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  C-47A-50-DL "The Fireball Mail" Serial Number 42-24215 Nose X56
5th AF
317th TCG
41st TCS

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Richard Leahy April 1979

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David Pennefather

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Richard Leahy 1980
Pilot  2nd Lt. Stanley D. Campbell, O-775783 (MIA / KIA, BR) Pioche, NV
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Robert H. Cameron, O-833022 (MIA / KIA, BR) Elkhart, IN
Radio  Cpl George E. Cunningham, 32412902 (MIA / KIA, BR) Brooklyn, NY
Engineer  Cpl Carl A. Drain, 32735839 (MIA / KIA, BR) Hemlock, NY
Passenger  Captain Vladimir M. Sasko, O-393120 U.S. Army Medical Corps (MIA / KIA, BR) Chicago, IL
Crashed  December 10, 1944 at 12:22pm
MACR  14302

Aircraft History
Built by Douglas Aircraft Company. Constructors Number 10077. On August 19, 1943 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as C-47A-50-DL Skytrain serial number 42-24215. Ferried overseas to via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
On February 12, 1944 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 317th Troop Carrier Group (317th TCG), 41st Troop Carrier Squadron (41st TCS). Nicknamed "The Fireball Mail". Nose Number X56 (Field Number/Buzz Number X56). When lost, engines R-1830-32 serial numbers 42-72708 and 42-72965.

Mission History
On December 10, 1944 around 11:42am took off from Dobodura Airfield piloted by 2nd Lt. Stanley D. Campbell on a cargo flight bound for Hollandia. Aboard was passenger Captain Vladimir "Vlad" M. Sasko, M. D. The weather was scattered visibility with about .9 cloud coverage with tops at 10,00', rain showers and negative visibility.

At 12:22pm roughly 40 minutes after take off this aircraft made a radio call to request weather information. Another C-47 piloted by 1st Lt. Richard G. Korthals who was flying in the vicinity of Saidor reported the weather in the area was bad. This was the last radio call from this aircraft. When this aircraft failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). This aircraft was deemed to have been lost due to bad weather.

1st Lt. Richard G. Korthals, C-47 pilot 41st Troop Carrier Squadron (41st TCS) recalls:
"Stanley Campbell was flying on my wing on 10 December 1944. We had flown from Cyclops Strip at Hollandia to Milne Bay [sic Dobodura], a 5 1/2 hour flight, to pick up burlap bags of coffee beans. On our return we flew up the coast line to Lae and then turned up the Markham Valley. We encountered a wall of clouds past Nadzab and radioed back and forth in discussing our course of action. I told Stanley that the showers beneath the clouds would probably be spotty and that I was going to get on the deck and make my way over the jungle to Hollandia (which I did - and I can still see the rain showers and the tree tops.) He radioed that he was going north, climbing to get over the mountain range and would then follow the coastline from Wewak area to Hollandia. We parted at that point. He never arrived at Cyclops, our home strip. Several days later I spent hours flying over the area where we parted company looking for either wreckage or strips where he might have made an emergency landing. Nothing was ever found. I have never forgotten that day. The story of the recovery of the wreckage and the bodies has put a period to an unfinished sentence that has been part of me for almost 61 years."

Afterwards, a search was led by 1st Lt. Max W. Custer from APO 565 (Hollandia) that performing a pattern search by four C-47s along the probable route of the missing plane and alternate courses. No trace of this aircraft or the crew was observed. Afterwards, no further searches were made.

In fact, this C-47 crashed at at roughly 11,000' in the Sarawaget Range of New Guinea. Likely, this aircraft was in bad weather or clouds and one wing hit the ridge causing it to go into a spin and crash killing everyone aboard. On impact, everyone was in the cockpit area and was killed in the crash. One person was in the rear and was thrown outward and landed 164' / 50m from the impact site.

During 1975, while flying at 10,000' Richard Leahy piloting Cessna 185 P2-MJL spotted the wreckage in the Sarawaget Range approximately twenty miles north of Nadzab.

Richard Leahy recalls:
"I first went to this site soon after locating it. I funded two helicopter trips to the site and was accompanied by Noel Spalding. It was on this trip that I collected pertinent data on the aircraft for U.S. Army CILHI. We also identified the aircraft as being a C-47A."

Recovery of Remains
After discovery, this crash site was visited by CILHI / JPAC at least four times.

1) During April 1979, a team from U.S. Army CILHI led by Col. Bill Flick with Major Johnny Webb and Sgt Kelly visited the crash site guided by Richard Leahy and David Pennefather. During the visit, the team only stayed at the crash site for a few hours but found part of the pilot's jaw and and found the remains of Cpl Drain.

Richard Leahy recalls:
"My second trip in 1979, made to the site was to accompany a CILHI group that was led by Col. Bill Flick and included Major Johnny Webb and Sgt Kelly.  David Pennefather also participated. This was in April 1979. We did not find too much, only a piece of the pilot's jaw (Lt. Stanley D. Campbell), and the remains of Cpl Drain. We only remained there for a few hours."

2) During October 1980, a team returned from U.S. Army CILHI led by Lt. Col. David Rosenberg with Captain Rick Huston. During the visit, the team recovered the remains of Cpl Drain. They also located the skeleton of a monkey from the Philippines that was likely aboard as a pet or mascot of the crew.

Afterwards, the remains recovered were transported to U.S. Army CILHI and tested and on October 15, 1981 a review board decided the evidence showed conclusively that the remains were those of Cpl Carl A. Drain. On November 16, 1981 his parents were notified that the remains of their son had been located and identified.

Richard Leahy recalls:
"The third CILHI expedition, October 1980, was led by Lt. Col. David Rosenberg, one of nature's gentlemen. Sadly I have completely lost track of him. Once again we failed to locate too much although we did recover the remains of one individual, Cpl. Carl A. Drain. We also dug up the skeleton of a monkey. Probably taken along as a mascot. The remains of three Americans and one unmanifested passenger [Captain Vladimir Sasko] remained on site at this time. I firmly believe that a full recovery is possible using the digging techniques developed thirteen years ago by CILHI. We concluded that the doctor was on board because we found his baggage which included incidentally an unbroken bottle of Chateau Tanundra Brandy. It was still full. This was subsequently dropped and lost."

3) During November 2004 a team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) including anthropologist Dr. Jay Silverstein, EOD Chris Tarrant and contractor Brian Bennett returned to this crash site and recovered the remains of the other four individuals: Campbell, Cameron, Cunningham and Sasko. At the crash site was found a bracelet with "One of the crew had a silver bracelet engraved with "Love Barbara December 24, 1944". Likely, this was a gift sent ahead of Christmas 1944. Also found was the aircraft's altimeter and clock frozen at the moment of impact.

During 2004–2005 families of the crew were contacted by the Department of Defense (DoD) and told their relatives were accounted for and their MIA cases were resolved.

The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. This loss was deemed to be a non battle casualty, so none of the crew earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. On July 15, 1949 the entire crew was declared non-recoverable.

All were memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. After they were identified, a rosette was added next to the name of each crew member indicating their "remain have been recovered".

Campbell has a memorial marker at Pioche Masonic Cemetery in Pioche, NV. After his remains were identified, he was buried at this same location.

Cameron was buried on September 18, 2006 at Arlington National Cemetery at section 66 site 121.

Cunningham has an unknown burial in the United States likely in a private cemetery in his hometown.

Drain had a memorial marker at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Lima, NY. After he was identified on October 15, 1981, his remains were transported to Lima, NY and stored in a vault until the spring. On May 22, 1982 Drain was buried with full military honors at the cemetery in a funeral attended by friends and family including his widow Jenny Drain Bulmer.

Vladimir was buried on December 10, 2005 at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, IL.

Robert Cameron Karn (son of Robert Henry Cameron)
"I was born Robert Henry Cameron, Jr. (3/12/45) but my mother remarried after the war and I was adopted by Joe Karn (U.S. Army, 100th Infantry Division, 398th Infantry Regiment that served in France and Germany 1944-1945).
So far the military has provided me with precious little information (they didn't even know Cameron had a son until it was brought to their attention by a circuitous route) but I am supposed to receive a briefing pursuant to the funeral next month. All I have been told by the casualty assistance office is that my father's remains were recovered in 2004 but not positively identified until just recently. I was also told that some "personal effects" such as his dog tags and wings were recovered from the site but have been given no further specific information. [March 16, 2013]: Since I first wrote, the US Government has buried my father's remains with honors and provided me and my family with a detailed briefing about the last few minutes of the ship and its crew. The Army was unaware that Cameron had a child because I was adopted by Joe Karn when my mother remarried after the war."

Al Peterson (nephew of Captain Vladimir Sasko)

Hugh Drain (father of Carl A. Drain)
Gertrude Drain (mother of Carl A. Drain)
Jennie "Jenny" Boyd (wife of Carl A. Drain, in 1947 she remarried and became Jenny Drain Bulmer and passed away on January 22, 2005)

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Stanley D. Campbell
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - George E. Cunningham
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Carl A. Drain
USAF Serial Number Search Results - C-47A-50-DL Skytrain 42-24215
"24215 (MSN 10077) delivered Aug 19, 1943. Crashed Dec 10, 1944 enroute Dobodura-Hollandia New Guinea."
Missing Air Crew Report 14302 (MACR 14302) created December 14, 1944 does not list the extra unmanifested passenger Captain Vladimir M. Sasko
Democrat and Chronicle "Corporal from Hemlock Reported Missing" April 18, 1945 page 26
Democrat and Chronicle "Lima soldier's remains found after 37 years" November 25, 1981 pages 1, 6
Democrat and Chronicle "At last - he returns home from the war" May 23, 1982 pages 1, 3
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Stanley D. Campbell "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert H. Cameron "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - George E. Cunningham "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Carl A. Drain "recovered and identified"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Vladimir M. Sasko "recovered and identified"
FindAGrave - 2Lt Stanley D Campbell (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2LT Stanley D. Campbell (photos, memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - 2Lt Robert Henry Cameron (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 2LT Robert Henry Cameron (Arlington grave photos)
ANC Explorer - Robert Henry Cameron (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Corp George E Cunningham (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Corp Carl A Drain (photo, obituary, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Corp Carl A. Drain (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Capt Vladimir M Sasko (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - CPT Vladimir M. Sasko (grave photo)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - C-47 Dakota 42-24215
Bruce Hoy Diary 11 November, 1980
"Tuesday, drove out to the airport at 8.00am and met the CIL‑HI team arriving from Lae. I gave them the appropriate export certificates covering the remains collected from P-38H 42-66562, A-20G 43-21416 and C-47 42-24215."
Among Heroes: Tales of the Jungle Skippers pages 10 Dec 44, index (listed as 42-100721 [sic] nose number 51 [sic], name: The Fireball Mail", Notes: Receiver 12 Feb 44")
Thanks to Richard Leahy, Bruce Hoy and Brian Bennett, Robert Cameron Karn and Al Peterson for additional information

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Last Updated
January 2, 2022


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