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Built by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at San Diego. Delivered to the U.S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina bureau number 08139. Flown overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).
Assigned to Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four "Black Cats" VP-34. Assigned pilot Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon who nicknamed it "Arkansas Traveler" after his home state of Arkansas and the popular song of the same name. Plane Number 71. This Catalina was painted overall black.
On February 15, 1944 took off from Samarai Seaplane Base under the command of Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon on a mission to provide air-sea search and rescue for U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) A-20 Havocs and B-25 Mitchells from the 5th Air Force attacking Kavieng and Kavieng Harbor. Aboard were eleven crew including:
Command Pilot Lt(jg) Nathan G. Gordon, 112928 (Morrilton, AR)
First Pilot Ensign John "Jack" A. Kelly, 251250 (Port Richmond, NY)
Second Pilot Ensign Walter L. Patrick, 263385 (Des Moines, IA)
Third Pilot Ensign Leu R. Fulmer, Jr., 278551 (Little Rock, AR)
First Radio ARM1c Aleck G. Alexander, 3686593 (Superior, MT)
Second Radio ARM3c Robert Murch (Glendale, CA)
Plane Captain/First Mechanic AMM1c Wiley R. Routon, Jr. (Corono, NY)
Second Mechanic Joseph "Joe" P. Germeau (Sequim, WA)
Third Mechanic AMM3c John Brately (Cleveland, OH)
Ordnanceman AOM2c Paul J. Wodnick (Minneapolis, MN)
For this mission, this Catalina was code named "Gardenia Six" and took up station at a rendezvous point at Vitu Island (Witu) escorted by four P-47D Thunderbolts of the 348th Fighter Group based at Finschafen Airfield. When it received a radio call that an A-20 Havoc had ditched, it proceeded Kavieng to attempt a rescue. Arriving in the area, the sea was rough, with large waves with breakers 15-18' high. During the mission, Gordon made four landings in Kavieng Harbor facing rough seas and enemy gun fire in order to rescue three different crews for a total of fifteen men rescued.
On their first landing, they searched for the crew of A-20G Havoc 42-86616. They found only "debris - oil, dye marker two life jackets and a half inflated raft". Unsuccessful, the Catalina took off again. [Gordon recalls 1st landing].
A 345th BG, 498th BS B-25 piloted by Major Coltharp radioed that a B-25 had ditched and provided the position. Landing, they found the crew and turned off their port engine in order to rescue the crew of B-25D "Gremlin's Holiday" 41-30041, as gunfire was directed against them from shore. Afterwards, Gordon took off and got another call of a downed B-25. Two of the escorting P-47D departed, short on fuel. [Gordon recalls of 2nd landing].
Proceeded a mile from shore to rescue three of the crew of B-25D "Pissonit" 41-30370. The remaining two P-47D escorts departed short on fuel. Gordon took off again, with ten rescued aboard and left the target area, but the B-25 radioed again that another B-25 had ditched very close to shore. [Gordon recalls 3rd landing].
Gordon made his landing approach over Kavieng and landed only 600 yards from shore as anti-aircraft fired at them. They rescued five crew members of B-25D 41-30531. Luckily, no enemy fire hit the PBY. Departing the target area with fifteen rescued aviators aboard. [ Gordon recalls 4th landing ].
Low on fuel and with wounded aboard, Gordon proceeded to land at Langemak Bay near Finschhafen. The crew aided the rescued men onto USS Pablo (AVP-30). After refueling, this Catalina returned to Samarai Seaplane Base.
Medal of Honor
Afterwards, Lt.(jg) Gordon earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and each member of his crew earned the Silver Star. Admiral "Bull" Halsey, mentioned the rescue in a telegram: "Please pass my admiration on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew - Halsey."
Nathan G. Gordon passed away September 9, 2008 at Arkansas Medical Services Center in Little Rock, AR. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Morrilton, AR.
John Bratley passed away in 2005.
Michelle Hodges Blanchard (great niece of Wiley R. Routon, Jr.)
"The "Arkansas Traveler" listed Wiley R. Routon as a mechanic AAM1c. He was/is my great uncle. The only info I have one him is that he was born in 1923 and he was named after his father. I am not sure if he is living. His sister, Annie, is my grandmother. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated."
Mike Brately (son of John Brately)
"My dad was John Brately. He passed away in 2005. My mom is still alive."
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 08139
Austin American Statesman “Twin Engined Angels Save 38 Lost Airmen in 35 Days” by Sgt Gordon D . Marston (Marine Corps Correspondent) February 21, 1944
"News dispatches from the Southwest Pacific Feb. 16 told of the daring rescue of 15 allied airmen by a Navy Catalina [PBY "Arkansas Traveler" 08139 piloted by Nate Gordon] flying boat when eight allied planes were shot down at Kavieng."
Reno Gazette Journal "Navy Aviator Wins Top Medal: Rescue of 15 Brings Award" July 31, 1944
"The Congressional medal of honor was presented today to Lt. Nathan G. Gordon of Morrilton, Ark., navy pilot who landed his Catalina flying boat in Kavieng harbor last Feb. 15 and rescued 15 downed American airmen under the guns of the Japanese. It was the first navy presentation of America's highest military award in the southwest pacific. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kincaid, commander of the seventh fleet, made the award."
Warpath Across The Pacific pages 128-129
The Forgotten Fifth pages 69-70 [ Read Excerpt ]
PBY: The Catalina Flying Boat pages 170-173
FindAGrave - Nathan Green Gordon (photos, grave photo)
"Black Cat Rescue" by Nicholas Trudgian
"Flight Out of Hell" by Nicholas Trudgian
Thanks to Nathan Gordon, Michelle Hodges Blanchard and Edward Rogers for additional information
Medal of Honor Citation
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