The Loss of The Cisco Kid II, Momote Field, the Admiralty Islands 

      On April 20, twenty-four planes from all four 5th Bomb Group squadrons (23rd, 31st, 72nd, 394th) were to attack shipping, personnel and dispersal areas on Woleai. The 31st Squadron’s Cisco Kid II was scheduled to take part in the raid. The Kid’s original pilot, Jim Berry, had returned to the States; co-pilot Leon Martin had assumed the pilot’s position. William Kellums and John Hayes related the fact that other officers and enlisted men in the 31st Squadron who were not on the flight schedule that day wanted to fly the mission of the 20th. Therefore, Kellums, Hayes, and Jethro Mock gave them their spots on The Kid.

      Departures for the mission went smoothly until airplane #307, The Cisco Kid II, attempted takeoff. Courtney Clark witnessed the event. “The [Martin crew] took off and got about fifty feet in the air and winged in and blew up. It blew a monstrous hole in the airstrip and surrounding area. He’d had a runaway prop and when your prop runs away, it doesn’t pull any more. At that altitude you don’t have time to recover. It makes the plane turn rapidly and if you’re no more than about 50 feet in the air, forget it.”

      Don “Robbie” Robertson recorded the scene in his diary. “April 20, 1944 We took off at 6:30 this morning. I was leading the 394th in #2 position. I looked back at the field and saw a sheet of flames shoot way high in the air followed by a column of smoke. I knew a plane had blown up and hoped it was none of my formation. All of the 394th joined me and we flew over the field. Nothing remained except a few scattered fires to one side of the runway. When we landed this evening, we learned that the plane had evidently had an engine cut out on takeoff; it veered and crashed in a Seabee living area. The bombs on the plane exploded leaving nothing but a 30 x 10-foot crater and scattered bits of wreckage. I don’t know why the Seabees were living so close to the runway.”

      The explosion took a terrible toll. Killed were an unspecified number of Seabees who were eating breakfast in their camp and the entire crew of The Cisco Kid II. 

Accidental Deaths – 31st Bomb Squadron (H) 

Lt. Leon Martin, Pilot

Lt. Henry A. Schrebe, Co-Pilot

Lt. Arthur C. Wolf, Jr., Bombardier

Lt. Thomas C. Pappas, Navigator

T/Sgt. Neil N. Mauderer, Engineer

S/Sgt. Walter R. Rawleigh, Ass’t. Engineer

T/Sgt. John W. Gilb, Radio Operator

S/Sgt. Robert Russell, Ass’t. Radio Operator

S/Sgt. Willis L. Butler, Aerial Gunner

S/Sgt. Alden M. Campbell, Aerial Gunner 

      “I don’t remember how I got the word,” Jim Berry recalled, “but I know I intended to write all their parents. But somehow  I  could  never  compose  a  letter;  I just didn’t know how to write to the parents of those kids.”

      To Squadron Commander John Q. Kissner fell the task of notifying The Cisco Kid crew’s family members. Although an official War Department telegram was sent immediately (containing incorrect information), Kissner wrote personal letters to each man’s relatives. It was an agonizing responsibility, and the raw emotions Kissner felt made the job even more painful. Kissner would carry the scene with him the rest of his life.

      Upon his return to the States, Maj. Kissner began receiving letters from the families of The Cisco Kid’s deceased crew. Consumed by grief, Kissner read the letters but was unable to answer them. Sixty-six years later they would be read by Kissner’s son, Lee, and his grandson, John Q. Kissner III, and shared with the survivors of the 31st Bomb Squadron. 

Au Sable Forks, New York

May 16, 1944 

Dear Major Kissner, 

      Last Monday, May 8th, my father, Frank Martin, rec’d a letter from you telling him of the death of my brother, Lt. Leon C. Martin. On Sat. before, May 6th, we had rec’d a telegram from the War Department telling us Leon was killed in action over Rabaul. It seemed impossible that Leon was back over Rabaul when he had just been moved to a new base and we were hoping against hope that it had been an error. However, when your kind letter arrived giving us the details, we knew it was final but the terrible uncertainty that so many people are experiencing when notified of their loved ones death was ended for us. It was most kind of you, Major, to let us know and I with my father and other sister wish to thank you for your kindness.

      I had three brothers, Francis, Leon and Howard. Francis at four and a half years old was struck by a car and instantly killed. Seven months after, my brother Howard, 17 years old, was shot in a hunting accident and lived twelve hours. Now my only other brother Leon has been killed in the South Pacific. The day before Leon left the States, his mother died, so you see, Major, death has rubbed elbows with this family real often.

      As a request from the family, Major Kissner, would military rule allow you to tell me any more about Lt. Martin’s death other than a  crack-up.  Was there a defect in the field, or in the plane or don’t you know the cause? I do know that if the plane crashed on the takeoff and it was starting on a mission, it must have been loaded with bombs and gasoline. Did the plane explode and all the men killed or was some of them saved?  These are some of the questions that keep coming to my mind night and  day.  Could you let me know more in detail about his death or is it against regulations?

      However, if you can’t send me more details on his death, would you please send me the addresses of Lt. Hayes and Lt. Mock’s parents if those two were also killed. I’ve tried to get in touch with Capt. Jim Berry but as yet I’ve had no luck.

      Trusting I won’t be asking too much of you to answer this letter, not as a military observer but as the Commanding Officer of a boy that was thought the world of by his folks back home. Thanking you again for your kindness, I am, 

Sincerely Yours,

Elizabeth Cross 

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Colfax, Wisconsin

May 12, 1944 

Dear Sir, 

      It is with grateful hearts that we write to thank you for your letter concerning the death of our son, Robert Russell. Although our hearts are heavy with grief, it is a comfort to know that Robert has been given a Christian burial. He was a wonderful son, and we love him so dearly.

      If at any time a history of his squadron is compiled, would it be possible to obtain one? And were any group photographs ever made and would it be possible to buy one? We have never had even a snapshot of Robert since he went overseas. If any of his comrades are ever near us, we would be most grateful if they would visit us.  

Thanking you again for your letter, we remain, 


Mr. & Mrs. John M. Russell