Ok Kid! - Leonardtown Hero, WWII Ace Walter Duke -Lost June 6, 1944- 459th FS Burma Banshees
"‘O-K Kid.’ That was the last I heard from him.” - Lieutenant Baumeister
“Today has been the worst day in the short history of the Squadron. Twenty P38s took off early for a beat-up of Heho. Major Glenn got one in the air and Captain Boggs got one in the air. But we lost two of the best men the Squadron will ever have – Capt Duke and Lt Goodrich. Duke was our high scorer with eighteen and a half to his credit. Goodrich had seven. Goodrich bellied in just this side of the Irrawaddy. Baumeister covered him as he went down. He apparently got out of his ship OK. Duke called that he was looking for Goodrich. Baumeister called back that he had found him (Goodrich). So Duke said, “OK, I am going home.” He was never seen or heard from again. The boys went back this afternoon and strafed old 001 – Goodrich’s plane – set it on fire but saw nothing of Duke’s plane. Duke was married one week before he left the States. He has known for two weeks that he was going home very soon. His orders arrived today.” - Bill Aycock
I must admit I was surprised one day to find an elementary school named "Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School". It is located in beautiful ST Mary's County Maryland. It seemed to materialize out of thin air. I have traveled to Patuxent River NAS, for years conducting business. My father Phil Adair who also was a Burma Banshee would travel to Leonardtown frequently in the early 2000's as we visited customers and to share his experiences as a WWII fighter pilot. My dad even gave a presentation at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum where he shared his story of being a Burma Banshee. We showed this photo of Walter Duke watching Elbert McMillin play his clarinet. My father took this photo of Duke and McMillin while they were at Popeye, before Duke transferred to the 459th FS and the rest of the 89th went to Nagaghuli. We had no idea we were in Capt Duke's hometown.
In 2013 ST Mary's County built an elementary school and named it after their hometown hero Captain Walter Francis Duke. I would spend my childhood looking at this photo and many others from my dad's scrap book. After many years he finally began sharing some of the stories behind the photographs.
My father spoke very fondly of two heroes, of Hampton Boggs and Walter Duke, the two leading aces in the Burma Banshees. You could see the pride in his eyes when he spoke of them, they were Aces, the best of the best, and they all began with the 89th Fighter Squadron together. I think it's important to remember the heroic service Captain Duke provided his squadron and his country. His story is an important story and it needs to be told and shared especially, with the kids at his school. He was a hero and he gave his life for his country. He was an important person to history and to his fellow country men. He would become an Ace and then a Double Ace, he was Maryland's leading Ace in WWII, he was also the leading Ace for the 459th FS the Twin Dragons and for the 80th Fighter Group, the Burma Banshees, all looked up to him and respected him.
June 6, 1944 would find the Allies beginning the big push to liberate Europe with the D-Day Invasion. In Burma the rest of the Burma Banshees, 88th, 89th and 90th FS could be found providing flying artillery services for Merrill's Marauders as they began the final battle to gain control of Myitkyina.
While the rest of the Burma Banshees were flying mostly close combat air support missions for the Marauders, the 459th's mission was very different. They were located 600 miles further south in Chittagong and their primary mission was to destroy enemy aircraft, both in the air and on the ground. Many times significantly out numbered.
The "Twin Dragons" as the 459th was known began their first missions in December 1943. Walter Duke and Hampton Boggs would transfer over from the 89th FS and Hampton Boggs would claim the very first aerial victory December 1, 1943 for any Burma Banshee in his P-38. The rest of the gang would get into action shooting up eleven of a dozen Oscars on the ground at Aniskan Airdrome near Maymyo, which according to Col Fielder's excellent book The Twin Dragons, was HQ for enemy forces in central Burma. Four were destroyed and three more were damaged, according to Chris Shores Air War for Burma book. This would be one of Duke's first documented engagements.
Five short months later, on June 6th, 1944, while ships were descending on Normandy the Twin Dragons would be engaged in a terrible fight over Heho and Meiktila. Eighteen P-38's from the 459th were dispatched to attack the air fields and were jumped by a force estimated to be over fifty Oscars. Maj Glenn and Capt Boggs would each claim one Oscar shot down. Capt. Broadfoot and LT Jarvis each would claim three damaged and three more claimed single damaged each. According to Christopher Shores Air War for Burma, LT Sumino attacked LT Burdette Goodrich's P-38 and shot it down. Capt Duke seeing this attack on his wing man attacked Sumino from behind and shot him down. Sumino, a Japanese Ace with 27 claims for aerial victories, would be killed . LT Goodrich would receive credit for one fighter shot down before he went in.
According to Fielder's book Capt Boggs wrote Bill Broadfoot that intelligence files found by Boggs after the war and after interviewing Japanese pilots a flight of them waited high up and out of sight of the fight below. When they saw Duke was the only plane left in the area they attacked him and shot him down. He shot down three of the attacking airplanes during the fight before they got him. That should have elevated Duke to thirteen aerial victories if they had been confirmed.
“The last contact I had with him was when I was just East of the Chin Hills on course for home…Captain Duke called me and asked for an approximate position and later called and asked for altitude. On last contact I told him that I was running low on gas and heading in direction of home base. He acknowledged the call and replied with ‘O-K Kid.’ That was the last I heard from him.” - Lieutenant Baumeister
June 7th would have seen Capt Duke joining Maj Webb, Capt Boggs and Lt.McChesney homeward bound after 100 missions.
Duke's first aerial victory occurred March 11, 1944. A dozen Twin Dragons, led by Capt. Luehring headed out on a search and destroy mission to Aungban and later to Heho early in the morning. They caught the Japanese taking off to intercept the Lightnings and the P-38's swooped in and shot them down as they were taking off. They would destroy thirteen fighters in the air, another five were listed as probable, seven more were destroyed on the ground and two more probables were on the ground. On this day, against an enemy force of over 50 planes the Twin Dragons would destroy and damage over twenty five planes. Duke would receive credit for two Oscars as aerial victories and another one listed as probable.
March 25, 1944 would find a force of Japanese raiders heading towards Ramu, LT Boggs would take two flights of P-38's to intercept them. Boggs headed up one flight of four planes and LT Whitescarver would
take the other flight of four. They headed to Dohazari and not finding anything headed to Shwebo and Ondauk. Not finding any enemy planes at either location, they went to Anisakan for a fighter sweep and found the sky full of enemy planes. Bogg's flight included Duke, Smith and Greco and they nosed over to sweep the field catching a flight of four Hamps landing. Boggs would claim one here that blew up when it hit the ground. Boggs and 2LT Greco would each shoot one down as their targets went down in flames. Boggs shot his third one down in a head on pass and damaged a fourth. As they pulled up from this sweep Boggs flew into a bunch of Oscars and Duke and Smith would split a victory as they show down another. It was reported that everyone was shooting at everyone. Once again the Twin Dragons were severely out numbered and after shooting up as many enemy planes as they could they hit the deck and headed for home. The tally this day would be seven aerial victories, three probables and two damaged. The Dragons paid a heavy price as LT Freeman and LT Greco disappeared and were never seen again.
The CBI Round Up would report this fight as follows:
P-38's Win Sky Duel In Burma Silver, twin-engined Lightnings plunged swiftly from the sky this week in an American P-38 squadron's first major action over Burma and scored a smashing victory over a mixed force of Japanese fighters which outnumbered them 3-1 with 35 plus ships. When the fight was over, crashed Zeros littered the Anisakan airfields over which the action took place. The box score was seven Japs destroyed, two probably destroyed and three damaged in the air; two destroyed on the ground and three probably. This at a cost of two pilots of the Third Tactical Air Force of the Eastern Air Command. Lt. Bill ( Walter) Duke, of Leonardtown, Md., sent one Zero to destruction and shared in dispatching another. He said: "Over Anisakan, I spotted eight fighters to my right and a little below. I pulled up and went down on the first. I gave him a short burst and missed. I climbed again, got on another fighter and gave him a fairly long burst straight into his cockpit. I pulled up again and saw my wingman, Lt. J. Smith, shooting at him. He burst aflame and crashed into the ground. I saw another plane below me and gave him a long burst. I saw my cannon shells strike true and the Jap burst into flames." Leader of the first flight, Lt. Hampton E. Boggs, of Garvin, Okla., former Oklahoma A&M student, related how he first blew up an enemy in mid-air, caught a second on the ground and caused the first to crash and then hit a third on the ground. Lt. A. H. Greco, Salinas, Calif., one of the two U.S. pilots missing in the action, destroyed a Zero on the ground while accompanying Boggs. Lt. King, of Norfolk, Va., fired at an enemy that barreled between him and Boggs and saw him spin into the ground. Lt. J. P. Wrights Carver ( Whitescarver), Pittsburgh, Kan., second flight leader, destroyed another Zero, while probables were credited to Lt. R. A. Hargis, of Warren, Ark., and Lt. W. M. Behrns, San Joacquin, Calif.
April 2, 1944 would see Duke claim another Oscar damaged. It started out as a horrible day with the crews finding a B-24 Liberator dug in nose deep on a taxi way early in the morning. It had an engine shot out and a tail gun manned by a corpse. Nine indian worker were killed when a truck loaded with workers rolled of an embankment at the end of the runway. Once again Capt Luehring would take fourteen P-38 over to Heho airfield for a sweep and ran into a bunch of enemy planes returning form a mission. Glenn and Boggs would each claim an Oscar, Boldman and Harris would each claim a Lily. Duke claimed damage on an Oscar. Four more Julia, three more Oscars, and a Jane were strafed and destroyed on the ground. What started as a horrible day got worse as LT Whitescarver was seen to destroy an Oscar on the ground but would be shot down and crash in a field.
April 17,1944 Would be a day of heavy combat with the Brits sending Spitfires into action and the 1ST Air Commando Group sending P-51's into action. Maj Luehring would lead nine P-38's on a sweep of Heho. As Boggs commenced strafing the dozen Oscars taking off, he came under attack. Capt Duke would drive these fighters off shooting one down and damaging a second. Duke, Harris, Luehring, Sowder, and Wood would all claim aerial victories today, Harry Sealy would claim two. All Twin Dragons came home safely today
April 23, 1944 Capt Webb would take a dozen P-38's from the 459th to attack Kangaung airfield again .
Previous efforts would find no fighters and the base so the Dragons would content themselves with strafing the hangers and dodging anti-aircraft fire. This time they found the enemy home Duke and Goodrich would split a victory as they shot down a Tojo fighter. He approached head on and tried to Split S away, burying himself into the ground. Capt Glenn would have an engine shot out and with LTs Lyon and Smith flying high air cover finally made it home on one engine. The Twin Dragons were very fond of the P-38 since it carried pilots home on one engine twenty-six times.
April 25, 1944 Luehring would lead seventeen P-38's to sweep Heho before dawn, not finding any
enemy aircraft he would bring seven back home. The other ten would also return home but not before Capt Glenn would shoot down two more Oscars. All planes refueled and rearmed and twelve P-38's were dispatched to Heho again later in the morning with hopes the enemy aircraft would return. Capt Webb lead this attack. The Twin Dragons caught the enemy on the ground and sent six Oscars down in flames as they tried to rise to meet the American raiders. Boggs received two victories today. Burger, Goodrich and Webb also all received aerial victories this day, so did Duke, he would become an Ace today with his fifth confirmed aerial victory. Goodrich lost an engine as it was shot out over Heho and Capt Duke escorted him home. There is a very good account of Capt Duke escorting LT Goodrich home in Col Fielder's book.
April 29, 1944 The largest formation of Twin Dragons, twenty-one, took off to raid Aungean, finding nothing there they headed to Heho to shoot up one bomber that was found on the ground. Four Lightnings developed engine trouble and headed back to base. Capt Duke along with Capt Broadfoot, LTs Sealy and McChesney would lead the rest into the hornets nest at Meiktila where twenty Oscars were ready and waiting. Capt Duke would shoot one down, have one probable and one damaged. Bearden, Behrns and Goodrich would also claim an Oscar as well. Four enemy planes were sent down in flames and all Twin Dragons arrived home safe, a couple reported bullet holes.
May 3, 1944 Maj Webb led 10 P-38's on a mission to provide cover for Wellington Bombers in the area, Burger turned back because his supercharger malfunctioned. After refueling Maj Webb took the remaining nine P-38's on a fighter sweep to Meiktila. As they dropped their tanks Boggs and Curtis would find a dozen Oscars diving on them. Five would jump on Bogg's so he hit the deck and sped away for thirty miles before losing the zero's, his engine would fail and he would limp home on one engine before skidding to a halt at home base with a collapsed nose gear. Curtis would disappear with enemy planes on his tail never to return. During the ensuing battle Capt Duke would shoot an Oscar down and damage another, Webb would claim an Oscar and Glenn and Sealy would split a claim for an Oscar.
May 7, 1944 Capt Glenn would lead sixteen planes on a sweep of Kanguang, three turned back with engine trouble but the rest carried on and were met by Oscars taking off to meet them. Duke, Hargis and Bearden each shot an Oscar down while Capt Glenn claimed a Sally bomber on the ground.
May 10, 1944 Capt Duke would lead a flight of Lightnings to Aungban and attack and destroy three Oscars on the ground. Duke would get credit for one on the ground, share one with LT Pauley and damage another in the air. As they headed home they passed another batch of eight P-38's lead by Capt Glenn heading for Kangaung where they inflicted heavy damage. Glenn wold claim one Oscar shot down and one destroyed on the ground. LT Sealy received a probable shot down and one on the ground. Four more Oscars were destroyed on the ground.
May 15, 1944 Would see two missions, the first by Capt Duke would be a fighter sweep of the air fields of Heho and Kangaung where they caught both fighters and bombers on the ground. Duke, Barland and Orr each claimed an Oscar on the ground and Baumeister and Goodrich shared one. Goodrich and Duke would also claim a bomber and Duke damaged another Oscar in the air. Later Capt Glenn would lead another sweep into Kangaung where they were met by many Oscars in the air, Glenn claimed two shot down, a third as a probable and damage to a fourth. Boggs wold claim one in the air, one on the ground and another damaged. Reardon would claim two more shot down, Fertig and Hargis an Oscar on the ground, Harris another in the air, Barnes would get one on the ground, one probable and one damaged in the air. LT Mahler would shoot an Oscar down and damage another, Herrick would shoot another one down and Sowder would damage another. When the smoke cleared at the end of the day the Dragons would claim eight Ki-43 Oscars shot down and two probables and five damaged, most importantly, all planes returned safely.
May 19, 1944 While the local first Air Commando Group's P51's were engaged during their last day of operations in the area, The 459th sent of sixteen P-38's to Shwebo-Nawngglikio area. Maj Leuhring would lead this sweep and Capt Duke and LT Goodrich would each claim an Oscar shot down. Capt Glenn and LT Behrns would each damage one.
May 23, 1944 Capt Boggs would lead a flight of twelve P-38's on a bombing mission in the morning and Capt Glenn would take sixteen planes for a sweep over Meiktila later in the day. They would catch the enemy here in the air, and low on fuel and ammo, returning from another mission. Capt Duke would become a double Ace today as he shot down two more Oscars, LT Behrns would also shoot down two Oscars, Broadfoot would damage two more and Baumeister would damage one.
During the period from March to the end of May, the 459th would fly over 200 sorties and destroy one-hundred twenty-three enemy planes and claim forty-six more damaged with twenty more probables, all with in 58 days. They would receive many commendations for this start to their campaign. While the rest of the 80th Fighter Group would support the efforts for the Battle for Myitkyina further to the north, the 459th would help take the pressure off that area by flying into this hornets nest of enemy fighters every day. Allied intelligence would report the Japanese would enter May with over three-hundred fighter planes in the region. By the end of May, the 459th would leave many of them laying in ruin, smoking on the ground. The tide of battle was turning and the Japanese, while stubborn and resistant would begin the slow retreat from Burma.
As previously recounted the, 459th sent eighteen P-38's to attack Meiktila and Heho early in the morning of June 6th 1944. After repeatedly strafing the airfields the P-38's were low on ammo and fuel and were jumped by Oscars. Even though Duke was low on fuel and ammo we can see he returned to look for his missing wingman Goodrich and was jumped by a flight of Oscars. It must have been one hell of a battle, while they did get Duke, according to reports from Japanese fighters, Duke got three of them.
By this time in the campaign, barely five months would have been completed Willard Webb, Burdette Goodrich, Maxwell Glenn, Hampton Boggs, Aaron Beardon and Walter Duke would all become Aces by this date with Capt Duke becoming the only Double Ace. All of the 459th Fighter Squadron's Aces came from this time period.
And so it ends, or does it? Most of the facts I have listed here come from a variety of sources, I will list at the as follows:
If you are a history enthusiast Christopher Shores book is a must read. He has done a tremendous amount of research and goes into an excellent level of detail that connects all of the participants from both sides of each days battle.
Col Fielder's book also offers a deep dive into the daily activities of the Twin Dragons. I enjoyed reading them side by side to get a better understanding of the days events.
Available on Amazon:
Shores, Christopher. Air War for Burma: The Concluding Volume of The Bloody Shambles Series. The Allied Air Forces Fight Back in South-East Asia 1942-1945 (Kindle Locations 5267-5273). Grub Street Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Available direct from Col Fielder's daughter Jean Field:
459th Fighter Squadron, The Twin Dragons - James Fielder,
Soft Cover, 8.5 x 11- 181 pages $12.00
Availability - Direct From Author's Daughter Jean Field - http://sbprabooks.com/jeanfield/
Burma Banshee Combat Book - Out of Print available as free download on www.burmabanshees.com
89th Fighter Squadron Official Reports - USAF Archives
Herb Walker Collection
Col PR Adair Collection