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|Pilot Lt. Maurice S. Smith, O-081683 (MIA / KIA, BR) CA
Crew Ensign Edward W. Riepl, O-112826 (MIA / KIA, BR) Herndon, KS
Crew CAP Clifford M. Pindell, 2581607 (MIA / KIA, BR) MD
Crew AMM1 James W. Pearson, 3821727 (MIA / KIA, BR) CA
Crew ARM2 William Riley Pipes, 3564985 (MIA / KIA, BR) OK
Crew ARM1 Merlin Jack Rich, 3113016 (MIA / KIA, BR) MI
Crew AMM1 William H. Osborne, 3759454 (MIA / KIA, BR) VA
Crew AMM2 Vernon H. Stolz, 3113012 (MIA / KIA, BR) Saginaw, MI
Crashed August 6, 1942
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered to the U.S. Navy (USN) as PBY-5 Catalina Bureau Number 2389.
During Battle of Midway, this PBY Catalina was piloted by Lt. Frank M. Fisler from Patrol Squadron 51 (VP-51) and rescued several downed flyers. This aircraft might be portrayed in The Battle of Midway (1942) when a Catalina possibly this aircraft is orbiting damaged USS Yorktown (CV-5) while being abandoned.
Afterwards, assigned to Patrol Squadron 23 (VP-23) with side number 23-P-15. This Catalina was flown to the South Pacific (SOPAC) and operated from Espiritu Santo. When lost, one engine was recovered from a PBY Calalina assigned to Patrol Squadron 12 (VP-12) that was destroyed on the ground at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The engine was salvaged and installed on this aircraft.
On August 6, 1942 took off from Espiritu Santo in bad weather on a search mission for PBY Catalina from Patrol Squadron 91 (VP-91) that went Missing In Action (MIA) the same day, but failed to find it. When this Catalina failed to return and was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
In fact, this Catalina crashed on Espiritu Santo. During early 1944, the crash site of this Catalina was found. The only substantial piece of wreckage was an outer wing panel ripped off when it struck a tree causing the plane to crash. In addition, the propeller on one engine was feathered before the crash that was likely due to bad weather and the loss of one engine.
During the 1990s, a team from U.S. Army CILHI visited the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on August 7, 1943. As the mission was a non-combat flight, none of the crew earned the Purple Heart, posthumously.
All are memorialized at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on the courts of the missing. Riepl, Pindell, Pipes, Rich and Osborne on court 1. Smith, Stolz and Pearson on court 2. After the identification of their remains, a rosette was placed next to their name to indicate they were accounted for.
On April 21, 2000 additional remains was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 60 site 7822 in a group burial that included remains of Smith, Riepl, Pindell, Pearson, Pipes) the date of death is listed as August 7, 1943 [sic August 6, 1942].
Smith earned the Air Medal.
Riepl earned the Purple Heart previously. He also has an individual burial at Arlington National Cemetery at section 60 site 7823 interned April 21, 2000.
Osborne also has a memorial marker added November 29, 1999 at Arlington National Cemetery at section 59 grave 359.
Pindell also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery at section ME grave 34.
Rich is buried at Crestwood Cemetery in Michigan.
Stolz is buried at Eastlawn Memorial Gardens in Saginaw, Michigan at Garden of the Apostles.
Jim Sawruk adds:
"In the early 1990s, a lot of people were involved who helped solve this mystery and confirm my theory about who they were. It took several years including DNA matching. A friend of mine had seen a segment about this wreck on the evening news and he had taped it. I reviewed it upon his arrival and immediately realized that it was a PBY wing panel with the old red star in it. In addition, no wheels or landing gear were obvious so I suspected it was a true flying boat. However, I did not get real excited yet as many PBYs had been lost in the Pacific. A few days later, a friend in the Navy Department contacted me about this wreck as he knew that I was the 'PBY Guy' to contact in this matter. They did not have a clue of who this lost crew might be! I then started exploring possibilities.
I had some ideas of what it might be but nothing concrete. Very little was known with no surviving BuNo. or squadron markings. However, the wing panel built by Brewster under Contract 70496 (a major subcontractor to Consolidated) yielded that it was for a PBY-5. This narrowed it to Bureau Numbers 2289 to 2455 inclusive. Also, there was no evidence of any combat damage with what little remained.
Narrowing the field definitely got me excited as some of these were operating in the early part of the Guadalcanal Campaign in which my father was one of many thousands who fought there. I quickly narrowed in done to a few possibilities and requested some records from Japan to say yes or no to some of on my list. The crew identities were more complicated but being familiar with USN casualties (I am an ex-USN Officer), I started constructing a series of matrixes to eliminate some and include others. After a couple of days of research, I had it narrowed down to about a dozen individuals. They thought they had 5 to 7 sets of remains while I suspected either 7 or 8 men!
Anyway, I went to Washington D.C. to brief them on what I suspected and they listened intently. I asked them to check with the USN Casualty Office in the Pentagon Annex at the time to either confirm or deny my reconstructed list of 8 men from VP-23 as I had already confirmed the seven missing from a VP-91 machine. In a few days they got back to me and confirmed my reconstruction! This was great but told the young very excited fellow that does NOT confirm it is them.
The serach was in their hands and also asked them if either engine plate had somehow survived. It took awhile but they found one and the engine number area was all rusted. However, they gave it to the FBI in Hawaii so that a scanning electron microscope could be used and they obtained a number!. It turned out to be quite a surprise as the engine came from a wrecked VP-12 PBY destroyed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Obviously, to me at least, it had been salvaged and installed on this aircraft.
By this, my IJN documents had arrived and I was able to eliminate the VP-91 crew as they had been shot down over water. This HAD TO BE the VP-23 machine that disappeared on August 6, 1942. They had gone out looking for them at the time but did not find anything and now the invasion was on. They quickly deployed to support it and they were forgotten for now.
With other records I have from interviews conducted over a few decades, I was able to figure out that this aircraft was 23-P-15 Bu No. 2389. It is the same machine that Frank Fisler from VP-51 flew during the Battle of Midway and in which he rescued several downed flyers. In addition, there are a few Midway photos showing it in service and a portion of it may actually be in John Ford's film on Midway as Frank is identified there. the photos include it passing USS Yorktown in the AM and acting as guard in the PM when she is being abandoned and LCDR. Leslie & wingman are ditching near CA Astoria if I remember correctly.
A Pentagon Commander eventually contacted me to confirm by DNA testing that they were who I said they were from day one. He was excited and thanked me. After a few years, all of the families were found and some of the remains went home or were buried at Arlington seperately. The remains that could not be identified were interred in a common grave at Arlington and marked with all 8 names. My son and I attended and I was glad I did. I feel it was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life to help bring some closure to them."
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PBY-5 Catalina 2389
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List August 1942 does not list this loss
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Maurice S. Smith "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Edward W. Riepl "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Clifford M. Pindell "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - James W. Pearson "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William Riley Pipes "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Merlin Jack Rich "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William H. Osborne "His remains have been recovered."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Vernon H. Stolz "His remains have been recovered."
Arlington National Cemtery ANC Explorer - Maurice S. Smith (group burial photo)
Arlington National Cemtery ANC Explorer - Edward William Riepl (grave photo)
Arlington National Cemtery ANC Explorer - Clifford Magee Pindell (memorial marker photo)
Arlington National Cemtery ANC Explorer - William H Osborne (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Lt Maurice S Smith (courts of the missing photo)
FindAgrave - LT Maurice S “Snuffy” Smith (Arlington National Cemetery group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Ens Edward William Riepl (photo, courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - ENS Edward William Riepl (photo, Arlington National Cemetery grave photo)
FindAGrave - CAP Clifford Magee Pindell (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Clifford Magee Pindell (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo / individual grave)
FindAGrave - AM1C James W Pearson (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - James W. Pearson (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo)
FindAGrave - RM2 William Riley Pipes (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - PO William R. Pipes (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo)
FindAGrave - ARM2 Merlin Jack Rich (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - PO Merlin J Rich (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo)
FindAGrave - AMM1 William H Osborne (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - William Harrison Osborne (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo / individual grave)
FindAGrave - AMM2 Vernon Henry Stolz (courts of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - Vernon H Stolz (grave photos, obituary)
FindAGrave - Vernon H. Stolz (Arlington National Cemtery group burial photo, obituary)
Thanks to Jim Sawruk for historical and identification information
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August 4, 2021
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