|Pilot Captain Lon F. Brown, O-416999 (MIA / KIA) Butte County, SD
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Joseph T. Sproules, O-676665 (MIA / KIA) Santa Clara County, CA
Navigator 1st Lt Frederic E. Harburg, O-418293 (MIA / KIA) Jefferson County, CO
Gunner Sgt Michael R. Maggio, 12034423 (MIA / KIA) Cape May County, NJ
Radio S/Sgt Ralph E. Samuelson, 36395103 (MIA / KIA) Cook County, IL
Photographer-Gunner S/Sgt Sterling E. Wilkinson, 39680466 (MIA / KIA) Preston, ID
MIA February 6, 1944 at 2:20pm approximately
Built by North American. At the factory, painted with olive drab upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25D-25 Mitchell serial number 42-87286. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, 17th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Nicknamed "Sticky Kitty" painted in yellow on the left side of the nose. Number 286 (last three digits of the serial number). Both tails had a white tab on the bottom and a thin white vertical stripe. On the left side of the nose below the cockpit canopy was a scoreboard yellow bomb markings indicating missions flown, some with a star above them (three rows of bombs: first row 20, second row 20 and third row 4 bombs).
This B-25 flew at least 44 combat missions before being lost. When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers are not listed in Missing Air Crew Report 16161.
On February 6, 1944 took off from Finschafen Airfield piloted by Captain Lon F. Brown as one of three B-25s from "C" flight (including B-25 #295 and B-25 #280) on an armed reconnaissance mission over Bunabun Harbor on the north coast of New Guinea.
Over the target, this B-25 was flying in the center of the formation and dropped from 1,500' down to 100' and attacked at low level five partly camouflaged Japanese barges loaded with supplies. Suddenly, heavy anti-aircraft fire erupted from the area, apparently from 75mm and 40mm guns firing 10-15 second bursts that were intense and accurate at the bomber formation.
This B-25's left engine was hit, followed by the right engine causing it to disintegrated and crash into Bunabun Harbor. The nose section was also seen falling into the sea burning.
The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Brown earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, SD.
Sproules earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Harburg earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery at section MK, site 204.
Maggio earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Samuelson earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.
Wilkinson earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
On May 27, 1946 a RAAF Searcher Party led by S/L Keith Rundle visited Uligan Harbor and interviewed native people about aircraft losses in the area. They led the party to the wreckage of a twin engined aircraft in shallow water. An engine cowling with "B-25 42-87286 L" was located at the site plus many part numbers. The team believed that if any remains were located in the aircraft they were now gone due to exposure to high seas. The local people heard a rumor that the Japanese Army captured and executed the crew. This information was relayed to American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) at Finschafen.
Other sources incorrectly list this aircraft as B-25D 42-87280
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-25D-25 Mitchell 42-87286
Missing Air Crew Report 16161 (MACR 16161) was created retroactively circa 1945-1946 and
lists this aircraft as "B-25D 286" (last three digits of serial number only)
Another source lists the crew was captured and executed by the Japanese Army
Royal Australian Air Force Survey of Wreckage in Papua and New Guinea, B-25D 42-87286 number 313, page 9
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Lon F. Brown date of death listed incorrectly April 6, 1944
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Joseph T. Sproules
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Frederic E. Harburg
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Michael R. Maggio
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Ralph E. Samuelson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Sterling E. Wilkinson
FindAGrave - Capt Lon F Brown (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Lon Fisher Brown (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Joseph T Sproules (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Capt Frederic E Harburg (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Frederic E Harburg (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Michael R Maggio (tablets of the missing photo)
SSgt Ralph E Samuelson (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Sterling E Wilkinson (obituary, tablets of the missing photo)
Combat Recon by Robert Stava page 86
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October 9, 2020