WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Each year at the end of May, Americans stop to pay tribute to the men and women who have died while serving in the military. This is the story of thirty men who made the ultimate sacrifice.
In March 1953, the 509th Bombardment Wing was at its home station of Walker Air Force Base in New Mexico, planning for a deployment. Just four months before the Korean War Armistice was signed, the wing was poised for a Strategic Air Command rotation to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, as part of the Far East Air Force. Gone were the Silverplate B-29s that the 509th flew to help end World War II, replaced by B-50 bombers and KB-29 aerial refueling tankers. The gradual change over to the B-50, which was basically a modified B-29, began in 1949 but crew conversion was not completed until March 1952. For most of the Korean War the wing had remained in New Mexico travelling on short training assignments or deploying to England.
For the Guam deployment, the 830th Bombardment Squadron was tagged to provide aircrew and planes, supported by the other squadrons within the wing and individuals from the 812th Air Base Group. They would replace the 97th Bombardment Wing which had deployed from its home at Biggs AFB in Texas. While maintenance crews readied aircraft for the trip, the rest of the wing coordinated passenger lists, built cargo pallets, and rearranged workloads for the individuals staying behind.
The Advanced Echelon left Walker on March 8, led by the wing’s Deputy Commander, Colonel Harold E. Humfeld. He was a member of the 509th Bomb Wing for a total of seven days when he climbed aboard the first KB-29 to depart, having just been reassigned from the 97th Bombardment Wing- the very unit the wing was trading places with at Guam. A small group of men joined Humfeld on the flight to help prepare for the arrival of the rest of the team. Once in place, a continuous movement of men, equipment, and aircraft began on March 12th with C-97s and DC-4s supplementing the 509th Bomb Wing’s operational aircraft.
The movement progressed without incident until March 20, which brought another planned departure of aircraft. The plan called for one C-97 and two DC-4s to leave at different times over the course of the day. One flight in particular carried 30 members of the Walker AFB community, a mix of men from the 509th and 812th Air Police Squadron. Transocean Air Lines Flight 942 was one of numerous DC-4s charted by the Air Force and was crewed by a team of five civilians.
The flight departed a little after noon and proceeded as normal on its way to its first stop at Oakland, California. The aircraft was projected to fly north towards Albuquerque, then veer west towards Palmdale, California, before heading north to Oakland. During the descent into Oakland however, the plane crashed into a barley field near what is now Union City at approximately 6:40 p.m., killing everyone on board. According to other pilots in the area that night, icing was present at higher elevations and one local resident stated that pieces of ice fell into his yard immediately following the crash but the official civilian Accident Investigation Report listed the cause as unknown.
Newspapers across the country shared details of the crash, speculating on the circumstances and listing the names of those killed while the families planned funerals. The wing for its part had to carry on with its mission and flights continued with new personnel selected to make up for the loss. Back in New Mexico, memorial services were held for the group. In the men’s hometowns, funerals were conducted to honor them as individuals.
The men on Flight 942 were not killed in battle and their names are not included on Korean War casualty lists, but like countless other men and women, they died while serving their country and should be remembered for their sacrifice.
Below is a list of the Airmen assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing and 812th Air Base Group who were lost in Flight 942.
509th Armament & Electronics Squadron:
Airman 2nd Class George Blair
Airman 2nd Class Paul G. Moore
Airman 1st Class Patrick A. Carini
Airman 1st Class Eugene G. Granger
Airman 1st Class Troy Matlock
509th Field Maintenance Squadron:
Staff Sgt. Anthony Bush
Airman 3rd Class Roman Candelaria
Airman 2nd Class Eldridge J. Larkins
Airman 2nd Class Bernie C. Mabbitt
Airman 1st Class James C. Coomer
830th Bombardment Squadron:
Staff Sgt. Robert F. Malady
Airman 3rd Class Kenneth E. Oliver
Airman 2nd Class Daniel F. Clinton
Airman 1st Class William G. Cope
Airman 1st Class William M. Smart
812th Air Police Squadron:
Staff Sgt. Kenneth B. Sharpiro
Airman 3rd Class Joseph L. Dobbs
Airman 3rd Class Samuel J. Jordan
Airman 3rd Class Joseph W. Madigan
Airman 3rd Class Robert G. Rogers
Airman 2nd Class William C. Michael
Airman 2nd Class Jasper W. Hall
Airman 2nd Class Ammya B. Placker
Airman 2nd Class Norman E. Wilson
Airman 1st Class Harold Malloy
Airman 1st Class Wayne A. Johnson
Airman 1st Class Robert E. Hitchcock
Airman 1st Class James E. McClanahan
Airman 1st Class Bernard J. Rolle
Airman 1st Class Veldon L. Wichser