Marine Bombing Squadron Six-Thirteen
October 1, 1943 - November 21, 1945
VMB-613 Insignia

PONAPE CRASH-SITE

The story of MB-6 and its crew that was lost over Ponape did not end on February 6, 1945.  Through the efforts of Stan Gajda and Dick Williams, the events of that day have been revealed from a forensic perspective through numerous hours of research, interviews with witnesses, and surveys of the crash site.

During July of 2001, aviation archeologist Dick Williams traveled to Ponape to conduct a survey of the crash-site of MB-6, believing it to be a 7th Air Force B-25.  Arriving on Ponape, Dick teamed up with his long-time friend, Stan Gajda, an aviation historian and aircraft restorer whose credentials included assisting in the recovery of the remains of nineteen men of Carlson's Raiders that were killed on Makin Atoll in 1942.  As a resident of Ponape, Stan was very familiar with the crash-site. 

Work began with Dick Williams interviewing Estanis Aldis, a witness to the downing of the aircraft.  Mr. Aldis indicated that he watched the attack on Airfield Number 2 on February 6, 1945 from a hill overlooking the airfield (Dolen Palikir) and that he recalled that the last plane was hit in the tail by "a small gun atop Dolen Pahniepw."  He indicated that the plane "went straight in" and began to burn upon impact.  Shortly thereafter, one of the aircraft's bombs exploded.  He ran down the hill to the site of the crash, only to be chased away by Japanese soldiers who had arrived on the scene.  According to Mr. Aldis, the Japanese recovered the bodies of five crewmembers, and buried them in a common grave at the crash-site, however the remains of the sixth crewmember could apparently not be located.  It was also learned that Captain Kitawaga of the Imperial Japanese Navy had been the commander of the construction and defense at Airfield Number Two, and that following the war, the brother of the missing crewman had traveled to Ponape to search for him but was unable to locate his remains.

With his interview of the witness complete, Dick and Stan traveled to the crash site and began a systematic search of the area.  Their search revealed that only a few large pieces of the aircraft remained -- the port engine and propeller, the port landing gear and wheel, three defused General Purpose bombs, and a section of the port vertical and horizontal stabilizer.  The location of the vertical stabilizer proved an important find since it was the only piece of aircraft with recognizable markings, a large white "5" on a blue background.  Excavation at the site revealed a "burnt area" of ground and further pieces of the aircraft including a bomb rail, and the shattered remains of a radar receiver.  Smaller fragments included a buckle, a lens, pieces of switches, metal forgings, cloth fabric, and great deal of .50 caliber ammunition, shell casings, and projectiles.  Dick and Stan also searched the area of the Japanese gun location atop Dolen Pahniepw and recovered a number of 12.7mm shell casings that had been fired, one of which may have held the fatal round.

Following the search of the crash-site, Dick Williams returned to the United States and began researching the identity of the aircraft through the National Archives.  His search revealed that the aircraft was in fact a Marine PBJ-1H belonging to Marine Bombing Squadron Six-Thirteen, and that its Bureau of Aeronautics number was 35275.  With this information, Dick was able to contact a number of squadron members and learn additional historical details.  In corresponding with members of VMB-613, Dick learned that following the war American service personnel traveled to Ponape as part of a War Crimes Tribunal, and that one of the members of that tribunal had been First Lieutenant Donald C. McCune, the Assistant Intelligence Officer of Marine Bombing Squadron Six-Thirteen.  During their inquiry, the tribunal learned that following hostilities, the Japanese had erected a monument "to the brave American flyers" over the gravesite of MB-6's crewmen.  He also learned that sometime thereafter, the bodies of the crewmembers were removed from the grave at the crash-site and temporarily re-interred in Kolonia, the primary port village on Ponape, before being repatriated to the United States and buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri.

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