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
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
Back to Page Contents
- Adler, S/Sgt. Glenn E. (509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Adrean, Capt. Phil Bentley (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Ambrose, Sgt. George W. (509th BWng 4013th ArmElecMaintSqd)
- Ambrose, Cpl. Sterling L (509th BWng 715th BSqd
- Amsden, S/Sgt. Robert D. (CREW) (Flight Engineer, 509th BWng 2nd StrtgcSpt Sqd)
- Armstrong, 2 Lt. Karl R. Jr. (CREW) (Navigator, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- 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)
- Bernis, S/Sgt. Barton C. (CREW) (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Berenberg, Pvt. Dwight A. (Radio Operator, 509th BWing 830th BSqd.)
- Bristow, Sgt. Robert R. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Broussard, Sgt. Joseph D. (CREW) (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Chute, Cpl. Arthur F. (CREW) (FC, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Collins, Capt. Emmette E. (CREW) (Pilot, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Counsell, Capt. John E. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Crow, Cpl. Jack R. (CREW) (FC, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Cullen, Brig. Gen. Paul Thomas (Commander, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
- Davies, Capt. Francis N. (CREW - squadron navigator who was evaluating 2LT Armstrong) (Navigator,
509th BWng 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Dubach, Capt. Mark O. (Navigator, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Dudek, Capt. Miezyslaw (Bmbdr, 509tyh BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Dughman, S/Sgt. Gene D. (509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Fife, 1LT. Jack Radford (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Fisher, 2LT William E. Jr. (Navigator, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Gray, Col. Kenneth N. (SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.) (SAC
- Green, T/Sgt. Charles E. (Flt Eng, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Greene, S/Sgt. Thomas E. (509th BWng 4013th ArmElecMaintSqd)
- Hopkins, Lt. Col. James I. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
(chief of SAC's military personnel division)
- Jones, S/Sgt Homer Jr. (Radio Operator, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Kampert, Capt. Robert F. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Kelly, Capt. Thomas R. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Krawiec, Capt. Carl N. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Lee, 2LT. Max D. (Navigator, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Lengua, S/Sgt. Nicolo A. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Lutjeans, Samuel P. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Mathers, 2Lt. Howard P. (Pilot, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- McGee, Sgt. Ronald D. (Radio Operator, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- McKoy, Lt. Col. Edwin A. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)
(SAC material directorate)
- Meckler, Sgt. Frank A. (FltEng, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Peterson, Capt. Walter T. (Pilot, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Porter, Capt. Calvin (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Rafferty, Lawrence E. (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Scarbrough, M/Sgt. Everett D. (CE, 509th BWing 2nd StrtgcSptSqd)
- Stoddard, Maj. Gordon H. (Pilot, SAC 2nd Air Force 7th Air Div.)(assigned
to SAC dictorate of plans)
- Swisher, Cpl. Clarence G. (509th BWng 393rd BSqd)
- Thomas, Cpl. Bobby G. (509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- VanGilder, M/Sgt. Taylor H. (509th BWng 509th AvSqd)
- Vincent, Capt. Roger S. (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd) (from Sandwich, IL)
- Wagner, Capt. Walter A. Jr. (Pilot, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Williamson, M/Sgt. Herbert C. (509th BWng 509th Av Sqd)
- Witkowski, Raymond L. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Zabawa, Capt. Edwin D. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
- Zalac, Capt. Frank B. (Pilot, 509th BWng 715th BSqd)
- Zweygartt, Capt. John C. (Bmbdr, 509th BWng 830th BSqd)
Back to Page Contents
George W. Ambrose
Adler, S/Sgt. Glenn E.
Adrean, Capt. Phil Bentley
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.
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."
Bell, Maj. Robert J.
Berenberg, Pvt. Dwight A.
Bernis, S/Sgt. Barton C.
Bristow, Sgt. Robert R.
Born August 3, 1926 in Leavenworth, Kansas, a son of Charles
Robert Bristow (1887-1952) and Ola Rae Jackson Bristow
(1889-1937). His siblings were John, Rosemary, Margaret,
and Charles W. Bristow. He was married and had children.
Broussard, Sgt. Joseph D.
Born October 12, 1931, he was from Maurice, Louisiana.
He attended Maurice High School in 1947-48.
Chute, Cpl. Arthur F.
Collins, Capt. Emmette E.
Counsell, Capt. John E.
Kansas City, Missouri
Crow, Cpl. Jack R.
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)
General Cullen was married to Reva Joy Hurwitz, a Denver Post
Davies, Capt. Francis N. "Frank"
Capt Francis M.
(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.
Dubach, Capt. Mark O.
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.
Dughman, S/Sgt. Gene Dale
He was married to Helen Marie McCarthy
(9/23/1926-10/23/2014). Helen later married James Oscar
Carey. She lived in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fife, 1Lt. Jack Radford
Lieutenant Fife was born October 14, 1919, Houston Heights,
Harris County, Texas.
Fisher, 2Lt. William Edward Jr.
Born August 27, 1922 in Oklahoma, he was the son of William
Edward Fisher (1889-1965) and Elizabeth Florence Dean Fisher
(1895-1976) of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His siblings were
Elizabeth Dean (Bettie) Fisher and Ruth E. Fisher.
Gray, Col. Kenneth N.
Born June 5, 1909, he was a SAC budget officer from
Green, T/Sgt. Charles E.
Greene, S/Sgt. Thomas Eli Sr.
Sergeant Greene was born May 06, 1915, son of Christopher
Wilson Greene (1882-1952( and Connie Thompson Greene
(1892-1928). He was married to Ethel Mae Eubanks on
January 29, 1939. Their son was Don Thomas Greene
(1939-1973). He was also married to Hazel E. MacDonald
Greene. They had sons Thomas Eli Greene Jr. (1942-2015)
and Winston Ray Greene (1941-1942).
Hopkins, Ltc. James I. "Hop" Jr.
James I. Hopkins was a native of Palestine, Texas. He
attended Texas A&M college for three years before enlisting in
the Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program at Randolph Field in San
Antonio, Texas. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on
February 7, 1941. He married Catherine Crittenden shortly
thereafter. They had two children, Jim (1941--) and Patricia
(1945-2017). After the war began, he deployed to North Africa
with the Desert Air Force, a component of the Ninth Air Force in
support of General Bernard L. Montgomery’s Eighth Army. He flew
43 combat missions and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.
After his return to the US he became an instructor pilot and
then was assigned as Operations Officer to the 393rd Bomb
Squadron commanded by LTC Tom Classen. The 393rd was then chosen
to be the strike force of the newly created 509th Composite Bomb
Group in Wendover, Utah, commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets with
Classen as his deputy, and (now) Major Hopkins continuing as
Operations Officer. After intense training the 509th deployed to
Tinian North Field, Mariana Islands where he flew the
photographic plane on the Nagasaki mission. He was promoted to
LTC a few weeks later. After the war, the 509th was relocated to
Walker Air Force Base, Roswell, New Mexico. LTC Hopkins remained
with the 509th and played a key role in Operation Crossroads
which saw the third atomic bomb dropped. He was subsequently
selected to attend the Air War College and after graduation
joined the Headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha,
Nebraska where he was serving at the time of his last flight on
the C-124 Globemaster that ditched on March 23, 1951 in the
(Thanks to Scott Muselin for the details of LTC Hopkins’s
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. Thomas 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.
Mathers, 2Lt. Howard P.
McKay, Lt. E.A.
See News Articles section below.
(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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
Back to Page Contents
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
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)
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
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 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
"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
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
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
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."