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|Pilot 1st Lt Earl C. Thompson, O-024066 (MIA / KIA) Tulare County, CA
MIA January 25, 1944
Built by Chance-Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1A Corsair bureau number 18025. Disassembled and shipped to Oahu.
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22), Marine Fighting Squadron 422 "Flying Buccaneers" VMF-422. No known squadron number, nickname or nose art. This Corsair was flown from Ewa Field to Ford Island Airfield. On January 16, 1944 one of twenty-four Corsairs from VMF-422 loaded aboard USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68).
On January 24, 1944 took off from USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) within sight of Tarawa (Betio) then landed at Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field).
On January 25, 1944 took off at 9:45am from Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) piloted by 1st Lt Earl C. Thompson as one of twenty-three Corsairs from VMF-422 led by F4U Corsair 17945 piloted by C. O. Major John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr. on a ferry flight bound for Nanumea Airfield then the second phase of the flight would be to Funafuti Airfield for use during "Operation Flintlock" in the Marshall Islands. One Corsair did not take off due to starter trouble.
On take off, the weather was good with cumulus clouds at 1,500' and 3/10 overcast. The flight proceeded without a navigational escort. The formation flew in three flights wide spread and were scheduled to reach Nanumea Airfield after 2 hours 30 minutes at 12:25pm.
By 12:10pm the formation was flying at an altitude of 2,000' when they encountered a weather front that developed into a violent tropical storm. Visibility was so poor no forward visibility was possible and the formation descended to sea level.
When the rest of the formation exited the storm, five Corsairs were separated: this aircraft plus F4U-1A Corsair 18024 piloted by Captain John F. Rogers, F4U-1A Corsair 17833 piloted by 1st Lt. Robert P. Moran, F4U piloted by W. A. Wilson and F4U piloted by J. E. Hansen were separated. Radio contact was maintained with three of the separated pilots including Moran.
When this Corsair failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). In total, twenty-two of the Corsairs in the formation ditched or went missing. Afterwards, it was deemed the flight was a failure because the flight proceeded with an outdated weather forecast and because Brigadier General Lewie G. Merritt failed to authorize an escort plane with a navigator nor did his staff alert the destination to about their intended arrival to provide radio assistance or aid in rescue efforts.
Thompson was officially declared dead on January 26, 1945. He is memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on the courts of the missing, court 4.
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-1A Corsair 18025
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List January 1944 - F4U Corsair 18025
NARA "Marine Fighting Squadron Four Twenty Two - 1 January 1943 to 31 December 1944" page 33-40, appendix D, page 2
(Page 33) "Twenty-four (24) Corsairs were ferried to Ford Island from MCAS, Ewa, on 16 January  and put aboard CVE USS Kalinin Bay. It was planned to fly them from the CVE to Tarawa, Gilbert Islands on approaching within fifty miles of that base and from there to a newly won airstrip in the Marshalls. On 17 January twenty seven pilots and three enlisted men boarded the Kalinin Bay, sailing the following day. On the morning of 24 January the aircraft were catapulted as planned almost within sight of Tarawa and landed shortly after on Hawkins Field.
On 25 January at 0945, twenty-three (23) of the Corsairs took off for Nanumea, the first of a two phase flight to Funafuti, Ellice Islands. One Corsair was left behind when it developed starter trouble. The planes took off in good weather with cumulus clouds at 1500 feet, 3/10 overcast,"
(Page 34) "without a navigational escort. Major MacLaughlin led a standard fighter formation with three flights wide spread. The ETA at Nanumea was 1225 and all check points were hit. An R4D [Dakota] heading in the opposite direction, was sighted by several pilots. At 1210 the squadron then at an altitude of 2,000 feet, encountered a severe weather front, the first of two.
On emerging from this front, it was discovered that Captain J. F. Rogers, Lts. E. C. Thompson, R. P. Moran, W. A. Wilson and J. E. Hansen had lost formation and disappeared from sight. Radio contact was maintained with three of the above pilots -- but they had been hopelessly separated."
(Appendix D Casualty List, page 2) Thompson, Earl C. 1st Lt., Campton, California, missing, (operational), 25 January, 1944 (See Flight Echelon Narrative [pages 33-40])."
History of the Marine Corps Aviation in World War II pages 228-230
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Earl C. Thompson
FindAGrave - 1Lt Earl Chrisman Thompson (courts of the missing photo)
The Flintlock Disaster (2012)
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