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Published Sunday, May 7, 2006

A world, a war away

Local relatives relieved WWII remains found

By Steve Fry
The Capital-Journal

Jim Paschal was a bit suspicious when he got a phone call in 2002 from someone claiming to be with the U.S. government who said the remains of Paschal's brother, a missing World War II pilot, had been found.

After all, 21-year-old Capt. Thomas C. Paschal had died in 1944 when his heavy bomber plunged into the Pacific Ocean during bad weather following a bombing mission on the island of New Guinea. How could his body have been found when the bomber sank into the southwest Pacific?

Thinking it was a scam to bilk him of money, Jim Paschal checked the call and the caller.

It wasn't a scam.

The remains of Capt. Paschal, a veteran of more than 54 bombing missions, and his 10 crewmen, including Staff Sgt. Marion B. "Buster" May, had been found on a New Guinea mountain.

Jim Paschal sits with photos of his brother, Capt. Thomas C. Paschal, and some of the items recovered from the site where his brother's remains were found. Capt. Paschal's plane went missing on April 16, 1944. His remains were recovered decades later.

Click here to check for reprint availability. On April 21, almost 62 years to the day after the bomber crashed, Jim Paschal and Walt Baker, May's nephew, stood in Arlington National Cemetery to watch the burial of their long-lost relatives. Jim Paschal and Baker are Topekans.

Tom Paschal and his crew boarded the "Royal Flush" on April 16, 1944. The four-engine B-24, a heavy bomber in the 408th Squadron, 22nd Bomber Group, 5th Air Force, was one of 222 bombers taking off from Nadzib in eastern New Guinea, a large island in the Coral Sea just north of Australia.

The bombers flew about 500 miles to pound the Japanese at Hollandia on the north coast of New Guinea. The massive American bombing run destroyed personnel areas, supply depots and anti-aircraft sites, then escaped without losses.

Until they hit the storm.

Royal Flush was one of five bombers flying in formation that entered a black cloud in very poor weather -- only four came out. The Royal Flush was missing, and it was thought the bomber and crew disappeared into the ocean. In all, the storm claimed 30 bombers.

Capt. Thomas C. Paschal, El Monte, Calif.

Staff Sgt. Marion B. May, Amarillo, Texas

2nd Lt. John A. Widsteen, Palo Alto, Calif.

1st Lt. Frank P. Giugliano, New York

1st Lt. James P. Gullion, Paris, Texas

2nd Lt. Leland A. Rehmet, San Antonio

Staff Sgt. Richard F. King, Moultrie, Ga.

Staff Sgt. William Lowery, Republic Pa.

Staff Sgt. Elgin J. Luckenbach, Luckenbach, Texas

Sgt. Marshall P. Borofsky, Chicago

Sgt. Walker G. Harm, Philadelphia


About six weeks after the Royal Flush vanished, Paschal's father, Clayton W. Paschal, of El Monte, Calif., got a telegram that his son was missing, Jim Paschal remembers.

Clayton Paschal was "completely decimated. Tom was his number one, his aide and his assistant," Jim Paschal said this past week. Tom Paschal was the eldest of four children, and the younger three looked up to him.

"I felt bad. I feel worse now than I did then," Jim Paschal said.

Born in Muskogee, Okla., Tom graduated from high school on May 15, 1940, his 18th birthday. Hard-pressed by the Depression, he enlisted in the Army two months later and was in the cavalry for his first two years.

But in 1942, he entered the Army's flight school, and working his way through the enlisted ranks, he eventually became a pilot and a lieutenant. By August 1943, he was assigned to the 22nd Bombing Group in Brisbane, Australia.

As a pilot in the "Blonde Bomber," Tom Paschal flew 54 bombing missions in a B-26 Marauder, a two-engine medium bomber, before switching to the larger, more heavily armed B-24s.

Aboard the Royal Flush was May, the 23-year-old assistant flight engineer and machine gunner.

Little is known about May, but there is a photograph showing him clad in a flier's helmet, goggles and a fleece bomber jacket while cradling a .50-caliber machine gun with belts of ammunition draped over his shoulders.

Walt Baker, 65, a nephew in Topeka, and Sue Kincade, 66, a niece in North Fork, Calif., were toddlers when their uncle was shot down. Baker and Kincade are siblings, and their father, John Baker, would never talk about his half brother, Buster May.

Kincade does know that May was very close to his mother, Alta Ruby Graham, who was listed on his dog tag as the next of kin.

"I'm sure it devastated her," Kincade said of Graham, who died in 1971.

In 2001, a native hunting in the mountains about 50 miles from Nadzab found the Royal Flush and another bomber, then brought back the dog tags of May and another crewman, records from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command said.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted when I got the phone call that they had found my brother," said Jim Paschal, 76.

"Shocked," Walt Baker said of his reaction to the discovery of Buster May. "I never dreamed that he would be found. (The Army) never gave up."

Members of the May and Paschal families, including Jim Pascal, gave blood samples to be compared to the DNA recovered from the crash site, which identified the Royal Flush crew.

Specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recovered crew remains and belongings, including watches and dog tags worn by Paschal and May, and Paschal's captain's bars and nine Australian coins he was carrying.

The funeral at Arlington for eight crewmen was "overwhelming," said Terry Baker, Walt Baker's wife. Three crew members were buried in other cemeteries. Survivors of Paschal and May praised the U.S. government in aiding the families after the fliers' remains were found.

"The government went above and beyond the call of taking care of the families," Kincade said.

During the war, May bought a locket with a propeller and wings and matching earrings at an Army Post Exchange and gave them to his mother.

At the funeral in Arlington on April 21, Kincade wore the locket with May's photo in it and the earrings in memory of Buster and Alta.

"It just makes you feel closer to them," Kincade said.
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