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|Pilot F/O Kenneth D. Kirschner (POW, executed March 3-4, 1944, BR) San Francisco, CA
Crashed September 24, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66581. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 475th Fighter Group (475th FG) "Satan's Angels", 433rd Fighter Squadron (433rd FS) "Possum". No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engines V-1710-89 serial number 42-93711 and V-1710-91 serial number 42-29754. Armed with 20mm cannon serial number unknown and four .50 caliber machine guns serial number unknown.
On September 24, 1943 took off from North Borio Airfield (Dobodura No. 15) piloted by F/O Kenneth D. Kirschner on a patrol mission to escort B-25 Mitchells from the 3rd Bombardment Group, 90th Bombardment Squadron over the Finschafen, flying as wingman for 1st Lt. Richard D. Kimball. The weather had an overcast at 5,000' to 8,000' with scattered clouds at 17,000'.
Over the target, the formation encountered enemy bombers and fighters and intercepted. After the first firing pass, this aircraft was not seen again and was last seen by 1st Lt. Richard D. Kimball. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was P-38H piloted by Corrigan (MIA).
Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Kirschner was shot down by enemy fighters and bailed out. He was captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW) and transported to Rabaul. Detained at the Rabaul POW Camp and during early March 1944 moved to Tunnel Hill POW Camp.
On March 4, 1944 a group of fifteen prisoners were removed from Tunnel Hill POW Camp and walked to Tanoura at the edge of Talili Bay and executed. On March 5, 1944 a second group of sixteen prisoners were removed from Tunnel Hill POW Camp and walked to Tanoura at the edge of Talili Bay and executed. Afterwards, the victims were buried at Tanoura. These executions became known as the "Tunnel Hill Massacre" or "Tunnel Hill Incident" for the Tunnel Hill POW Camp. Precisely how the prisoners were executed is unknown Also known as "Talili Bay Massacre" for the execution site along Talili Bay. All three names refer to the same execution event.
Towards the end of the Pacific War, to cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed by Allied bombing during an air raid while at Talili Bay and their bodies were exhumed and cremated. The Japanese rehearsed a story that the prisoners were killed when an Allied bomb scored a direct hit on their shelter. This was a lie to cover up the murders. Likely, the Japanese missed the remains of Brindos and Kirschner.
Recovery of Remains
Towards the end of the Pacific War, fearing war crimes prosecution and to destroy the evidence of these executions, the Japanese exhumed and cremated all the bodies buried at Tanoura and placed the ashes in boxes.
To cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese rehearsed a story that roughly forty Allied prisoners were killed at Tanoura when an Allied bomb scored a direct hit on their shelter at Talili Bay. This was a lie to cover up the murders.
In early September 1945 when the Australian military occupied Rabaul, they interrogated personnel from the 6th Kempei Tai who claimed the Allied prisoners who died during the Tunnel Hill Massacre (Talili Bay Massacre) were killed by an Allied bomb and turned over the boxes with their cremated remains.
These remains were turned over to the Australian Army 18th Australian War Graves Unit and determined to contain the remains of both Australians and Americans and were divided proportionally. The American portions and two individual boxes were turned over to American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) at Finschafen.
Kirschner was designated unknown X-171 (X-File 171) and placed into a crypt at the American Cemetery at Finschafen. After being identified as Kirschner, accordance with his family's wishes, his remains were transported to the United States for permanent burial.
Kirschner was officially declared dead on March 6, 1944, this date is incorrect he was executed either March 4, 1944 or March 5, 1944. On October 27, 1949 he was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery at plot G site 2127B.
NARA - Records of World War II Prisoners of War Kenneth D. Kirschner
NARA - World War II Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files - Kenneth D. Kirschner
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66580
"66580 (475th FG, 432rd FS) shot down by Japanese fighters 10 mi E of Finschafen, New Guinea Sep 24, 1943. Pilot KIA. MACR 753."
Missing Air Crew Report 753 (MACR 753) created September 30, 1943
FindAGrave - Kenneth D Kirschner (grave photo)
Thanks to Edward Rogers for research and analysis
"Remembering P-38 pilot F/O Kenneth D. Kirschner of the 433rd Squadron / 475th FG who died this week 75 years ago. On September 24, 1943 his squadron was escorting 12 B-25 strafers of the 90th Sq / 3rd BG on a mission against Japanese barges near Finschhafen, New Guinea. The P-38 pilots encountered enemy bombers and fighters and attacked them while the B-25 crews returned to Dobodura. F/O Kirschner and a second pilot (Lt. Raymond P. Corrigan) were shot down by Japanese Zero fighters. Kirschner survived but was captured by the Japanese and taken to the prisoner camp at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. Five months later the Japanese commanders at Rabaul, believing that an Allied invasion was imminent, ordered the murder of c. 30 American and Australian prisoners. One of them was F/O Kirschner. His remains were located and identified after the war and were interred at Golden Gate Cemetery in San Bruno, California. He was the only child of Harry E. & Maye Kirschner of San Francisco."
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