2/Lt Robert Hoyle Upchurch (43-22786)

Details about those listed as missing or killed in the Pacific, including current search operations.

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1st Lieutenant
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2/Lt Robert Hoyle Upchurch (43-22786)

Post by Leondus »

Salisbury Post
Missing Flying Tiger headed home at last
By Steve Huffman

Eloise Kennedy Mahn never met her great-uncle, but still felt a sense of relief upon hearing that his remains had been identified.

"Now, we can finally put closure to the whole thing," Mahn said.

Her great-uncle was 2nd Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, a member of the legendary Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots who fought the Japanese along the China/Burma border during World War II.

Upchurch's plane disappeared during the latter stages of the war and for more than 60 years, the fate of the 21-year-old pilot remained a mystery.

Initially, he was listed as missing in action. A year or two after the war, Upchurch was declared dead.

That's the way the situation remained until last May when Upchurch's remains were discovered on a secluded mountain in rural China.

"My grandmother used to talk of him," Mahn said. "She never got over the fact that he was missing."

Mahn's grandmother, Stella Bell Upchurch Kennedy, and Robert Upchurch were brother and sister. There were 11 children in their family, all now deceased.

But Mahn, a resident of Salisbury, said her family is a close-knit one, with plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins all relieved that their long-lost loved one is finally heading home.

Upchurch's story is an interesting one.

His plane, a P-40 fighter painted with the snarling teeth of a tiger, crashed in bad weather on Oct. 6, 1944. It was Upchurch's first mission with the 74th Fighter Squadron, the Flying Tigers.

The villagers in Guidong in southeast China admired the 74th Squadron and a large group of them hiked to the crash site on a nearby mountain.

They wrapped Upchurch's body in a red cloth and buried him under a mound on the side of a hill they considered sacred. According to reports, villagers prayed over the grave, drank rice wine and wrapped the cross in a paper wreath.

In the decades since, the villagers have looked after the grave. One of those villagers, identified as Mr. Huang, was only a child at the time of the crash and has taken a particular interest in maintaining the burial site.

Last May, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command finally solved the mystery of the plane's pilot.

The command's laboratory in Hawaii is the only facility of its type in the world. It is the largest forensic anthropology lab in operation anywhere.

There, a staff of more than 30 civilian forensic anthropologists and three military dentists examine fragmentary human remains in an ongoing mission to return the bodies of the missing to their families.

Their motto is, "Until they are home."

A team from the command dug up Upchurch's remains and identified the former pilot through DNA samples. Upchurch was raised in High Falls, a small community between Asheboro and Carthage.

The remains are being returned to North Carolina on Tuesday. On Saturday, family members will gather at the cemetery at High Falls Methodist Church where a headstone has long paid tribute to Upchurch.

Next week, the monument's "MIA" designation will be reworked to read, "Home at last."

Mahn and her husband, Henry, as well as her mother, Louise Musselman, will travel to Greensboro on Friday to meet with other family members. The next day, a hearse bearing Upchurch's remains will receive a military escort on the drive to High Falls.

A service will be held at the cemetery there and will include a flyover by members of the modern-day Flying Tigers. Afterwards, members of Upchurch's family will tour Pope Air Force Base at nearby Fort Bragg.

"We're going to have a family reunion," Eloise Mahn said.

She's 48 and was born long after her great-uncle died. But Mahn said that from everything she's been told, Upchurch would have wanted his family to have a grand time as they remembered him.

"For them to have been such a large family, they were very close," Mahn said of Upchurch and his siblings. "His name always got brought up whenever they were together."

Musselman never met Upchurch, either, marrying into the family after the Second World War.

But she said that from everything she was told, family members for the longest time expected to look up one day and see Upchurch stepping through the door.

"They thought he'd been captured," Musselman said. "Because he was missing in action, they kept thinking he'd come home."

And, at long last, he has.

Daniel Leahy
Lt Col
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Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2002 10:21 pm
Location: Australia

Post by Daniel Leahy »

Another article about 2/Lt Upchurch

Photos from the service can also be viewed here:
http://www.af.mil/news/story_media.asp? ... =123018929
Pilot burial solves two mysteries

by Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
Air Force Print News

4/11/2006 - SAN ANTONIO, (AFPN) -- It?s not every day delegates from China attend a lieutenant?s funeral in North Carolina, or that four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly overhead in a missing-man formation, or 300 people show up without having ever met the Air Force pilot. Even a congressman made an appearance.

But 2nd Lt. Robert Upchurch wasn?t just any pilot. Although his death remained a mystery for 61 years, his memory stayed alive -- in two countries -- that entire time.

Lieutenant Upchurch was a P-40 Warhawk pilot with the Flying Tigers. They protected the Chinese by fighting along its Burma border during World War II.

On Oct. 6, 1944, the lieutenant took off from Kanchow, China, on his first mission with the Flying Tigers. After completing the strafing mission, they started home. They flew into bad weather en route.

First Lt. Robert Gibeault, a fellow pilot, said in an official report that he had last seen Lieutenant Upchurch climbing through overcast skies dangerously close to some mountains.

The rest of the flight turned back and tried a different route than the one attempted by Lieutenant Gibeault and Lieutenant Upchurch. Later, Chinese officials reported a plane had crashed and burned at Shang Pau Has, and that pilot and plane identification was impossible.

Since there was no means of identification, the Army Air Force wasn?t certain it was Lieutenant Upchurch and listed him as missing in action.

In 1945, eight months after the fatal crash, Flying Tigers Chaplain Albert Buckley wrote a disheartening letter to the lieutenant?s parents.

?I believe it is only right to tell you that the outlook is not at all favorable or encouraging, particularly in view of the fact that your son has been missing since last October,? the chaplain wrote. ?It has been our experience that when a pilot lands safely in free China, even though he might be injured, we receive notification from the Chinese in a comparatively short time. Such a report has never been received on your loving son.?

In October 1945, the Army Air Force presumed Lieutenant Upchurch dead.

Chinese side of the story
Meanwhile, in Guidong County of the Hunan Province in China, villagers buried the pilot in Chinese tradition, wrapping him in a red cloth and setting off firecrackers, according to a Chinese newspaper report.

Although the villagers never knew the identity of the pilot they buried, they never forgot him.

?Over the past 60 years, the people of Guidong County, have quietly watched and tended the grave of Lieutenant Upchurch, who has been a hero commanding their highest respect and a symbol in their mind for everlasting pursuit of peace,? said Haung Renzhun, a representative from the Foreign Affairs Office of the Hunan Provincial Government.

Mr. Renzhun said that every year during ?Tomb-Sweeping Day,? local students and citizens voluntarily came to pay their respects and lay wreaths and flowers at the tomb of the unknown pilot. The grave was well-maintained until May 2005, the date they discovered his identity.

Pilot?s identity revealed
In May 2005, a task force from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii conducted investigation operations in three Chinese provinces for about 30 days.
World War II left more than 78,000 MIAs, many of those in the Pacific, and the team was investigating four of them.

At what is now Santi Park in Guidong County, team members recovered possible human remains, personal effects and life support equipment. The monument there simply read ?American Pilot.?

Later that year, the task force identified his remains by comparing them to DNA samples collected from the Upchurch family that remained, which were mostly second-generation nephews and nieces.

After 61 years, the Upchurch family finally learned of the whereabouts of their uncle, and the people of Hunan Province discovered the name of their hero.

?Moore County of North Carolina was where this great fighter grew up, and my hometown, Guidong County of Hunan Province, was where he rested in peace for decades,? Mr. Renzhun said during Lieutenant Upchurch?s funeral on April 8 in High Falls, N.C.

?Lieutenant Upchurch is one of the bravest American pilots and a hero in the worldwide war against fascism,? Mr. Renzhun said. ?He assisted the Chinese people in the fight against the Japanese and sacrificed his young and precious life. On behalf of the 67 million people of Hunan Province ? our government wishes to take this opportunity to pay high tribute to Lieutenant Upchurch.?

North Carolina Governor Michael Easley wrote in a letter to the family: ?Lieutenant Upchurch gave his life for his country and is a true hero. Without hesitation, he fought to preserve and defend the ideals for which this great nation stands.?

In the end, the Chinese lost a hero, while High Falls buried one.
According to one site, the aircraft was a P-40N-20 of the 74th FS, 23rd FG lost on October 6, 1944. Does anyone happen to have a serial of this aicraft?
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia


Posts: 18
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Location: Aiea, Hawaii

2nd Lt. Upchurch P-40 Serial Number

Post by hennjhn »

Lt Upchurch's P-40 serial number is 43-22786. nickname " The Cub". MACR# 9726. I hope this will help you.

John Hennessy

Daniel Leahy
Lt Col
Posts: 284
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2002 10:21 pm
Location: Australia

Post by Daniel Leahy »

Thanks for that John - Much appreciated!
Daniel Leahy
Canberra, Australia


Posts: 5
Joined: Fri May 30, 2003 2:58 am
Location: Berthoud, Colorado

Post by PopsDauntless »

Wow, what a find. Good to hear that he has been laid to rest
Have any info on naval bases in Alaska?
Please email or PM me.

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