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  TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 23871 Squadron Number 103
VMTB-232 "Red Devil"

USN c1943
Pilot  1st Lt. Theo Lee Sparks, O-016515 (MIA / KIA) Salt Lake City, UT
Crew  PFC Calvin Norman Rader, 395221 (MIA / KIA) OH
Crew  PFC William R. Sauter, 522000 (MIA / KIA) Owatonna, MN
Crashed  December 23, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Grumman as model G-40. Constructors Number 4554. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as TBF-1 Avenger bureau number 23871.

Wartime History
Assigned to the Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Wing 1 (MAW-1), Marine Air Group 14 (MAG-14), Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 232 (VMTB-232) "Red Devil". Assigned squadron number 103.

Mission History
On December 23, 1943 took off from Munda Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Theo Lee Sparks armed with four 500 pound bombs as one of twenty-three Avengers on a mission against Japanese bivouac and supply areas on southern Bougainville.

The formation of Avengers was divided into four divisions: attacking four separate target areas: 1) Mawareka, 2) Motupena Point, 3) Aitara Mission and 4) Mamagata Mission. The weather was 4/10 cumulus clouds with bases at 2,000' mostly over land with broken clouds 10,000' to 15,000' over the target area. Before reaching the targets, two Avengers aborted the mission.

En route to the target over Bougainville, the formation encountered Japanese anti-aircraft fire. While flying at roughly 1,500', this Avenger was hit in one wing, burst into flames then dove into the sea 100 yards off Aitara Mission. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). This Avenger was the first loss during the second tour of duty of VMTB-232.

The entire crew was officially declared dead on December 24, 1944. All earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. All three are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

Sparks also has a memorial marker at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, CA.

Rader also has a memorial marker at McComb Union Cemetery in McComb, OH at 3rd addition, row 14, lot 23.

Shane Elliott adds:
"I returned the Sauter dog tag [found at Munda]."

Navy Serial Number Search Results - TBF-1 Avenger 23871
VMTB-232 War Diary December 23, 1943
COMAIRSOLS Strike Command TBF Intelligence December 23, 1943 page 36
"Plane #103, 1st Lt. Sparks pilot crashed noted above. Lt. Everson who was inthe plane aheah and observed the crash reports as follows: The plane was in a dive of 40 degrees and making 230 knots at most at 1,500 ft. The starboard wing eeled back at the hinge as if it were being folded. Plane rolled to the right and went into water on its back with wing still on plane. A paracute opened at about 100 ft. The parachute was seen on the water but the pilot never came up. Crash boat arrived in about and hour but nothing could be found."
History of the Red Devil Squadron page 12
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Theo Lee Sparks
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Calvin Norman Rader
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William R. Sauter
FindAGrave - Capt Theo Lee Sparks (photo, tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Capt Theo Lee Sparks (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Calvin Norman Rader (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - PFC Calvin Norman Rader (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave - PFC William R Sauter (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - William R Sauter (memorial marker)
Owatonna "The lost soldier" January 17, 2009
Thanks to Shane Elliott for additional information

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Last Updated
June 27, 2020

Tech Info

3 Missing
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