Topics - Globemaster Ditching
Southwest of Ireland, March 23, 1951

Last flight of 49244 - Call sign Air Force 5882

 
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Introduction:

On 23 March 1951, a C-124 49-0244 flying from Limestone AFB Loring for a transatlantic flight to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base, Lakenheath, UK, reported a fire in the cargo crates, signaling Mayday.  They began jettisoning the crates and announced they were ditching. The C-124 ditched southwest of Ireland.

The last message received by Shannon Aeradio was a revised Estimated Time of Arrival for the destination, which was passed at 01:06. A rescue operation was started when the crew did not make their next routine position report.

The aircraft was intact when it touched down on the ocean. All hands exited the aircraft wearing life preservers and climbed into the inflated 5 man life rafts. The rafts were equipped with cold weather gear, food, water, flares, and Gibson Girl hand crank emergency radios. Shortly after the men were in the life rafts, a B-29 pilot out of Ireland spotted the rafts and the flares that the men had ignited. Their location was reported and the pilot left the scene when his fuel was getting low.

No other United States or Allied planes or ships made it to the ditch site for over 19 hours, until Sunday, March 25, 1951. When the ships arrived, all they found were some charred crates and a partially deflated life raft. Only a few small pieces of wreckage were found 450 miles off the west coast of Ireland.  Ships and planes continued searching for the next several days, but not a single body was found. The men of C-124 #49-0244 had disappeared. There is circumstantial evidence that the airmen may have been “snatched” by the Soviet Union for their intelligence value, but their fate remains a mystery. It is a fact that Soviet submarines and surface vessels were active in this area and that the Soviets had no qualms about capturing and holding American servicemen, particularly aviators.

The Korean War Educator is seeking more information about this crash.  Contact: Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton St., Tuscola, IL 61953; phone 217-253-4620.


Page Contents:


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Manifest

  1. Adler, S/Sgt. Glenn E. (509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  2. Adrean, Capt. Phil B. (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  3. Ambrose, Sgt. George W. (509th BWng 4013th ArmElecMaintSqd)
  4. Ambrose, Cpl. Sterling L (509th BWng 715th BSqd
  5. Amsden, S/Sgt. Robert D. (CREW) (Flight Engineer, 509th BWng 2nd StrtgcSpt Sqd)
  6. Armstrong, 2 Lt. Karl R. Jr. (CREW) (Navigator, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  7. Bell, Maj. Robert J. (CREW - In command of flight; squadron ops officer who was doing a route check on the pilots, Capt. Collins & 2nd Lt. Mathers) (Pilot, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  8. Bernis, S/Sgt. Barton C. (CREW) (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  9. Berenberg, Pvt. Dwight A. (Radio Operator, 509th BWing 830th BSqd.)
  10. Bristow, Sgt. Robert R. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  11. Broussard, Sgt. Joseph D. (CREW) (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  12. Chute, Cpl. Arthur F. (CREW) (FC, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  13. Collins, Capt. Emmette E. (CREW) (Pilot, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  14. Counsell, Capt. John E. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  15. Crow, Cpl. Jack R. (CREW) (FC, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  16. Cullen, Brig. Gen. Paul Thomas (Commander, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
  17. Davies, Capt. Francis N. (CREW - squadron navigator who was evaluating 2LT Armstrong) (Navigator, 509th BWng 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  18. Dubach, Capt. Mark O. (Navigator, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  19. Dudek, Capt. Miezyslaw (Bmbdr, 509tyh BWng 393rd BSqd)
  20. Dughman, S/Sgt. Gene D. (509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  21. Fife, 1LT. Jack Radford (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  22. Fisher, 2LT William E. Jr. (Navigator, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  23. Gray, Col. Kenneth N. (SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
  24. Green, T/Sgt. Charles E. (Flt Eng, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  25. Greene, S/Sgt. Thomas E. (509th BWng 4013th ArmElecMaintSqd)
  26. Hopkins, Lt. Col. James I. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
  27. Jones, S/Sgt Homer Jr. (Radio Operator, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  28. Kampert, Capt. Robert F. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  29. Kelly, Capt. Thomas R. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  30. Krawiec, Capt. Carl N. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  31. Lee, 2LT. Max D. (Navigator, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  32. Lengua, S/Sgt. Nicolo A. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  33. Lutjeans, Samuel P. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  34. Mathers, 2Lt. Howard P. (Pilot, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  35. McGee, Sgt. Ronald D. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  36. McKoy, Lt. Col. Edwin A. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
  37. Meckler, Sgt. Frank A. (FltEng, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  38. Peterson, Capt. Walter T. (Pilot, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  39. Porter, Capt. Calvin (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  40. Rafferty, Lawrence E. (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  41. Scarbrough, M/Sgt. Everett D. (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
  42. Stoddard, Maj. Gordon H. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
  43. Swisher, Cpl. Clarence G. (509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
  44. Thomas, Cpl. Bobby G. (509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  45. VanGilder, M/Sgt. Taylor H. (509th BWng 509th AvSqd)
  46. Vincent, Capt. Roger S. (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd) (from Sandwich, IL)
  47. Wagner, Capt. Walter A. Jr. (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  48. Williamson, M/Sgt. Herbert C. (509th BWng 509th Av Sqd)
  49. Witkowski, Raymond L. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  50. Zabawa, Capt. Edwin D. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
  51. Zalac, Capt. Frank B. (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
  52. Zweygartt, Capt. John C. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)

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In Memoriam


George W. Ambrose

Ambrose, George W.

Sgt. George W. Ambrose, Jr., 21, was the son of George W. And Laura Ambrose, 501 Ninth Avenue, Brunswick, Maryland.  Sergeant Ambrose, better known as "Bunky", was in the Army Air Forces about two years. He was stationed in New Mexico, Texas and Mississippi before being assigned in the C-124 that left Limestone, Maine on Thursday for Mildenhall Air Base, Suffolk, England. He was a member of the 1947 Brunswick High School graduation class.  Cousin to Sterling L. Ambrose.

Ambrose, Cpl. Sterling L.

Cpl. Sterling L. Ambrose, 19, was the son of Mrs. Rosie Ambrose Weller, of 115 Ninth Avenue, Brunswick, Maryland. Corporal Ambrose had been in the service since his graduation from Brunswick High School in 1948. He was a stepson of William Weller, Brunswick radio shop proprietor.  Cousin to George W. Ambrose.


S/Sgt. Robert Amsden
(Click for large view)

Amsden, S/Sgt. Robert D.

S/Sgt. Robert Amsden, a graduate of Roslyn High School, Long Island, New York, was 21 years old when the Globemaster plane that he was on crash landed far off the coast of Ireland.  The son of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Amsden of Schenevus (originally from East Williston, Long Island), Robert enlisted in the Air Force on March 4, 1947 after graduating from high school.  His father was a retired naval officer.

Armstrong, 2Lt. Karl "Sonny" Raymond Jr.

Lieutenant Armstrong was born October 20, 1928 in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia.  He was a son of Karl Raymond Armstrong Sr. (1893-1960) and Gretchen M. Armstrong (1901-1970).  He married his childhood sweetheart, Vivian Imogene "Gene" Grantham (Benjamin) (1928-1990). 

According to his niece, Meryl Murphy:

"This entire event just absolutely devastated my family. He attended Texas A & M College, which is now a university. It was all male college then and everyone was in the corps.  He married my daddy's sister after being sweethearts since grade school. They both lived in Cisco, Texas, but were living in New Mexico when this happened.  He was 24 years old.  He was a Second Lieutenant and was a navigator.  Growing up I only heard that his plane blew up over the Irish sea. I never really asked too many questions--it was not a topic to discuss. When I got older and my daddy was dying, I asked him. He said it was the worst time in his life. My grandfather was a judge and he went to every senator in Texas and then to Washington DC to get information.  He has been missed every day."

Cullen, Gen. Paul Thomas

Born May 30, 1901 in Peru, Paul Thomas Cullen was an US Air Force General. First commander of the 7th Air Division of Strategic Air Command and deputy commander and chief of staff of the 2nd Air Force. Lost and presumed killed when his C-124A Globemaster II transport ditched and sank during a routine Atlantic flight to the United Kingdom. Cullen and his command staff were picked up at Barksdale Air Force Base by the airplane that had left Walker Air Force Base at Roswell, N.M., with almost 50 of the nation's top strategic bombing and nuclear weapons personnel from the 509th Bomb Group.


Gen. Paul Thomas Cullen
(Click for large view)

On March 23, 1951, about 800 miles southwest of Ireland, the airplane issued a Mayday call, reporting a fire in the cargo crates. The C-124 ditched and all aboard exited safely with life preservers and climbed into life rafts equipped with cold weather gear, food, water, flares, and Gibson Girl hand-cranked emergency radios. A B-29 from England located the survivors, who fired several flares, but was not carrying any rescue equipment. The B-29 radioed the coordinates of the survivors and circled until it was reached critical fuel and was forced to return to base.

When the first rescue craft reached the scene 19 hours later, all that was found was a burned briefcase and a partially deflated life raft. Despite the largest air and sea search up to that time, not one body was found. Cullen and the 53 men with him had disappeared. Later it was revealed that Soviet submarines and surface vessels were active in the area. It has been speculated that Cullen and his companions were taken aboard Soviet submarines and brought to Russia for interrogation.

Due to their expertise in nuclear and other defense matters, Cullen and the other men on the airplane would have been an intelligence windfall to the Soviets. Cullen had been the air service's leading expert on aerial reconnaissance and aerial photography. He also was the head of photography at the Crossroads atom bomb tests in the Pacific in the late 1940s. He also had served as commander of the 2nd Operations Group on two occasions during World War II. An Air Force trophy for excellence in aerial reconnaissance, the Brig. Gen. Paul T. Cullen Award, was named in his honor. (bio by: John Andrew Prime)

Davies, Capt. Francis N. "Frank"


Capt Francis M. "Frank" Davies
(Click picture for a larger view)

Captain Davies was born December 07, 1918.  Captain Davies' widow was Virginia "Ginnie" Arnold Davies, daughter of Dr. Clifford H. Arnold, who was the brother of General "Hap" Arnold.  She never remarried, and lived in the same house in Tucson from about 1958. She was born on September 01, 1913 and was a reservation agent with American Airlines when she married Frank Davies in 1948.  After she lost Frank, her father also died. He was in the Army Medical Corp in World War I and World War II. Hap Arnold attended Francis and Virginia's wedding, in El Paso, Texas. According to the wedding newspaper announcement, Captain  Davies flew in the Caribbean and South America during World War II. Ginnie Davies died August 02, 2014 in Tucson.

Dudek, Capt. Miezyslaw

Captain Dudek was from West Allis, Minnesota.  He was a chain belt inspector before being recalled to the service in March 1951.  He had a wife Mabel and two children.

Kampert, Capt. Robert F.

He was a World War II veteran who was recalled to service in March 1951.  He was the co-owner of the Nu-Block Company cement firm in Barrington, IL.  He was the husband of Loraine Kampert, age 34, and the father of four small children.

Kelley, Capt. T.R.

Captain Kelley, Chicago, IL, flew 72 missions as a bombardier during World War II.  He was recalled to service in March 1951.  His wife was Mildred and he had two sons, Kenneth, age 5 months, and Greg, age 4 years.

Lutjeans, Samuel P.

Samuel was 31 years old and from Chicago, IL.  During World War II he was shot down in a bombing mission and was held as a prisoner of war in Germany for one year.  He was recalled to service in March 1951.  He was a graduate of Lakeview High School.  He had a wife Genevieve, age 28, and a daughter Nanette, age 3.

Peterson, Walter

See News Articles section below.

Porter, Calvin


Calvin Porter
(Click for large view)

Phillip Porter's website is dedicated to his father, Capt. Calvin Porter, one of the missing passengers from this Globemaster crash landing, and the other passengers and crew members.  The site included accident reports, newspaper articles, and documents about this Globemaster.

Missing C-124 Globemaster

Rafferty, Capt. Lawrence E.

Born June 13, 1921 in Highland Park, IL., Captain Rafferty was captain of a bombing crew in Europe during World War II.  He served with the 759th Bomb Squadron during that war. From Great Lakes, Illinois, he was recalled to service in March 1951.  He had a wife Frances and four children between the ages of two and five at the time the Globemaster crew and passengers disappeared.

Captain Rafferty had completed 50 missions in three months in World War II starting on D-Day and received a medal of bravery for one of those missions. His wife Frances was coloring Easter eggs on Good Friday with her four children when servicemen came to her home to deliver the telegram that her husband’s plane has disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. Captain Rafferty was only 29 and a passenger on a plane going to the British Isles.

Wife = Thecla Frances Fortman Rafferty. Children = Sandra L., Minna Elizabeth, Stephen, Linda M., and Lawrence Rafferty.  Parents = Alexander Andrew & Minna Johanna Elizabeth Christine Gensch Rafferty.

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10 March 1951 Walker AFB New Mexico, Area 51, SAC - Capt Lawrence Rafferty, Pilot, is reactivated during the Korean War as General Curtis LeMay expands Strategic Air Command capabilities. Larry is assigned to the 715th Weapons Squadron, Medium, of the 509th Bomb Wing. Larry was going to be checked out in the B-50D Medium Bomber, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This Bomb Wing delivered "Fat Man", the 1st nuclear weapon against Japan. The 509th was the core of SAC. Capt. Rafferty, who is currently non-qualified, will be upgraded to Pilot current, after training missions at Lakenheath & Mildenhall RAFB. His orders have been cut and direct that, he will be unaccompanied. (Upon completion of training his pregnant wife Frannie and children may come later.)

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26 March 2012, 3:15PM Arlington National Cemetery Washington D.C. Capt. Lawrence E. Raferty is memorialized in a service attended by his widow, Francis Fortman Rafferty, his children, grandchildren, two Fortman families, his sister, Rosemary Rafferty Beckman, age 93 and four Rafferty nieces and nephews. May he Rest in Peace wherever this Warrior lies.

26 Mar 2012 Grave-Side..... Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC. 3:15 PM Monday, the Funeral Cortage, with its Military Casson, carrying the flag draped coffin in memory of Capt. Larry Rafferty and pulled by 4 Air Force horses winds its way through the tombstone surrounded pathways of Arlington. A Color Guard leads the way with an Air Force Band following in front of the Casson. A crowd of some 63 people follow the coffin to a hillside grave site. There is Larry's tombstone. Two Chaplains read the service in front of widow Frannie Fortman Rafferty. From the crest of the hill three volleys of gunfire ring out in salute to Larry. The crowd is mournful in the breezy afternoon sun. The flag presentation is finished and the AF Colonel Chaplain presents the flag to Frannie. "On behalf of the President and people of the United States, please accept our deepest sorrow at your loss and let me present you ............"

Scarbrough, Everett D.

Married Martha Belle Beaty on March 3, 1951, twenty days before he and the other passengers/crew of the Globemaster disappeared.  Martha later married Marshall B. Wise but they divorced in 1984.  Martha died November 26, 1987.

Van Gilder, Taylor H.

Married to Wilma E. Jamison in 1943, Craighead County, Arkansas.

Vincent, Roger

See News Articles section below.

Wagner, Walter A. Jr.


Walter A. Wagner, Jr.
(Click for large view)

Walter Wagner was a pilot with the 509th Bomb Wing, 830th Bomb Squadron.  The following biography was submitted to the KWE on September 15, 2013, by Captain Wagner's son, Don.  His son told us:

 "I am Don Wagner, the son of Capt. Walter A. Wagner, Jr. I am a retired naval aviator with 30 years of service and survivor of two plane crashes. Point of information: My brothers and I first gained access to the Accident Investigation file in the mid nineties thru numerous FOIA requests. Prior to this initial and partial release, the Accident Investigation file was Top Secret. The complete and unfettered/undoctored file is still Top Secret. Much of the information and facts contained in my Dad's bio concerning the ditching is thanks to Capt Muller and other members of the 830th Bomb Squadron."

Bio - Walter A. Wagner, Jr. Captain (Major) USAF

Walter A. Wagner Jr. was born to Walter Wagner Sr. and Nora Wagner on 6 February 1917, in the small town of Delta, Colorado. He was the second of four children and the first grandson of the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy. He grew up on horseback in the high country of Colorado's Grand Mesa, where his father was a forest ranger. Walt Jr. graduated with honors from Grand Mesa High School and again with honors from UCLA, majoring in mathematics and physics.

With war raging in Europe and the Pacific, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 and entered flight school. After earning his wings on 27 Jun 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the 75th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. In January 1942 he was transferred to the 73rd Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Composite Group, Aleutians, Territory of Alaska. In February 1942, Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to fly one of the 17 new Martin B-26 Marauders.

On 3 and 4 June 1942, the Japanese Carrier Assault Task Force launched attacks on Dutch Harbor. Lieutenant Wagner and the airmen of the 73rd joined the foray and flew their first combat missions. Although none of the carriers were damaged, two Japanese dive bombers, 3 Zeros, and 2 Nakajima E8N2s were shot down. From June 1942 through April 1943 the Marauders flew almost daily missions against the Japanese invasion forces. In October 1942, Lieutenant Wagner was in the five plane flight that attacked two Japanese destroyers, sinking the Oboro Maru and severely crippling the Hatsuharu Maru while losing one Marauder and its crew.

In April 1943 the Marauders were withdrawn from the Aleutian campaign and reassigned to other air groups and squadrons. With ten months of demanding aerial combat flying, Captain Wagner was assigned advanced instructor duties and shuttled from base to base, qualifying in new type bombers, conducting the final phase of training and preparing bomber crews for the greatest challenge of their lives: aviate, navigate, communicate, engage the enemy, and survive. He performed these arduous duties at the following Army airfields: Lakeland, Ft. Worth, Barksdale, Kearns, Davis Monthan, Pueblo, and Peterson. While at Pueblo AAF, his wife Geraldine gave birth to their first son, Orren.

In addition to his duties training bomber crews, Captain Wagner was also a member of the select crew which flew General Hap Arnold across the Atlantic and into the Allies' areas of operation in Europe.

Following the end of World War II, Captain Wagner received orders to McChord Field, Washington, and remained there until May 1946, when he was transferred to Howard Field, U.S. Canal Zone. The 6th Air Force assigned Captain Wagner to the 6th Fighter Wing's Emergency Rescue Unit at Howard Field.  His aircraft was the Boeing TB17H. His first flight was an areas of operation familiarization hop: Howard to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Windward Islands, Trinidad and return leg to Howard. In October, Captain Wagner became a plank member of and instructor at the newly established 1st Rescue Squadron. He continued flying the modified B17s and on 13 March 1947, he was assigned duties to fly and deliver two B17s to Barksdale Field, Louisiana, then proceed to Norton Field, California and ferry two OA-10s (PBY Catalinas) back to Howard Field. He flew search, rescue, recovery, and escort missions all over Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and as far away as Florida and the Bahamas. The 6th Air Force ensured there were no U.S. Military flights over water without an escort by or near proximity stationing of 1st Rescue Squadron aircraft.

At the end of May 1949, Captain Wagner, his wife Geraldine, and their two sons, Orren and Donald, departed the Canal Zone for the United States mainland. Walter was issued orders to Mather Air Force Base, California to attend the Advanced Officer School, required for promotion to Major. Upon successful completion of AOS he received orders to report to the 509th Bomb Wing, AFSAC, Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico.

On 8 March 1950, Captain Wagner joined the 509th "Atomic Bombers" and was assigned to the 830th Bomb Squadron to fly the B-29D/50 Silverplate Superfortress. Gerry was busy setting up their newly-purchased house at 1617 West Alameda Street in Roswell, while the two lads, Orren and Don explored the neighborhoods with their spaniels, Queenie and Blackie.

On 25 June 1950, the Russian trained, equipped, and supplied Communist North Korean military launched a massive assault across the 38th Parallel in Korea and swept south, virtually unopposed, trapping what was left of the South Korean Army and the handful of American "advisors" in a small enclave around Pusan.

In July and August 1950, Captain Wagner accompanied hand-picked bomber crews of the 830th and 393rd to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida for Combat Crew Standardization Training. Returning to home plate at Walker, Captain Wagner and the crews resumed their flying of the Silverplate Superfortresses with renewed intensity. They knew that the Strategic Air Command was literally America's and Western Europe's only line of defense against Stalin's Russian hordes. The 509th stood up forward detachments of B-50s, aircrews, and support personnel in RAFBs Mildenhall and Lakenheath, England. The aircrews were on a 90-day rotation cycle, with a week to ten days overlap for handoff of missions, aircraft, and areas of operation orientation flights. The 2nd Strategic Support Squadron flew their C-124 Globemasters from Walker AFB to England delivering parts, supplies, replacement personnel, and rotating aircrews.

In March 1951, Captain Wagner's file was sent to the Majors Promotion Board. That same month he received orders for a ninety-day rotation with the 509th Forward in England. On the 21st of March he boarded C-124 #9244 and departed Walker with the other replacement crews bound for RAFB Mildenhall, England. They picked up Brigadier General Cullen and his staff of the newly-activated 7th Air Division (headquarters were to be established at South Rueslip, London, England). The flight was uneventful until 0110 Zulu, the 23rd of March, when three explosions rocked the cabin section and set off fires under the cargo crates. Fighting the fires proved hopeless and the Globemaster was forced to ditch. They were in radio contact with the British weather ship Explorer, which fixed the exact ditching point and relayed through high frequency radio to RAFB Shannon, Ireland and on to RAFB Mildenhall, England. Two Soviet guard ships, Orel and Kurshun, their topsides festooned with antennas, were shadowing the Explorer.

A single B-50 immediately launched out of England. Captain Wagner's best friend from the 830th, Capt. Harry H. Muller, was the flight commander. Captain Muller and crew flew into the black of night over the cloud-covered North Atlantic. The British weather ship Explorer provided radar vector positioning to the Superfortress and guided them to the ditching point. Muller's crew spotted the men, who were in life rafts, firing flares. The Superfortress began a low, slow, fuel-conserving orbit over the men. Their array of landing lights and spot lights illuminated the area. Thanks to the hand-cranked emergency Gibson Girls radios, the men and the Superfortress were in constant contact. All hands had survived the ditching and were awaiting rescue. The B-50 relayed through the Explorer via high frequency radio that they had located the men. No other aircraft came to relieve the B-50. The weather ship Explorer, although its crew was highly trained in locating and rescuing downed aircrews, did not leave its position. When the Superfortress reached critical fuel, Captain Muller had to make the gut-wrenching decision to abandon the men and return to base.

Two days later, when the "official" search began, the men had disappeared. The only remnants were a partially deflated life raft and Capt. Lawrence Rafferty's pilot valise.  An eyewitness account from this time revealed around fifty U.S. airmen and a general officer's staff brought to a Soviet gulag facility outside of Moscow.

Captain Wagner was selected for promotion to Major while listed as Missing In Action. The Air Force refused to honor the promotion. He left behind a wife, Geraldine, and three sons, Orren, Don and Roy. He was also one of the very few aviators in the Air Force that held the ratings for pilot, navigator, and bombardier. His ratings included the B-17, B-18, B-24, B-25, B-26, B-29D, B-50, and OA10 (PBY Catalina).

Witkowsi, Raymond L.

Raymond was a former Milwaukee County, Wisconsin medical examiner's assistant.   He was the son of Anna M. Placzek of Milwaukee.

Zabawa, Capt. Edwin D.

Captain Zabawa was 31 years of age and from Franklin Park, IL.  He was a graduate of Leyden Township High School and was a bombardier with the 8th Air Force during World War II.  He was recalled to service in March 1951.  He had a wife Sheila, age 27, and daughters Sharon, age 5, and Pamela, age 3.

Zalac, Capt. Frank B.

Age 29, Captain Zalac of Elwood, IL served in World War II from 1942 to 1946 and served in the Pacific.  He was recalled to service in March 1951.  He was born May 23, 1922.  He had a wife Isabella, age 28, and an 8-month old son Matthew.

Zweygartt, John Candee

A 1949 graduate of the School of Business Administration, University of Connecticut, John Zweygartt was from Hartford, Connecticut.  Born August 15, 1923, he was the husband of Frances Zweygartt, the son of Mrs. Henry J. Zweygartt, and the grandson of Mrs. R.D. Locke.  He had a small son when the plane he was on went missing.


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News Articles

Air Force Times, 2011

Little remains today to mark the life of Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Thomas Cullen. A quiet park on the East Reservation of Barksdale Air Force Base bears his name, and for about 40 years the 2nd Air Force of Strategic Air Command awarded a trophy in his name, but that ended in 1992 when SAC closed its shop. The official biographies page on the Air Force website does not list his name or share his life story.

A senior general officer at 2nd Air Force headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, he boarded a C-124 transport, tail number 49-0244, the afternoon of March 22, 1951, along with a handful of his senior staff officers. After a refueling stop in Maine, the transport that left Walker Air Force Base at Roswell, N.M., with 48 top pilots, bombardiers and weapons technicians from the service’s nuclear 509th Bomb Group, flew east toward the British Isles.

The airplane never arrived. It disappeared into the Atlantic gales, and into the annals of mystery, on March 23, 1951, Good Friday.

Just under 60 of the nation’s top nuclear military personnel had vanished, while the Cold War was starting and this nation was in combat in Korea.

“I think they [Cullen and his companions] would have been a very lucrative target” of the Russians, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole, a former 2nd Bomb Wing commander whose late father, also an Air Force general, shut down Walker Air Force Base in the 1960s.

His opinion is shared by former 2nd Bomb Wing historian Shawn Bohannon, now an archivist at LSU Shreveport. “It would have been a coup if they [the Soviets] had got their hands on that bunch of guys,” Bohannon said. “No doubt about it.”

Cullen had command experience in World War II, but a broken back and prolonged recovery shifted him into a field in which he excelled: photo-reconnaissance. He became the service’s leading expert, handling photography at the top-secret Crossroads atom bomb tests in the late 1940s. He adapted the first jet airplanes for spy photography over North Korea and Russia, where he had been assigned briefly during World War II.

At the time of his death, he was a past commander and current vice commander of 2nd Air Force, and his mission to England was to form the Strategic Air Command’s 7th Air Division, which would be the speartip of any U.S. strategic actions in Europe.  That was the assignment Cullen was headed to when he and the hand-picked men with him disappeared.

Early March 23, about 800 miles southwest of Ireland, the C-124 issued a Mayday call, reporting a fire in the cargo hold.

According to the Walker Air Force Base Museum website, “the aircraft was intact when it touched down on the ocean. All hands exited the aircraft wearing life preservers and climbed into the inflated 5 man life rafts. The rafts were equipped with cold weather gear, food, water, flares and Gibson Girl hand-crank(ed) emergency radios.”

According to contemporary reports, a B-29 from England saw several flares fired and life rafts. But the B-29 was not carrying any rescue equipment. It radioed the coordinates of the survivors and circled until it reached critical low fuel and was forced to return to base.

As soon as daylight and weather conditions permitted, rescue ships, eventually including dozens of airplanes, weather ships, a British submarine and several Navy warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, scoured thousands of square miles of ocean in what has been called the greatest sea-search in history, to no avail.

“Ships and planes continued searching for the next several days but not a single body was found,” the page says. “The men of C-124 No. 49-0244 had quite simply disappeared. ... It is a fact that Soviet submarines and surface vessels were active in this area and that the Soviets had no qualms about capturing and holding American servicemen, particularly aviators. We do not know what fate befell these men.”

Freedom of Information Act requests were sent to the State Department, CIA, FBI and other agencies, all of whom directed queries to the Air Force. The Air Force provided a 140-page accident report that can be summarized in one sentence: The C-124 ditched in one piece, but nothing, including human remains, was found aside, from some charred plywood and a single briefcase.

Cullen and his wife, Edith Virginia Sinnott Cullen, had no children. Attempts to locate any of Cullen’s family were unsuccessful.

Retired naval aviator Don Wagner, who was 3 years old when his father, decorated World War II pilot Capt. Walter Wagner, disappeared with Cullen on that flight, believes the men were taken to Russia on one or more submarines to have their brains picked. Thanks to service in Russia during World War II, Cullen would have been known and valued to Soviet intelligence.

Wagner thinks that after failing to find the missing men, and lacking any good explanation of what happened to them, the military “covered it up. I was looking up the history of each of the airmen who were aboard the flight. Most have been deleted or hidden or are non-existent.”

The accident report notes that the Office of Special Investigations looked into reports of sabotage but found no evidence, something Wagner finds hard to believe. “There was one civilian that boarded the plane, [and] was on the flight either through Barksdale or [Maine] then got off,” he said. He thinks that civilian, who knew when to get off the airplane, is the key to the mystery.

That U.S. military personnel were captured by Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War is a fact, noted in the web pages of the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, which notes “the numerous accounts of Americans sighted in the Stalin-era Gulag prison camp system and the Soviet correctional labor colony system for political prisoners that succeeded the Gulag.”

Though the loss of Cullen and the other men is hardly remembered by the Air Force today, it was shattering at the time. “I remember the incident vividly and the last time I saw my father and his buddies,” Wagner said. “This accident devastated the Walker Air Force Base community and had a horrible impact on SAC and the U.S. Air Force. ... I still remember the huge commemorative services held at Walker for the missing officers and crewmen.”

Ralph Ambrose lost a brother, George Ambrose, and a cousin, Sterling Ambrose. All were from Brunswick, Md. “I was 15 at the time it happened,” Ralph Ambrose said. The military “sent us a few telegrams saying they were searching, that they found just a couple of pieces [of debris],” but were not told the investigation determined the airplane likely belly-landed intact, since cargo that would have survived and floated, like empty B-29 fuel tanks and spare aircraft tires, were never recovered. “We didn’t hear any of that,” he said.

Cole said he remains “astounded the slowness of the [search] response. Today that just wouldn’t happen. It’s astounding to me [rescuers] waited two days while they knew these men were in the water. They should have launched another airplane to relieve the first B-29. They should have ‘held hands’ with those guys until surface craft arrived.”

Bohannon wonders if the Soviets could have snatched the men from under the eyes of a searching armada. “All the [Soviets] had were modified German Type IX U-boats at that time. I don’t know.” Cole also has doubts. “If you are going to capture 53 souls, that’s pretty difficult to hide,” he said.

But these were U.S. military personnel left behind on a field of battle of the Cold War, and whose families deserve answers to this day. “A tremendous question begs to be answered,” Cole said. “What happened to these men?”

Paintings in Brunswick City Hall honor Ambrose cousins

Originally published March 24, 2010 - By Patti S. Borda, News-Post Staff
Photo by Skip Lawrence

Artist Buck Musser on Tuesday donated two paintings of Brunswick-area veterans to Brunswick City Hall. Mayor Carroll A. Jones, left, holds the painting of Sterling Ambrose, whose nickname was Junior. Musser holds the painting of George W. Ambrose. The cousins went missing in action on March 23, 1951.

Two cousins lost at sea in 1951 have at last come home to Brunswick. Paintings of Air Force Sgt. George W. Ambrose Jr. and Pvt. Sterling L. Ambrose Jr. will hang in City Hall to honor their memory. Artist and veteran Buck Musser made the paintings as part of his ongoing mission to recognize local service members who have given their lives.

Mayor Carroll Jones accepted the gifts from Musser on Tuesday at Brunswick City Hall. Copies of the paintings will also hang at the Brunswick Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, Musser said. He donated those and copies to surviving family.

Ralph Ambrose, George Ambrose's brother and only surviving family member, attended the donation ceremony. Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of his brother and cousin. Ralph was 15 at the time. "We started getting telegrams" after the crash, he said, but no official word came until a week or so later when an official military car brought news. Ralph Ambrose said he and his father had seen "the brown car running around town" in search of his family's house and his cousin's. "We knew what it was." Ralph Ambrose and his wife, Lorraine, live not far from the Ninth Avenue home where he and his brother lived.

Jones said the city takes pride in honoring service members: A veterans memorial on A Street and an annual parade are testament. The paintings will be one more tribute. "They'll be in the public area of City Hall," Jones said.

A report from the Battle Monuments Commission states that the crash involving the Ambrose cousins occurred March 23, 1951, between Gander, Newfoundland, and England. A transport aircraft assigned to the 4013th Arms Electrical Maintenance Squadron, 509th Bomber Wing was headed from Newfoundland to Mildenhall Air Base, England. The plane "disappeared about 600 miles from Ireland," killing 53, including Brig. Gen. Paul Cullen, according to the report.

The cousins had joined the service at the same time, Lorraine Ambrose said. At the time of the crash, George Ambrose was 21, and Sterling Ambrose was 19. "They went in together, went down together," she said. "Now they're home."  "I just wanted to keep them alive," Musser said. "They've come home on the day they died."

Friday, March 23, 1951 No Trace Of Craft Found In Atlantic
Searchers From Three Nations Join Hunt, Brig. Gen. Cullen Is Believed Passenger

"A giant U.S. Air Force transport plane with 53 persons aboard vanished in fog and rain over the Atlantic Ocean today while en route from the United States to England. One of the passengers was believed to be a brigadier general.

Search and rescue planes from three nations scoured the wind-tossed seas in a thus far fruitless search for some trace of wreckage, survivors or life rafts. Officials at Shannon airport in Ireland said the big plane, a C-124, which is known as the Globemaster radioed at 1 a.m. that it had 52 persons aboard including a VIP (very important person) with the rank of brigadier general . At the time of the report that plane crew gave their position as 800 miles southwest of Ireland.

The plane, of a type used to ferry personnel and supplies across the ocean, was en route to Mildenhall Air Base, Suffolk from the base at Limestone, Maine. At Limestone, the base public information officer confirmed that 53 persons were aboard. British, Irish and U.S. Planes were engaged in the search for the Globemaster, which normally would carry life rafts.

The Royal Air Force control station directing the search operations said the plane carried a Brigadier General Cullens. This report aroused belief that he was Brig. Gen. Paul T. Cullen, deputy commander at Barksdale Field, near Shreveport, Louisiana, who left there Wednesday for a European destination.

The U.S. Third Air Division, headquarters here and the Royal Air Force said they had no information about the number of persons aboard. The British Press association did not announce the source of its information on the number.

Air Force headquarters here and in Washington also would not confirm that General Cullen was on board. American and British search and rescue planes, some carrying lifeboats, combed the area where the plane was last reported, but saw no signs of the missing Globemaster even after it was presumed to have exhausted its gas supply.

That type of plane normally carries its own life rafts, equipped with ample food, water and clothing to enable its passengers to survive for sometime. The search planes reported low ceilings and bad weather in the area.

The missing plane took off from an intermediate stop at Gander, Newfoundland, at 4:20 p.m. (11:20a.m. EST) yesterday and was due at Mildenhall at 5:20p.m. (12:20 a.m.) Today. The first alert was sent out at 3:49a.m. (10:49p.m. EST Thursday) after the craft failed to give further position reports. No information was received from any of the weather ships along the route which the huge craft was supposed to follow.

The C-124, larger, more modern version of the C-74 troop and cargo plane, is capable of transporting more than 200 troops with full field equipment. When fully loaded it can fly about 2,000 miles without refueling."

---

Roger Vincent
Walter Peterson

"The community was shocked Friday when it became known that Captains Roger Vincent and Walter Peterson were aboard the ill fated plane, the Globemaster, which was reported missing on a flight from Limestone, ME, Air Base to the United States Air Force Base at Mildenhall, England. 53 were aboard the plane.

Captains Peterson and Vincent, both veterans of World War II, had been recalled to active duty on March 10 when they reported at O'Hare field near Chicago for their orders. They were among the 1500 reserves of the 441st Troop Carrier Wing at O'Hare Field to be called. The 441st was activated in June 1949 and the pilots trained on week ends at the field in C-46 transport planes.

The two pilots were assigned to the Strategic Air Command. They were assigned to the air base at Roswell, NM, and given a week for travel time. On Monday they were given orders for overseas duty and on Tuesday evening, Captain Vincent called his wife here to tell her he was going overseas. Captain Peterson's family had gone to his wife's parents home in Amarillo, TX, when it was learned that he would go overseas.

Friday afternoon Mrs. Vincent received official word from the government that her husband was aboard the Globemaster and that she would be informed of further developments. On Sunday she received another telegram stating that the search for the missing plane was being continued. Mrs. Peterson received similar messages in Texas and called her husband's relatives here to tell them the tragic news.

Both pilots had outstanding records in World War II and received the Distinguished flying Cross in recognition. Captain Peterson flew his first thirty missions in the European Theater of operations in a few months and then returned to the States. Later he was sent to the Pacific theater of operations.

Captain Vincent flew 1000 hours over the Hump in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. On returning to Sandwich he established the Sandwich airport and taught many of the people in this area to fly a plane. About two years ago, he became co-owner of the Sandwich Motor Co.

Captain Vincent's wife is the former Bette Scott. They have one daughter, Linda Lea, three years old. His father, Dr. C. S. Vincent, is now in California and one of his sisters, Mrs. Carl Walters, resides here.

Captain Peterson farmed for a year on his return from service and then started to work for the Otto Machine Co. He has two sons, Garry, who is remaining here with the Wm. Walker family until school is out, and Barry, 4, and a little daughter, Marilyn, 2, who are with their mother in Texas. Captain Peterson, a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Albert Peterson, has a brother, Jerome, and three sisters, Mrs. Alvin Miller, Mrs. August Otto, and Mrs. Randall Miller, living in this community, and a sister, Mrs. T. W. Wigton in Aurora.

The giant Globemaster, a C-124 transport, disappeared in fog and rain at 7 p.m. Thursday. It was last heard from in a routine radio report of its position 800 miles southwest of the Irish coast.

The entire community is anxiously awaiting further word concerning these fine young men."

 
 
 
 

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