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|Pilot 2nd Lt. William P. Simpson, USAAF O-552551 (MIA / KIA) Oklahoma City, OK
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Arthur D. Blum, O-819947 (MIA / KIA) NY
Navigator-Bombardier Captain Merritt E. Lawlis, O-432168 (POW, survived)
Engineer-Gunner SSgt Charles L. Suey, 16150762 (POW, died May 13, 1945) MI
Radio-Gunner SSgt Benjamin T. Muller, 18090388 (POW, survived) Louisville, KY
Ditched April 3, 1945 at 12:25pm
Built by North American Aviation (NAA) at Air Force Plant NC at Fairfax Field near Kansas City, KS. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25J-5-NC Mitchell serial number 43-27888. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 345th Bombardment Group (345th BG) "Air Apaches", 500th Bombardment Squadron (500th BS) "Rough Raiders" on November 15, 1944. Nicknamed "Pensive". When lost, engines R-2600-29 serial numbers (left) 43-35323 and right 43-29163. Weapon serial numbers not noted in Missing Aircrew Report 14225 (MACR 14225).
On April 3, 1945 one of twelve B-25s from the 499th Bombardment Squadron and 500th Bombardment Squadron that took off from San Marcelino Airfield on Luzon piloted by 2nd Lt. William P. Simpson on a bombing and strafing mission against Japanese shipping in the narrow strait off the northern coast of Hainan Island bordering the Luichow Peninsula on the coast of China. This B-25 was leading the 500th Bombardment Squadron formation. Weather was good with visibility of three miles.
Due to a navigation error, the formation reached the eastern side of the Luichow Peninsula on the coast of China and found no shipping and proceeded to the secondary target to attack the town, docks and facilities at Hoi How on the northeastern coast of Hainan Island. Attacking from over the town, the B-25s strafed towards the shoreline and had the bomb bay open when hit by anti-aircraft fire that caused a fire in the bomb bay fuel tank and the right engine began emitting black smoke. The landing gear extended a third of the way down due to the loss of hydraulic pressure.
Damaged, this B-25 ditched with the gear partially extended into the bay roughly a mile from shore off Hoi How at roughly Lat 2004 N Long 110 14' E. The crash was observed by 2nd Lt. William T. Goodban. On impact, the right propeller broke off and landed a few hundred yards away and pilot Simpson was killed on impact.
Fates of the Crew
The rest of the crew survived. Suey and Lawlis were thrown clear of the B-25. Muller exited from the escape hatch. Co-pilot Blum survived but when he jumped off the aircraft into the water he was swept away in a strong current and was never seen again and likely drown. Above, one of the B-25s dropped a life raft to the crew, contacted air sea rescue and circled the ditching location. Air sea rescue was unable to rescue them because they landed too close to shore.
The three surviving crew members, Suey, Lawlis and Muller used the life raft to paddle further out to sea. A Japanese patrol boat located their raft an hour and a half later and were captured and transported ashore and became Prisoners Of War (POW). The three were attacked by civilians before they were interrogated by Navy Captain Kiichi Yoshida, C. O. of the base at Hoi How, who threatened to have them executed if they did not tell him everything. Afterwards, they were transported to a jail and detained in individual cells with their clothing and shoes removed and hand cuffed for the next month.
The prisoners were fed gruel for breakfast and a ball of rice for lunch. and a bottle of water for dinner. After two weeks their uniforms were returned to them. Suey initially refused to eat the rice but became weak from malnutrition and then was unable to keep the food down when he tried to eat it. The crew was further interrogated and sometimes beaten. They were given no medical treatment until April 6 when they were walked to a dispensary then follow up visits. After a month, their shoes were returned. Once, they were paraded in the town wearing a sign saying they bombed Chinese and civilians were allowed to hit them. During late April, the prisoners were beaten regularly due to B-29 bombing of Japan. Lawlis was forced to wrestle a Japanese champion and was badly beaten and bruised during the forced match.
Afterwards, the three crew were transported aboard a truck to Samah POW Camp and held in individual cells with irregular meals and threats of execution. On May 13, 1945 Suey died of malnutrition and his body was cremated and buried at Bow Ball Ling Cemetery with a wooden stake above his grave that read "S/Sgt Charles Suey".
A week later, Lawlis and Muller were trucked to Samah Navy Headquarters and were detained in a compound with Lt. James McGuire and Lt. Eugene Harviell crew members from B-25J Mitchell 44-29350 ditched March 30, 1945 who were also taken prisoner. At this camp, the situation was relaxed and they were not handcuffed anymore but the four prisoners suffered declining health from malaria, dysentery and beriberi.
At the end of the Pacific War, the prisoners whose health was rapidly declining learned about the atomic bombing and surrender of Japan. By the middle of August 1945, they were transported to the hospital for medical treatment by Col. Miyao.
During late August, an OSS Team "Mission Pigeon" led by Major John Singlaub parachuted onto Hainan Island and rescued Allied prisoners and visited the Americans in the hospital. Afterwards, they were transported aboard a C-47 to Kunming. Muller was hospitalized in Kunming, and Lawlis and McGuire were flown aboard a B-29 to the United States for hospitalization. Postwar, Captain Yoshida responsible for their beatings was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to six years in prison.
Simpson, Blum and Suey were officially declared dead the day of the mission. Simpson and Blum are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery.
Suey is buried at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at plot A, grave 994.
Muller passed away on Jan. 2, 2010. He is buried at Houston National Cemetery at section T1, site 0911.
Lawlis passed away on March 9, 2014. He is buried at Fountain Park Cemetery in Winchester, IN.
Previously, Simpson survived the ditching of B-25J 43-36161.
Missing Aircrew Report 14225 (MACR 14225)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William P. Simpson
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Arthur D. Blum
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Merritt E. Lawlis
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Benjamin T. Muller
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Charlie L. Suey
FindAGrave - Capt William P Simpson (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Arthur D Blum (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Merritt Eugene "Gene" Lawlis (grave photo)
FindAGrave -Sgt Charles L Suey (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Benjamin Teofilo Muller (photo)
Warpath Across The Pacific (1996) pages 296 (map) 297-300, 316-317, 359, 377, 395
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POW / MIA
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