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A. Markwarth Nov 2013
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SI Star November 2013
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|Pilot Major Peyton S. Mathis, Jr., O-421274 C.O. 44th FS (MIA / KIA, BR) Montgomery, AL
Crashed June 5, 1944
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38J-15-LO Lightning serial number 43-28570. This aircraft had an aluminum finish with black nose and inner engine cowlings. Disassembled and shipped to the South Pacific (SOPAC) and reassembled.
During May 1944, assigned to the 13th Air Force (13th AF), 18th Fighter Group (18th FG), 44th Fighter Squadron (44th FS) "Vampire Squadron". No known nickname or nose art. Squadron number 400 was stenciled on the nose and intercoolers on the outer side of each tail boom on both sides of the aircraft.
On June 5, 1944 at 7:20am took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal piloted by Major Peyton S. Mathis, Jr. leading the 44th Fighter Squadron on a dive bombing mission against Poporang Island. After leaving the rendezvous point at Visu Visu on New Georgia, the mission was canceled due to bad weather. Experiencing engine trouble, Major Mathis circled to the left and descended to 2,000' and jettisoned his bombs between Kolombongara and New Georgia and returned to Guadalcanal flying on one engine. He remained with the squadron until they reached Savo Island then instructed them to land first.
After the squadron landed, Mathis approached Fighter 2 but disappeared behind the hills to the southwest. At 10:35am, he crashed into a ravine roughly six miles to the east of Fighter 2. When this aircraft failed to return, he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Afterwards, an A-24 Dive Bomber piloted by Lt. Sommerich observed this P-38 flip onto its back and crash into a ravine south of Fighter 2. A search team was dispatched to the crash site and located the wreckage but was unable to reach the cockpit because the plane was upside down and the cockpit submerged underwater.
This P-38 crashed into a swamp upside down. Immediately after the crash, a search team located the wreckage but was unable to recover the remains of the pilot.
During 2012, this aircraft was rediscovered by a resident on Guadalcanal in a swampy area behind Lau Valley, near the former Livestock Development Authority (LDA) area to the east of Honiara and reported to the American authorities. The wreckage had the nose number "400" visible.
In November 2013, a team from JPAC conducted an investigation and recovered the remains of the pilot. Immediately after the JPAC recovery, the wreckage was salvaged by Kurt Markwarth and Anders Markwarth using Solomon Islanders as laborers to lift the wreckage from the swamp using a frame made of wood and lifting equipment.
Afterwards, the P-38 was transported to the Markwarth Collection (Solomon Islands War Museum) at Renandi. Between 2014 and was viewable by appointment only until July 2017. During the middle of July 2017, the P-38 was placed into a container and exported to Australia where it is to be restored to airworthy condition.
Mathis was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He was memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He earned the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross both earned in North Africa, Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters and Purple Heart, posthumously.
After his remains were recovered, Mathis was buried at Greenwood Serenity Memorial Gardens in Montgomery, AL on January 3, 2015.
Peyton S. Mathis III (nephew of Mathis, Jr.)
"Peyton S Mathis, Jr. was my father's half brother, my uncle."
Previously, Mathis was assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron operating at Biskra Airfield in Algeria, North Africa. Next, assigned as the Commanding Officer (C.O.) of the 44th Fighter Squadron, 18th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force operating in the South Pacific.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Peyton S. Mathis, Jr.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38J-15-LO Lightning 43-28570
Missing Air Crew Report 16542 (MACR 16542) created retroactively circa 1945-1946
Vampire Squadron: The Saga of the 44th Fighter Squadron page 124
"Major Peyton Mathis, flying a P-38 took off from Kukum Field, Guadalcanal at 0720 hr, 5 June 1944 leading his squadron on a proposed bombing mission of Poporang Island. Three minutes after leaving the rendezvous point at Visu Visu, New Georgia, General Earl Barnes canceled the mission due to bad weather. At this point, Major Mathis started down in a gradual spiral to the left ,feathering his right propeller at 2.000 feet... He jettisoned his bombs between Kolombongara and New Georgia and began the return trip on one engine.
The pilots of the squadron remained with him until they reached Savo island, where he told them to leave him and land. Kukum tower requested that the field be held open for an emergency landing, but Major Mathis called that it was not an emergency but a single engine landing... After the other planes were on the ground Major Mathis flew over Kukum Field and made a landing approach to the left over the water. While in the turn for the approach to the strip, the plane changed from the turn to a straight line of flight and disappeared behind the hills southwest of the field.
Lt. Gene Sommerich flying an A-24 saw the P-38 flip on his back and crash in a ravine south of Kukum Field at approximately 1035 hrs. Search parties located the wreckage in the afternoon but were unable to remove the body as the plane was upside down and the cockpit submerged in about seven feet of water.
In addition to his record in the Pacific, Major Mathis was a veteran combat fighter pilot of the North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns and was credited with being the first pilot to fly a P-38 Lightning non-stop from England to Africa, holding the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with eight Oak-Leaf Clusters."
Solomon Star "US fighter plane found" by Alfred Pagepitu December 2, 2013
ArmyAirForces - Maj Peyton Mathis 18th FG 44th FS via Wayback Machine January 1, 2015
44th Fighter Squadron Tribute Page via Wayback Machine July 26, 2008
Montgomery Advertiser "Missing flier's remains return from Guadalcanal" December 30, 2014
Yellow Hammer News "Alabama fighter pilot lost 70 years ago in WWII crash finally coming home" Dec 31, 2014
AP "World War II fighter pilot will be buried in Alabama 70 years after battlefield death" Dec 31, 2014
Montgomery Advertiser "Service to honor Montgomery flier" January 2, 2015
FindAGrave - LTC Peyton Spottswood Mathis, Jr (photos)
Thanks to Peyton S. Mathis III, Jack Cook / 44th Fighter Squadron Association, Kurt Markwarth and Anders Markwarth for additional information
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