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5th Air Force In Profile
USAAF October 24, 1943
Galap Nisisa 2005
|Pilot 2nd Lt. Robert R. Keown, O-754515 (MIA / KIA, BR) Lawrenceville, GA
MIA April 16, 1944 "Black Sunday" at 3:00pm
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Constructors Number 1179. Purchased under U. S. Army order number AC-24636 fund F-1 at a cost of $98,990.00. At the factory, this aircraft was painted with olive drab upper surfaces with neutral gray lower surfaces.
On July 3, 1943 Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66668. That same day flown to Alhambra Airfield. On July 6, 1943 flown to Long Beach Airfield. On July 14, 1943 flown to Los Angles Airfield. Project Number 96134-R was hand painted on the boom in white. On August 13, 1943 assigned to "Left", disassembled and shipped overseas to Brisbane and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 8th Fighter Group (8th FG), 80th Fighter Squadron (80th FS) "Headhunters". This aircraft was assigned to pilot Cornelius M. "Corky" Smith, Jr. who nicknamed the plane "Corky Jr" after himself in yellow capital letters. Squadron letter "S" was painted in yellow on both sides of the nose and tail. The tips of the tail were painted green with a white stripe below. The propeller spinners were painted green with a white stripe at the rear of the spinner.
On October 16, 1943 took off from 3 Mile Drome (Kila) near Port Moresby piloted by Cornelius M. "Corky" Smith, Jr. one of sixteen P-38s from the 80th Fighter Squadron on a mission to escort B-25s over Wewak. Inbound, one P-38 aborted the mission. Over the target, enemy fighters were observed at 15,000'. When the B-25s finished their low level attack over Boram Airfield, they were attacked from the rear. Attacking from 6,000', Smith fired on several Ki-61 Tonys. After firing at one Tony and overshooting it, his wingman Jennings Myers, observed it to crash in flames and claimed another himself. This was Smith's fourth confirmed aerial victory. That day, the U. S. claimed five victories. In fact, the Japanese lost four Tonys.
On October 24, 1943 took off from 3 Mile Drome (Kila) near Port Moresby piloted by Cornelius M. "Corky" Smith, Jr. was one of sixteen 80th Fighter Squadron P-38s that participated in an escort mission for B-25s on a low level mission over Rabaul. Flying at 11,000' over Kabanga Bay, the P-38s intercepted "Hamps" attacking the B-25s around 11:30am. During the combat, Smith made several head on passes between 1,500' to 5,000'. During the combat, he hit a Zero that crashed and when he landed was credited with his fifth aerial victory, making him an ace. At the time, Smith was unaware the Zero had crashed. Returning from the mission, he had to feather his left engine due to lack of fuel and followed a damaged B-24 Liberator back to Kiriwina Airfield. After refueling, he safely returned to Port Moresby.
Next, assigned to the 36th Fighter Squadron (36th FS) with squadron number "22" painted in white on the side of the supercharger doors on each fuselage boom. When lost, engines V-1710-89-91 serial numbers 42-29763 and 42-93736. Weapon serial numbers: 20mm canon 58387 manufactured by Oldsmobile and 50 caliber machine guns 397554, 397504, 397629 and 376085 manufactured by Frigidaire. This aircraft was officially written off on April 16, 1944.
On April 16, 1944 at 10:20am took off from Nadzab No. 4 Airfield (APO 713, Unit 1)piloted by 2nd Lt. Robert R. Keown as part of a four plane flight with call sign "Agate Special" led by P-38H pilot Zielinski with wingman P-38H 42-66555 piloted by Mikucky, plus element leader P-38H 42-66832 piloted by Reeves and element P-38H 42-66668 piloted by Keown (this aircraft).
The four plane flight escorted a single B-25 Mitchell from the 38th Bombardment Group (38th BG) searching for B-25G 42-64835 that force landed four days earlier. An hour and a half later, the five aircraft reached the Sepik River delta and searched the river and swamp area for nearly two hours without results with the four Lightnings weaving closely behind, until their fuel became low by 1:30pm.
Returning, the formation flew a course approximately 50 miles inland from the coast and encountered heavy overcast 15 miles south of Annenberg with overcast to 1,000' and rain. The formation proceeded towards Madang in hopes of landing at Saidor Airfield.
Instead, the weather worsened with severe weather and overcast down to 1,000' and with visibility of only 300' and attempted to turn out towards the sea to find an opening in the clouds. The P-38s circling off Yalu Point near Yamai Airfield for 20 minutes before finding a hole in the clouds. At 2:40pm with poor visibility, the formation broke up with Zielinski and Mikucky turning to the left while Reeves and Keown turning to the right.
When Keown failed to return he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). His loss was attributed to bad weather. Also lost from the same flight was P-38H 42-66555 pilot Mikucky (MIA) and P-38H 42-66832 pilot Reeves. Afterwards, the mission was dubbed "Black Sunday" for the number of aircraft lost.
When this aircraft failed to return from the mission, the 36th Fighter Squadron notified the rescue squadron at 3:30pm, but no searches could be undertaken until the next day due to bad weather. On April 17, 1944 PBY Catalinas and B-25s escorted by fighters searched the coastal and inland area from Saidor to Alexishafen. During the search, three wrecks were spotted near Alexishafen but were not identified. On April 18, 1944 searches continued without result.
At the time of the crash, evidence of aircraft wreckage was observed offshore Yalu Point on the north coast of New Guinea. But, there was no proof that it belonged to Keown's aircraft. His aircraft and body were never found during World War II.
In fact, Keown's P-38 continued to fly back toward his base before crashing in the Finisterre Mountains. Likely, he managed to bailed out before the impact but died in the vicinity.
During 2005, the wreckage of this P-38 was photographed by a Galap Nisisa and provided to Richard Leahy. One photograph shows an aluminum .50 caliber ammunition container associated with the P-38 Lightning. Another photograph shows a tail boom with project number "'96134-R'" hand painted in white. This project number is associated with a P-38H-5-LO Lightning.
Recovery of Remains
During the 1980s, landowner Soka Dodon located human remains at an open area covered with kunai grass and swamp and buried the remains in his village cemetery. During the 1990s, they exhumed these remains and turned them over to his relative, John Bonding who gave them to the Australian military. In 1999, these remains were turned over to the Department of Defense (DoD).
Since 1999, the bones were placed into stored as potential American remains at the Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI). During late 2017, these remains were tested against mDNA samples from Keown's brother and two maternal relatives.
On December 13, 2017 the Department of Defense (DoD) officially announced Keown was identified by DPAA based on remains turned over in 1999. The news release credits: "DPAA is grateful to Mr. Soka Dodon, Mr. John Bonding, the Papua New Guinea Government and Pacific Wrecks, Inc., for their partnerships in this recovery."
Keown was officially declared dead on February 7, 1946. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After Keown's remains were identified he was laid to rest on June 15, 2018 at 1:00pm at Arlington National Cemetery at section 60 site 11852 with full military honors and more than forty family members in attendance.
Grover Prestell Keown (father, passed away August 25, 1937)
Mary Bertha Keown née Raynes (mother, passed away May 20, 1979)
John Franklin Keown (brother, passed away March 30, 2005)
William "Bill" Harold Keown (brother, passed away October 8, 2015)
John Franklin Keown, Jr. (son of John F. Keown, nephew of Robert R. Keown)
Gary Keown (son of John F. Keown, nephew of Robert R. Keown)
Sarah L. Keown (daughter of William H. Keown, niece of Robert R. Keown)
Jenny Jacobson (née Keown, daughter of William H. Keown, niece of Robert R. Keown)
Mary Ruth Wilson (née Keown, daughter of William H. Keown, niece of Robert R. Keown)
Carolyn J. Pinchot (née Keown, daughter of William H. Keown, niece of Robert R. Keown)
Mary Ruth Wilson (niece of Robert R. Keown) adds:
"Thank you all for your efforts and results in searching for and identifying the lost servicemen, My father passed away on October 8, 2015, but would have been so happy to know that his brother was finally accounted for."
John Franklin Keown, Jr. (son of John F. Keown, nephew of Robert R. Keown) adds:
"Robert was from Lawrenceville GA and graduated from Lawrenceville High School in May 1937. Following the death of his father Grover 3 months after graduation in 1937 his mother moved to Scottsboro, AL to be closer to her family, and Roberts 2 younger brothers [John Franklin, William Harold] both graduated from high school in Scottsboro. Robert appeared to split his time after high school until his enlistment between Lawrenceville / Atlanta, Georgia and Scottsboro, Alabama - but the details are a bit unclear. Hoping to learn more in the coming months."
Are you a relative of Cornelius M. Smith, Jr. or Robert R. Keown? Contact Us.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert R. Keown
Eagles Log 43-H Eagle Field Yearbook (photo of Keown)
Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) Robert R. Keown
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66668
"66668 (8th FG, 36th FS) MIA near Yamai during infamous Black Sunday mission to Hollanida"
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - P-38H Lightning 42-66668
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle "Smith Boys Just Too Much For the Nips" November 10, 1943 pages 1, 17
Page 17: "Calls Plane 'Corky Junior' Lt. Cornelius Smith, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius M. Smith, has named his P-38 'Corky Junior' after himself. Letters home revealed that he shot down four Jap planes, all confirmed and was credited with four probables. 'The Japs are getting holy hell knocked out of them' he wrote. 'They are solely on the defensive now'. He has the Air Medal and the D.F.C. and admits he is hoping to get the Silver Star. He will be 25 tomorrow."
Missing Air Crew Report 4358 (MACR 4358) pages 1–5
The Anniston Star "Alabama Casualties" May 18, 1944 page 8
Jackson County Sentinel "Letter Regarding Lt. Robert Keown" June 6, 1944
RAAF Survey of Aircraft Wreckage, Papua New Guinea page 12
"#484 | 05.31-146.09 | Yalua | USAC Lightning P38H-42-66668 | Last seen 1 1/2 miles north of Yalua"
NAA "Missing Lightnings" page 12 P-38H Lightning 42-66668 Robert Keown Amendment List No. 4 7/6/48.
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38H Lightning 42-66668
Attack & Conquer (1995) pages 131-132, 135 (photo), 138 (photo), 187-188, 299 (photo) 315
Black Sunday (2000) pages 61-62 (April 16, 1944), 98-99 (42-66668), 111 (index Keown)
5th Air Force In Profile (2008) page 119 (artwork)
Flightpath Magazine "Elusive New Guinea Swallow" by Michael Claringbould artwork, October 16, 1943 victory
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert R. Keown
"Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of 2nd Lt. Robert R. Keown were accounted for in 2017"
FindAGrave - 2Lt Robert R Keown (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2LT Robert Raynes Keown (Arlington grave photos)
P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI page 28, 34 (photo)
DPAA News Release "Airman Missing From World War II Accounted For (Keown, R.)" December 13, 2017
"DPAA is grateful to Mr. Soka Dodon, Mr. John Bonding, the Papua New Guinea Government and Pacific Wrecks, Inc., for their partnerships in this recovery."
DPAA News Release "Alabama Pilot Accounted-For From World War II To Be Buried With Full Military Honors" June 5, 2018
DPAA News Release "Funeral Announcement For Pilot Killed During World War II (Keown, R.)" Release No: 18-075 June 5, 2018
Associated Press "WWII pilot missing since 1944 laid to rest at Arlington" by Jay Reeves June 15, 2018
Thanks to John Franklin Keown, Jr. , Gary Keown, Mary Ruth Wilson, Galap Nisisa, Seki Nisisa, Richard Leahy, Keith Hopper and Justin Taylan for additional information, research and analysis
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
April 16, 1944
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