39th Bomb Group (VH)
Crew 4

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B-29 # 42-65368 - Lost 10 April 1945
"City of Santa Rosa"
"Uncle Tim's Cabin"
B-29 # 44-69894 - 2nd Aircraft

Crew 4 Combat and Ground
Photo Courtesy of Joseph E. Courtney II

Standing L to R:
Capt Ralph Gray, AC; M/Sgt Leslie Rowe, FE; Sgt Charles R. Feaster, Radio; S/Sgt James H. Snyder, Radio; F/O Francis R. Demchock, Nav.; T/Sgt Richard W. Robinson, CFC; 1st Lt Edwin V. Hughes, Radar; 1st Lt Joseph Courtney, Bomb; 1st Lt Donald C. Hedlund, Pilot.
Middle Kneeling:
Sgt Lee S. Horn, LG; S/Sgt Leo B. Sutton, TG; Unknown; Sgt Robert F. Potter, RG; Cpl Don Jerome, Mechanic; T/Sgt George Krieger, Ground Crew Chief
Front Row Sitting:
#1 Cpl John H. Thompson, LG; Sgt Joseph A. Parker, Mech;all others - unknown ground crew

If you can help ID the unknown men in the above photo please email:

"On 10 April 1945, the 60th Squadron had its first serious overseas accident. During a practice bombing mission over the Marianas, Crew 4's aircraft commanded by 1st Lt. Ralph Gray, experienced a runaway propeller. Within minutes it broke loose and struck the plane, penetrating the fuselage nearly cutting it in two. As a result, most of the flight controls were severed and all communication lines were cut. The aircraft was at an altitude of only 1000 feet. Yet Lt. Gray managed to keep his crippled airplane in the air for approximately 50 minutes until he sighted a friendly convoy.

Ordering the crew to bail out, he remained at the controls until it reached such a low altitude that the possibility of his own escape was threatened. Assured that all crewmembers had parachuted to safety from the aircraft, he left the controls. Thought he experienced extreme difficulty when the plane lurched, he managed to jump clear. His parachute opened just seconds before hitting the water. All but one of the crew 2nd Lt. Joseph F. Connolly, were picked up by a vessel in the vicinity."

For 1st Lieutentant Ralph Gray's exceptional airmanship and his courageous action in placing the safety of his crew above that of himself, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The rest of the story:

When the order to bailout was given, with the interphone lines cut from the propeller cutting through the fuselage, then 2nd Lt Donald Hedlund, Pilot, volunteered to undertake the extremely hazardous task of going through the tunnel to the rear of the aircraft to notify those men to bailout. With the plane at such a low altitude, adverse weather and no assurance he himself would make it out of the plane, Hedlund negoiated the dangerous tunnel to the aft section and asisted then men through the rear door. He was the last to leave the rear section and in the process his equipment caught in the door. After finally freeing himself he paracuted to safely into the water and was later picked up with the others from the crew.

Then 2nd Lt. Joseph E. Courtney, Bombardier, volunteering to crawl the tunnel and verify that Hedlund and the men from rear section had indeed bailed out. However, in Courtney's case .. he made a second trip through the dangerous tunnel with the plane at an even lower altitude and struggling to stay in the air, to inform Gray. He then parachuted to safety landing in the water and awaited pick up by the friendly convoy. For Lieutenant Hedlund & Lieutenant Courtney''s courageous actions in the placing the safety of their fellow crew members above their own they were awarded the Air Medal.

60th Squadron Crew Index

Source: "Maximum Effort" by Robert Laird; Joseph E. Courtney II, son; Richard Robinson, CFC; GO-95