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|Pilot 2nd Lt. Wellman H. Huey, O-732254 (POW / MIA) Detroit, MI
Crashed February 14, 1943 "Saint Valentines Day Massacre"
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38G Lightning serial number unknown. 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.
On February 14, 1943 at 10:00am took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal piloted by 2nd Lt. Wellman H. Huey as one of ten P-38 Lightnings plus twelve F4U Corsairs from Marine Fighting Squadron 124 (VMF-124) on a mission to escort nine PB4Y-1 Liberators from VB-101 on a bombing against Japanese shipping off southern Bougainville in the Buin-Shortland area. The weather was clear with scattered clouds.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by Japanese Zeros and floatplane fighters and engaged in air combat with the U. S. formation.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I researched this mission at the Tokyo Defense archives. A total of 42 Japanese aircraft intercepted including 18 Zeros from 252 Kōkūtai, 13 Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai and 11 A6M2-N Rufes from 802 Kōkūtai."
During the air combat, Huey was shoot down and was not seen to crash or bail out by an of the American pilots or air crews. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Due to the severe American losses, this mission became known as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre".
Fate of the Pilot
In fact, Huey successfully bailed out over Kahili Airfield (Buin) and was captured by the Japanese and became a Prisoner Of War (POW). Initially, he was tied to a palm tree near the Japanese headquarters building at the airfield.
At dusk, Zero pilots from 204 Kokutai went to inspect the American Prisoner Of War (POW) and rough him up. Meeting Huey, they were instead were struck by his friendliness and no one bothered him. Japanese Zero pilot Nakazawa noted in his diary that he was very impressed with the young American's spirit. He told them he was twenty-two years old and had attended the University of Michigan. Another Zero pilot, Ryoji Ohara also remembered meeting Huey.
It is unclear how long Huey was detained at Kahili Airfield (Buin) or what happened to him next. Huey did not survive Japanese captivity and was either executed or died of neglect. Possibly, he was transported to Rabaul. If so, he was executed or died before other surviving Allied POWs were detained.
During March 1943, Chinese laborer Lin Leow who survived Japanese captivity and gave a statement in October 1945 stating he saw a "white prisoner" who was "dressed khaki" roughly 15 minutes walk from Kahili Airfield. He observed this white prisoner being tortured boiling water poured over him and were "hitting him in the face" and "heard the prisoner screaming as if in paining [sic pain]". Possibly, this account may related to Huey or another American aviator who was taken prisoner to March 1943.
Postwar, the Japanese falsely reported Huey as "Willman Harward Hughie" as lost at sea on either the Kenyo Maru or Nippon Maru which were both sunk January 14, 1944 by U. S. submarines.
During the 1980s, Henry Sakaida researched the connection between Japanese pilot's memories and connected them with Wellman Huey and helped his brother to correspond with Ohara in 1989 to thank him for sharing his memories of his brother.
Henry Sakaida adds:
"Huey was shot down over a Japanese airfield and captured. They tied him up to a tree next to the HQ. Ohara and his comrades heard about the captured American when they landed, and they had plans to go over there and rough him up. When they met him, Ohara said he was a pleasant guy, intelligent and polite. So they conversed with him via an interpreter. He asked to be taken to Rabaul, and of course, he was. I don't think he was tortured while in custody at Bougainville. They simply kept him there until he could be forwarded to Rabaul, which was the main processing center for POWs in the area. I can't be certain of the date and circumstances, but Huey was most likely executed with others at Rabaul. The information about the meeting with Japanese pilots came from Mr. Ryoji Ohara via Jiro Yoshida (Zero Fighter Pilots Association)."
Huey was officially declared dead on December 15, 1945. He earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously. Huey is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing. He also has a memorial marker at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Tawas City, MI at section 5, south addition.
POW / MIA
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