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James A. McMurria
U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) 5th Air Force (5th AF)
90th Bombardment Group (90th BG), 321st Bombardment Squadron (321st BS)
B-24D Liberator pilot and Prisoner Of War (POW)

Background
James Austin McMurria was born in 1917 to parents John Henry and Mary Brooks McMurria in Columbus, GA. Mr. He attended high school then graduated from University of Georgia class of 1938.

Wartime History
On July 12, 1941 enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet with serial number 14045681. On February 20, 1942 he completed flight training, earned his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O-372644. Sent overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 90th Bombardment Group (90th BG), 321st Bombardment Squadron (321st BS). He flew eighteen combat missions in New Guinea and was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. McMurria was lost on his nineteenth mission.

Mission History
On January 20, 1943 at 5:40am took off from 5 Mile Drome (Ward) near Port Moresby piloting B-24D Liberator 41-24101 on a patrol and reconnaissance mission over the Madang-Wewak-Manus-Vitiaz Strait area.

During take off, the runway was poorly lit with smudge pots and the bomber lost airspeed on patches of sand and mud washed onto the runway, forcing the pilots to abort takeoff, stopping 50 yards beyond the runway with the nose stuck in barbed wire. Taxing backwards, the debris was cleared and was able to take off on the second attempt. Due to thunderstorms over the Owen Stanley Mountains, McMurria flew up the south side of New Guinea to cross the mountains after daybreak.

Over Wewak at 9:00am at an altitude of 14,000' they reported three transports in Wewak Harbor and observed twenty-two fighters taking off to intercept them. These were A6M2 Zeros from the Junyƍ Detachment temporarily land based at Wewak Airfield (Wirui). The B-24 salvoed their bomb load and turned to depart as the ships opened fire with anti-aircraft fire and their no. 3 engine was hit.

At 9:20am flying at roughly 16,000' they radioed they were being attacked by fighters and the damaged no. 3 engine began to smoke and was feathered. The fighters damaged the control surfaces causing the B-24 to become sluggish and unresponsive. A cannon shell tore a hole in the nose and wounded Doyle in his left shoulder and leg.

Damaged, the B-24 ditched off Wewak. This was the first American aircraft shot down by the Japanese during the Wewak campaign.

On impact, the bomber broke into half with the nose section sinking immediately. The rear section remained afloat for a few minutes. During the ditching, Erskine and Grandolfo were killed and went down with the bomber. Both remain listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Co-pilot Martindale was trapped in the cockpit as it sank before freeing himself and swimming to the surface. Only one life raft deployed before the bomber sank.

Fates of the Crew
The eight survivors spent two and a half days clinging to the single four-man life raft until reaching Wageo Island, where they encountered friendly natives who cared for them for nearly two months.

Attempting to return to friendly lines, the crew were transported by canoe along the chain of island including Wei Island then to the north coast of New Guinea near the mouth of the Sepik River.

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Prisoner Of War (POW)

On March 13, 1943 while sleeping on a beach the entire crew were captured by a Japanese Army patrol and became Prisoners Of War (POW). Afterwards, transported by barge to Wewak then Kairiru Island then to Rabaul where they were imprisoned at Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison) in cells.

McMurria, Doyle, Sugden and Farnell remained in captivity at at Rabaul Prisoner Compound (Rabaul POW Prison). On March 2, 1944 due to the heavy bombing of Rabaul, the Allied Prisoners Of War (POWs) were trucked to Tunnel Hill POW Camp arriving around 7:15pm and crammed into a single tunnel.

On September 2, 1945. McMurria was one of nine Allied prisoners who survived captivity at Rabaul. On September 7, 1945 the former prisoners were embarked aboard HMAS Vendetta (D69) and transported to Jaquinot Bay where they were admitted into the 2/8th General Hospital for received evaluations and debriefing. Afterwards, the Americans were flown aboard a C-47 Skytrain from Jaquinot Bay Airfield to New Guinea.

Postwar
McMurria was a founding member of Columbus National Insurance Co., served on the board of Coastal Life Insurance Co. and retired from Meinhart Commercial Factors of New York. He and his family moved to Greenville in 1958, where he was vice president of South Carolina National Bank until he retired in 1982. McMurria authored two memoirs about his wartime experiences: Trial and Triumph (1992) and Fight For Survival! (2003).

Memorials
McMurria passed away on August 5, 2003 at age 85. On August 8, 2003 buried at Springwood Cemetery in Greenville, SC at section J.

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - James A. Mc Murria surname spelled "Mc Murria"
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - James A. Mc Murria
McMurria affidavit "Perpetuation of Testimony of Former 1st Lieut. James A. McMurria" July 21, 1948
FindAGrave - Lieut James Austin McMurria (photos, obituary, grave photo)
Jose Holguin Memoir by Jose Holguin

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