September 15, 1943: New Guinea
On Wednesday morning, September 15, 1943, B-17s of the 43rd Bomb Group leave Jackson Field, Port Moresby to bomb the Japanese forces near the town of Lae. The flight is not long but it is over the formidable Owen Stanley Mountain Range. On the return flight, the formation flies into a cloud bank in the mountains. When the formation breaks out of the cloud cover one plane is missing: the Listen Here Tojo! #41-24552. This will be the last B-17 lost in combat in the Pacific Theater in World War 2. The wreckage of the plane will be discovered 50 years later and the remains of the crew (including my great-uncle T/Sgt Delmar Dotson) are now interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Retracing the Last Mission
Today the last flight of the Listen Here Tojo! is retraced by the commercial airline PNG Air (Papua New Guinea Air) on a daily basis (POM to LAE), weather permitting. I flew there in 2016 and spent a day walking the field and facility.
On arriving in Lae, New Guinea on a Wednesday in August of 2016 I find that the humidity is incredible. The air has that heavy feel like a storm is building. I say I’m at the Lae airfield but I’m really in Nadzab since the town of Lae is over 20 miles away. The airfield was opened in the early 1900s by missionaries, occupied by the Japanese early in World War 2, and greatly expanded by the Americans after its capture. Dr. Gray Allison was stationed here with the 43rd Bomb Group as his first wartime duty assignment. At age 92, He can still remember his first landing there and the dense kunai grass.
Join the Crew for Their Last Flight
If you want to join the crew of the Listen Here Tojo! on their last mission, watch the following videos.
New Guinea is an exotic and spiritual place. Every trip there has been an adventure in many different ways. Some of my New Guinea adventures even lasted after I returned to the United States. When you awake at 1:00 AM with bone-crushing chills you know that not only did you leave your heart in New Guinea, New Guinea left something in you.
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