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U.S. At War: Missing–Texas

2 minute read


The last letter, written late in February, had said: “I am now ten miles back of the battlefront and can hear firing. We are bombed every night, sometimes three times a night. Our wounded are pouring into camp. Up until this time, war has been a pleasant experience. But now it has become gruesome.”

With that note of honest battle-weariness Colonel Neel Kearby, one of the great U.S. fighter pilots of World War II, signed off. Next word to reach his pretty, auburn-haired wife, Virginia, and their three husky little boys in San Antonio, Tex. was the dreaded War Department telegram: Colonel Kearby was missing in action in the Southwest Pacific.

Colonel Kearby was 32—a tall, slim, calm, slightly greying artist at the controls of his P-38 Lightning. He had at least 21 Jap planes (plus seven probables) to his credit, had received the Congressional Medal of Honor in January for shooting down six enemy ships in a single engagement. For a time after that Texan Kearby was miserable in a New Guinea desk job. But he maneuvered himself back to combat duty four weeks ago.

Also missing in the Southwest Pacific this week was Lieut. Colonel Thomas J. Lynch, Army pilot from Catasauqua, Pa., who had rolled up 20 confirmed victories over the Japs. But other aces were carrying on; new aces were being dealt from the U.S. deck. An Air Forces report disclosed that Captain Richard R. Bong (TIME, Aug. 9), famed Lightning pilot, had boosted his score to 25, pressing hard on the high mark of 26 shared by Marine Majors Joe Foss and Gregory Boyington (and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in World War I).

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