmer was a good-natured, laconic Georgian who'd grown up on a red-clay farm."
(Page 184) "The movies continued to be a tradition enjoyed by everyone, even when the storyteller exhibited little imagination. Soon, everyone's repertoire was exhausted . . . except that of Escoe Palmer. Having seen just about every Western produced between 1925 and 1940, his supply was inexhaustible. Many an evening the prisoner's dozed off to his Georgia nasal drawl . . . about rustlers, Indians, sidewinders, rancher's daughters and two-gun heroes"
(Page 186) "Having heard one too many Westerns, the grumbler among them cut Pamer short as he began another movie. 'Don't you know nothing,' Kepchia asked, 'besides cowboy movies?' The hurt look on Escoe Palmer's face lasted three seconds. 'Sure do,' he brightly replied. 'You wanna hear me sing some cowboy songs?' "
(Page 247) "[Postwar] Escoe Palmer entered the profession of civil engineering upon his return, married, and had one child. When the other ex-horios had a reunion in Greenville, South Carolina, we were contacted by his family; so Holguin, Kepchia, and I drove 150 miles into northern Georgia and visited them -- sisters, aunts, cousins, etc of Palmer. We learned he had kind of a sad life. The marriage ended in divorce. Escoe became sickly, alcoholic and died in 1978 [sic 1977] without ever having any contact with his ex-prisonmates."
Hostages To Freedom (1995) by Peter Stone page 326 (Surviving Prisoners Of War - Seven Americans)
Hidden Horrors (1995) by Yukiko Tanaka pages 151-157 July 1945 medical experiments against Allied POWs at Rabaul including Palmer
Courage Before Every Danger Honor Honor Before All Men (2010) by
Joanne Pfannenstiel Emerick pages 192, 200 (photo of Fallin crew including Palmer with B-24D Scootin' Thunder 42-40100), 205 (photo Bauwens), 206-207, 390 (footnote 5, 10, 132), 410 (Palmer, Escoe E)
Thanks to Richard O'Brien, 5th Bombardment Group Association and Joanne Emerick, 31st Bombardment Squadron Association and Edward Rogers for additional research and analysis and additional information
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