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Justin Taylan 2000
|Pilot 2nd Lt. George W. Vandervort, O-662204 (MIA / KIA November 10, 1942 / BNR) Portsmouth, OH
Engineer Sgt Steven J. Pitch, 33118721 (died November 10, 1942, BR) PA
Radio Sgt George R. Kershner, 35267797 (survived) Dayton, OH
Passenger Captain Theodore "Ted" W. Barron, O-31196 U.S. Army Chaplain (died December 29, 1942, BR) OR
Passenger Sgt James M. Verstay, 20633547 (died November 10, 1942, BR) MI
Passenger Pvt Vernon R. Moak, 39304877 (died November 10, 1942, BR) OR
Passenger Pvt Charles W. Raddatz, 37139035 (died November 10, 1942, BR) NB
Passenger Pvt Charles I. Stokes, 37139199 (died November 10, 1942, BR) NB
Passenger Pvt Margarito Padilla, 38070304 (died November 10, 1942, BR) NM
Passenger Pvt Carlos D. Failing, 126th Inf Reg, E Company (MIA / KIA November 17, 1942, BNR) MI
Passenger Pfc Gerald M. Grove, 37111466 (MIA / KIA November 17, 1942, drowned, BNR) Iowa
Passenger Pfc Frank A. Thomas, Jr., 37139278 (survived) Tilden, NE
Passenger Pvt Duane R. Butler, 36154720 (survived) MI
Passenger Sgt Edward K. Holleman, 36155513 (survived) Hudsonville, MI
Passenger Pvt Floyd L. August, 37139105 (survived) Dorchester, NE
Passenger Pvt John W. Mobley, 39085305 (survived) Oakland, CA
Passenger Tec5 Lawrence E. Peterson, 36308327 (died December 29, 1942, BR) IL
Passenger Pvt John J. Bellus, 27139313 (died December 29, 1942, BR)
Passenger Pfc Malvern E. Patton, 39382982 (died December 29, 1942, BR) Dayton, WA
Passenger Pvt Theodore Romero, 39083083 (died December 29, 1942, BR) CO
Passenger Pfc William L. Smith, 38083372 (died December 29, 1942, BR) CO
Passenger Pvt Martin J. Brandon, 20636075 (died December 29, 1942, BR) MI
Passenger Pvt Antonio T. Montes, 38070252 (died December 29, 1942, BR) AZ
Crashed November 10, 1942 at 1:30pm
Built by Douglas. Constructors Number 4689. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as C-47-DL Skytrain serial number 41-18564. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 374th Troop Carrier Group (374th TCG), 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron (33rd TCS). Nicknamed "Flying Dutchman" in capital letters in yellow with a black outline and the nose art of a Dutch clog shoe with wings. Assigned Australian call sign VH-CCU. Buzz Number / Nose number 564. The regular flight crew included pilot 2nd Lt. George W. Vandervort and co-pilot SSgt John J. Gerrity. When lost, this C-47 was the 33rd Troop Carrier Squadron's first wartime loss.
On November 10, 1942 took off from 5-Mile Drome (Ward) near Port Moresby piloted by 2nd Lt. George W. Vandervort on a flight to deliver cargo and troops to Pongani Airfield near the north coast of New Guinea. Aboard a total of twenty-three including the three air crew, a Chaplin and soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Division, 126th Infantry Regiment. Inbound while crossing the Owen Stanley Range, this C-47 was caught in a severe downdraft and crashed at an elevation of 9,000' into a flat area near Mount Obree (Mt. Obree).
Passenger S/Sgt Edward Holleman who would later walk to safety recounted the crash:
"We had been flying for almost half an hour when suddenly the plane was caught in a downdraft and fell. Someone who was looking out of a window said “boy, that was close”! We clipped the tops of some trees. The next moment we crashed. I remember spinning out of my seat, a fire was burning fiercely and ammunition was exploding all over the place. Seventeen of us got clear through the door, walked and slid down a steep slope to a more level spot. It was raining and all immediately began to shiver from the cold. Several hours later when the flames died down, we were able to return to the plane. It was lying on the Mountainside but was being held fairly level by the stumps of the trees cut down as it crashed. The front was destroyed back to the wings and only a third of the rear was still intact. The next morning we found all the supplies had perished in the fire but in the back compartment were three rifles, six K rations, 1 and a 1/2 gallons of tomato juice, a first-aid kit, two balloons, a box kite and some flares. At night if a plane was heard, I would climb up on top of the fuselage and strike a flare. It seemed to light up the sky so much that we felt they couldn't help but see it, but so far as I know no-one ever did. During the day we kept the entire fuselage, which was a camouflage colour, covered with maps found in the aircraft. It was hoped in this way we would be spotted easier. The first attempt to launch a balloon above the tree tops was unsuccessful. However a second one was a little luckier. It started rising in the sky drawing with it the aerial which could be used as an anchor. It had just cleared the tree tops when a plane exactly like ours appeared out of the mists as if by magic, flew directly over us only to be swallowed up a moment later in the low clouds. Our last hope of attracting attention had disappeared when the balloon sank back into the jungle. While searching around the wreckage one day we ventured further in front of it than usual when suddenly we came upon the body of the engineer Sgt Steven J. Pitch, who had been catapulted there in the accident. Beside him was the instrument panel with an unbroken compass."
Fate of the Crew
Of the twenty-three aboard, seventeen survived the crash. Many had serious injuries and burn, and died afterwards waiting for help. Others were not injured at all.
On November 12, 1942 the four most healthy survivors departed to search for help including Pvt. Carlos Failing, Pvt. Gerald Grove, Pvt. Duane Butler and Pfc Frank A. Thomas. On November 17, 1942 they reached a narrow, rocky gorge and rapids of the Moni River and each man used a log in an attempted to ride the fast-flowing rapids. Failing and Grove were swept away and never seen again and presumably drowned where a waterfall dropped approximately eight feet. Afterwards, Thomas and Butler searched for along the riverbank for two days without success. Afterwards, Thomas and Butler found native people who took them from village to village before arriving at Safia where they were able to eat stored rations at Safia Airfield and were led to the south coast of New Guinea. On December 12, 1942 they finally reached at Abau Island, thirty-two days after the crash. The pair were debriefed by Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) Warrant-Officer David Marsh then flown from Abau Airfield to Port Moresby and both were hospitalized.
Meanwhile at the crash site, on November 16, 1942 a second group of four departed to search for help including Pvt. Floyd August, Pvt. John Mobley, Sgt George B. Kershner and Pvt. Ed Hollerman. This group carried the C-47's compass and attempted to trek to the southwest in hopes of finding help. For the first ten days of their trek they were in thick triple canopy forest and barely could see sunlight. They located a trail and met native people who led them to Kokobagu Plantation near Rigo. On the way, Holleman wrote a note that he gave to a native runner to take to the Australian authorities. After receiving the note, Australians Warrant Officer Ed Hicks and Medical Orderly Ron Davies started trekking into the mountains to meet them. All four were fed and treated for their injuries and later transported to Port Moresby.
After the two survivors of the first group were found, ANGAU officers Warrant-Officer David Marsh and Lt. Ethell with U.S. Army Private Scheer were flown from Port Moresby to Safia Airfield and began trekking to the crash site with native carriers in hopes of rescuing any survivors. Climbing Mt. Obree, they located a pair of U.S. Army leggings but failed to locate the crash site. Suffering from cold, wet and altitude fatigue, they aborted their search and returned to the coast. Realizing the site would be difficult to locate, ANGAU offered a reward to any native who could find the site and guide the authorities to it.
Native people motivated by the ANGAU reward were the first to locate the crash site and found Captain Barron still alive but weak, blind from malnutrition and so light that he “felt like a baby" according to the natives who found him. A bare semi-circle he was found near the cargo door revealed how he had eaten moss for sustenance and moisture. They cooked bananas and attempted to feed him but he died in their arms. They left his body at the crash site but recovered his bible which he had made diary entries as proof they had found the site.
During early 1943, the crash site was spotted from the air on a ridge near the headwaters of the Awara River. A second ANGAU team led by Warrant Officer White trekked to the location.
Recovery of Remains
During early 1943, the second ANGAU team led by Warrant Officer White recovered the remains of those that died at the crash site and their personal effects. Postwar, the recovered remains were transported to the United States for permanent burial.
This C-47 crashed largely intact on a ridge near the headwaters of the Awara River at an elevation of 9,000' into a flat area near Mount Obree in the Owen Stanley Range.
After the departure of two groups of survivors, the first group (Failing, Grove, Butler and Thomas) departed November 12, 1942 and the second group (August, Mobley, Kershner and Hollerman) departed November 16, 1942. The remaining survivors waited at the site for help.
During late December 1942, native people were the first to reach the crash site and found Barron barely alive but died in their arms. In early 1943, a second ANGAU team reached the crash site and recovered the remains of everyone aboard. At the crash site, they also found a diary on the toilet door written in pencil, starting the day of the crash on November 10, 1942. Notes were made about the weather, food eaten, their optimism, the deaths of crew members and memories of home were recorded.
On March 8, 1961 during an aerial search for Piaggio P.166 VH-PAU missing in the same area this crash site was rediscovered. At the time, it was unclear from records held by the Papua New Guinea administration if this aircraft had been found earlier, so cadet Patrol Officer (Kiap) John Arthur Irvine Absalom organized an expedition to the site. After a difficult three day trek that required a path to be cut into the jungle, the site was visited. During his visit, the diary on the toilet door was recovered with them to Port Moresby.
The door diary was displayed at the PNG Museum during the late 1970s until the 1980s, along with a piece of the nose art with the a portion of the nickname "Flying Dutchman" and the nose art of the Dutch clog shoe with wings. Later, the door was placed on permanent loan to the USAF Museum. In exchange, a replica of the door was provided to the PNG Museum as a replacement and put on display from the 1980s until the museum relocated in 2015 and placed into storage.
Three of the crew and passengers remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. Vandervort was officially declared dead on November 10, 1942. Failing and Grove who were lost trying to cross the Moni River were officially declared dead on November 17, 1942.
Failing also has a memorial marker at Highland View Cemetery in Big Rapids, MI.
Five of the crew are buried at Honolulu Cemetery (Punchbowl). Pitch is buried at plot P, grave 967. Peterson at plot P, grave 929. Bellus at plot P, grave 937. Barron at section F site 1017. Romero at plot Q, grave 506. Smith at plot P, grave 550. Brandon at plot B, grave 1008.
Verstay and Stokes are buried in a group burial at Rock Island National Cemetery at plot E-10.
Moak is buried at Oakland Memorial Cemetery in Clarksville, AR.
Raddatz is buried at Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, NB.
Padilla is buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, NM.
SSgt John J. Gerrity, the regular co-pilot of C-47 "Flying Dutchman" did not fly the November 10, 1942 mission. Afterwards, General Kenney offered him a field commission to 2nd Lieutenant. After training as a fighter pilot he was assigned to the 35th Fighter Group, 40th Fighter Squadron. Later, he went Missing In Action (MIA) piloting P-47D Thunderbolt on March 11, 1944.
Thomas passed away on September 15, 1998. He is buried at Mount View Cemetery in Camden, ME.
August passed away in November 1972. He is buried at Dorchester Cemetery.
Butler passed away on September 11, 1992. He is buried at Albion Memory Gardens in Albion, MI.
Mobley passed away on February 22, 1992. He is buried at Florence National Cemetery at plot 2, grave 331.
Kershner lived in Australia after the war. He passed away January 5, 2002. His burial is unknown, presumed to be in Australia.
Jackie (Thomas) Blom
"PFC Frank A. Thomas, Jr. was my grandfather. He was also the last of the survivors of this crash to die, in 1998.".
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - George R. Kershner
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John W. Mobley
USAF Serial Number Search Results - C-47-DL Dakota 41-18564
"18564 (MSN 4689) to USAAF Sep 13, 1942 - 5th AF, Australia Oct 26, 1942. Operated as VH-CCU "The Flying Dutchman". Crashed into side of Mt. Obree, New Guinea Nov 10, 1942 while carrying troops from Port Moresby to Pongani, New Guinea. 7 of 23 on board were killed. Some survivors walked out to try and get help. Of 8 sent out, 6 survived. The plane and the remaining survivors were never recovered. The wreck was found in 1967."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George W. Vandervort
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gerald M. Grove
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Carlos Failing
FindAGrave - 2Lt George W Vandervort, Jr (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Steven J Pitch (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - George Kershner
FindAGrave - Capt Theodore William Barron (grave photo)
FindAGrave - James N. Verstay (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Vernon R. Moak (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Pvt Charles W. Raddatz (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Charles I. Stokes (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Pvt Margarito Padilla (grave photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Carlos Failing (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Carlos D. Failing (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Gerald M Grove (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Frank A Thomas (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Duane R Butler (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Edward Holleman (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Floyd [La]Verne August (grave photo)
FindAGrave - John Woodard Mobley (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Tec5 Lawrence E Peterson (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Pvt John J Bellus (obituary, grave photo)
FIndAGrave - Pvt Malvern E Patton (grave photo)
FIndAGrave - PFC Theodore Romero (grave photo)
FindAGrave - PFC William L Smith (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Pvt Martin J Brandon (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Antonio T Montes (grave photo)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - C-47 Dakota 41-18564
Escape From The Flying Dutchman (1981) by Robert Piper
Forty of the Fifth (1999) profile 12 "Agony of the Flying Dutchman"
The Sunshine Valley Gazette "The story of Flying Dutchman / PNG Trek to rediscover WW2 crash site" February 26, 2020
Thanks to Jackie (Thomas) Blom, Bruce Hoy, Bob Piper and April Thompson for additional information
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