Topics - B-29s - Newspaper Articles

Close this window


Back to Page Contents

Relating to downed B-29 #44-62217

Capt Vaadi Held Prisoner By Chinese, Wife Is Told
First Official Word Since Pilot Was Taken Prisoner 17 Months Ago.

Capt Eugene J Vaadi, 32-year-old Clayton pilot, whose B-29 Superfortress was shot down over North Korea on Jan 12, 1953, is being held a prisoner by the Communists, according to a telegram received by his wife, Mrs. Mary E Weller Vaadi, Clayton.  Mrs. Vaadi and the parents of the Korean war prisoner, Mr. and Mrs. John Vaadi, LaFargeville, were officially advised of the pilot’s status in separate telegrams received Tuesday night from the war department.  It was the first official word that Captain Vaadi is a war prisoner received by relatives since the air force officer was shot down 17 months ago. Up to now, it was only assumed that Vaadi was a war prisoner.

The telegram said that the “Communists are still holding Capt Eugene Vaadi as a prisoner.” It did not say where he is being held. The war department added that as soon as further information is available, particularly regarding possibilities of his release, it would be forwarded to them. The war department said that Vaadi’s name is among those still being held as war prisoners.

The air force captain has two children, Jean Anne, 11, and Donna Faye, 7. Last September, the defense department received from the Communists an accounting on the fate of Captain Vaadi. The announcement that he is a war prisoner presumably is the reply from the Reds of the defense departments protest. Captain Vaadi is also a veteran of World War II. During that conflict he was a German war prisoner for three months in a concentration camp.

Transcribed from an unknown news clipping.


Back to Page Contents

Local POW, Comrade Look Back on Korea
by Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas - In the bright summer sun, a breeze carried the hum of insects into the shady porch where the two former prisoners of war sat. Wallace Brown and Eugene Vaadi were a world away from what they once endured: 32 months of torture in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War. “It wasn’t really a picnic, I tell you,” Vaadi said. Vaadi, who lives in Florida, visited Brown and his wife at their San Angelo home last week. They reunite every few years.

In 1953, Vaadi was the pilot, and Brown the co-pilot, of a plane meant to drop off propaganda as part of a newly formed psychological warfare unit. Eight MiG fighters shot down the crew of 14. “We got hit on our first mission, within spitting distance of China,” Wallace said. “They pounced us right out of the sky.” Vaadi said the plane went down in flames, burning because of a large bladder tank of fuel that the plane was hauling. Brown said 11 survived. The bodies of those who died were never recovered, Brown said. That was Jan. 12, 1953. The Korean armistice and prisoner exchange happened on July 27, 1953. Brown, Vaadi and the others were not freed until two years later, in August 1955.

Brown said when the Chinese learned the members of his crew were part of a new psychological warfare unit, they shipped them to Beijing. Brown and Vaadi said each prisoner had his own car on the train, and they were shackled, with three to four guards for each person. “We were in the worst kind of prison you would’ve seen in the state of Texas a hundred years ago,” Brown said. “We had a cell apiece and didn’t know if anybody else was still alive from the crew. ... They didn’t let us know anything except we were going to be shot if we didn’t tell them what they wanted to know.”

Brown said the cells were 7 feet by 10 feet, and each had a 10 inch by 12 inch window and a 4 inch by 4 inch peephole in a 3-inch thick wooden door to the cell. Vaadi said the beds were three 10-inch-wide boards propped up on two 10-inch-high sawhorses. Vaadi had been a POW in World War II after getting shot down by Germans, and he said his experience in the Korean War was more brutal. “That was the biggest thing, was trying to survive because of food,” Vaadi said. “The food was very minimal.” The prisoners were fed mainly thin gruel made from others’ leftovers, with “maybe some rice in it,” Vaadi said.

Then there were the interrogations and the beatings. Brown said there were seven months of interrogations, some lasting a week at a time, and he would be forced to stand the entire time. “They had sticks, and they would beat you around the back of the head and ears,” Vaadi said. “They would always be beating you on the back of your head, and you thought your head was going to explode. You tried to reach and grab a hold of one of them, take (the sticks) away from them, and you would wind up with a gun butt against the back.” Vaadi said they were also beaten with shoes, and Brown said the interrogators would thump their eyes if they shut them. Brown said the purpose was to keep the prisoner awake. “Your body was swollen up until you can’t feed yourself. They spoon it in your mouth and pretty soon you don’t even bother to do that. The torture was the standing, and the kicking and the beating and the thumping was to keep you awake,” Brown said.

The men tapped on walls to communicate with each other, and eventually they developed a “hacking code.” They made coughing and hacking sounds since they were so common among other Chinese prisoners and were unlikely to be uncovered by the Chinese, Brown said. Brown said a faith in the influence of the United States, with the hope that U.S. intelligence knew what was happening, helped get him through the hardships. “I was a member of the United States Air Force, and nobody else would really want to shoot us, because this country is the greatest there ever was,” Brown said. “So they could threaten, but as long as they never did anything that left a scar, I thought there was hope. If they ever had done anything that did make a permanent mark, I had made up my mind that I was going to force them to shoot me by running at a guard with a gun. ... There are lots of times that you would pretty much give up hope, but then you would gain it back.”

In November 1954, after the interrogation ended, the prisoners were sent to a military trial, and a month later they received prison sentences of five to eight years on charges of attempting to overthrow the Chinese government. Months later, the prisoner were pardoned and freed. Brown said he suspects they were freed to improve China’s chances of getting a vote on the U.N. Security Council.

Family members had not known the prisoners were still alive until the November 1954 trials. After that, the men could receive mail from their families. Brown’s wife, Bobby Brown, said she was in shock when she got the news that her husband was missing in action, but she found she had to carry on. “I came home, and I went to work for a dentist, to become a dental hygienist,” Bobby Brown said. When she finally heard her husband was alive and sentenced during the trials, she prepared for the long sentence. The lone bright spot in the ordeal was that it didn’t last as long as it might have.

Both men continued to serve in the Air Force and retired in the late 1960s. The men resist being defined by the POW experience. “It was just a little blip out of a great career,” Wallace Brown said.

[Source: Standard Times, May 30, 2010]


Back to Page Contents

60th Anniversary of the Worst Peacetime Accident
at Andersen

"12/17/2013 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- (The following contains research and photos from Lee Corbin for the book he wrote for the survivors and families of the victims of this accident called: "The Crash of 44-87741")

December 17, 1953, was a typical beautiful Thursday morning on Guam. Typhoon Doris had just passed north of the island two days earlier and took most of the weather with it. The sun was rising with a few patches of clouds dropping the usual rain showers.

At Jennings Manor Officer's Housing, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, some Airmen and their families were just getting up and motivated for their day, while others wanted to catch a few more winks of sleep. Maybe some awoke at 5 a.m. by the constant sound of 20 B-29 Superfortress bombers of the 9th Bomb Wing departing in ten minute intervals after a 90-day deployment. While others may have been getting ready to orientate the new rotational 97th Bomb Wing, from Briggs AFB, El Paso, Texas, equipped with the newer B-50 Superfortress bombers. Whatever those folks were doing in Jennings Manor that morning; their lives would soon be shattered by the worst peacetime accident at Andersen AFB.

The recently departed 9th BW was on their way home to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho via a short fueling and crew rest stop at Kwajalein Island. Their bombers were full of extra passengers who wanted to be home in the U.S. for the holidays. One of those B-29s, tail number 44-87741, just took off at 6:05 a.m., but encountered an engine failure in the inboard port engine. The pilot successfully feathered the propeller while returning to Andersen. However, during the pilot's first attempt to land, he came out of the clouds too high and went around for another try. While struggling to land the second time he turned the B-29 into the feathered propeller at too steep of an angle, with the landing gear down, and flaps retracted which caused the bomber to lose lift and control. This resulted in the big bomber crashing into peaceful Jennings Manor housing at a near vertical angle.

At 6:48 a.m., the B-29 bomber's crash at Andersen would become a memory that many witnesses and survivors would like to forget. Sadly, nine crewmen and passengers on the aircraft would perish in the crash. Many of those killed were in the forward part of the aircraft they included: 1st Lt. Henry G. Oetgen, age 40, pilot; 1st Lt. Sophus E. "Eddie" Larsen, age 30, co-pilot; 1st Lt. Howard L. DeBoer, age 31, bombardier; 1st Lt. Dominick J. Christopher, age 29, navigator; Tech. Sgt John M. Reilly, age 30, flight engineer; Staff Sgt. Homer A. Pickrell, age 23, left gunner/scanner; Tech. Sgt. Fred Leard, age 30, passenger; Airman 3rd Class Donald J. Wagner, age 22, passenger; and Airman 2nd Class Francis L. Murray, age 20, passenger.

Remarkably, seven Airmen would survive the crash all were positioned in the tail section of the aircraft which included: 1st Lt. Jack Patton, radar officer; Airman 2nd Class Robert L. Jensen, electronic counter-measure operator; Airman 1st Class Donald C. Van Doren, waist gunner/scanner; Airman 1st Class William J. Backman, tail gunner; Airman 2nd Class Nelson H. "Nub" Graham, passenger; Airman 2nd Class Roberto Duran, passenger; and Airman 2nd Class Walter R. Newby, passenger. One of the crewmen, Bob Jensen was very grateful for Staff Sgt. Homer A. Pickrell, who risked his life to save him. Heartbreakingly, Pickrell would die the following day because of his injuries. His father accepted the Soldier's Medal that was posthumously awarded for his heroism in 1958. Other Airmen and their families at Andersen certainly hoped those were the only casualties that morning.

In Jennings Manor Officer's Housing the destruction was horrific. Many World War II and Korean War veterans that responded to the carnage said that it reminded them of a war zone. In those days most military housing on Guam was made out of wood and metal, not very robust. More compelling was that there were more casualties on the ground than on the aircraft. Two complete families and another family's daughter's lives were taken by the accident. These families included: Lt. Col. Benjamin L. Mills, 3rd Aviation Field Depot Squadron commander, his wife Agnes, and three daughters Margaret 9, Helen 5, and Martha 2; Maj. Gerald A. Orken, 31, medical officer and commander 6319th Dispensary, his wife Shirley, daughter, Vivian, age 5, and son, Steven age 3; and lastly Bonnie "Bunnie" Kimball, 11, daughter of Capt. Stanley J. Kimball, the base weather officer with the 54th Weather Squadron.

The fire and emergency crews responded very quickly to the crash site, since they were ready to respond because of the B-29's in-flight emergency. After arriving the aircraft's nose gear strut assembly exploded. This sent the nose wheel assembly airborne 30 feet, hitting and detonating the fuel tank of a pumper truck. The burning magnesium of the aircraft's wheel assembly scattered, causing injuries to four firefighters, including the fire chief and assistant fire chief. There were a total of 14 injuries that day and many grateful survivors who had narrowly escaped death or serious injury.

In the aftermath of the crash, it's not too surprising that less than a year, a bill for the $20 million Capehart Housing area was passed through Congress and the design contract was awarded in September 1956. This built 1,050 concrete homes away from the flight pattern; building began in 1958. By 1957, Jennings Manor had become enlisted family housing. In 1962, those families had to move out because it was completely destroyed by Super Typhoon Karen. The daughter of Capt Kimball was memorialized for many years by the Bonnie Kimball Memorial Field. Back when there weren't fences surrounding the base, Little Leaguers from around the island used to play there. Today, that ball field's location is near the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, energy weapon training site. The ex-Jennings Manor area today is still a vibrant part of Andersen mission as it contains the 36th Security Forces Squadron's (36 SFS) K-9 Unit, the recycling complex, and contractors involved with construction on the base have their workplaces there.

Though the crash and the lost life sounded terrible, that wasn't the only aircraft or lives lost from Guam that week. On Dec. 16, 1953, VJ-1 Squadron, Naval Air Station Agana sent out one of their six PB4Y-2Ss (single tail version of the B-24 Liberator) to track Typhoon Doris and it disappeared without a trace while penetrating the eye wall with its crew of nine. Then on Dec. 20 1953, a Navy R-4D Skytrain (Navy's version of C-47/DC-3) brought in to help search for the lost PB4Y also disappeared with 10 crewmen onboard. Its wreckage was later discovered inside Agrihan Island's volcano crater. These unfortunate aircraft accidents caused three aircraft lost, 38 people dead in less than five days. That ranks as the fourth worst week in Guam history's peacetime aviation history, preceded by the Aug. 6, 1997, Korean Air flight 801, Boeing 747 crash on Nimitz Hill that killed 228; the Sept 19 1960, World Airways flight 830, Douglas DC-6AB crash in Barrigada Heights that killed 80 out of 94 military, dependents, and crew; and lastly the Air Manila flight 702, Lockheed L-188 Electra in Barrigada Heights that killed 46.

On December 17, 2013, during the 60th Anniversary of this accident let us remember the 19 victims, the 14 who were injured, the survivors, and the families."


Close this window

2002-2016 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.

- Contact Webmaster with questions or comments related to web site layout.
- Contact Lynnita for Korean War questions or similar informational issues.
- Website address:

Hit Counter