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Great uncle's bomber “Rugged Beloved” shot down on June 16, 1945



I have wanted to post this a while but yesterday marks a special anniversary in my family history as it is the day my great uncle Verlin was shot down during the last months of WWII while serving aboard “Rugged Beloved”, a PB4Y-1 patrol bomber assigned to VPM-111 in the Pacific. Until recently the family believed he was shot down somewhere in the Sea of Japan but over the last few years we have learned that he and a crew of 10 others actually crash landed in the Makassar Straits in what is now called Indonesia. All were believed killed on impact except for one survivor who was later presumed shot and killed by the Japanese.

For a little back history, my grandfather had 4 siblings including two sisters and two brothers. The oldest brother, my grandfather served with distinction in the Army in Europe during WWII as a M16 halftrack commander, while his younger brothers Verlin and Stan served in the Navy and U.S. Army Air Force, respectively. Grandpa and Stan survived the War and went on to have families but Verlin never made it home. My grandfather seldom talked about his younger brother but when the subject came up, he always said that he and others like him had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Verlin listed his older sister as next of kin and her son (my mom’s cousin) was only 8 years old when he answered a call from the War Department saying that Verlin was MIA. Verlin enlisted in April 1941 so received the American Defense Service Medal since he was in the military before the U.S. declared war on Japan. Additional awards included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and Navy Good Conduct Medal. He was also posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and the World War II Victory Medal.

At the conclusion of the War, a search and recovery was conducted, and the remains of what is believed to be the crew of this aircraft were found, though NOT conclusively identified, as the technology did not exist for DNA testing at that time. The remains were recovered from a cemetary in the city of Makassar (now Indonesia) and moved to a U.S. Military cemetery in Barrackpore, India. Those remains were subsequently exhumed and moved to the U.S. Cemetary of the Pacific (Punchbowl), Honolulu, HI, where they remain today, buried in plots as “unknown”…

After years of research we now have a better grasp on what actually happened to Verlin and where. The following information was taken from official reports but the last I heard is that the government is still awaiting DNA samples from surviving family members to exhume the unknown remains of the suspected air crew in order to make positive identifications. Unfortunately many of the family members have also passed away or have been unwilling or unable to provide DNA samples. Anyway I find this very interesting and wish I could have met him. Being a Navy man myself I think we would have a lot to talk about.

Port side photo of Rugged Beloved with nose art typical of aircraft at the time. My great uncle Verlin is in the back row, second from the left.


Starboard side photo with all 11 crew members purported to have been shot down on 16 June 1945. Verlin is standing in the rear on the left and is also shown on the inset photo.


Family photos of Grandpa and his siblings.



U.S. Navy PB4Y-1 #38-913 (“Rugged Beloved”)
Shot down on 16 June 1945 over the Bay of Makassar, Sulawesi Province, Netherlands East Indies (now the country of Indonesia)

The crew members of the aircraft were as follows:
· LTJG Louis T. Bass U.S. #O-240715 Pilot (MIA)
· LTJG William L. Dernberger #O-278082 (MIA)
· ENS Philip C. Stretcher #O-378816 (KIA)
· ARM3 Alden P. Anders #8599212 (MIA)
· ARM1 Robert H. Graham #6506879 (MIA)
· ARM3 Raymond P. Kivitt #7113286 (MIA)
· AMM3 Roger W. Mitchell #8897569 (MIA)
· AMM1 Henry V. Philpott #2875379 (MIA)
· AOM3 George W. Pringle #8575327 (MIA)
· ARM3 Joseph Regiac #7207917 (MIA)
· ARM3 William A. Whitener #0557156 (MIA)

CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS: On 16 June, 1945, PB4Y-1 #38-913 with a crew of eleven, departed U.S. Army Airfield, Palawan, Philippine Islands for a patrol mission of the Makassar Straits. Aircraft from the VPM-111 squadron were tasked with conducting long range reconnaissance. During the month of June 1945, most patrol flights to the Makassar Straits were extended to maximum distance and served as interdiction flights. When LTJG Bass and his crew failed to return to base on 16 June 1945, they were listed as missing in action. On 17 June 1945, three special searches of the general loss area produced no evidence of the aircraft or crew.

SEARCH AND RECOVERY: Message traffic dated 15 October 1945 detailing the results of a Makassar investigation into downed airmen referenced a USN B-24 aircraft (equivalent of the PB4Y-1) shot down over Makassar Harbor on 16 June 1945. It states that five (5) crewmembers and a flight jacket for ENS Stretcher washed up on a break water and were buried, four (4) additional individuals were washed onto the mainland and buried in an unknown location by indigenous personnel, one (1) unknown was buried in the Makassar cemetery on 19 June 1945, and one (1) ‘Blond Slender Surviver’ was reportedly taken to the “Gestapo” (likely the Kempeitai) and his fate was unknown. This message makes no specific reference as to who buried the crewmembers, but it is implied that all were recovered by indigenous personnel. No additional references could be located relative to these findings.

After the war the American Graves Registration Services (AGRS) recovered the remains (date unknown) of ENS Stretcher and six (6) additional unknown individuals initially interred at the Makassar Christian Cemetary and had them reinterred at the United States Miliary Cemetary, Barrackpore, Bengal, India. The six unknowns were listed as Barrackpore X-157, X-165, X-166, X-168, X-170, and X-171. The AGRS report states that based on information obtained by their search and recovery party, the remains are associated with the crew of a B-25 aircraft and requested that all aircraft crash files be searched for a possible correlation. No records detailing their interment at the Makassar Christian Cemetary could be located.

It should be noted that the place of death recorded for ENS Stretcher and the unknown remains is POW Camp Makassar. Ensign Stretcher was reportedly identified by a marker over his grave at the Makassar Christian Cemetary and a notation was made of his report of internment in Barrackpore that no skull or mandible was present for dental charting. Based on this information, a circumstantial identification of ENS Stretcher based of the presence of his flight jacket is presumed. In 1947, those associated unknowns with dental evidence present (X-157, X-168, and X-170) were referred to the Dental Professional Division, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy Department, for comparison with the dental records of the BuNo 38913 crew. No definitive identifications could be made. On November 22, 1949, the remaining 10 crewmembers remains were declared non-recoverable after all applicable unknown leads had been investigated with negative results. The unknown remains subsequently designated as Barrackpore X-157, X-165, X-166, X-168A, X-168B, X-168C, X-168D, X-170, and X-171 were permanently interred at the National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Between March and April 2016, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Research and Investigation Team (RIT) visited Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. This team’s focus was the investigation of nine aircraft losses in and around Makassar Harbor, including LTJG Bass' PB4Y-1. While in Makassar, the team met with an “arkeolog bawah air Indonesia” (Indonesian underwater archaeologist) who supplied the DPAA team with a description and coordinates of what may be a WWII bomber, which crashed between the islands of Samalona and Lae Lae in the vicinity of Makassar Harbor. However, no information on possible burials of US personnel were obtained and records for the wartime Makassar Christian Cemetary were non-existent.

DPAA is aware of six B-24s/PB4Y-1s that crashed in and around the Makassar Harbor, in addition to another four U.S. aircraft (three P-38s and one PBY-5) that were also lost in the same area.

NEXT STEPS: This case will be evaluated for Disinterment to exhume and test the unknown remains originally thought to be the crewmembers of this aircraft (X-157, X-165, X-166, X-168A, X-168B, X-168C, X-168D, X-170, and X-171). DPAA must have 60% of the Family Reference Samples (FRS) on file for missing individuals associated with a Case before the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will consider a disinterment request. In the case of these unknown remains, six (6) of ten (10) FSR’s are required to process the request. As of March 2017, DPAA was in the possession of one (1) of the FSR’s required; the maternal FRS for ARM3 Alders.
 

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The "Greatest Generation"! Godspeed to DPAA. God's guidance to you and yours Kingstrider.
 
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I have worked with DPAA before and also with the DIA POW/MIA directorate to search for Vietnam era POWs/MIAs in Cambodia. They are really incredible people! They do their very best with little current information and usually use old historical case data to search for and hopefully recover our missing service members.
 
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