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5th Fighter Command
|Pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby, O-21630 (MIA / KIA, BR) Wichita Falls, TX
Crashed March 5, 1944
MACR 6579 and 6577
Built by Republic at the Indiana Division of Republic Aviation in Evansville, IN. Constructor Number 419. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-47D-4-RA Thunderbolt serial number 42-22668. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 348th Fighter Group, 342nd Fighter Squadron. Assigned to pilot Col. Neel E. Kearby and nicknamed "Fiery Ginger IV", painted in white script with a black shadow on the left side of the cowl with his score board tally on the left side of the cockpit with five rows of Japanese rising sun flags. The first row had five flags, the second row had five flag, the third row had four flags, fourth row had four flags and fifth row four flags representing Kearby's 22 aerial victory claims.
During early March 1944, fellow 5th Air Force fighter pilots Richard Bong and Thomas Lynch were close to breaking the American World War I record of 26 victories scored by pilot Eddie Rickenbacker. Hoping to break the record himself, Col. Neel E. Kearby hoped to score more victories to tie or break his record.
Three other P-47D Thunderbolts were also nicknamed "Fiery Ginger" including: P-47D "Fiery Ginger" 42-8145 MIA October 22, 1944 piloted by 2nd Lt. Ernest R. Ness, P-47D "Fiery Ginger II" serial number and fate unknown and P-47D "Fiery Ginger III" 42-75908 transfered to the 58th Fighter Group and ultimate fate unknown.
Kearby opened fire on one aircraft, but did not observe it to go down and made a complete circle to attack it again. While performing this maneuver, he was intercepted by a Ki-43 Oscar from the 77th Sentai, before wingman Dunham could shoot the fighter down. Kearby never returned to formation.
Afterwards, Dunham and Blair unsuccessfully searched for him until they ran short on fuel and returned to Saidor Airfield. After landing, both pilots insisted on returning to the area to search for him, Dunham had to be physical restrained from taking off again.
In fact, Kearby was observed by local people on the ground to have bailed out and as he descended he became tangled in a tree and died of bullet wounds from the attack.
Recovery of Remains
On June 16, 1949 Kearby was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park, Dallas Texas at Garden Of Devotion Block 13 Lot 19 Space 7 & 8. He is also memorialized on a plaque for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients at Cape Wom Memorial Park near Wewak.
During 2003, the salvaged items were donated to the USAF Museum and put on public display during 2005. The tail section is displayed atop a base and the machine gun in a glass display case. Both are displayed with P-47D Thunderbolt 42-23278 painted in the markings of this aircraft.
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