Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: flyover country USA
B-24 crash crew buried today
Remains of 'Black Sunday' airmen returning home for burial
By Nicole Gaudiano
Gannett News Service
WASHNGTON — On April 16, 1944, Capt. Thomas Paschal and his B-24J crew vanished in the clouds.
Paschal's Liberator and more than 300 other planes were returning from a bombing run over Dutch New Guinea during World War II when they ran into what one pilot called the "worst storm I ever saw."
The bad weather gave the American planes a tougher fight than they had gotten from the Japanese, claiming 54 crew members and 37 aircraft, including Paschal's plane.
It was the Army Air Forces' greatest non-combat aviation loss in World War II. Thirty fighter and bomber crew members are still missing.
But almost exactly 62 years after the day known as "Black Sunday," the remains of Paschal and 10 fellow crew members will come home for a long-overdue burial. Their families will attend a funeral service on April 21 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"It's just an emotional closure because all these years we really didn't know what happened at the end," said June Robertson of West Jordan, Utah. Her older brother, 2nd Lt. John Widsteen, was Paschal's co-pilot. "It's a feeling, he's coming home."
The 1944 storm didn't happen without warning. A weather unit commander knew a severe front was forming and had argued for canceling the mission. But he was overruled, author Michael John Claringbould wrote in "Black Sunday," a book about the disaster.
Maps were wrong
Along with the bad weather, the pilots had to deal with inaccurate maps that underestimated the heights of surrounding mountains.
Fifth Air Force planes already had pounded Japanese airfields and supplies seven times in Hollandia — now Jayapura in western New Guinea. Military leaders viewed that Sunday's mission as a chance to further soften the area for an upcoming land invasion, Claringbould wrote. The Japanese offered only light resistance, and no U.S. planes were lost that day to enemy gunfire.
Paschal's plane, which Claringbould said was called "Royal Flush," remained in formation on the return flight with five other Red Raider 408th squadron Liberators until the storm hit near Saidor, records show. Paschal had been promoted to captain just eight days earlier.
"We passed through an exceptionally dark cloud formation, and when we emerged, Capt. Paschal ... was no longer in our formation," 1st Lt. Dwain E. Harry wrote in an April 20, 1944, statement.
For decades, one crew member's cousin, Saverio Giugliano wrote letters to people inside and outside the military, hoping someone had found the plane. As a young soldier, he had invaded Hollandia with the 24th Division six days after 1st Lt. Frank P. Giugliano's fatal flight.
Saverio Giugliano has clear memories of the hot, humid island, and he didn't want to think that his cousin — the smiling bombardier in a black and white photo, the "kibitzer" who teased the girl cousins at family gatherings — would remain in that jungle forever.
"I felt that if they found him, at least he would be buried by his mom and dad," said Giugliano, of Berwick, Pa.
Hunter found wreckage
About four years ago, a villager hunting wallaby high up in the Finisterre Mountains of Papua New Guinea reported finding the rusting hulks of two B-24s in the Lae region near Kunukio.
"The people (where the planes were found) are afraid of ghosts," said Gwen Haugen, the civilian forensic anthropologist who led the 2002 recovery effort. "Nothing had been touched. It was almost as it had come to lay, and how time and gravity had moved it."
Using a helicopter, rappel lines and scaffolding, a military recovery team spent several months in austere conditions excavating the crash site. They found the cockpit caught in the trees, a piece of nose art that seemed to depict playing cards, and human remains near where the airmen would have been sitting on the aircraft.
Near the bomb racks, they found Giugliano's remains in a shredded bomber jacket. His broken sunglasses were still inside a case tucked into his pocket. Haugen saw his dog tag and thought, "Frank Giugliano, you're going home."
Saverio Giugliano heard the news and "cried like a baby." He called Frank's other cousin, Joe Cassese, in Ozone Park, Queens, N.Y.
"I got little goose pimples," said Cassese, 84, a former Marine who saw Frank Giugliano in Hawaii just before he died. "We all want him back."
James Paschal, Thomas Paschal's brother, said his family was told the Royal Flush had gone down in the ocean, an explanation most of them accepted.
Father awaited son's return
"My father, for as long as he lived, was expecting my brother to walk back into the door at any time," said James, 76, of Topeka, Kan.
Tom Paschal rose through the enlisted ranks before the Army taught him to fly. He was engaged to his high school sweetheart. He had dark, Cherokee good looks. And he was "the boss" as far as his three younger siblings were concerned, James Paschal recalled.
"He was always my hero," Paschal said. "He just lived up to it."
At least two of the men who flew on the Royal Flush will be buried in their families' hometowns, according to their families' wishes. The rest will be buried at Arlington. Soldiers will escort the crew's caskets from the military's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii to their place of burial.
For Paschal, it wasn't a tough decision to bury his brother in Arlington.
"I'm sure, knowing my brother, he'd want to be with his men," he said. "If I died with my crew, I think I'd like to stay with them, and I'm sure that he would be the same way."