Finding Earl Stone

He is still up there. Second Lieutenant Earl Reynolds Stone, Jr., US Army Air Corps, 17th Pursuit Squadron, member of the Bataan Air Force, that is. He’s still up there on Mt. Mariveles, Bataan, where he crashed in his P-40 Warhawk fighter plane during a dogfight on 9 February 1942.

Earl Reynolds Stone, Jr., circa 1940 (Courtesy of Togetherweserved.com)

A young Earl Reynolds Stone, Jr., circa 1940 (Courtesy of Togetherweserved.com)

Mission

On that fateful day 73 years ago, USAFFE HQ directed the Bataan AF to perform an aerial reconnaissance of suspected Japanese artillery sites on the south side of the Manila Bay, in the Ternate area near Cavite.

Philippine Army Air Corps Captain Jesús A. Villamor bravely volunteered to fly an armed but slow and vulnerable PAAC PT-17 biplane trainer (Boeing-Stearman Model 76D) on the mission with Master Sergeant Juan Abanes from the 5th Photographic Squadron as the photographer.

Heroic and much decorated Filipino pilot. Jesús Antonio Villamor.    (Courtesy Impak ng Sikat web log)

Heroic and much decorated Filipino pilot Jesús Antonio Villamor in the cockpit of a P-26 fighter. (Courtesy Impak ng Sikat web log)

Some 1938 vintage film of Philippine Army Air Corps PT-13’s, similar to the PT-17, can be seen at: http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675068161_Stearman-PT-13-trainer_aircraft-in-formation_pilots-lined-up_aircraft-loops-in-air

The valiant Philippine airmen received a fighter escort by no less than five of Bataan’s ever-smaller force of P-40s, one of which was piloted by a young Earl Stone, who had earned his wings in Flying School Class 41-C. The photo reconnaissance mission was successfully flown across the bay at Ternate, and nearly back to Bataan Field when six Nakajima Ki-27 NATE fighters of the 50th Sentai caught up with them as they prepared to land. Villamor swiftly and skillfully landed his aircraft to safely deliver the results of the photo mission as four of the P-40 escort tangled with the Japanese attackers.

For the look and sound of a P-40E in low level flight, see the short video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_cYlDjP_FM

The ten fighter aircraft swirled about the sky as each tried to gain advantage over the other. The P-40’s were initially caught at somewhat of an altitude and speed disadvantage and some of them quickly found the nimble NATE’s gaining a position of advantage on their tail. At other times the P-40s had an advantage, taking shots at the maneuvering Japanese aircraft. One or two of the Ki-27’s even managed to harass Jesus Villamor as he taxied to a dispersal area, shooting up his Stearman on the ground.

Of note, the US Navy river gunboat USS Mindanao PR-8 played a part during this aerial encounter, when a P-40 with a Ki-27 NATE hot on its tail streaked by the gunboat as it was moored in the North Channel between Corregidor and Bataan.

River gunboat USS Mindanao, PR-8, took part in the Bataan Campaign.  (Courtesy of Navsource.org)

US Navy river gunboat USS Mindanao, PR-8, seen here undergoing sea trials circa 1928, took part in the Bataan Campaign. (Courtesy of Navsource.org)

Gunners on the starboard side of the ship waited until the Japanese aircraft was abeam of them about 300 yards away and opened fire with 13 .30-caliber machine guns, firing over 1,500 rounds at the enemy aircraft. “The Nate was seen to falter, its wings wagged, and it sped away. There is speculation this damaged aircraft was the Ki-27 which made an emergency landing at Pilar Airfield in enemy held territory on Bataan, and which was subsequently taken under fire by USAFFE 155-mm artillery and destroyed on the ground. (Gordon, page 168)

At one point in the dogfight, perhaps the most witnessed and lengthy aerial combat seen in the Bataan Campaign, FEAF Air Intelligence Officer Captain Allison Ind, an eyewitness, recalled the following scene:

“Mariveles reported a dog fight. But there was something wrong…… A P40, streaking in pursuit of a Zero, had lost him in a cloud. The American then had searched at reduced speed, swinging in low beneath the cloud – a dangerous move, for the wily enemy might have been waiting within that cloud for just that. Watchers below held their breath while the P40 made its dangerous circuit. But nothing happened. Then, to their amazement, the P40 pilot repeated the maneuver as though endeavoring to entice his enemy to come out and fight.

He did…. Screaming out of the cloud from superior altitude, he cut in on the P40’s tail with red streaming tracers. Together they zoomed into the cloud-obscured fastness of Mariveles mountain.

With a suddenness that left the excited watchers paralyzed, all sounds of straining motors ceased.”

What Ind had witnessed were the final moments of Lt Earl Stone and IJAAF Ki-27 fighter pilot Sergeant Toshisada Kurosawa. Airmen waiting on the ground were hopeful he might return to Bataan Field, but young Earl Stone never did.

Lieutenant Earl R. Stone, Jr. is remembered on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his service and sacrifice during World War II.

Lt. Stone’s Silver Star citation recognized his significant aerial achievement of only a week before his untimely loss, and reads as follows:

“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Second Lieutenant (Air Corps) Earl R. Stone, Jr., United States Army Air Forces, for gallantry in action while serving as a Pilot with the 5th Interceptor Command, FIFTH Air Force, in action in the vicinity of Algoma Bay, Bataan, Philippine Islands, on the night of 1 – 2 February 1942. When report of an attempted enemy landing force was received, Lieutenant Stone took off individually for the area of the reported landing attempt, and proceeded to bomb and heavily strafe, returning to his base to replenish his ammunition supply after each attack. The skill and determination of Lieutenant Stone may be attested by the success of the attack. Several enemy landing barges were destroyed, and so many casualties inflicted that the landing attempt was repulsed. Furthermore, all airplanes and pilots returned to safety to their bases after completion of the mission.”

General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, General Orders No. 21 (February 7, 1942)

Aftermath

It’s been 70 years now since Earl Stone was last seen, flying into the clouds over Mt. Mariveles. A few years ago, Stone’s younger brother Mr. Wescot B. Stone, requested his older brother’s remains be found and brought to the family crypt in Los Angeles, California. Stone was a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of UCLA, Class of 1940.

In February, 2006, the search began. The wreckage of Sgt. Kurosawa’s Ki-27 fighter was found first, which eventually yielded human remains and contact with Kurosawa’s surviving family members in Sapporo, Japan, in 2008. More about the search project, discovery and forensic analysis of the Ki-27 can be found at: http://kevinhamdorfphotography.com/new%20images%20may%202008.htm

In early 2009, searchers discovered what is likely the wreckage of his P-40E on the same ridgeline some 600 feet below where Kurosawa’s Ki-27 NATE had crashed that day as he pursued Stone into the clouds over Mt. Mariveles. There below the crest of the Cogon Tarak Ridge they found the impact crater and debris of the P-40 they sought. Discovered were part of an Allison aircraft engine and a P-40E ammunition chute, .50 caliber machine gun ammunition and other wreckage, and subsequently notified the US Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii.

View of the rugged Cogon Tarak Ridge on Mt. Mariveles.  In the distance lies Mariveles (to the right) and beyond that, Corregidor Island and   (Courtesy A day in the hike.com)

View of the rugged Cogon Tarak Ridge on Mt. Mariveles. In the distance lies Mariveles (to the right edge of picture) and beyond that, Manila Bay, Corregidor Island, little Caballo Island and Ternate, Cavite, in the distance on the other side of the bay.  (Courtesy “A day in the hike” web log)

Of note, JPAC, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), and the Life Sciences equipment Laboratory (LSEL) were merged on 30 January 2015 into the new Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Whether this reorganization of US Department of Defense POW/MIA accounting activities will help in the discovery of Earl Stone and other MIA’s is unknown. Given the bad press POW/MIA accounting efforts have received in recent years, accusations of inefficiency and neglect, it remains to be seen if the new entity will make any improvements, though people hope it will.

“The new agency commander inherits a long pattern of dysfunction, inefficient practices, wasteful and poor management, lack of leadership, and more than 40 pending complaints of sexual harassment by command personnel, EEO violations, criminal investigations, lawsuits, and complaints of managerial reprisal that were detailed in scathing official reports by the Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office. The same group of serial offenders responsible remain in the “new” DPAA. The same group that brought us multiple outrageous scandals including phony “arrival home” ceremonies, fraud, waste and abuse of government funds, and a “it can’t be done” attitude that produces only five or six dozen identifications a year with an annual budget that far exceeds $100 million. The same group that averages ELEVEN YEARS to make an identification after remains are recovered. The same group who warehouse the backlogged sets of recovered remains of more than 1,000 American servicemen and women in cardboard boxes in the laboratory storage room. The same group who are incapable of identifying these heroes because their methods are antiquated and obsolete. More scandals by this group will soon come to light and there is no end in sight until they are gone for good.” (Excerpt from reader comment to Stars and Stripes article “New combined POW/MIA agency becomes operational,” 2 Feb 2015)

A specific example of a recent issue with MIA discovery and identification involves the questions about the remains of Bataan Campaign hero 2nd Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger of the 57th Infantry (Philippine Scouts) – he was the first man awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II. It is discussed in the Stars and Stripes article of 30 January 2015 at: http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/remains-of-mia-kelder-identified-but-family-still-has-questions-1.326770

Meanwhile, it has already been six years since Earl Stone’s P-40E crash site was discovered. With what is known about his loss and the compelling physical evidence of his aircraft recently discovered, it is high time to find Earl Stone and bring him home. How much longer will it be?
Footnote:

Of secondary importance, excavation and study of Lt. Stone’s crash site might possibly reveal the serial number of his P-40E. Although P-40 serial numbers for those aircraft shipped to the Philippines are known, very little serial number identification for the individual P-40E’s lost on various days in different locations in the opening of the war in the Philippines has ever been found. Perhaps through this effort, one P-40 serial number tied to a specific engagement can be determined. See William H. Bartsch’s “Doomed at the Start,” Appendix A, on page 433 for a full listing of P-40 serial numbers.

References

Bartsch, William H., “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942.” Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, 1992.

Gordon, John, “Fighting for Macarthur: The Navy and Marine Corps’ Desperate Defense of the Philippines.” USNI Press, Annapolis, MD, 2011

The Search & Recovery Expedition for Missing WWII pilots continues: Sgt. Toshisada Kurosawa’s family found! At: http://kevinhamdorfphotography.com/new%20images%20may%202008.htm

And more information, images in the search for Earl Stone, at: http://kevinhamdorfphotography.com/new%20images%20feb2008.htm

WWII dogfight plane found,” Manila Bulletin report carried at: http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aviation/bataan-wwii-dogfight-plane-found-23395.html

American Battle Monuments Commission entry for Earl Stone, at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/WWII_135603#.VNBjCy73juw

Silver Star citation at: http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=50031

Stone P-40E Warhawk dogfight and crash site information, at: http://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/p-40/stone.html

Stearman Model 76 information at: http://www.stearmanwings.com/history.htm

Old Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office’s (DPMO) website, at: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website, at: http://www.dpaa.mil/Home.aspx

JPAC webpage on Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_POW/MIA_Accounting_Command

Stars and Stripes online article about new DPAA and full version of reader comment at: http://www.stripes.com/news/new-combined-pow-mia-agency-becomes-operational-1.327190?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+starsandstripes%2Fgeneral+%28Stars+and+Stripes%29

Wetterhan, Ralph, “Above & Beyond: Recovery: Bataan,” Air & Space magazine, August 2009, at: http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/above-and-beyond-recovery-bataan-35971229/?all&no-ist

UCLA ROTC Memorial for Fallen Bruins, at: http://milsci.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/u19/Vol2No3-Wint08.pdf
Images from

Earl Stone photo, at: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=PersonAircraftExt&ID=79204

Jesús Villamor photo, at: https://impakngsikatdlsu.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/jesus-villamor-lasallian-hero-and-ace-pilot-commerce/

USS Mindanao PR-8, Navsource, at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/1208.htm

Cogon Tarak Ridge, “A day in the Hike” web log, at: http://adayinthehike.blogspot.com/2014/04/tarak-traverse-dayhike.html

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One thought on “Finding Earl Stone

  1. Pingback: National Heroes Day, 2015 | The Bataan Campaign

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