Wellman Howard Huey was born in 1922 in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating high school, he attended the University of Michigan and Detroit Institute of Technology. He tried to enlist prewar war, but was turned down due for minor medical reasons. He had completed two years of college and was working as an accountant.
On February 23, 1942 he re-enlisted in the U. S. Army with serial number 16059410. Trained as a fighter pilot he earned his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O-732254.
Huey was sent overseas to the South Pacific (SOPA). Assigned to the Assigned to the 13th Air Force (13th AF), 347th Fighter Group (347th FG), 339th Fighter Squadron (339th FS) as a P-38 Lightning pilot flying from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal.
On February 14, 1943 took off from Fighter 2 (Kukum) on Guadalcanal piloting P-38G Lightning as one of ten P-38 Lightnings plus twelve F4U Corsairs from 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.
After the bomb run, the formation was intercepted by roughly 30 A6M Zeros from the 204 Kōkūtai and 15 A6M2-N Rufe float planes from Shortland. The fighters engaged in combat between 10:00am until 1:00pm.
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 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 any surviving American 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.
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.
Dale Niesen (cousin)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Wellman H Huey
347th Fighter Group Advanced Echelon APO 709 "Preliminary Intelligence Summary of Operations of Army Fighter Planes at Cactus - December 1, 1942 to February 17, 1943" February 21, 1943 (Page 3) "Date: 2/14 Type: P-38 How Lost: Lost in combat near Bougainville Pilot: Lt. Huey - missing."
Missing Air Crew Report 584 (MACR 584) created September 17, 1943 list take off as Henderson Field [sic]
Australian Army"Account by Lin Leow" describing Prisoner Of War (POW) tortured near Kahili in March 1943
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wellman H. Huey
FindAGrave - 1Lt Wellman H Huey (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 1LT Wellman Howard Huey (memorial marker)
Pacific Air Combats WWII by Henry Sakaida Someone Remembered pages 40-43
A War to be Won "Lieutenant Wellman Huey was not forgotten" by Henry Sakaida July 25, 2016
Thanks to Dale Niesen and Henry Sakaida for additional information