Parsippany resident, Tom Hemmer recently wrote this to honor is Uncle's memory. With his permission, it is shared here, to honor his family and the many veterans, this Memorial Day, who gave their lives to secure a better life for future generations.
This Memorial Day, I want to honor my uncle Francis Joseph Bailey, who died serving in the Pacific during World War II. It took me 2 years of research to request his service records and to put together this narrative of what happened to him in his final days. It's a bit of a long read, but I want to pay tribute to my uncle, who I never met, who died for our country:
Francis Bailey enlisted in the Army in October 1942, and reported for duty in February of 1943. He completed his flight training and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S Army Air Corp. on June 27, 1944. He was stationed briefly at Hamilton Field, CA, and arrived in New Guinea on August 19, 1944. Fran was assigned to the 822nd Bomb Squadron, 38th Bomb Group, and was initially stationed on Biak Island off the coast of New Guinea.
The Battle of Morotai (also called Operation Tradewind) began on September 15, 1944. Morotai's development into an Allied base began shortly after the initial invasion landing, and two airfields (Pitoe drome and Wama Drome) were hastily constructed and ready for use by October. On October 19, 1944, the 822nd was moved from Biak to the newly completed air bases on the southwest side of Morotai Island.
As soon as they were completed, the new air bases immediately came under attack by the Japanese 7th Air Division. They conducted 82 raids on the Morotai air bases involving 179 sorties between 15 September 1944 and 1 February 1945. The Japanese aircraft used in these raids flew from Seram Island and Celebes Island, and landed at airfields on Halmahera Island to refuel before proceeding to their targets on Morotai. The most damaging raid against Morotai was conducted on the night of November 22, 1944 (just one week before Fran’s final mission) when 15 Allied planes were destroyed and eight damaged.
In response to these raids, the US forces immediately began attacking the Japanese airfields on Seram and Celebes, where the raids originated. On the evening of November 28, 1944, Fran’s B-25J Mitchell bomber was ordered to participate in an attack on Langoan airfield on the northern peninsula of Celebes island, near the town of Manado. Their orders were to: “continue to press the attack and harass the enemy positions until the aircraft’s fuel supply was only sufficient for a safe return to Morotai”. Fran was co-pilot on this mission.
The mission departed in the evening of November 28 and successfully attacked its target. Unfortunately, the weather worsened considerably through the night, and on the return trip to Morotai they began to lose their bearings, burning up their precious remaining fuel. They attempted to contact their base but were unable to do so, as Morotai was under yet another attack from the Japanese, and was under radio blackout until after the attack had ceased.
Another plane returning from attacking Mapanget airfield on Celebe reported the following: “The weather on the return route was snafu and we heard the missing aircraft trying to establish contact with Fighter Sector on Morotai. We were also lost and were unable to contact Fighter Sector. There was a red alert on Morotai at this time. At approx. 00:30 on 11/29, we heard Lt. Piper (radio operator on Fran’s plane) say that he had ‘five minutes fuel left and was going to ditch the plane in the sea’. This was the last message we heard from the missing aircraft.”
The radio operator on the ground at Morotai reported: “The missing aircraft radioed in to the 13th AF Boncom ground station for a QDM (a compass heading to steer the aircraft back to the base from its present position) at 23:35 on 11/28/44. The QDM was not sent because the ground station transmitter was inoperative from 23:40 to 23:45. There was a red alert at this time (because the Japanese air raid on Morotai was in progress) and our squadron ground station was unable to function because the power was off.”
It is believed that my Uncle Fran’s plane was within a 200 mile radius of Morotai when it crashed into the sea near the Halmahera Islands. An intensive search began at 09:00 on November 29 which lasted for several days, covering the area between Morotai and Halmahera, as well as to the Celebes and Talud Islands. No trace of the aircraft was ever found. On August 30, 1949, a final report on the crash investigation was made, and the crew members were declared KIA (killed in action). Previous to this time they had been listed as MIA. All crew members were awarded posthumous Purple Heart medals.
Fran’s aircraft was a Mitchell B-25J model, serial number: 43-27960.