Aircraft B-24J-40 with serial number 44-40596 was on a strike mission to Palau.
Eyewitness statement of 2nd Lt Robert J. DeSlover:
On 25 August 1944, I was flying number two position with the 394th Bombardment Squarond (H), in airplane #44-40467, on a mission to Palau. Lieutenant Rea was flying in airplane #44-40596 in the last element of the lead squadron, which was about one mile ahead of my position in the last element of the last squadron. On the breakaway after the bomb run, during which the group was being intercepted by eight or ten enemy planes, my nose turret gunner, S/Sgt Parker observed Lt. Rea’s airplane falling in huge chunks of flames. It had apparently exploded from a fire in its bomb bay. A few moments later my Co-Pilot Lt. Tyler called my attention to a wreckage burning on the water, at the southwerstern tip of Koror Town. I observed the wreckage as four fires burning on the water, strung out in a close line. One piece of wreckage was hit on a small marsh, where a parachute was descending into the water amid the wreckage, and one seamarker began to spread after one of the parachutes landed. The landing of the two remaining parachutes was unobserved, though they were close to the wreckage when last seen. The survivors, if any, have landed in enemy waters, within the Palau Group of Islands.
Pilot, 1st Lt Grant M. Rea
Co-Pilot, 1st Lt William H. Moe Jr.
Navigator, 1st Lt Henry M. Blanchard II
Bombardier, 1st Lt Judd C. Sempel
Engineer, T/Sgt Ernest R. Pennington
Assistant Engineer, S/Sgt Von O. Hedrick
Radio Operator, T/Sgt Gregory LeCakes
Assistant Radio Operator, S/Sgt Reuben V. Evans
Gunner, S/Sgt Joel M. Matthews
Gunner, S/Sgt Earl R. Curry
He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery.
From the 31st Bombardment Squadron’s newsletter (http://www.31stbombers.org/news.html):
“5th BG (H) Association & BentProp Project Collaborate in Search for MIAs
“By Barb O’Brien, with contributions from Rich O’Brien, Joanne Emerick and Norah Pratton
“The 5th Bomb Group (H) Association exists for the benefit of member veterans and their families and friends. Within the Association there are those families of MIAs who still live with the sorrow of not having answers about their loved ones. Members find strength, support and camaraderie through Association reunions, our newsletters and the stories shared by our veterans.
“Recently the 5th Bomb Group (H) Association connected with a group that searches for aircraft and MIAs lost in the Palau area of the western Pacific in WWII. That group is called the BentProp Project, founded 20 years ago by Dr. Pat Scannon. Pat and his experienced volunteer team conduct a search mission to Palau every year.
“A few years ago the BentProp Project helped locate MIAs from a 13th AF 307th Bomb Group crew that had been shot down 1 September 1944. The discovery of that location resulted in the return of remains in 2009 to several families. The story of the search was the subject of the book, Vanished, by Wil S. Hylton.
“Rich O’Brien’s daughter, Alysia, had given him the book, Vanished, for Christmas this year. In March, having just read the book, he knew that one of the planes and crew they were still looking for was the 72nd Sq., 5th Bomb Group B-24J, #44-40596, and the Grant M. Rea crew, which was shot down 25 August 1944 on a mission to Palau. The account of this mission was detailed in the December 2012 “Bomber Baron News”, in the 5th Bomb Group historical records submitted by Joanne Emerick.
“The crew members were 1st Lt. Grant M. Rea, Pilot; 1st Lt. William H. Moe Jr., Co-pilot; 1st Lt. Henry M. Blanchard II, Navigator; 1st Lt. Judd C. Sempel, Bombardier; T/Sgt. Ernest R. Pennington, Engineer; S/Sgt. Von O. Hedrick, Assistant Engineer; T/Sgt. Gregory LeCakes, Radio Operator; S/Sgt. Reuben M. Evans, Assistant Radio Operator; S/Sgt. Joel M. Matthews, Gunner; S/Sgt. Earl R. Curry, Gunner.
“Rich was able to find mission reports of the three squadrons on that bomb run—the 23rd, 31st, and 394th. The 72nd Rea crew and another 72nd crew were attached to the 23rd. One 72nd crew was attached to the 31st. One 72nd crew was attached to the 394th.
“The reports indicated that some of Rea’s crew parachuted out and the others are believed to have gone down with the plane. Two men, pilot Rea and gunner Earl R. Curry, were captured by the Japanese. They died under mysterious circumstances while in Japanese custody.”
See for more information and photo of the plane:
Blanchard is 3rd from left, top row, in picture below
Henry McKoy Blanchard II was my dad’s first cousin. My great aunt, his mom, was beside herself after his plane was missing. She suffered from depression for a long time.
–Submitted by Thomas E. Baynham III
- Rank: First Lieutenant
- Date of birth: 24 March 1922
- Date of death: 25 August 1944
- County: Hamilton
- Hometown: Chattanooga
- Service Branch: Army/Army Air Forces
- Division/Assignment: 72nd Bomber Squadron, 5th Bomber Group, Heavy
- Theater: Pacific
- Conflict: World War II
- Awards: Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart
- Burial/Memorial Location: Manila American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines
- Location In Memorial: Pillar XII, Top Panel
- Sponsored by: Thomas E. Baynham III
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