|Pilot 2nd Lt. Benjamin H. King, O-666955 (rescued)
Ditched July 17, 1943 at 9:40am
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38G-13-LO Lightning serial number 43-2206. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 13th Air Force (13th AF), 347th Fighter Group (347th FG), 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS). No known nickname or nose art. Nose Number 141. When lost, engines V1710-51-35 serial numbers 42-32888 and 42-29116. Weapon serial numbers were not noted in Missing Air Crew Report 83 (MACR 83). King claimed three enemy aircraft shot down on the mission prior to his loss.
On July 17, 1943 took off from Fighter 2 Airfield on Guadalcanal piloted by 2nd Lt. Benjamin H. King on a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Kahili Airfield (Buin) on southern Bougainville. The weather was clear with unlimited visibility.
Over the target at 20,000', the formation was intercepted by Japanese fighters. Returning from the mission, other pilots reported a P-38 smoking and being chased by Zeros. At roughly 9:40am, King was observed to ditch off Kotulu Island near Vella Lavella. When this aircraft failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fate of Pilot
After ditching, King was unhurt and successfully deployed his life raft and spent five days at sea before making landfall on Mono Island on July 22, 1943. The native people observed two A6M2-N Rufes strafing something in the water off Mono and came to his rescue. Taking him ashore King join the crew of TBF Avenger 47448 who ditched June 16 and been hiding on the island since June 18. The next day, the three crew members of TBF Avenger 05923 who ditched July 18, 1943 also arrived on the island and joined the group.
Hidden on the island by the native people, the group of seven aviators ate only one chicken and no other meat and rotated reading the Bible at night to keep up their spirits, and on several occasions avoided nearby Japanese patrols. King suffered a throat problem, thought to be strep throat and took sulfa tablets and was given a brew from leaves by the native doctor that cured him two days later.
After nearly three months, a portion of the group (Peck, Teft, Mitchell and King) planned to sail to the south and bring help to the others on Mono. Using one of their life rafts and departed on September 13 during the moonlight night, and spent four days in the raft, and observed Japanese and Allied planes overhead.
On September 17, their raft was spotted by a patrol plane and dropped rations, but they were not able to retrieve them, and the plane departed. A PT-Boat was deployed to search for them, but was unsuccessful. At 6:00, a PBY Catalina escorted by fighters over flew their raft but departed.
At 10pm, a VP-54 PBY Catalina piloted by Lt(jg) Fred H. Gage, USNR was on a routine night patrol of the Vella Lavella-Shortland-Fauro area. When the men in the raft heard it, they lit a flare in a can of kerosene to signal the flying boat. The Catalina circled for 2 1/2 hours before attempting to land at 2:30am on September 18 and pulled alongside the raft, then roughly six miles NW of Vella Lavella. The men were too weak after 96 hours at sea and had to be lifted aboard, and then their raft was destroyed. Afterwards, they were flown to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and again had to be carried off the Catalina. Afterwards, the men were returned to the United States.
King remained in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and served in the Korean War and Vietnam until he retired as a Brigadier General during January 1971. He passed away October 7, 2004.
In King's after action report, he reported his ditching location as "five miles east of Shortland."
Medical Report on Survivors Marooned on a South Pacific Island
USAF Brigadier General Benjamin King
Obituary Brigadier General Benjamin King Dec 9, 1919 - Oct 7, 2004 via Wayback Machine December 10, 2010
"Stranded! There were 7 Japs and the sea to fight" by Seth Bailey
"Airmen Reports Miracle Rescue"
Lonely Vigil page 282- 283
Atlanta Georgia News "How a crashed WWII airman survived enemy bullets" by Bo Emerson May 25, 2017
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June 29, 2019