by William D. Bever
Bill is the son of 2nd Lt Everett D. Bever, Bombardier on
DiDomenico's Crew in the B-24.
In the Southwest Pacific during 1944,
training of bomber combat crews in the USAAF 380th Bomb Group,
5th Army Air Forces was scheduled between their operational
missions to keep crews prepared for what they might encounter
over the vast miles to and from bombing targets.
Gunnery training (mock interceptions) of
crews was setup with Australian and United States military
personnel to academically prepare both countries' airmen with
added experience to accompany them as they continued to rout the
Japanese from New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies.
On September 18th, 1944, Crew #4, Pilot,
1st Lt John S. DiDomenico, Co-pilot, 2nd Lt Paul W. Norris,
Navigator, 1st Lt John H. Reid, Bombardier, 2nd Lt Everett D.
Bever, Radio Operator, TSgt John H. Miller, Engineer, TSgt Robert
G. Gjerstad, Gunner, SSgt James L Edwards, Gunner, SSgt Ellie V.
Hester, Gunner, SSgt Albert S. McKinney and Gunner, SSgt Thomas
E. Murray of the 528th Bomb Squadron stationed at Darwin,
Australia, went up to Melville Island on a gunnery training
mission. The bomber's gunnery crew was to encounter several
Australian Spitfire fighter planes to increase their accuracy
potential of finding enemy fighter planes and engaging
The first few Spitfires were tracked by
the gunners and mock interceptions went according to their
training procedures. The last Spitfire to engage them most likely
misjudged its closing speed and position of its location with 1st
Lt DiDomenico's crew #4 B-24 Liberator. The left door gunner,
SSgt Ellie V. Hester, saw the Aussie Spitfire closing in and knew
it was going to hit them, but could not warn the pilot in time as
the Spitfire flew into the B-24's number one engine. The impact
sheared the number one engine propeller off of the bomber and
left wing of the Spitfire. The Spitfire's Flight Officer, A.K.
Kelly of the RAAF 452nd squadron, cartwheeled into the Gulf of
Van Diemen, never having a chance to bail out.
Photos from Glenn R. Horton,
Jr., BEST IN THE SOUTHWEST
Upon impact, the right wing of crew #4,
flying at approx' 7000 feet, went perpendicular to the ground.
The pilot and co-pilot frantically worked the rudders to level
the bomber back to an upright position. The bomber's intercom was
chaotic as the pilot ordered everyone to bail out. Radio Operator
TSgt John H.
Miller was sitting at his radio work station, working
a crossword puzzle when the Aussie Spitfire hit their #1 engine,
slamming his head into the radar screen. Up above, the upper
turret gunner, Robert G. Gjerstad, fell from his upper position,
hitting the radio operator with his body.
The entire crew decided to stay with the
plane as it finally leveled out at 3,000 feet. The pilot told the
radio operator to get on the radio to let Darwin know what their
location was and what had happened. When land was seen, the
bomber flying with three engines was in close proximity to
Darwin. The pilot once again told the crew they could bail out
over land as he was not sure how well the bomber would land after
what it had just been through. The crew decided as a group not to
bail out, having the utmost respect for their pilot's flying
ability. Crew #4 had a safe landing. Pilot DiDomenico added this
safe landing to his total of eight emergency landings on three
Gunner Hester witnessed the accident from his side window gun
position and spent 2 weeks in hospital from the shock of what he
had just seen.
Greeting the crew upon landing was the
528th squadron flight surgeon, Captain Butts, who passed out a
bottle of whiskey with sleeping tablets to the relieved crew.
Crew #4 deserved a break from one of their greatest scares and
narrowest escape from death.