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Yap Island Mission Loss—26 July 1944

The following plane was lost on 26 July 1944 on a mission to Yap Island. I would greatly appreciate anyone's help to locate additional information regarding the information listed below.Submit additional information, updates, newpaper articles, pictures, and supporting documents to: pat@missingaircrew.com

26 July 1944 SB2C-1C Helldiver VB-2 from the USS Yorktown Hit by AA fire and crashed near the reef on the west side of the island View Info

Date: Plane Type: Unit: Crew Names: Supporting Documents:
26 July 1944 SB2C-1C
Helldiver from the USS Yorktown
VB-1, USN
  1. Lt. John K. Beling (Survived)
  2. Arm2C. Curtis L. Wright Jr. (MIA)

Bureau #00321

Carrier Air Group Report for 26 July 1944

Aircraft Action Report for 26 July 1944

USS Biloxi report-rescue of Beling

VT-1 Report--dropped life raft to Beling

MIA/KIA STATUS: The following information was provided by the Navy and Marine causality offices:

PERMANENT CEMETERY LAST NAME FIRST NAME MI SUFFIX RANK SERVICE # DISPOSITION
MIA WRIGHT CURTIS L Jr. ARM2 6649971 Missing

American Battle Monuments Commission Information:

  • CURTIS L. WRIGHT Jr.
  • Aviation Radioman, Second Class, U.S. Navy
  • Service # 6649971
  • United States Naval Reserve
  • Entered the Service from: Washington
  • Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
  • Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
  • Manila, Philippines
Description

Hit in the bottom fuselage by AA in thier navy Helldiver, over the Yap, and crashed in the water.

  • Lt. John K. Beling (Survived)
    Burned before parachuting. Condition satisfactory after recovery.
  • Curtis L. Wright Jr., MIA.
    Missing in action after plane crashed.

Aircraft Action Report Description of Shoot Down:

This flight launched at 0640 on 27 July 1944 (WRONG DATE??) and proceeded to Yap 89 miles distant on bearing 341. After circling the island the bombers attacked their targets from 13,000 feet on course of 140. After the bombing attack six planes returned for strafing attacks on the power plant and airfield. During this attack Lt. (jg) BELING's plane was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. The pilot parachuted to the water and was rescued by a Kingfisher rescue plane. He suffered second degree burns on his arms and legs, but his condition is satisfactory. The radioman, Curtis L. Wright, ARM2c, is believed to have jumped from the plane before the pilot, but his parachute was not seen to open. After the strafing attack, the flight returned to base and landed aboard at 0950.

USS Biloxi rescue report of Lt. John K. Beling

USS Biloxi rescue report John K. Beling

Lt. John K. Beling later was the Capt of the USS Forrestal when 132 crewmen died on July 29, 1967

I found the following excerpt in the book, "Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It by Gregory A. Freeman". Lt. John K. Beling who was shot down over Yap in a Navy Helldiver was the Capt of the USS Forrestal on July 29, 1967 when rockets and bombs went off on the flight deck that resulting in 132 Forrestal crewmen dead and 62 more injured. One of the injured airmen was Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain (now Senator McCain).

Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It by Gregory A. Freeman Excerpt:

    Captain John K. Beling 1967
    Captain John K. Beling 1967. Beling returning home from Vietnam after the July 29, 1967 USS Forrestal fire that killed 134 of his men.
    The truth was that Beling had been to Southeast Asia before and almost didn't make it back. He came within a moment of dying in the waters of the Pacific Ocean like so many other pilots and crewmen whose planes went down on raids against the Japanese. Beling was a twenty-five-year-old bomber pilot in 1944, stationed on the carrier USS Yorktown. One day in July, he and his co-pilot flew their dive bomber to a tiny island in Micronesia called Yap. The lush tropical island, located just nine degrees north of the equator, was a beautiful green spot in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded entirely by a broad shallow lagoon and nearly ninety miles of barrier reef. The island was held by the Japanese and Beling's mission was to hit their installations.

    As they go to the island, Japanese planes came up to meet the dive bombers and their fighter escorts. Beling in the front seat took aim at one of the Japanese planes with his guns and, for just a split second, regretted having to shoot it. The target was a Betty, which the American pilots considered a beautiful plane. Beling zeroed in on the plane's right engine and squeezed the trigger, watching as his cannon shells cut through the plane and started a fire in the engine. But the fire died out quickly and Beling didn't have time to chase the plane for another shot. The island was almost directly beneath him now and he had to continue on his bombing run.

    Beling's escort fighters were taking care of the Japanese planes, so he turned his attention to the island, where antiaircraft guns were filling the air with exploding metal. He was lining up his plane with a good target when he felt a jolt and the whole airplane shuddered. The plane showed no ill effects, so Beling disregarded it and continued to concentrate on the bombing run. He didn't realize that a large-caliber antiaircraft shell had blown through his plane without exploding. Beling squeezed the trigger on his cannons and strafed the island as he lined up his bombing target.

    He was low and almost on top of the small island before he realized his plane was on fire. The flames were visible outside the cockpit, but then they died down and Beling thought he might be okay. Then they reappeared inside the cockpit. The plane started to fill with smoke. His co-pilot called for them to bail out, but Beling realized they were right over the island and would land in Japanese hands. Besides, they were too low to bail out.

    Captain John K. Beling 1967
    Captain John K. Beling 1967
    "No, don't bail yet!" Beling yelled. "Wait! Wait!" He realized that he still had control of the plane, so he made a big climbing turn under full power to get the plane away from the island and up high enough for their parachutes to do some good. But as he pulled the yoke back hard, Beling felt the fire crawling up his legs.

    Within seconds, his legs were completely on fire and he thrashed about the cockpit, trying furiously to put out the flames. Beling screamed in pain. He struggled to pull away from the heat, but the tiny cockpit offered no hop of that. His hands and arms were catching fire as he tried to beat out the flames below. With the fire growing larger every second, Beling frantically decided to jump out of the plane now, even through he couldn't tell exactly where he was in relation to the island or how high.

    It turned out that he was about one thousand five hundred feet high, enough altitude for his parachute to break his fall. Beling watched as his plane crashed into the ocean, and then he landed in about three feet of water about a hundred yards off the island. He never saw what happened to his co-pilot. He thought maybe the other man had gotten out in time while Beling was too distracted to notice.

    Beling stood up in the shallow water and looked around. He was in agony from the burns that covered his legs and much of his arms. His flight suit was mostly burned off. As he stood there, he could see that the fighter escorts were strafing the antiaircraft gun that had shot him down. He was close enough to see the Japanese installations on the island, but so far no one was shooting at him. Once the antiaircraft gun was out of commission, the fighters circled over Beling and one dropped an inflatable life raft to him. He knew they would send help if they could.

    The bundled life raft landed near Beling and he struggled over to it, every movement causing excruciating pain in his legs. He inflated the small on-man raft and flopped into it. He saw that the landing on the coral reef had torn open the dye marker intended to help rescuers spot him, and the green dye was filling the raft as seawater splashed in. He didn't care.

    Click to enlarge Captain John K. Beling 1967 Beling wanted to get away from the island as quickly as possible, because he didn't know if the Japanese would start shooting at him or send a boat to take him prisoner. After trying a few different positions, he found that lying on his back made the raft the most stable in the breaking waves. So he lay there staring up at the blue sky and paddling with both hands. But he soon realized that the coral reef surrounding the island was making his journey difficult. The waves broke hard over the reef and Beling had to contend with higher and higher surges as he got closer to the reef. Paddling was exhausting, and the pain was growing worse every minute. He had to take frequent rest breaks. When he had to urinate, he saw that the urine was fluorescent green because the dye marker had soaked into his body through the burns on his legs.

    After more than an hour, Beling saw a navy seaplane headed his way. Landing inside the reef was too risky for the rescue plane because of the shallow water, so it skittered down just outside. Beling paddled with all his might as the Japanese opened fire on the seaplane with mortars. That's why they didn't shoot at me. I was the bait so they could get a bigger target.

    But the rescue plane did not come alone. Fighter planes had come along for support and they strafed the island while Beling paddled furiously to make it over the reef. The shelling stopped and the rescue plane maneuvered as close as it could get. Once Beling made it over the reef, the pilot on the seaplane stepped out on the pontoon landing gear and urged Beling on. He yelled words of encouragement, partly because he was eager to get away from the island.

    The pilot had left the plane's engine revving high so they could make a quick getaway, but Beling feared hitting the props as he got close to the plane. The pilot's weight at the door was making the prop on that side dip low and rock in the waves, so Beling called out for the pilot to get back in his seat and move the plane, trying to reach a rope that the pilot had left trailing in the water. The young man struggled to follow the plane, every kick of his legs sending terrible pain throughout his body, but he finally grabbed the rope. The plane continued to roar forward and Beling was pulled through the water for a while, desperately clinging to the line. Finally, the pilot pulled the line in and grabbed Beling, heaving him into the backseat. The bare metal of the seat was torture on his burned legs, but he had to endure a long, slow ride back to the plane's home, the cruiser USS Biloxi.

    Medics on the Biloxi began treating Beling's extensive burns, but it would be a slow, painful process of recovery. His flying days were over for a long while, and it was weeks before he could walk again.

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