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  TBM-1C Avenger Bureau Number 45810  
USN
USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)
VT-51

Click For Enlargement
Eric Terrill April 20, 2014

Pilot  Lt. Ronald R. Houle, O-112082 USNR (MIA / KIA) MN
Radio  ARM3c Walter E. Mintus, 2507936 USNR (MIA / KIA) Portage, PA
Gunner  ACOM Otis E. Ingram, 3465899 (MIA / KIA) FL
Crashed  July 27, 1944


Aircraft History
Built by General Motors, Eastern Aircraft Division. Delivered to the United States Navy (USN) as TBM-1C Avenger bureau number 45810.

Wartime History
Assigned to Torpedo Squadron 51 (VT-51) aboard USS San Jacinto (CVL-30). No known nickname, nose art or squadron number.

Mission History
On July 27, 1944 "Operation Snapshot" took off from USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) at 8:30am piloted by Lt. Ronald R. Houle armed with four 500 pound bombs leading a formation of four Avengers on a bombing mission against warehouses, storage buildings on Malakal Island (Ngemelachel) in Palau (target areas 43.1-37.9 to 43.3-38). The formation also included eight Hellcats from VF-51 plus carrier aircraft from USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) including eight SB2C Helldivers from VB-8 and eight F6F Hellcats from VF-8 and eight TBM Avengers.

The formation approached the target area from the the southeast at an altitude of 9,000' when a ship was observed south of Arorumaldon Island. Spotting the vessel, Lt. Houle turned to the south and pushed over into a glide bombing but spotted the Avengers from VT-8 already in their dives and broke off his attack turning to the north until northwest of Arakabesan Island (Ngerekebesang) then turned to the right to attack Malakal Island.

Ahead of the rest of his flight, Lt. Houle alone began a glide bombing attack from 7,000' from the northwest to southeast with the other three planes in his flight roughly 3-5 miles away they last observed him in a dive over or just northwest of Malakal Island at 4,000 alongside a cloud. This Avenger was never seen again and when it failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA) due to unknown causes.

While the other three planes entered their dives, they observed an open parachute with someone hanging below descending into Malakal Harbor about 200 yards southeast of the wharf. Simultaneously, a fire was observed on the water several hundred yards farther to the south, possibly a crashed plane. As the other three planes pulled out of their dives, they observed a plane with square wing tips (possibly an Avenger) 6-8 miles west of Malakal loosing altitude. Later, another flight observed a square wing tip plane ditched in shallow water just inside the outer reef 8-10 miles west of Malakal Island. At the time, no information was available to determine if either of these sightings were related to the loss of this Avenger. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Fates of the Crew
In fact, while flying low over the target, after this Avenger released its bomb the explosion rocked the aircraft and caused it to crash into the sea. The pilot survived while the gunner and radio operator were killed in the crash.

Pilot Houle bailed out of this Avenger before it crashed but his fate is unknown.

Memorials
The three crew were officially declared dead on February 4, 1946. All three earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. All three are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.

Houle also has a memorial marker at Fort Snelling National Cemetery at section MA, site 28-2.
Ingram also has a memorial marker at Barrancas National Cemetery at section 36, site 2778.

Wreckage
This Avenger crashed into Malakal Harbor off Malakal Island.

On March 24, 2014 the crash site of this Avenger was located at a depth of approximately 100' by a team from Project Recover including members of Bent Prop plus staff and students from Scripps Institute of Oceanography including Dr. Eric Terrill and the University of Delaware. The crash site is on a sandy bottom encrusted with soft coral. One of the propeller blades is upright and unbent and the left wing with the intact pitot tube was observed..

Four days later, they also located the wreckage of F6F Hellcat 41881. On March 31, 2014 a flag ceremony was conducted over the crash site with a U. S. and Palau flags. Afterwards, a team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted their own investigation. On April 20, 2014 a documentation dive was made by on the Avenger crash site using sonar and photography.

During February 2018, Kozak’s niece was contacted by the U.S. Navy to provide a DNA sample to potentially verify remains found with pieces of an aircraft were DNA tested by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

On July 25, 2018 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that radio operator Walter E. Mintus was accounted for and will be buried later in the year.

Relatives
Rich Kozak (nephew of Mintus)
Caroline Kozak (stepsister of Mintus)
Agnes Phillips (sister of Mintus)

References
Navy Serial Number Search Results - TBM-1C Avenger 45810
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List July 1944 - TBM-1C 45810 VT-51 USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)
NARA "VT-51 ACA Reports #1 thru #8 - Air Operations Against Palau Islands, Period 7/25-27/44" pages 22-25
NARA "War History, 5/3/44 to 8/15/45 Appendix-6 In Memoriam - Missing In Action" page 87
"Houle, Roland R. Lietu. 7-27-44
Ingram, Otis E. ACOM 7-27-44
Mintus, Walter E. ARM3c 7-27-44"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Roland R. Houle

American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Walter E. Mintus
"the remains of Aviation Radioman 3rd Class Walter E. Mintus were accounted for in 2018"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Otis E. Ingram
"the remains of Aviation Radioman 3rd Class Walter E. Mintus were accounted for in 2018"
FindAGrave - Lt Roland R Houle (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Lieut Roland Richard Houle (memorial marker)
FindAGrave - ARM3 Walter E Mintus (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - ACOM Otis E Ingram (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Otis Earl Ingram (memorial marker)
Letter from President G. H. W. Bush 2003 to Agnes Phillips (sister)
"Your uncle went on a mission to Palau on 27 July 1944 with Lt (Roland Eichard) Houle and they never returned... they were both shot down. I was shot down on 2 September 1944 and lost both of my crewman,” Bush wrote. “When I worked at the White House, we tried to locate all living VT-51 squadron members and relatives of the deceased members... if you have any questions, please let us know. Barbara and I are most appreciative of your kind words for our son (President George W. Bush). Please keep him and our brave troops in your prayers.”
BentProp "P-MAN VII Update 5 March 2005" (photos) via Wayback March 30, 2016
BentProp "P-MAN VII Update 15 March 2005" (photos) via Wayback March 30, 2016
BentProp "P-MAN VII 2005 Final Report via Wayback October 20, 2010
BentProp "P-MAN XVI Update # 12 - Success, TBM-style!" 25 March 2014 via Wayback April 2, 2016
BentProp "P-MAN XVI Update # 13 - Sean's photos for The Big Find." 24 March 2014 via Wayback April 2, 2010 BentProp "P-MAN XVI Update # 14 - A 2005 retrospective: finding a TBM wing in the mangroves, hearing a family legend, and closing another circle. THIS is why we never give up." 26 March 2014 via Wayback March 31, 2016
FoxNews "Group hunts Pacific jungles for remains of WWII fighters, planes" April 3, 2014
"Joyce said the wreckage was from a General Motors TBM Avenger that crashed in the ocean after a mission to bomb a power plant. The plane was flying so low that when the bomb went off, the explosion rocked the plane and caused the crash. Japanese soldiers captured the pilot and immediately executed him. The plane's two other occupants went down with the plane.
'Nine years ago a Palauan showed us a wing of an Avenger deep in a mangrove swamp,' BentProp’s Flip Colmer said from Palau, in reporting on the search.  “The mangrove trees had grown enough to lift the entire wing up out of the water. But no other parts could be found and previous searches came up empty. 'Then a Palauan friend of BentProp’s told us a few years later that her father told her of watching the airplane get hit and crashing off the coast,' Colmer said. 'She even pointed to the area where we eventually found the aircraft."
CNET "How BentProp and undersea robots found long-lost WWII bombers" April 20, 2014
(Photo) Later that day [March 31, 2014], Scannon would lead a similar ceremony above the wreckage of a TBM Avenger also shot down in 1944."
Science Daily "Downed World War II aircraft missing for 72 years located in Pacific Islands" May 25, 2016
Ocean News & Technology "Returning From the Deep: WW2 Aircraft Discovered off the Coast of Palau" May 2014
Scripps "New Technology Enables Historic Finds" November 6, 2014
"In the case of the two planes found last spring, a TBM Avenger and an F6F Hellcat, BentProp had been searching for them for nearly 10 years. It took the REMUS-mounted instruments to see them at a depth of more than 100 feet, hidden from plain view by the persistent murk of the seafloor."
Science Daily "Locating World War II airmen lost in waters off Palau" November 10, 2014
"The group narrowed their search area and in March 2014, the AUVs found the remainder of the Avenger bomber, which had been missing in action for 70 years. A few days later, sonar images helped reveal a second aircraft, an F6F Hellcat, in a second location."
DPAA "Sailor Killed During World War II Accounted For (Mintus, W.)" July 25, 2018
The Times "Family of missing WWII radioman may get confirmation of his fate" by Tom Davidson March 27, 2018
Thanks to Reid Joyce / Bent Prop and Katherine Rasdorf for additional information.

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Last Updated
December 14, 2018

 

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