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  F-4-1-LO Lightning Serial Number 41-2014  
5th AF
6th PRG
8th PRS
8th PRS c1943
Pilot  1st Lt. LeGrand J. Kneeskern, 12030546 (survived) Kirkville, NY
Crashed  July 31, 1943 at 11:50pm
MACR  none

Pilot History
LeGrand J. Kneeskern was born on March 3, 1919 in Kirkville, NY and graduated as an architect. On October 31, 1941 enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet with serial number 12030546 then attended flight school, earned his wings then was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, serial number unknown. When he was lost on July 31, 1943 he was flying his 54th combat mission.

Aircraft History
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank as model 222-62-09. Constructors Number 222-5232. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as as P-38E Lightning serial number 41-2014. Converted into a F-4-1-LO Lightning serial number 41-2014 photographic reconnaissance version. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group (PRG), 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (PRS). No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
On July 31, 1943 at 9:16am took off from 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt. LeGrand J. Kneeskern on his 54th combat mission on a reconnaissance mission over the Nadzab area. Flying alone, he flew to the northwest over Yule Island then turned northward towards Nadzab but found the area covered by clouds and instead flew to the northwest following the Markham River in the Markham Valley but the weather became worse to the south.

At 11:20am turned back towards Port Moresby and entered weather and flew south on instruments for 20-30 minutes when the right drop tank ran out of fuel and while switching tanks lost altitude and the needle and ball of the instruments showed all altitudes and indicated roughly 400mph. Knowing he was over mountains in bad weather, Kneeskern bailed out with while in a spin to the right at roughly 10,000'. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). This aircraft was officially condemned on November 30, 1943.

Afterwards, fellow F-4 pilots Clark Skye and Olson searched airfield on the south coast from Kerema to Hood Point but found nothing.

Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Kneeskern bailed out over the upper reaches of the Vailala River in Gulf Province. When he pulled his parachute ripcord, the jolt caused a back injury, broke his jungle knife and caused one of his boots to fall off. While descending, he realized he had a head injury down the middle of his head roughly 12" from his scalp rearward that was bleeding, likely from impacting the antenna as he bailed out.

Nearing the ground, he aimed for a small stream and landed in a tall tree with his parachute caught in the branches. After climbing upward, he released his harness, cut off his jungle kit then shimmed down the tree to the ground. After treating his wounds with sulfa powered and applying a dressing and injected himself with 1/3 of a morphine syrette for his back pain. He put on his head net and gloves before falling asleep until l awoken by rain overnight for six hours, as it did everyday onward.

On August 1, 1943 he felt weak and remained at the base of the tree and changed his bandages and took the remainder of the morphine in the morning and afternoon and rested. For his bootless foot, he wore both socks and cut off the top of the other boot to make an improvised shoe, but was lost crossing a stream and later used a portion of his life vest then finally cut off a portion of his A-2 flight jacket to use as a shoe.

On August 2, 1942 he began to move to a nearby stream, collect fresh water and began walking downstream for the next two days and saw a wild boar and crocodiles but was unable to remove his pistol from the holster because the leather had shrunk from the days of rain and heat. Although walking along the stream, the sides were rocky and often he had to climb up and down the sides of the nearby hills that drained his strength. On August 4, 1943 he crossed two streams and nearly drown due to the swift current of one stream and only that day ate his D rations. The next day, he saw a grave with bananas beside but did not disturb it and continue to walk for four more days and became weaker.

On August 10, 1943 he found native people who gave him food and transported him in their canoe back to their village arriving the next day at Iumorito. On August 12, 1943 arrived at Kariava Plantation.

then took him to Australian forces and was guided to Hui Plantation on the south coast of New Guinea to await rescue where he was noted as having head injuries but was otherwise alright.

On August 16, 1943 a rescue was attempted when PBY-5 Catalina 2446 landed three miles off shore due to rough seas but while landing was damaged and sunk.

On August 17, 1943 in the morning another PBY Catalina took off from Port Moresby Flying Boat Base to rescue him and the crew of the first Catalina. After landing to pick them up, took off again and returned to land in Fairfax Harbor at 4:00pm. After returning to the squadron, Kneeskern learn had been promoted to the rank of Captain.

During his escape and evasion, Kneeskern kept a diary:
"Aug. 10, I found eight natives on a fishing trip. None spoke English and my Papuan wordsheet [Pidgin English phrase book] was so wet it was intelligible so I just asked for kai-kai [food]. They brought me hot water and lemons, then took me to a village in their canoe.

Kneeskern remained in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and served in the Korean War and as promoted to the rank of Major. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Purple Heart, posthumously. He passed away on August 5, 1970 at age 51. Kneeskern is buried at Collamer Cemetery in DeWitt, NY.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Le Grand J. Kneeskern
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38E Lightning 41-2014
"2014 condemned Nov 30, 1943"
July 1943 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports does not list this loss
No Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) was created for this loss.
Evasion of Capture in New Guinea - 1st Lt. L. J. Kneeskern E & E Report No. 3 10 November 1943 pages 1-6
Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) War Diary - August 1943
"15 August 1943 Lakekamu -- Kerema:
The District Officer advises by signal: "Lieut. Kneeskern crashed Upper Vailala River July 31(.) head injuries otherwise OK. He is now at Huiva awaiting rescue plane(.) suitable tide 16 Aug. at 1500 hrs(.)
17 August 1943 Lakekamu -- Kerema:
The Assistant District Officer signals: "Captain Pilot, Lieut. Marshall, crashed HUIVA(.) all crew safe(.) they with Lieut. Kneeskern coming Kerema today for transport Port Moresby(.) suitable tide KEREMA beach at 1600 hrs(.) will have suitable area of beach marked off for landing Moth or other light aircraft(.)
21 August 1943 Lakekamu -- Kerema:
The Assistant District Officer signals: "Huiva landing strip temporarily obstructed by wrecked Catalina [PBY Catalina 2446]"
8th Photo Squadron Diary 1943 via The Eight Ballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force pages 78, 80
(Page 78) "Saturday, July 31 [1943] John Kneeskern, one of our oldest and best, is missing today. His 54th mission was to take him to Nadzab, but spotter reports indicate that [he] did not reach the area. Skye and Olson searched the dromes from Kerema to Hood Point but found nothing. We shall await the reports from the Watut and Wau. What can be said? John was a close friend to all of us and an important part of all our activities. A grand fellow and boon companion, he leaves a great gap in our close circle of friendship. May our hopes and prayers aid him wherever he might be.
(Page 80) Monday, August 16 ...The Fates are very kind these days. We received the biggest news of the war today when word came through that the Great Kneeskern was alive and well. The message says he had head injuries but is otherwise O.K. Navy sent a Catalina to pick him up this afternoon, but for some reason they did not return...
Tuesday - August 17 Well, old Honest John finally made the grade at 1600 today. ...The first Cat cracked up landing at Huina [sic Hui], and so another went up and picked him up this morning at Kerema. You will all see him soon, boys, so be patient."
The Milwaukee Journal "Hurt in Parachute Fall; Then Solider has Jungle as Foe" August 28, 1943
Buffalo Courier Express "Conquers Jungle" August 29, 1943
"Legrand Kneeskern of Kirkville, east of Syracuse, was missing seventeen days in central New Guinea jungle after bailing out of his plane but is reported to have reached his base safely."
FindAGrave - LeGrand J Kneeskern (photo, grave photo) "World War II Honor Roll: Town of Manlius..." by Kathy Crowell
The Eight Ballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force (1999) pages 50 (photo), 57 (photo), 78 (8th PRS Diary July 31, 1943), 80 (8th PRS Diary August 16-17, 1943)
Thanks to Edward Rogers, Keith Hopper and Robert Rocker for additional information

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Last Updated
September 7, 2020


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