|Pilot 1st Lt. Wilbur E. Birdsall, O-20351 (MIA / KIA) FL
Crew Cpl John R. Cooney, 378717 (MIA / KIA) Tewksbury, MA
Crew SSgt Willard J. Dawley Jr., 385634 (MIA / KIA) Brooklyn, NY
Crew Sgt Robert H. Patchen, 384059 (MIA / KIA)
MIA March 21, 1944
Built by Lockheed in Burbank, CA. Model 237-27-01. Constructors Number 5088. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as PV-1 Ventura bureau number 29870. Converted to a PV-1(N) night fighter.
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) to Marine Fighting Squadron (Night) 531 "The Grey Ghosts" VMF(N)-531. No known nickname or nose art.
On March 21, 1944 in the early morning took off from Barakoma Airfield on Vella Lavella Island piloted by 1st Lt. Wilbur E. Birdsall on a patrol mission with PV-1 Ventura 33079 piloted by 1st Lt. Marion M. Pierce over Torokina on Bougainville. During the flight, they joined PV-1 Ventura piloted by Lt. Notestine in formation then flew back towards Vella Lavella Island.
During the flight, Lt. Birdsall's Ventura suffered an aerial collisions with PV-1 Ventura 33079 causing both to crash into the sea roughly 35 miles to the south of the Treasurary Islands and Vella Lavella. This aircraft was clipped the wing causing it to burst into flames before the crash. Both aircraft failed to return and were officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
After the crash, Lt. Notestine circled the crash site of both bombers at low altitude but did not see anyone afloat and radioed to "Terrier" and "Dane" that deployed a crash boat and PBY Catalina while a P-38 also circled the wreckage that came to the surface without spotting anyone. The next day, two search flights were made. The first by Lt. Col. John D. Harshberger and the second by Lt. Wehmer. Both circled the area where debris was floating but observed no personnel.
The crew were officially declared dead the day of the mission. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Birdsall also has a memorial marker at Gilliland Cemetery in Sweet Home, OR.
Cooney also has a memorial marker at Tewksbury Cemetery in Tewksbury, MA.
Patchen also has a memorial marker at Pittsford Cemetery in Pittsford, NY.
Patchen also has another memorial marker at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY at range 8.
Note some sources incorrectly list this PV-1 Ventura as missing over Rabaul or Leyte
Navy Serial Number Search Results - PV-1 Ventura 29870
"29870 (VMF(N)531) w/o 21-Mar-44Treasure Isl,SP in mid- air collision. 4 killed"
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List March 1944 PV-1 Ventura 29870
NARA Marine Night Fighter Squadron 531 [VMF(N)-531] War Diary March 1944 page 2, 4, 17
(Page 2) "Our Losses: 21 March  between Treasury and Barakoma PV(N) Lt. Pierce destroyed pilot and crew killed mid-air collision with Lt. Birdsall's plane."
(Page 4) "Summary: The loss of four airplanes during the month [March 1944], two in mid-air collision."
"March 20-21  Lts. Birdsall and Pierce patrolled over Torokina with no results. Lt. Notestine took off from Torokina at 0520 and patrolled until 0630 and then stared home to Barakoma. He was joined by Lts. Pierce and Birdsall and they flew formation towards Vella Lavella. About 0650 Lt. Pierce's wing clipped Lt. Birdsall's wing. The PV(N) in which Lt. Pierce was pilot burst into flames. Lt. Birdsall's plane went into a spin. Lt. Notestine barely avoided collision with Lt. Piece's flaming plane. Both the PV(N)'s crashed into the sea about 35 miles from Treasury Island between there and Barakoma. Lt. Notestine circled low about the place where the planes went in but saw no one afloat. He called 'Terrier' and 'Dane' who sent out a crash boat and a PBY. A P-38 also circled about the wreckage that had come to the surface, fruitlessly. Nine lives were lost in the accident. No one was recovered. March 21-22  Two search flights were made as soon as word was received of the crash, one by Lt. Colonel Harshberger in the F6F and one by Lt. Wehmer in the F4F but although they circled the area in which the debris floated none of the personnel were found."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Wilbur E. Birdsall
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Robert Cooney
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Willard J. Dawley Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Robert H. Patchen
1Lt Wilbur Elsworth Birdsall (tablets of the missing photo)
1LT Wilbur Elsworth Birdsall (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - Corp John Robert Cooney (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - CPL John Robert Cooney (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Willard J Dawley, Jr (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Robert Holdridge Patchen (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Robert H. Patchen (Mount Hope Cemetery - memorial marker photo)
Robert H. Patchen (Pittsford Cemetery - memorial marker photo)
Thanks to Ted Darcy for additional information
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March 15, 2019