PACIFIC: Clatie Cunningham

Clatie Ray Cunningham Jr

S. Sgt. Clatie R. Cunningham, Jr. was killed on a mission over the Mekong River in Vietnam, on July 23, 1945, when the B-24 in which he was the flight engineer crashed after a bombing run scored a direct hit on an enemy barge.

The explosion of the barge was so bad that the B-24 was damaged. The pilot then headed to a point assigned to a life-guard submarine.

Cunningham and nine other crew members bailed out, however, only three crew members survived. One was picked up on July 26 by a Catalina sea plane and two other crewmen were picked up by separate submarines.

According to the 868th Bombardment Squadron Unit History, supplied by Clatie Cunningham III, son of S/Sgt. Clatie R., the B-24 was based at Morotai in the South Pacific.

That day's mission sent three B-24s on a ''snooper mission'' staged through Palawan in the Philippines. Their primary target was to search out the Bassac and Mekong rivers in French Indo-China (now Vietnam).

Aircraft No. 808, Cunningham's B-24 bomber, was piloted by Lt. Walter Low.

Three bombs were dropped on a 200 foot coastal steamer from an altitude of 100 feet, scoring direct hits which immediately sank the vessel.

Three bombs were dropped on Sugar Charlie Sugar, 130-feet in length, scoring near misses with no visible damage resulting. The vessel was later sunk by aircraft No. 780.

Two oil barges, 120 feet in length, being towed by a tug, were attacked, a total of 3 bombs being dropped from 100-200 feet. Direct hits were scored, exploding both barges, with orange flames and smoke to 1500 feet.

Although 4-to-5-second delay fuses were used, the force of the explosions blew out the waist windows of the attacking B-24, and the pilot was thrown from his seat.

Soon thereafter, the No. 2 engine was afire and had to be feathered (shut down), necessitating a bail-out of the entire crew at sea.

Pilot Low radioed to aircraft No. 780 nearby that they had insufficient gas supply to get back to Palawan.

A/C No. 780 made submarine contact and received instructions to have the crew of the distressed aircraft bail out at a certain location.

Three men bailed out on the first pass over the given position. Five men bailed out on the second pass over the same position. Two men bailed out on the third and last pass over the same position.

Bail-out was made and all ten chutes were seen to open. Witnesses said that all ten chutes landed with 3 miles.

Edward Gingerich was picked up by a Catalina (sea plane) on July 26.

Walter Low was rescued by submarine Hammerhead on July 27.

Lt. Stanley Reed was picked up by submarine Sidonet on July 28.

No trace of the rest of the crew was ever found.

Lost were: 2nd Lt. Donald C. McDermott; S. Sgt. Clatie R. Cunningham; Sgt. Charles E. Carroll; S. Sgt. Roy E. Hayes; S. Sgt. John W. Knigga; S. Sgt. Nicholas Meriage; and Sgt. E. Clifton Leach.

Copyright © 2010 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved. Content may not be used for commercial purposes without written permission.

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