My heart is bleeding. My eyes have cried. My soul is dead within me. Three ships crashed into the mountain in Ceram, all exploded.1 My three friends, Stan Seehorn, Howard Sanford and John Loughlin. The best pal a man ever had and two more of the nicest guys ever to breathe. Stan’s 54th, Sandy’s 62nd, John’s 70th. All should have been on orders. John’s would’ve come in a few days. Martyrs to our famous nil rotation policy.
Only yesterday, Stan dropped in the tent. We talked over various situations. We did a little work on a jigsaw puzzle. It still lays unfinished on my table. It will never be finished by me. It can never be.
Stan always dropped in everyday and in the evenings after he was transferred. Stan would always leave without a word. You’d never miss him for a minute, and then when you did, it would be with an awful force, because he brought light into the places where he went. His baby blue eyes, very big, and very honest. His light complexion, like a baby’s, his nose that drew down towards the tip. The inevitable cigar which he smoked with a raft of enjoyment, and then let it burn out when busily engaged, his interest straying elsewhere. The man who’d do anything for his buddies, without asking return. I will miss Stan with all my heart. His pride in Bunny, his girl he loved, in Margaret, who was his most beloved friend, his devotion to his family. Stanley Seehorn is gone but lives in my memory and the memory of others forever.
His going removes one of my mainstays. I wish that Stan were here tonight that I might recall every harsh word I spoke to him. That I might cry more tears, though I’m dry eyed with grief. Somehow I feel that Stan is here, watching me write these words. It is not a fitting epitaph because words were never made to explain the kind of a man Stan was. The kind he remains in my memory. Happy landings buddy. May God hold you in his protecting arms.
The last time I saw John was at the theater one night. We had a long conversation about the tough luck the Joyces received when their two sons left the earth at the same time: Dick in a water landing near Ceram2; his brother in Guam during the invasion there. The Laughlin’s and the Joyce’s are friends. Return comforting will probably occur. John was a swell guy, quiet spoken with an usually good cheer. Tall and humanly conscious of those about him. He is gone too. I cry for his memory. He was only awaiting orders to go home. He’s home now with the special haven of heaven that God must have for those of his angels. Godspeed, Johnny Loughlin!
Howard Sanford (“Sandy”) was in the tent the other day. He dropped in only for as was his wont. Sandy was always smiling. He never broke a promise. His blue eyes used to twinkle merrily. He’d laugh and joke with anyone. His manner was as quiet as his voice; his heart was gold. Sandy never did a mean thing in his life. He was in this war for the things he thought about, just as Stan and John were. They never shirked a duty, nor used a nose, though we called Sandy “Brownie”. This was because the exact opposite was true. Forgive me Sandy for ever calling you that in fun. May God forgive me as readily as he took you to his bosom. Adios, Sandy.
So long fellows. Know that we sorrow for you and know also that your memories will march through all time with us. May we someday meet again and know the things that have passed together. That is, if a weak man like me can attain the pinnacle that is your abode in heaven. Parting is such sorrow. Not to see you in all the tomorrows for all time we may be apart will be a loss to me, will be a loss to all who knew you. Please God that you may not have died in vain. My friends, good night!
In England, Verne wrote in his diary:
We didn’t fly today. Thank heavens. Am still plenty shaky after Hamburg raid. Am resting up and getting ready for our next raid. Sure was cold last night and today with some snow and wind. Wonder what Aileen and Allen are doing. Sure wish I could be with them. Miss their company.
Notes & Commentary
1 On January 1, 1945, B-25s (eight each from the 70th, 100th and 390th Bombardment Squadrons) were dispatched from Mar Airfield to attack personnel and supply areas at Haroekoe and Kairatoe Airdromes. Each squadron attacked it assigned target at minimum altitude.
Each aircraft carried twelve 100 lb. Napalm Incendiary Bombs and a full load of ammunition. 222 incendiary bombs were dropped on Kairatoe and Haroekoe. Twelve were jettisoned in open water and 53 brought back to base. Of those returned to base, 36 were brought back because of the pilots waited too long to drop them in the area of the assigned targets and then could find no suitable target on which to drop them. Approximately 43,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition were expended in strafing the targets.
The B-25s were off Mar Airfield by 0820. All squadrons flew from Mar to Cape Dore to Cape Fasendoten to their targets. The 100th and 390th Bombardment Squadrons attacked buildings at Haroekoe Airdrome at 1127 and 1128, respectively. The 70th Bombardment Squadron attacked buildings east northeast of the Kairatoe Runway at 1035.
After the attack, three planes in the first flight of the 70th Bombardment Squadron started on the return to trip. The fourth missed the formation rendezvous and returned alone. At approximately 1100 at 03° 30’S 129° 15’E, the three planes turned on a 20 degree heading and started across Ceram Island. The altitude of the lead flight was between 5,000’ and 6,000’, and the second flight was at 8,000’. The first flight was winding through 7/10 towering cumulus as they approached Mt. Binalia which was apparently not seen because of the clouds. The flight leader of the second flight saw them go around a cloud and head into the ridge west of Mt. Binalia peak at 1110. They did not have space to avoid hitting the ridge and the three planes crashed and burned.
The remaining aircraft returning from the mission recovered at Mar Airfield by 1250.
Consolidated Mission Report #42-978, 1 January 1945. Headquarters 42nd Bombardment Group (M), 1 January 1945, microfilm B0132, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 793-795.
The following men were killed in the crashes of the three B-25s:
Lt. Col. Joe Reese Brabson, Jr.
2nd Lt. George Irving Buck
2nd Lt. Edward Fitch Garvin
Sgt. Julian Clark Hatfield
S/Sgt. Dallas Sidney Scales
S/Sgt. Joseph H. Brasher, Jr.
F/O Walter Charles Gillette, Jr.
2nd Lt. Milford James Karr
S/Sgt Stanley L. Seehorn
T/Sgt. Howard D. Sanford
SSgt. John V. Loughlin
2nd Lt. Michael Elmer Miles
2nd Lt. Fred Wilson Dains
2nd Lt. Maurice Louis Denault
Sgt. Charles Clayton Hogue
Cpl. Ralph Lawrence Newton
Cpl. Robert Frayser McConnell, Jr.
Mission Report, Mission #303, 1 January 1945, 70th Bombardment Squadron (M). Office of the Intelligence Officer, 1 January 1945, microfilm A0560, Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 957-958.
At the conclusion of the war the families of those reported killed or missing in action still held out hope that their loved ones might be found. At the least, they wanted to know the status of their remains. Today, we might say they sought closure. Many letters were written seeking information, and they were answered to the best of everyone’s ability.
General Kenney has asked me to reply to your letter of 16 May concerning the circumstances of your nephew, Lt. Colonel Joe R. Brabson, Jr. The information which follows is from the personal knowledge and available records in both the AAF Headquarters and the Adjutant General’s Office.
Lt. Colonel Brabson was Deputy Group Comander of the 42nd Bombardment Group, leading a flight of six B-25’s on a minimum altitude strike against Old Namlea Runway just west of Ambon Harbor on the island of Ceram. To the best of my recollection, the strike was set up for about 0950, 1 January 1945. The six aircraft had taken off from Sansapor (Mar Strip), New Guinea. After the strike, the formation headed for home base by cutting across the SE tip of Ceram. The leader of the second flight of three planes saw the first flight, led by Lt. Colonel Brabson, enter a broken cloud deck at about 3,000 feet, and shortly thereafter saw several violent explosions. The mountain (Mt. Binalia) is roughly 6,000 feet high. Lt. Colonel Brabson’s airplane and both escorting airplanes were destroyed. The mission report lists a total of 17 casualties.
I am informed that the Quartermaster General wrote a letter to Lt. Colonel Brabson’s brother informing him that a query was sent to the theater on 6 May 1946 to ascertain whether the remains were recovered by Dutch or Australian search parties after the surrender.
We are not in a position to fully advise you concerning the feasibility or advisability of Lt. Colonel Brabson’s mother visiting the island of Ceram. However, I would most certainly advise that she be discouraged as to the practical advantages of such a venture. While I can sympathetically understand the very natural desire of a mother to be sure of the fate of her son under these circumstances, the chances of his survival in this case are most remote. Accordingly, I repeat, that I would most certainly advise the discouragement of Mrs. Brabson’s proposal to visit Ceram at this time.
Ambon is the only settlement of any size from a project to search the vicinity of the crash could be undertaken. It was the site of the Dutch residency before the war and the headquarters of the Japanese Army during the war. It received an unmerciful pounding which reduced the town to almost complete destruction. It is possible that the ravages of war have been in part repaired, but I am afraid it is no place yet for gentle white women.
Systematic searches of the areas over which our boys fought in the Southwest Pacific campaigns were undertaken following VJ Day by military forces of local Australian and Dutch authorities. It is quite possible that of the remote areas have not been searched thoroughly at this time, however, Ceram and the surrounding islands which are fairly populous have probably been gone over with fine tooth comb.
Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947 , digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/30087079/ : accessed 27 December 2014), Letter dated 31 May 1946 from Office of the Commanding General, Headquarters Strategic Air Command, Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. by St. Clair Streett, Major General, U.S. Army, Deputy Commander, to Colonel Fay W. Brabson, Staunton, Virginia.
The remains of F/O Walter C. Gillette, Jr., S/Sgt. John V. Loughlin, T/Sgt. Howard D. Sanford and S/Sgt. Stanley L. Seehorn are buried in Section 79, site 502-503, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri.
“Stanley Lavelle Seehorn”, Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/ : accessed 27 December 2012) Find A Grave Memorial #12822637.
2 Tail gunner Dick Joyce was killed in a water landing. See Wayne’s Journal, October 14, 1944.