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  B-25J-30/32-NC Mitchell Serial Number 44-30993  
5th AF
345th BG
501st BS
Wilkinson c1945
Pilot  1st Lt. Earl J. Wilkinson (survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Taylor R. Runolfson (survived)
Navigator  1st Lt. Joseph F. Masterson (survived) Troy, NY
Engineer-Gunner  Sgt Gregory L. McCoy (survived)
Radio-Gunner  TSgt Peter F. Prunty, 32821119 (WIA, survived) Bronx, NY
Ditched  August 10, 1945
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by North American Aviation (NAA) at Air Force Plant NC at Fairfax Field near Kansas City, KS. Constructors Number 108-34268. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-25J-30/32-NC Mitchell serial number 44-30993.

Wartime History
During July 1945, assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 345th Bombardment Group (345th BG) "Air Apaches", 501st Bombardment Squadron (501st BS) "Black Panthers". No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On August 10, 1945 took off from Ie Shima Airfield on Ie Shima piloted by 1st Lt. Earl J. Wilkinson leading a flight on a mission to search for Japanese shipping in the Sea of Japan off southern Honshu in Japan and Korea.

Over Tsushima Strait, Wilkinson's flight spotted a small fishing boat and a boat building village near the mouth of a stream. During their strafing run, a camouflaged destroyer in a nearby cove that opened fired on the bombers. Shrapnel hit this bomber's right wing and top turret but managed to drop their bombs and made a strafing run and claimed one bomb hit on the bow. Afterwards, hit by another burst of fire that damaged the right engine, fuel tank and damaged the elevator and right tail rudder. Lost during the same attack run was B-25J Mitchell 44-31065 (crew KIA).

Damaged, Wilkinson feathered the right engine and manage to clear the area. Although damaged and flying on one engine, this B-25 attempted to return to base but was loosing fuel and the crew jettisoned as much equipment as possible. Spotting the crippled aircraft, B-25 piloted by 1st Lt. Donald D. Wright from the 499th Bombardment Squadron escorted it roughly 180 miles back towards Ie Shima before running out of fuel.

Before ditching Runolfson released the life raft hatch but jammed. On impact, the B-25 landed tail first then nosed over and tore out the floor of the radio compartment causing water to rush into the cockpit. Radio operator Prunty was sucked out of the plane with an injured leg. Both Runolfson and Masterson had life vests that only partially inflated. The B-25 floated for several minutes before sinking.

After ditching, the escorting B-25 piloted by 1st Lt. Donald D. Wright dropped a life raft that landed with a rip and was useless then circled while radioing a rescue seaplane but lost the men in the haze. Low on fuel they departed but had accurately plotted their position.

After six hours floating in the sea, they were spotted by B-17 Flying Fortress call sign "Juke Box" from the 5th Rescue Group based on Okinawa flying box searches. As the plane drew nearer, they released their dye marker. After spotting the crew, it climbed to 1,500' and released their Higgins A-1 lifeboat that landed only 75-100 yards away. The men swam to the boat and inside found a note with their position listed and a heading to sail towards.

On August 11, 1945 during the morning the crew attempted to use the "Gibson Girl" radio aboard but had no wind and used a hydrogen inflated balloon to raise the antenna. At 9:30am, they spotted a submarine a mile away and started the engine to motor closer.

The submarine was USS Plaice (SS-390) which was unaware of the downed crew but had spotted the boat with their periscope and had closed to investigate. Watching the vessel through their binoculars, the crew incorrectly believed they might be an enemy vessel as no one aboard was signaling them. As the boat began motoring towards them, the submarine fired three warning shots from the 40mm Bofors deck gun. The crew frantically fired flares while Masterson waved a yellow tarp.

Spotting the "Goodyear" logo on the yellow tarp, the submarine crew realized they were friendly and rescued the downed crew. Immediately, Prunty was given morphine and went to the sick bay. Before departing, the submarine crew sank the Higgins boat with gunfire.

Afterwards, USS Plaice (SS-390) radioed for them to be picked up. On August 12, 1945 in the morning, a g PBM Mariner landed next to the submarine to fly the crew back to its seaplane tender off Okinawa. Finally, a PT-Boat transported them to Ie Shima completing their rescue.

Wilkinson passed away on April 20, 2006. He is buried at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery at section C15, site 546.

Masterson passed away on January 29, 1978. He is buried at Saint Mary's Cemetery in Troy, NY in section M.

Catholicon Yearbook 1941 page 71 Joseph F. Masterson (photo)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Earl J. Wilkinson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Joseph F. Masterson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Peter F. Prunty
USAF Serial Number Search Results - 44-30993
Warpath Across The Pacific page 347-348, 350, 401, 443 (index)
FindAGrave - Earl J. Wilkinson (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Joseph Francis Masterson (grave photo)
Thanks to Michael McAlonie for additional information

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Last Updated
August 11, 2020


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