|Acting Command Pilot Captain Lionel D. Colley, O-431122 (MIA / KIA) Waco, TX
Pilot 1st Lt Merritt S. Miller, O-742195 (MIA / KIA) San Francisco, CA
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Alexander Ruchko, O-747898 (MIA / KIA) PA
Gunner S/Sgt Gregory W. Frankland, 35267062 (MIA / KIA) Cincinnati, OH
Bombardier 2nd Lt Vincent L. Ginkus, O-741256 (MIA / KIA) IL
Armor-Gunner S/Sgt Steve S. Salla, 37314925 (MIA / KIA) MN
T/Sgt Henry F. Wolasky, 11052368 (MIA / KIA) MA
Ditched March 26, 1944
Built by North American. Delivered to the U.S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to the Pacific.
Assigned to the 7th Air Force, 41st Bombardment Group, 48th Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. When lost, engines R-2600-13 serial numbers left 43-25512 right 43-25565. Armed with a 75mm cannon, weapon serial numbers not noted in MACR.
On March 26, 1944 took off from Eniwetok Airfield on a low level strike against Ponape. The flight was led by B-25D 42-64632 piloted by Captain Bissonnette with this bomber flying his left wing with B-25G 42-64891 and B-25D 42-87275.
Over the target, an enemy Zeke dove down from five o'clock high, and fired at this bomber from nose to tail, then departed into a cloud. The attack left both engines smoking and the left aileron fluttering. Bissonnette's bomber flew along side to provide cover, but began loosing altitude and made a water landing roughly 15 miles north of
Ponape. On impact, the tail broke off and sank after 20 seconds. Possibly, all of the crew exited the bomber and deployed a life raft.
The other three B-25s circled the crash site twice and radioed their position to "Dumbo" (US Navy PBY Catalina) for rescue. Bissonnette observed three men in a life raft and three or four men in the water nearby, all wearing their mae west life vests.
When contacted, the "Dumbo" PBY Catalina was at another location, supporting a SBD Dauntless strike on Ujelant (Ujelant?) at the same time. After confusion and delay, the Catalina reached the site of the ditching to search for the crew, but was chased away by three Zeros. Later, another PBY Catalina, with fighter escort returned to search for the crew, but found nothing.
The next day, three B-25s from the 48th Bombardment Group flew a search mission within two miles of the north and west of Ponape then south to Ant Island and north about 18 miles and 50 miles east of Pakin. The search had nil results.
Fates of the Crew
The fates of the crew is unknown. Possibly, they were captured by the Japanese but none are listed as prisoners of war. Or, they the crew died at sea or suffered some other fate.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on January 19, 1946. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Diane Miller Lassitter (daughter of Merritt Miller)
"No known facts ever surfaced regarding
Carla Peevey (niece of Lionel Colley)
"Everyone who knew him personally called him “Babe” Colley. He was from Waco and was a student at Baylor before the war. He joined the Army in April 1941 as an air cadet and was trained in California. It is unknown why he was on the mission on the 26th. It was not his regular crew since he was not scheduled to go that day. He had been on a mission on the 25th. From a listing of activities of that bomber group, it seems the mission on the 25th was also to bomb Ponape. From the Army records about this incident, the first Navy plane that attempted a rescue was chased off by three Zeros not long after the plane was ditched. A 2nd Navy plane was dispatched with fighters and by the time they got to the area, nothing was there. I don’t believe they floated away on a life raft, I believe the Japanese knew they were there and knew the Navy was trying to rescue them, so they went and got them."
Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 3950 is partially illegible
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lionel D. Colley
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Merritt S. Miller
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Alexander Ruchko
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gregory W. Frankland
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Vincent L. Ginkus
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Steve S. Salla
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Henry F. Wolasky
Thanks to John Hennessy, Diane Miller Lassitter and Carla Peevey for additional information
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February 18, 2020