The 459th Twin Dragon Fighter squadron, Burma Banshees
In his book, P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI, John Stanaway wrote this:
"The first important mission of this period (first half 1944) was led by the new squadron CO, Lt. Col. Verl Luehring on 11 March (1944), and saw a dozen Lightnings make a perfectly-timed assault on Aungban and Heho airstrips just as a number of Japanese fighters were taking off to intercept them.
“Luehring drew first blood when he shot down an 'Oscar' (Japanese Mitsubishi 'Zero') during his opening pass, whilst future aces Capts. Maxwell Glenn and Willard Webb each accounted for a pair apiece. Eventual ranking ace of the 459th, Lt. Walter Duke got two Oscars as well, plus a third as a probable."
Luehring would finish the war with a total of three kills, one each as a captain, major and lieutenant colonel. He would rise to the rank of colonel and in April 1954 take command of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group then at George AFB, California.
Duke was shot down over Burma on June 6, 1944. Assigned to the Twin Dragon squadron, the 459th of the Burma Banshees, he became known as “The Dragon with the sharpest claws.”
On the day he was shot down, he was returning from his mission over Burma to the base at Chittagong. As he was flying “home,” he realized he did not have his wingman with him. So he went back to the area to look for him. In so doing, he was jumped by a formidable force of Japanese fighters, which intelligence later determined were Japanese KI-43 Oscars. He had to fight against them all alone. He was never heard from again, and was listed as MIA. However, he was reported to have shot down three enemy aircraft during the fight before himself going down. He was not credited with these as no one saw the event and there was no gun camera footage.
I received a note from Mitch Thompson of Oxford, Iowa on July 18, 2012 that said:
“My father in law Dewey Sowder was a pilot in the 459th from '43 to November of ’44 … Dewey was a warrant officer and when he got out, a first lieutenant. Flew 110 missions. He served as someone’s wing man and in spite of this he had 1 1/2 kills. I don't know who he was a wing man for, wondered if you might have a lead on that information. He did tell me once the story of Capt. Dukes death and he was on the mission sent out to look for him. Dewey was transferred out to the 33rd fighter group 'The Gorillas" in November of 1944. I believe he was in line for the executive officer of this outfit before he got out in May of '45. I know nothing of the 33rd and was hoping to get a line that outfit as well.”
This is 1st Lt Bill Lyon. On May 25, 1944, he was an element leader of a second flight conducting a fighter sweep of Kangaung, having launched from Chittagang. According to Duke and 2nd Lt John Bumger, they dove through 7/10 overcast over the target from about 10,000 ft. On observing no targets on the field, Duke pulled up at about 4,000 ft and made no attack. Bumger said Lyon steepened his dive perhaps thinking he had a target in sight. Bumger tried to stay with him but the dive got steeper and steeper, almost to vertical. Bumger saw his airspeed at 500 mph at 5,000 ft and pulled up to about 2,000 ft. When Duke looked back to see if his flight was together he observed a large column of black smoke on the south end of the target, Duke reported that Lyon was missing from the formation. Bumger reported a similar observation.
I have a very nice set of photos of men assigned to the 459th in the CBI, but most are not identified. I will do my best to identify those I can, and ask that readers lend a hand if they recognize one of these guys. I'm guessing these are all maintenance guys, no nonsense fix 'em up, patch 'em up, and fly 'em kinds of men.
Lou Seller, a Videographer with the Space Coast Honor Flight, met Tom Allen who was in the 459th and the family provided a photo with most of the new on it. I hope I have interpreted it correctly.
Once again, I'll break this up to get a closer look at these guys. The next two are close-up views of this photo.
C. Allen, Petrulak, Melton, Lloyd, Petruchunas, Pace. Middle row R-L: Martin, Stevens, Gruber, Hojnack …
Back row, R-L: Lt. Chaote, Bell, Tom Allen, Gerity, Setla, C. Allen. Middle row: R-L: Cinque, Fundelric, Walker, Weronski, Martin.
Master Sergeant (MSgt) Herbert Wayne Walker
The troops are cooking chow here. That's MSgt. Walker in the middle.
This is a great photo. It looks like two men peering out of their foxholes, which seem to have wooden tops at the least. I am going to guess that this photo was taken at Chittagong. I have seen a report prepared in New Zealand that said that their pilots had moved to Chittagong where they lived in tents "tucked away in the jungle along the airstrips."
In any event, that's Walker on the right. I'm going to zoom in on both these guys in the next two photos.
I have read several accounts that the Chittagong airfields were bombed frequently by the Japanese, so these holes look like a good idea if indeed they're at Chittagong.
Go to next page - The Men (continued)