Friday, October 11, 2013

TFH 10/11: Lieutenant Colonel Neel E. Kearby, USAAF

Neel Earnest Kearby was born on June 5, 1911 in Wichita Falls, Texas. His family later settled in Arlington, Texas. Kearby completed his studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 1936 and then joined the United States Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet. By the time he officially graduated from UT Austin in 1937, he was well on his way to earning his pilot's wings.

Kearby was one of the first combat aviators to fly and develop tactics for the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. As a Lieutenant Colonel in 1943, he took command of the United States Army Air Forces' 348th Fighter Group and flew in combat against the Japanese from a forward base on New Guinea.

Seventy years ago today, Lieutenant Colonel Kearby led a flight of four Thunderbolts on a mission to Wewak, New Guinea where the Japanese had a large airbase and other installations. After performing their primary reconnaissance mission, he shot down one enemy aircraft, and then even though his flight was low on fuel, pressed the attack against an enemy aircraft formation twelve times larger. He shot down five more planes, and joined the ranks of our Nation's greatest heroes.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):


Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps
Place and date: Near Wewak, New Guinea, 11 October 1943 (Air Mission)
Entered service at: Dallas, Tex.
G.O. No.: 3, 6 January 1944

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy, Col. Kearby volunteered to lead a flight of 4 fighters to reconnoiter the strongly defended enemy base at Wewak. Having observed enemy installations and reinforcements at 4 airfields, and secured important tactical information, he saw an enemy fighter below him, made a diving attack and shot it down in flames. The small formation then sighted approximately 12 enemy bombers accompanied by 36 fighters. Although his mission had been completed, his fuel was running low, and the numerical odds were 12 to 1, he gave the signal to attack. Diving into the midst of the enemy airplanes he shot down 3 in quick succession. Observing 1 of his comrades with 2 enemy fighters in pursuit, he destroyed both enemy aircraft. The enemy broke off in large numbers to make a multiple attack on his airplane but despite his peril he made one more pass before seeking cloud protection. Coming into the clear, he called his flight together and led them to a friendly base. Col. Kearby brought down 6 enemy aircraft in this action, undertaken with superb daring after his mission was completed.

As his Medal of Honor citation indicates, Kearby was promoted to full Colonel after the events of October 11, 1943. He received the Silver Star for additional acts of valor in January, 1944.

Colonel Kearby continued flying combat missions, even though he had been reassigned to a staff position. On March 5, 1944 in action again over Wewak, Kearby and two other pilots surprised a formation of 15 Japanese enemy aircraft and attacked. He was wounded by fires from enemy fighters, bailed-out, landed safely but died of his wounds soon after. Kearby's remains were recovered in 1947 and identified two years later. He was laid to rest in the Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas on July 23, 1949 after his remains were returned to the United States.

The city of Arlington posted a tribute video to Kearby in 2010.

The 348th Fighter Group was redesignated as the 108th Fighter Group on May 24, 1946. The unit is active today as the 108th Wing, an aerial refueling unit and component of the New Jersey Air National Guard, and when federalized, the United States Air Force.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.