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John R. Weldon, Jr.
USAAF, 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 431st Fighter Squadron

P-38 Lightning Pilot Missing In Action

Background
Click For EnlargementJohn R. Weldon, Jr. was born in 1922 in Oklahoma. His parents were John Weldon and mother Emaline Nancy (Leming) Weldon Ross. He had a brother Lester Weldon and three sisters: Ruby, Editth and Oval. At age 6, his family moved to Strathmore, Tulare County, California. He graduated Strathmore High School and was an active athlete. By the early 1940s, all three of his sisters were married and lived in the Strathmore area: Ruby (Weldon) Clovis, Editth Mae (Weldon) Perkins and Oval L. (re) Fox. His father passed away in 1939. Before enlisting, he lived in Lindsey in Tulare County, California.

Wartime History
Click For EnlargementOn March 10, 1941 Weldon enlisted in the U. S. Army in Los Angeles, CA as a private with serial number 39229303. Later, he was transfered to the Air Corps and completed flight training as a fighter pilot. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with serial number O-748859 in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF). He was sent overseas to the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA). Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group "Satan's Angles", 431st Fighter Squadron "Hades" as a P-38 Lightning pilot.

Mission History
Click For EnlargementOn January 18, 1944 Weldon took off piloting P-38H 42-66534 from North Embi Airfield (Dobodura No 12) on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Weldon was flying as the wingman for Major Meryl Smith. Over the target, their formation was intercepted by 25 enemy fighters that dived at the formation at 10:55. Two enemy fighters jumped Smith's flight, causing him to dive down. Weldon was last seen with an enemy fighter on his tail, roughly ten miles south of But at 15,000'. When this aircraft failed to return, he was declared Missing In Action (MIA).

Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Weldon force landed into kunai grass near Urimo to the south of Wewak. Likely, he survived the crash and deliberately set fire to the cockpit section then departed the crash site. No trace or report of Weldon has ever been found or reported. Possibly, he died elsewhere or was captured by the Japanese and executed. He remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.

Wreckage
This P-38 remained in situ in a flat area of kunai grass until salvaged during June 12-13, 2003. This Lightning made an excellent force landing into kunai grass. Likely, it landed intact as the propellers did not break off from the engines and the pitot tube did not break off from the underside of the wing. The wreckage included the intact outer wings, booms, tails and elevator.

The propellers on the right engine were bent in the landing, indicating the engine was not turning under power when it landed. The tip of the right tail was melted by fire, possibly indicating that flames from the right engine caused the damage before the force landing. After the landing, the center section and nose were burned by a fire, likely set by pilot Weldon to destroy the otherwise intact aircraft.

By the late 1990s, the four .50 caliber machine guns were removed by local people and only the 20mm cannon gun barrel remained at the crash site. On June 12-13, 2003 this aircraft was recovered by Robert Jarrett / Classic Jets Fighter Museum (CJFM) using the Robert Greinert / HARS salvage permit for PNG. In January 2009, Courtesy Aircraft of Rockford, IL listed a Lockheed P-38H Lightning Project for sale, with "documented combat history with the historic 475th Fighter Group". Mark Clark of Courtesy Aircraft confirmed this was indeed P-38H 42-66534 and the asking price is around $495,000 USD.

Memorials
Weldon was officially declared dead on January 16, 1946. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Weldon is memorialized on the tablets of the missing on Manila National Cemetery. He remains Missing In Action (MIA) to this day.

Relatives
John Weldon 1889-1939 (father)
Emaline Nancy (Leming) Weldon Ross 1888-1976 (mother)
Lester Lowell Weldon 1911-1993 (brother)
Ruby (Weldon) Clovis (sister)
Editth Mae (Weldon) Perkins (sister)
Oval L. (Weldon) Fox (sister)
Jack Shouse (nephew)

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John R. Weldon, Jr.
The Fresno Bee The Republican January 27, 1944 "Strathmore Flier Missing In Action" page 15
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John R. Weldon Jr.
FindAGrave - 2Lt John R Weldon, Jr (tablets of the missing)
Possum, Clover & Hades: 475th Fighter Group in World War II pages 115, 289
"In addition to Michener, Lieutenants John Weldon and Joe Robertson of the 431st Squadron were missing in action, Robertson's P-38 was hit by a released belly tank and he bailed out to obscure fate near Wewak. Weldon was last seen a few minutes after eleven o'clock at 15,000 feet a few miles south of Boram."
"Appendix B: January 18, 1944 P-38H1 42-66534. Lt. John R. Weldon disappeared during combat over the Wewak area. One P-38 was seen spinning toward the jungle and may have been Weldon. Other reports mention seeing parachutes, but he never returned."
475th Fighter Group Aviation Elite Units 23 page 122
YouTube "60 Minutes Australia - Plane Wrong Part 2" aired September 4, 2016 Interview with Jack Shouse, nephew of Weldon (5:41–6:55) questioning Robert Greinert (7:55–8:11)

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