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Wilbur Roland Long
 An America Hero

John Fuss

Born October 6, 1918
Missing in Action in the Southwest Pacific September 14, 1942

Of the 155 Emmitsburg area men to serve in World War II, Wilbur Roland Long was the first to lose his life in action.

Wilbur Roland Long grew up in Emmitsburg, living during the 1930's with his mother, Mrs. Carrie Fuss Long and his grandmother at 115 East Main Street. He was the first man from the Emmitsburg area to lose his life in World War II. It happened 60 years ago.

He was in the December 7, 1941 attack on the US military in Hawaii. Very little was known about his service from then until he was Missing in Action nine months later. His mother only knew that his aircraft had been lost in the Southwest Pacific.

John M. Fuss was the first cousin of Wilbur Roland Long. He had in his possession newspaper clippings, correspondence and other information from Carrie who died in 1981. Last year, he became interested in the fate of his cousin. He researched the unit history and located veterans who had serve with S/Sgt. Long. His complete report was shared with his family and relatives. Now he has made a condensed version available to this newspaper.

Early Years

Wilbur Roland Long was born October 6, 1918 on a farm south of Thurmont and near Creagerstown, Frederick County, Maryland. His parents were Wilbur Long and Carrie Mable Fuss Long who had been married on February 20, 1917.

The marriage was dissolved by divorce. Carrie, Roland (as he was generally known around Emmitsburg) and his Grandmother Fuss lived at 115 East Main Street, Emmitsburg from 1929 until he entered the military service.

Roland graduated from Emmitsburg High School in 1936. He played the clarinet in the High School Orchestra and was a member of the Future Farmers of America Chapter. My cousin Hazel Valentine Liller was a classmate of Roland. She remembered him as being a rather quiet person.

After High School

For a time Roland worked on farms and other general laboring work. There was high unemployment in the area due to the Great Depression. So some time later Roland departed Emmitsburg. I do not know where all he was but it is known that he worked for a time on the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River near Spokane, Washington. He also went to California where he lived and worked for a time with his Uncle Robert.

Sometime about the beginning of 1939, Roland returned to Emmitsburg. He worked at various odd jobs, mostly for relatives and other farmers.

Enlisted In Army Air Corps

I do not know all the reasons why, but Roland enlisted in the Army Air Corps during the summer of 1939 for training in Hawaii. It very likely was due to the lack of employment opportunities here.

He was in San Francisco to depart by ship when, on September 1, 1939, the Second World War began with Germany invading Poland. The ship's departure was delayed for about a week.

Roland did train at Hickam Field, an Army Air Corps base on Oahu in the Territory of Hawaii and adjacent to the big Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. His unit was the 26th Bombardment Squadron. He never did return to the United States.

I know about his time at Hawaii only by the items that were in Carrie's papers when she gave them over to me when she went to the nursing home in 1973. There were a few letters. He had completed a course in Aircraft Mechanics and trained as an Aerial Combat Photographer. He received a Sharp Shooter rating. In his extra time he was taking college courses. He evidently sent money home from his pay every month.

Carrie had at least three photographs of Roland taken in Hawaii. One has his rank as Staff Sergeant, so evidently this was taken in 1942.

Roland's life would change significantly on December 7, 1941.

Note: As far as I know, Carrie had little information from Roland from this point until his death. He was in a combat unit continually in a war zone with no military movement information released by the government until long after the happening and individuals were not allowed to communicate to their relatives. Roland's experiences, as I have been able to obtain recently from many different agencies and from veterans of his unit, are in the last section of this report.

After Roland Death

On September 22, 1942, his mother was sent a telegram from the War Department in Washington, DC stating that Wilbur Roland Long has been reported Missing In Action since September 14, 1942, in the Southwest Pacific Area.

The Frederick Post article said that the last word received directly from Sgt. Long was a three year accumulation of personal effects shipped to his mother from Hawaii and received in early August. (Evidently this was shipped as the 26th Bombardment Squadron was moved from Hawaii to the New Hebrides). The article said that at that time his messages made no announcement of his changed station. Of course, in wartime all such movements would be secretive and censors would have deleted any such reference.

The newspaper noted that his three-year enlistment had just been terminated and that he was scheduled to come home to visit. Of course, everything changed with December 7, 1941. It also noted that James Lenhart of Frederick and Roland had enlisted on practically the same day and both had been at Hickam Field. Lenhart just two months before had been transferred to California for aviation school. Carrie related that Roland barely missed going. All of this indicates that Carrie had been receiving letters from Roland prior to deployment to the Southwest Pacific.

The newspaper also said that 155 men from Emmitsburg were then in the military service and that S/Sgt. Long was the first to die, if his death is confirmed.

His mother received two letters from an officer of Roland's Squadron regarding the disposition of his personal items. Otherwise, time went on with his mother knowing nothing about her son's fate.

A year after he was Missing In Action, the War Department wrote to Carrie on September 20, 1943 to declare that he was now presumed to be dead as of September 14, 1942. The letter stated that he was aboard an airplane that failed to return from a combat mission. This letter authorized the termination of pay and allowances, payment of a death benefit and enabled Carrie to settle his Estate, etc. Also, a letter dated October 1, 1943 from Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, stated that the Purple Heart had been awarded posthumously by the direction of the President to Staff Sergeant Wilbur R. Long.

Letters of condolence were also received from General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, and General Hap Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps.

Even at this point, I don't believe Carrie knew any of the details of the airplane's location or mission.

Thomas J. Frailey was a Washington Attorney living in Chevy Chase Maryland before the Second World War. He grew up in Emmitsburg and maintained a home in Emmitsburg, I believe, all his life. Carrie had worked for the Frailey family, especially his parents, as a domestic. Soon after the war began, he was working for the Army as a Lt. Colonel. He helped Carrie to settle Roland's Estate and obtain a small pension.

I suppose Carrie must have wondered how Roland met his death. I do not know how or when she wrote or what she did. Finally, in 1946, a year after the war was over, a letter was received from the War Department dated 15 November 1946 giving sympathy in her desire for further details regarding the status of her son. It stated that "Sergeant Long was one of nine crew members of a B-17 type aircraft which left its base in the New Hebrides on the late afternoon of 14 September 1942, in search of Japanese naval shipping reported to be north of those islands. The plane was unable to find its objective and became lost on the return trip. The craft radioed that it was making a landing on the water and although searches were conducted for a number of days, no trace was found of the plane or its crew". The letter included a list of the names and addresses of the next of kin of the other crew members.

Another letter on 5 April 1948 from the War Department elaborated on the situation. It said that Roland's airplane was searching for an enemy task force. The return trip was in the dark. They were unable to pick up the base radio beam and had to make the water landing.

From what I learned later on, the above reports were certainly inaccurate and incomplete.

Carrie paid for a memorial window to honor Roland at Toms Creek Methodist Church where both were members. It was dedicated on November 10, 1946. Color guards and members were present from both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Carrie was very proud to be a member of the Gold Star Mothers group of the Auxiliary of one of the local veterans group.

Roland's Service - Peral Harbor Attack until Missing in Action

Note Regarding Sources

Until September 2000, I knew very little about Roland's role in the war. I knew that he was at Hickam Field when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. I had the War Department letters about his being lost on September14, 1942. From it, I assumed that he had been in a crew flying across the Southwest Pacific, perhaps from Hawaii to Australia, when they were lost. Little did I realize that he was in the Battle of Midway and the first and critical stages of the very important Guadalcanal Campaign and that he was on a significant combat mission when he was lost.

I did know that his unit was the 26th Bombardment Squadron, one of 4 squadrons in the 11th Bombardment Group. I soon learned that these units fought in the crucial Battle of Midway and the Guadalcanal Campaign. I soon realized that Roland was lost while flying on a combat mission against Japanese naval forces.

The 11th Bombardment Group has a Reunion Group composed of veterans. In the course of time, I spoke to several past and present historians for the group. Dale Henderson of Tootle, Washington sent me his book with the accounts of the veterans about the December 7 attack. Also he gave the addresses of the ones from the 26th Squadron who wrote accounts for his book. Subsequently, I spoke with five of these veterans who were with Roland the entire time. Finally, I spoke to the pilot of another B-17 that was on the same mission on September 14, 1942 and who the next day searched the ocean for Roland's missing aircraft.

My search also lead me to inquiries at six different present military sites for more official information. The most significant event was my all day visit to the Air Force History Institute at Bolling Field, Washington, DC on February 20, 2001. There I saw and then obtained photocopies of the 26th Squadron's daily records which listed the status and missions of Roland's airplane each day. The end result is a story of a relative who was heavily involved in the combat of World War II and died in the service of our country.

Start of War

The Second World War started in Europe on September 1, 1939. The United States had stayed out of that conflict but aided Great Britain and Russia by supplying them with war material for their fight against Germany and Italy. In the last half of 1941, our government was very much concerned about our situation with Japan in the Pacific. Despite continued diplomatic negotiations between the two countries, the Japanese Navy launched a sneak attack against the U.S. forces in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

Wilbur Long was assigned to the 26th Bombardment Squadron. Together with the 42nd and 50th Squadrons, they made up the 11th Bombardment Group. They with another Group comprised the heavy bombers of the 18th Wing of the Hawaiian Air Force. They were based with other aircraft at Hickam Field near Honolulu and adjacent to the principal United States naval base in the Pacific at Pearl Harbor. Hickam Field and Clark Field in the Philippines were our biggest air bases outside the continental United States.

The emblem of the 11th Group was a shield with three gray geese, crested by a flying goose, hence the nickname "Grey Geese". (Note that they used the old English spelling of "Grey" rather than "Gray").

The 26th Squadron was a historic unit. It had been organized in France during The First World War. One of its historians claimed it was the very first Army Air Corps squadron. In the 1930's, it had been converted to a heavy bomber unit. It received the Boeing B-17 bomber, better known as the Flying Fortress, and used these airplanes during the early part of the war.

The 11th Bombardment Group veterans organized a Reunion Association in 1961. They have met annually since that year at various places. Their 31st reunion was on December 7, 1991 at Hickam Field. This was the 50th Anniversary of the Japanese attack. For that occasion, a book had been compiled and edited by Dale Henderson of Tootle, Washington, who served in the 26th Squadron later in the war. The book is entitled "Lest We Forget – The Gray Grey Geese Remember". It gives the first-person accounts of 41 veterans, including 8 from the 26th squadron, regarding the attack by the Japanese. From these accounts, I have summarized what Wilbur Roland Long would have experienced on the first day of our War.

The enlisted men of the 26th Squadron lived on the second floor of Section A of the Hale Makai (Inn by the Sea). It was a three story, 3,200 man dormitory and was considered the world's largest single barracks.

It is well known that the military in Hawaii was not expecting the Japanese to attack when they did. Some key information had not been passed on from Washington to the commanders in Hawaii. The army commander was fearful of sabotage by enemy agents, rather than an aerial assault. So instead of having the airplanes in the protected revetments, they were parked closely together in lines along the runways.

The Japanese launched 360 planes from six aircraft carriers about 200 miles from Oahu. It was a Sunday morning. Both the U.S. Navy and Air Corps had been involved in maneuvers for the two weeks before December 7. Passes had been issued and many service men had been away from their ships and bases the night before. Everyone was expecting a peaceful Sunday.

The first wave of Japanese airplanes came over Pearl Harbor and adjacent Hickam Field at 7:55 A.M. The first reaction by most of the veterans was that the airplanes were naval pilots on some practice runs. But that soon changed as the bombs were falling. The men all ran from the barracks. The building was virtually destroyed by the time the raid was over.

Although totally unprepared, the men soon were firing machine guns and every other kind of weapon at the Japanese fighter planes strafing the buildings and airplanes on the ground. There were several in the squadron decorated for the part they played in the day's battle.

I found no direct information regarding Roland's involvement. Lloyd Fuss remembers an account from another Emmitsburg serviceman who met with Roland in Hawaii at a later time. He reported that Roland had been helping with a gun and went for more ammunition. When he returned, there was only a hole in the ground where the gun and its crew had been. I told this story to several men who were there and they said that was the way it happened.

The veterans in their written accounts in Dale Henderson's book told about the confusion that existed and the anger against the sneak attack. Some men of the 26th Squadron were killed and others were wounded. Many were in a daze afterwards. They all expected the Japanese to invade that night, so they spent the night along the beach to repel the invaders.

The 26th Squadron was very fortunate to lose only one of it seven airplanes even though the Japanese destroyed over 170 US airplanes and 18 ships. There were 3,700 casualties, principally naval personnel. They lived on their ships and thus they were on the target. The airmen lived separately from their airplanes and hangers.

Three of the bombers were able to take off after the raid was over. The mission was to try to find the Japanese fleet. This continued for several days but with no success. One pilot wrote that they were sent south to look, but actually the Japanese fleet had approached from the north.

Due to the destruction at Hickam, the 26th was moved a few days later to Wheeler Field. They received nine new B-17's soon thereafter. They flew search missions continuously, because there was great fear that the Japanese fleet would return with an invasion force. Bombing raids were made against Wake Island which had been captured by the Japanese in December. These were long range attacks and the bombers had to refuel at Midway Island.

Roland's Airplane

The 26th Bombardment Squadron flew the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. These at the time were the best long-range bombers in the world. They had four engines and a range of about 2400 miles round trip. The fuel capacity was 2490 gallons. The maximum speed was 318 miles per hour at 25,000 feet with normal cruising speed of 224 miles per hour. The wing span was 104 feet and the airplane was 73 feet long. The empty weight was 32,350 pounds. They carried a bomb load of up to 8,000 pounds. This varied from 26 100-pound bombs up to four 2000-pound bombs with other variations in between, depending upon the type of target expected.

A crew of nine manned them. For defense, they were equipped with 50-caliber machine guns in the nose, top, each side (waist gunners), underneath, (ball turret gunner), and rear (tail gunner).

The crew consisted of the following:

  • Pilot
  • Co-Pilot
  • Navigator
  • Bombardier
  • Engineer - top turret gunner
  • Assistant engineer – Waist gunner
  • Radio operator – Waist gunner
  • Assistant radio operator – Ball turret gunner
  • Gunner – Tail gunner

Roland was the flight engineer on his bomber. This means he was responsible for the operations of the engines and equipment while the airplane was in the air. His position in flight was in the front cabin immediately behind and between the pilot and co-pilot. The flight engineer assisted with certain operations of flying, such as retracting the landing gear on takeoff. He also manned the top turret machine guns when enemy fighters attacked.

The aircraft he was on when Missing in Action was a B-17E, Serial No. 41-9145. It is known that he was with Lt. Hugh Owens from before the Battle of Midway, and we can assume that they probably had the same airplane for the entire time.

Battle of Midway

After the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese conquered the Philippines, much of Southeast Asia, and the islands of the Western Pacific. The United States Navy had been so reduced by the Pearl Harbor attack and other losses that it was questionable if they would ever be able to stop their continued advance. By the middle of May 1942, the large and confident Japanese fleet advanced toward the island of Midway, 1,300 miles west of Hawaii and our last line of defense. Because our code breakers were able to read the Japanese messages, our greatly out numbered ships and planes won a decisive battle.

Four of the six Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk and the Japanese were forced to retreat. It was the turning point in the war in the Pacific.

The US Navy gets the credit for winning the Battle of Midway in the period June 4-6, 1942. But Army Air Corps men were also involved. Most of the 26th Squadron was moved from Hawaii to Midway on May 30, because the enemy fleet was expected. They spent several days looking for the Japanese ships, but none were sighted. Roland was not involved in this deployment.

Then on June 5 Roland's crew with others were sent to Midway again. Their planes were each loaded with four 1,000-pound bombs. They attacked the Japanese warships, especially after they were out of range of the carrier planes. The 26th Squadron was participating along with three other squadrons of the 11th Bombardment Group.

It was not possible to know just what hits were made by each airplane. As per the unit history by Richard H. Mansfield, "It is sufficient credit to the 26th Squadron to have participated in this battle, and particularly so since our outfit was the first ordered out to meet the enemy and the last one to return from Midway back to Oahu". The veterans I spoke to all said they regarded their participation in this battle as their most significant action of the entire war. It lasted only one week but it was a decisive action, the turning point in the war in the Pacific.

Move to Southwest Pacific

NOTE- I was able to write in general what follows from the unit history and information that I received from the veterans. On February 20, I was able to see for myself on microfilm the actual daily report of the 26th Bombardment Squadron. (The originals are at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama). These reports are hand written on a 1942 desk calendar sheet with a page for each day, like you would have on your desk. When I asked the historian at Bolling Field for the Official Report, she said this was it. She said that in this stage of the war, the Air Corps did not have a single typewriter west of Hawaii. They were forced to use what they had.

Midway and Hawaii had been saved but the Japanese advance was now getting close to cutting off Australia. The United States commanders decided to slow the enemy's advance by landing Marines on Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomon Islands Group. The landing was planned for early August.

The 11th Bombardment Group was deployed to help in this offensive by moving from Hawaii to the New Caledonia Islands. This is evidently when Roland shipped the large box of his personal items back to his mother.

The nine B-17's of the 26th Squadron left Hawaii on July 19, 1942. They stopped at Christmas Island for that night, on to Canton Island on the 20th, and to Viti Levu in the Fiji Islands on the 21st.. Then they moved to the New Hebrides group where they landed at Efate on July 25. Their new home was an airstrip cut out of the jungle. A few days later, the aircraft of the 42nd, 98th, and 431st Squadrons arrived, bringing the total number of planes on the island to 35. This would be the home base for the entire 11th Bombardment Group until the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

An advance base had been selected at Espiritu Santo that was about half way between Efate and Guadalcanal. Most of the flights for the next two months would be from this base at Santo. The 26th Squadron was the first to use this base. The military commanders had little knowledge of the Japanese activity in the Solomons. The 26th began photographic missions over Guadalcanal and the surrounding area immediately.

Conditions were primitive at best. Only 9 maintenance men, one for each airplane, flew along to the New Hebrides. The rest of the ground crew, about 150 officers and men, came by slow ship with the maintenance equipment and did not arrive for almost 3 weeks. In the meantime, the flight crews had to do most of the work of servicing the aircraft. The crews slept in the planes or under the wings. There was no kitchen or other facilities. They did not even have their personal items until their footlockers arrived on August 5.

Supplying the aircraft was a Herculean task. The advanced fuel supply was soon exhausted. Gasoline for the airplanes was delivered by a ship in 50-gallon drums. These were lashed together and floated to the shore. Then they were hand-rolled up under the trees. The planes were fueled by using buckets. On the day before the invasion of Guadalcanal, every available man, including a general and colonel, worked for 20 hours to put 25,000 gallons of gasoline aboard the bombers. The bombs, weighing up to 1,000 pounds each, were physically lifted by the crew members into the bomb bays of the B-17's.

Operational control was very difficult. There were no field telephones or motor transport. They had no buildings or equipment. I noted that the report for the day of Roland's last flight was handwritten on what looked like a small calendar pad. The archivist told me that in 1942 there were no typewriters in the Southwest Pacific. One of the veterans told me he could not write home because there was no paper.

These islands are near the Equator and have a very wet and humid climate. So living conditions for these men were horrendous.

Invasion of Guadalcanal

Despite these limitations and problems, these airmen performed admirably. The 26th flew photographic missions daily over Guadalcanal as soon as they arrived at Efate. On July 30, they made the first bombing raid on the island with the airplanes each having 20 100 pound bombs. Roland's plane was in this mission. The bombs were dropped mostly on and around the airfield that the Japanese were constructing on Guadalcanal. Daily raids with all available strength were continued prior to the invasion. But the lack of ground support and supplies greatly hampered the operations. Living conditions were extremely unfavorable.

The Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. This was a complete surprise to the Japanese, but they reacted quickly. A large naval fleet forced the US Navy to withdraw. So the Marines were isolated for a while. The Japanese moved in large naval, air and land forces to hold Guadalcanal. It took over six months to drive the Japanese from Guadalcanal and causalities were high. But it was the first step in our drive to stop the Japanese and win the war.

The crews of the 26th Squadron were in constant combat. They flew out from their bases more than 1,000 miles to look for the Japanese naval forces. They bombed the enemy ships, bases, airfields and troops. One attack was made against two enemy aircraft carriers. They shot down many enemy fighter planes call Zeros.

During late July and August, the B-17's were based at Efate, with a forward base at Espiritu Santo. Joe Brooke, now living in Vero Beach, FL, remembers Roland. He said our cousin was well liked by both officers and men. He was the kind of fellow you wanted to be with. Joe was in Maintenance, but was one of the nine who flew with the planes from Hawaii to the New Hebrides. When the rest of the ground personnel arrived, Joe was in charge of a crew of 40 mechanics to repair the B-17's. He told how the coral rock and mud from the runway caused a great deal of damage to the engines. Every day another aircraft was brought back to Efate. His crew worked all day and into the night to replace or repair the engines, so the aircraft could go back to combat the next morning.

One B-17 was lost on August 4 in a collision with a Zero and all crew members were lost. On August 24, another crashed on landing and 5 crewmen were killed.

The Navy was in overall command of the Guadalcanal Campaign. They used the Air Corps bombers in every possible way because the situation was so desperate. The  operations were so different from later in the war when plenty of aircraft and supplies were available. The General in charge of the 11th Bombardment Group complained and even sent a report back to Washington stating that the bombers were not being used effectively. It is very hard to hit a moving ship from high altitude. This is best done by dive bombers or torpedo planes that could go in close to the target ship. B-17's were best used when a number of aircraft flew in formation and dropped bombs in patterns that could destroy a wide area. At this stage of the war, the Navy only had two aircraft carriers in the entire Pacific and our forces had to use what was available.

Two other veterans of the 26th Squadron remember Roland. His best friend, per Sam Moses of Huntingdon Valley, PA, was a man by the name of Bert. They were together in the annual photographs of the Squadron in peacetime. Bert survived the war but never came to any of the reunions.

Roland and the crew under Lt. Hugh Owens were in the midst of this crucial campaign in the Pacific war and helped to turn the tide. None of his relatives or mother had any idea of what was happening in the faraway Pacific.

The official record of the 26th Squadron relates that on August 30, Lt. Owens escorted a squadron of Navy dive bombers to the airfield on Guadalcanal (Henderson Field) and they landed there. As far as I could find from the records, this airplane with Roland made the very first landing by a B-17 at that primitive airfield.

On September 3, Lt. Owens (Roland was on this plane) bombed Gizo Harbor and was returning to base when he observed several barges unloading troops on Guadalcanal. Descending to water level, he made several passes while his crew strafed, leaving behind only burning wreckage and this one B-17 broke up this attempt by the Japanese to land reinforcements. This extra effort used too much fuel, so they had to land at Guadalcanal rather than to return to Santo. After refueling, they returned to their normal base the next day. It must have been a harrowing night, because Japanese airplanes came over Henderson Field every night.

I have read a number of accounts about the Marines during those desperate days on Guadalcanal. I remember mention of the big B-17's sometimes landed there. Little did I realize that my cousin was on the first bomber to land there.

The 26th Squadron was in almost constant combat. Missions would last 10 or more hours. Normally a crew would fly one day and be on standby the next. As near as I can determine, Roland was on at least 17 combat missions to bomb enemy Japanese warships or installations. He also was on even more search missions when the crew would be flying to look for the Japanese fleet. These flights would be over the ocean for 10-12 hours. Other days he would be just on "Striking Force Alert". According to the veterans, this meant the crew would be in a loaded and armed B-17, on the runaway, ready to start the engines and take off as soon as a report came of a target to be hit.

The record showed that from September 6-10, the Squadron was given time off. The airplanes badly needed maintenance and the crews need a rest. It appears that this was the first break that they had enjoyed since they left Hawaii. The veterans told me that the Japanese fleet had retreated for a short time. Each of the 4 squadrons of the 11th Bombardment Group had a few days off about this time. It was noted on September 8 that the 26th Squadron's softball team defeated a team of Navy carrier pilots.

Roland's Crew Members

The complete crew on the September 14, 1942 mission was

  • Pilot 1st Lt. Hugh W. Owens Eutaw, AL
  • Co-pilot 1st Lt. George W. Chandler Spokane, WA
  • Navigator 2nd Lt. Emory L Hall Erie, PA
  • Bombardier M/Sgt. Thomas L. Daly Honolulu, HI
  • Engineer S/Sgt. Wilbur R. Long Emmitsburg, MD
  • Radio Operator Sgt. Harry Bolles, Jr. San Francisco, CA
  • Asst. Engineer Sgt. Nickolas P. Novogrodsky Woodridge, NY
  • Asst. Radio Oper. Cpl. John G. Jones Canton, OH
  • Gunner Sgt. Edgar L. Stone Lexington. MO

Of the above men, it appears that only Owens and Daly were married. Navogrodsky was a very good friend of Sam Moses of Huntingdon Valley, PA. Sam was quite emotional when I called and we talked about his recollection of this incident.

Normally, 1st Lt. John C. Nissen was the Co-Pilot on this aircraft. However, Lt. Chandler substituted on September 14. Sam Moses and James Lancaster told me that normally the same men flew together as a crew. However, substitutions were made from another crew if someone could not fly on a certain day, due to sickness, etc.

Several of the veterans told me that they knew for certain that Roland had been on this aircraft with Lt. Owens from before Midway and there after. From the list of crews that deployed to the Southwest Pacific provided by Joe Brooke from Florida, these men were all together since that time, except for Lt. Chandler who was not listed as a flying crew member in July. Perhaps he was normally a ground officer.

Mission on September 14, 1942

As mentioned previously, the War Department letters to Carrie did not given much information about the action in which her son was lost. From what I have found, his bomber and six others of the 11th Bombardment Group on September 14 attacked a big Japanese task force of 3 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, many destroyers and smaller craft about 250 miles north of the Santa Cruz Islands.

The Archives of the Air Force at Bolling Air Force Base at Washington has the daily operational reports of the 26th Squadron for the Guadalcanal period. As previously noted, it is hand written on a small calendar pad sheet and is headed Santo where the advanced headquarters were located. It reports that two of their airplanes left from Guadalcanal at 0545. One was on a 2,450 mile search mission but, due to a fight with 3 Japanese fighter planes, had to return to Santo. The other returned to Santo to have a wheel fixed.

Lt. Lancaster and Lt. Owens (Roland on this B-17) were on Strike Force Alert at 0515 at Santo. This means that the aircraft was loaded with bombs and the crew inside, ready to Take Off as soon as orders are received. They actually departed at 1230. Lt. Lancaster's plane was attached to two aircraft of the 98th Squadron. Three hours later they bombed three Japanese battleships from 12,000 and scored a probable hit. The airplane was damaged by enemy fire but returned alone to Santo.

Then the sheet says "Continued on 5A". The archivist said that this means that page would tell about Lt. Owens airplane and its action. She said that they evidently flew with other airplanes from another squadron against the same enemy ships. The archivist said that page was missing. She said that it probably was lost when sent back to the States.

I spent most of a day at Bolling Field. I looked through the entire roll of microfilm and near the end of the roll, I found Page 5A. It states that Roland's plane "bombed with the second flight and then broke off and set off for home alone (as did the other planes of the flight). It had a damaged number 4 motor. Lt. Owens hit bad weather, became lost, and failed to return."

From another source, I learned more about the fate of Roland's plane. Phil Gudenschwager of Scottsdale AZ lost a brother on a B-17 later in the Guadalcanal Campaign. Over the past 10 years he has researched the 11th Bombardment Group extensively. (I believe that he found the additional information from the Air Force History Section at Maxwell AFB in Alabama. Very likely his additional information came from reports from another squadron.)

Mr. Gudenschwager reports in addition to the above, "It appears that Lt. Owen's ship was witnessed to have received some battle damage. Not surprising, since it is likely they were over a major Jap Naval Force and their gunners were known to be very good. There may be some speculation about weather, becoming lost, etc. It is equally likely that battle damage resulted in the loss of other engines, loss of fuel, etc. resulting in an early crash landing in the water. Truth is no one knows."

Mr. Gudenschwager has been in contact with a Japanese Naval historian. They acknowledge B-17 attacks against a major naval force on Sept. 14. A heavy cruiser, Myoko, received battle damage with some of the crew killed and wounded. He noted that it was not uncommon for our bomber crews to mistakenly identify Jap ship types from high altitudes.

James Lancaster is a retired Air Force Colonel living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Before retirement he for many years was in charge of Flight Training at the Air Force Academy. He was a pilot with the 26th Squadron before December 7, 1941. His letter to me said he was "Slugger" Owens best friend. They called Lt. Owens (Roland's Pilot) "Slugger" because he was the best hitter on the Squadron's softball team before the war. Two other veterans mentioned Lt. Owens as "Slugger". Lancaster also was Owens best friend and was the best man at Owens's wedding in early 1942.

Col. Lancaster said he well remembered September 14, 1942. His B-17 and Lt. Owens's had departed about the same time. They both were involved in the attack on the large Japanese fleet approaching Guadalcanal, but in different attacks. He explained that, during that stage of the war, there were no navigational aids in that area of the South Pacific. You had to fly by the compass. The runway had only a few flame pots along the side. The natives all went to bed at dark and there were no lights on the islands. It was very easy to fly right over an island and not see it.

Lancaster normally would not have flown his B-17 the next day. Because Lt. Owens was his best friend, the Squadron commander gave permission to him and his crew to take another B-17 out the next day and look for any survivors. They found nothing.

Lt. Edwin Lowery was also a good friend of Roland's pilot. Lowery retired as a general. Later in the war, he was the pilot of the "pathfinder" or lead B-29 bomber on the first heavy bomber raid on Japan, from bases in China. Lowery told me how that night of September 14, he and Colonel Saunders, the 11th Group commander, sat in the dark on a log on the edge of the runaway waiting for the B-17's to return from the mission. Lt. Owens and Roland did not make it back.

The Squadron Afterwards

The 26th Squadron continued in battle until Guadalcanal was secured. Later they flew from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and New Guinea. On February 23, 1943, the squadron was relieved of all duty in the Southwest Pacific.

The 11th Bombardment Group, of which the 26th Squadron was a part, received a Presidential Unit Citation for its outstanding performance of duty in action during the period July 31 to November 30, 1942. It reads in part "Opposing the full force of numerically superior Japanese with all available aircraft, the 11th Bombardment Group (H) participated continually in attacking the enemy in his effort to obtain a stronger foothold on strategic territories." The citation continues with more about their heroic efforts.

The 26th Squadron has credit for participating in the following campaigns: Hickam Field, Midway, Solomons, and Rabaul. They alone were credited with destroying 67 enemy planes, 1 enemy aircraft carrier destroyed, 16 other ships destroyed, 2 flying boats destroyed plus many enemy ships and airplanes probable or damaged. The squadron members had received 211 awards.

The B-17's were turned over to the Fifth Bombardment Group and the entire squadron went by ship back to Hawaii arriving on April 12, 1943. The men were given the opportunity for thirty days of furlough and most readily took it. A few of the ground crew stayed on.

A new group of airman now manned the 26th Squadron. They used a newer bomber, the B-25 Liberator. They fought all the way across the Pacific, being based at various times at Hawaii, Canton, Tawara, Kwajelon, Eniwetok, and Guam.

In the meantime the veterans from Midway and the Solomons Campaign completed their leaves. Then they were trained with the brand new B-29 Super Fortress bomber. They were transferred to India and made the first bombing raids on Japan from China.

The 11th Bombardment Group, including the 26th Squadron, is still based at Bolling Field. The Grey Geese emblem is on the big sign at the entrance gate. It has no aircraft. The unit designation has been retained due to it very long history and outstanding record since the beginning of the Army Air Corps and now Air Force. It personnel work in the Pentagon and have various specialized branches and units throughout the world. It appears that Air Force officers and enlisted personnel are very proud to be assigned to this famous unit.*

Summary and Conclusions

We had an Emmitsburgian, Wilbur Roland Long, who died in combat fighting for our country. I regret that I did not get interested in this matter 30 years ago. Then I could have shared this information with his mother.

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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Historical Society Note:  Many of our articles are truly historical in nature - meaning they have been written years ago, as such, sometimes the information in them is no longer current.  In cases like this, we depend upon the good will of those interesting in the article's subject to update us. 

With that in mind, we would like to thank Col. Guy H. Morley, USAF, Former Commander of the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron, who provided us with the following updated the 26th Bomb Squadron...

Very solid rundown of details regarding Roland and the 26th Bomb Squadron on. The only error the ending reference that, "The 11th Bombardment Group, including the 26th Squadron, is still based at Bolling Field." While true that the 11th Wing is at Bolling, it’s no longer a Bombardment Group or Wing, nor does it include the 26th. It’s essentially a staff wing. While the other squadrons of the former WWII Grey Geese are deactivated, the 98th and 26th are still active squadrons stationed in Colorado Springs.

The 98th Flying Training Squadron belongs to the Air Force Academy as the Jump School for cadets.

The 26th Space Aggressor Squadron is stationed at Schriever AFB under Air Combat Command and trains warfighters to deal with threats to satellite systems (SATCOM, GPS, etc.) by training them to work against a realistic replication of such threats.

Of interesting trivia note, 11th Wing is at Bolling AFB, a based named in honor of Raynal Bolling, who was the first high ranking American officer killed in WWI. Raynal Bolling was the individual who created and was the first commander of the 26th, which was first named the 1st Aero Squadron, which became the 1st Reserve Aero Squadron which, upon arriving in France in WWI, became the 26th Aero Squadron.

Read other articles by John Fuss

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