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COLEMAN CREW: Pat's Search | The Crew | Original Crew | Shoot Down | Documents | Final Mission | The Plane B-24 | 307th Bomb Group
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Pat Ranfranz's Search for the Coleman Crew
March 2006 PacificWrecks.com Interview with Pat Ranfranz: Justin Taylan, the developer/owner of the PacificWrecks.com web site, interviewed Pat Ranfranz regarding his MissingAirCrew.com project. View the PacificWrecks.com interview.
My thesis on the Development of Air Power
In 1988, while searching for my senior thesis topic I learned how to locate information from the military archives. I considered writing a thesis on my uncle's crew or bomb group, but time was short and due to the slow pace of receiving information from the archives, I decided to write my thesis on the Development of Air Power with a focus on low-level B-24 attack on refineries near Ploesti, Romania on August 1, 1943. This mission involved 178 B-24s that took off from Benghazi, Libya and flew into Ploesti, Romania at tree top level to bomb the German oil refineries. Of the 178 aircraft out, 163 made it over target. Of these 41 were lost in action, 8 in Turkey, and 5 due to miscellaneous causes. Three hundred aircrew were killed, 140 captured, and of the crew returning, over 440 were wounded. The B-24 carried a 10-man crew, so casualties ran to 55%. Only one in six bombers was in flyable condition with the mission complete.
My thesis research helped me understand the B-24 and the air war in Europe and the Pacific. While writing my thesis that year documents regarding my uncle started to arrive from the military archives. I received the Missing Air Crew report (MACR #10023) in the winter of 1989. For the first time my family had information on the other crew members and a full account of the shoot down. After this information was shared with my uncles and aunts they took time to locate the telegram that arrived to my grandparents in July of 1944 telling them of John's loss. My mother recalls standing in the doorway listening to the Western Union representative tell my grandparents and other relatives that John was MIA and likely KIA. She recalls the odd sight of grownup men and women crying as they tried to understand the loss. Although other brothers served during the war my family was fortunate to have escaped the war with the loss of only one son. My grandfather never forgave the Japanese for the loss of his son after the war family moved on and returned to Watertown, South Dakota. Like many families who had lost loved ones during the war they endured the victory celebrations and the returning service members with the hope that John had somehow survived the war and would also return. Sadly as time passed, the family realized John's MIA/KIA status was not going to change. While hundreds of thousands of American WWII causalities were returned to the US for burial from 1948-1952, families of the missing in action could only hope to receive more information about their loved ones.
Unrecoverable due to the depth of the water . . .
The military and the US government went to great lengths at a cost of
I completed and defended my senior thesis on the Development of Air Power during the spring of 1989 (received an A) and graduated from college in May of 1989. Any thoughts about spending time on my history research hobby were lost when my daughter was born four days after my college graduation. My wife and I ended up in Shoreview, Minnesota and went about the busy work of starting careers and raising our daughter. Although my uncle, B-24's, Yap Island, and other topics remained in my day dreams, I put my papers into a storage box and let time pass. With hindsight, the late 80's and early 90's would have been an excellent time to contact living members of my uncle's bomb squadron and group. Unfortunately, I lost this valuable time and did not resume my search until after millennium.
Started the CharlesLindbergh.com web site
December 2006 Update from Pat: I made an agreement with another group to transfer the ownership of CharlesLindbergh.com web site. The new ownership group is planning to rebuild a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis and fly the plane fron New York to Paris in 2008. With the transfer of the CharlesLindbergh.com web site I can now focus my energy on my Missing Air Crew Project.
In the late 90's I found myself reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book titled Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg. At the time I was working as the Director of Web Development for AGS Publishing and decided to use my web development skills to create a web site about Charles Lindbergh. No comprehensive Lindbergh site existed at the time. I started off building pages, adding information, discussion forums, stories, and eventually I found myself dealing with hundreds of thousands of site visitors from around the world. From 2002 on the CharlesLindbergh.com web site has received over 500,000 site visitors each calendar year. I was never sure why I started the CharlesLindbergh.com web site; however, the dots were connected when I received a letter from Dick Beardon, a member of the 307th Bomb Group (same as my uncle). He wrote that Charles Lindbergh was on the same islands during the same timeframe as my uncle. The middle-aged Charles Lindbergh traveled to the Pacific as an observer, and eventually ended up flying over 50 combat missions, including one in which he downed a Japanese aircraft. The Roosevelt Administration tried to ban Charles Lindbergh from the military and related industries due to his noninterventionist activities prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Lindbergh resigned his commission in the Army Air Corps after Roosevelt publicly denounced him. He tried to reenlist after Pearl Harbor but his request was refused. He then served as a technical adviser and test pilot for the Ford Motor Company and United Aircraft Corporation (now United Technologies Corporation). The Roosevelt Administration would likely have banned Lindbergh from visiting the Pacific had they known ahead of time. Eventually Lindbergh flew over 50 combat missions and shot down a Japanese plane before being asked by the military to return to the US. The letter I received from Mr. Beardon (the member of the 307th bomb group) explained that he and many B-24 crew members owed their lives to Lindbergh because he developed cruise control techniques showing the military how to significantly extend the range of fighter planes during the summer of 1944. Lindbergh's information helped fighters fly farther and stay with the bomber formations thus protecting them from Japanese attacks. Unfortunately, Lindbergh's cruise control techniques came a few days too late for the Coleman crew. Their bomber formation, without the protection of US fighters, was un-escorted to Yap Island and was attacked by 17 Japanese planes. It was just a few months later that bombing formations would have US fighter protection in thanks to Lindbergh's help.
Through this connection I realized my CharlesLindbergh.com web site development and the Coleman crew crossed paths. This realization put me back on the path to discover more about my uncle and the Coleman crew and perhaps find away to bring them home after 60 years.
Received my private pilot license
My pilot license has allowed me to visit a number of air shows, view American and Japanese aircraft, and meet crew members who served in the Pacific theater. I began locating and reading every book I could find to help me better understand the Coleman crew and their environment in June of 1944. My insatiable appetite for information about the 307th Bomb Group has been both exciting and frustrating. A number of times I have thought I found a breakthrough only to be disappointed with a few holes. For example, I recently located and read a book titled "The Spectator-A World War II Bomber Pilot's Journal of the Artist As Warrior". The author, David Zellmer, served in the 307th Bomb Group at the same time as the Coleman crew. I could not believe my luck. I thought I may have found a resource for more information about the crew and shoot down. Although the book provided a lot of background information about the bases and bomb group, Mr. Zellmer was on rest leave from June 1-30 1944 in Australia and missed the time period of the Coleman Crew shoot down. After finishing the book I located Mr. Zellmer's phone number and tried to call him for more information, however, I was told he had passed away 15 days before I called.
Discovered additional documents
Sergeant Edward H. Martin
For the first time, I started to consider the possibility that the accounts of the shoot down from the tail gunner on another plane in the formation could have been clouded in the fog of war. After all, all the accounts of the shoot down have been based on the statements of one person, Sergeant Edward H. Martin. He was the last person to see the plane as it crashed into the water. Although I don't doubt Mr. Martin's account of the plane being hit and spinning into the ocean, is it possible he may have missed crew members bailing out during the crash?
Japanese historical accounts
I came in contact with Dr. Pat Scannon with the BentProp.com organization. He was able to locate Japanese historical accounts of the shoot down and additional records that indicate B-24 airmen were captured by the Japanese in the waters off Yap during this time period. Dr. Scannon is continuing to research these accounts at this time. Although my gut feeling still places my uncle and his crew in the plane as it hit the water, I now wonder if this is the end of the story.
In the very least, I want to honor the memories of the 10 Coleman crew members by locating the final details of the shoot down, the crash, and to document their lives up until that fateful day of 25 June 1944. They were only ten of hundreds of thousands who gave their lives during WWII, however, I don't want them to be forgotten in history as memories fade and the loss of their lives becomes buried in history. I'm sure the stories of each crew member's loss in still out there in the memories of each family. Some of this information may now be lost forever with the passage of time. However, I plan to bring the memories of the Coleman crew back from time and provide a perspective on the type of men who give their lives to their countries and then melt into history.
I hope this web site will be my vehicle to locate more information, document the history of the plane and crew members and perhaps close the story. In addition, the technology now exists to locate the Coleman crew and their plane in the Pacific waters "just off" the SE reef of Yap Island. Therefore, I feel it's important to locate the plane and let the families decide if we should bring the men home after 60 years.
Largest obstacle at this time is the cost
The largest obstacle at this time is the cost associated with the equipment necessary to scan the ocean floor and go down to locate and document the crash site. I'm hopeful I can find corporate sponsors and donors who will help me with this part of the project.
Technology no longer stands in our way
Visit NOAA at the following link for more information about side scan sonar: http://chartmaker.ncd.noaa.gov/hsd/wrecks.htm
Read an account of a B-24 located near Yap (on Palau) in February 2004
The Coleman crew is considered missing in action and listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.
Returning home . . .
As the men departed Mokerang Field, Los Negros the morning of June 25, 1944 their primary thoughts were likely to return to base later that day and back home to the US once their combat tour had ended. Help me locate the Coleman plane and crew who remain thousands of miles from home.
Pat Ranfranz can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coleman Crew Memorial on Yap Island
I'm pleased to announce a partnership between the Missing Air Crew Project and the Yap Visitors Bureau (YVB). The two organizations have been working together over the few years to document the history of Yap during World War II. The project goals include creating resources to document and share the history, training the Yap tourism industry on the history, setting up a WWII tour process and to create memorials to remember the lifes lost during WWII. The following pictures are of the Coleman Crew memorial that now sits on the shore of the harbor in Colonia, Yap to honor the ten missing crew members including my uncle.
Click on a thumbnail image below to view the full sized image.
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