View Full Version : Pilot ID'd in WWII Corsair wreck

12-26-08, 08:34 AM
Pilot ID'd in WWII Corsair wreck
Like most bent-wing bombers, plane likely built in Stratford
Staff writer
Updated: 12/25/2008 10:19:48 PM EST

In 1944 the huge Japanese base at Rabaul in Papua, New Guinea, was under heavy bombardment by Allied forces in an operation known as Operation Cartwheel.

One of the U.S. Marine Corsair pilots who was lost over Rabaul in that World War II operation, Maj. Marion R. McCown Jr., will finally be buried Jan. 18, with full military honors in Charleston, S.C.

According to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, McCown's aircraft, the vaunted Chance-Vought F4U Corsair, was declared lost Jan. 20, 1944, after it failed to return from a combat mission.

Earlier this year, a JPAC team confirmed through dental records and circumstantial evidence that a WWII Corsair wreck that had been known about since 1991 is McCown's aircraft. The announcement was made by JPAC last Friday.

According to U.S. military officials, about 2,200 U.S. servicemen are believed to be missing in action in New Guinea. In all, there are 88,000 American MIAs from conflicts in the 20th Century; about half were lost at sea.

Nearly all the bent-wing Corsair fighter-bombers were built in Stratford, all with 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engines from East Hartford. More than 11,000 were produced during the war years.

Nick Mainiero, former manager of Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford and a Corsair pilot during World War II, said it's unfortunate McCown's Corsair isn't intact.

"It's worth a lot of money now, you know," he said. "I was told that a Corsair in flying condition is worth about $2 million today."

He added the plane's wreckage probably "wasn't much worse than the one I picked up in Honduras," in reference to the Corsair that was mounted on a pedestal at the airport and which is now undergoing restoration.

"It was a wheels-up job, from what they call the boneyard."

That aircraft is being worked on at the Connecticut Air and Space Center on Sniffens Lane in Stratford. That is housed in part of the former Army engine plant on Main Street. Not yet open to the public, it houses a collection of discarded helicopters, turbine engines, test planes and other aviation memorabilia. It's also the building where Corsairs were assembled by the thousands.

Mainiero, as with most Corsair jockeys, was a U.S. Marine pilot who served in WWII's Pacific Theater. He lost an eye and nearly lost an arm from anti-aircraft fire while flying his Corsair in the battle for the Marshall Islands.

But at least Mainiero came back alive.

McCown, according to a story by Brian Hicks in the Charleston Post & Courier, was a student at Georgia Tech and had a private pilot's license when he joined the Marines in 1943.

He soon found himself in Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-321, stationed in the Solomon Islands. In one mission, he had to ditch his fighter in the Solomon Sea because of engine trouble. He was rescued by a PT boat.

On Jan. 20, 1944, he was assigned to escort bombers, destination Rabaul, about 200 miles to the west. According to his wing man, 1st Lt. Robert See, they were set upon by dozens of Mitsubishi AM6 "Zeros" as the bombers approached the target. Vastly outnumbered, See spotted an enemy fighter in hot pursuit of McCown's blue Corsair, and that's the last time he was seen until the wreckage was found in a jungle hillside on the New Guinea island of New Britain a half-century later.

McCown was 27 and unmarried when his plane was shot down.

His funeral will take place at 3 p.m. Jan, 18 in the Unitarian Church, 4 Archdale St., Charleston, S.C.


12-26-08, 08:28 PM
Finally, coming home

By Seanna Adcox
The Associated Press

Published: Friday, December 26, 2008 at 10:55 a.m.

Editor’s Note: Much of this story ran on Dec. 21. This updated version contains information on the Polk County connection of a World War II Marine flier whose remains were recently identified.

Marion Ryan McCown cut a dashing figure during World War II.

“My father talked about him going off on his motorcycle in his flight jacket, just how cool he was,” said Ellen McCown Schwab, recalling memories of William Vance McCown, the Marine flier’s younger half-brother.

The McCowns and extended family from Tryon and across the U.S. will travel to Charleston next month for a memorial service none thought would ever occur.

They will gather to bury Maj. Marion Ryan McCown Jr. in a family plot in Charleston, nearly 65 years after his plane went down in the South Pacific.

The Marine pilot had been missing since Jan. 20, 1944, when his single-seat F-4U Corsair failed to return from a combat mission over the island of New Britain, in Papua New Guinea. His remains were recovered from a crash site in the town of Rabaul, where the Japanese had a base, and identified earlier this year, the Defense Department’s POW/Missing Personnel Office announced Friday.

“It’s such a comfort. All of us just assumed he was lost at sea and would never be found, and it was going to be an unanswered question,” said Jane McKinney, of Channel Islands, Calif., who was three months old when her half-brother went missing.

Maj. Ryan McCown was the son of Marion Ryan McCown Sr., a longtime Tryon town attorney, and half brother of William Vance McCown, who followed in his father’s footsteps and served as town attorney for 36 years.

William Vance McCown’s daughter is Ellen Schwab of Hendersonville. (She is also related to the original Times-News owners. Her mother, Ann Fain Bowen, is the daughter of Ellen Fain Bowen, James T. Fain Jr.’s sister.)

Ellen Schwab said the family has been grateful at the discovery by the researchers that identified the Marine pilot and fascinated at the details they’ve gotten, including photos of his Corsair.

“We always knew we had this uncle listed as MIA but we never thought any of those servicemen would ever be found,” she said. “We assumed he was shot down over the ocean.”

‘A heckuva fight’

McCown was 27 when, on a bomber escort, his squadron tangled with 40 Japanese Zero fighter planes, said his nephew, Capt. John Almeida, a retired Navy doctor in Jacksonville, N.C.

Almeida has the flight log the Marine Corps sent his mother in the 1950s.

“It must’ve been a heckuva fight. His squadron lost three pilots out of 11,” he said.

As for finding his uncle, “I’d given up years ago,” said Almeida, 63, who served in Vietnam with the Marines before serving 24 years in the Navy Medical Corps.

McCown, who left Georgia Tech for the Marines in 1942, will be buried with military honors Jan. 18 — four days after he would have turned 92 — beside his mother, sister, and grandparents at The Unitarian Church cemetery in Charleston.

Family members say the service will be a joyous occasion that will bring together relatives who are scattered across the country.

“It’s going to be a fantastic trip,” Almeida said. “It’s opened up a whole new world I didn’t know about.”

That includes meeting Helen Schiller, 87, of Summerville, who was McCown’s girlfriend.

“He wanted the Marines, and he wanted to fly,” Schiller said.

She recalled him taking her to dinner in his dress whites whenever he came home from training in Cherry Point, N.C. She still has a box with wings he sent her before he vanished.

“Boy, I’ll tell you, he was a sharp one. He was the perfect gentleman, like the old Charlestonians. He was really, really a nice fella,” said the former Helen Miller of Charleston. On his identification, she added, “It was the biggest surprise in the world. Nobody knew what had happened to him.”