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 Home > History > The Deaths of Capt. McCullar and Crew: The Controversy

The Controversy

The official story of how Ken McCullar and his crew met their fate goes something like this: as they were preparing to take off for a Rabaul mission, a kangaroo got in their path, throwing the Pilot off-kilter and sending the plane out of his control. Any debate I'd heard in trying to get to the bottom of 'what happened to Ken?' centered around whether it was a kangaroo (not indigenous to the area) or a wallaby (indigenous) that paved the way for this tragic crash.

At the 1999 Tucson reunion, I had the great pleasure of talking to a man who made me think twice -- and made me look into what records I had concerning that horrible day of 12 April 1943. This is what I found in stack of Xeroxed Squadron reports from the 63rd [all typos are original to the records]:

4/12/43  The 63rd will on 12 April 1943 provide one B-17 with two bomb bay tanks to act as weather and observation ship for strikes against airdromes against Rabaul. Take off one hour before main strike force. The 64th and 65th with all available B-17's strike airdomes at Rabaul.

358  Capt. Staley with Lt. Col. Roberts, new Group C.O., as co-pilot let Jackson at 0130. 209 with Maj. McCullar at the controls then took his position at the end of the runway for the take-off. As he started down the runway and before he had covered half of it his right wheel was observed to be on fire, the flames trailing the length of the ship. Conflicting stories are told about what happened afterwards. The left wheel drum must have started cracking and noticing it he quickly climbed a couple of hundred feet which made his engines stall going into a 60 degree left bank and sailing along for a couple of seconds before diving nose straight down. A few seconds later flames were seen to shoot in the air and two small explosions took place, followed by a terrific one. The 43rd Bomb Group lost its best Pilot in this accident. On January 15, 1943, Major McCullar then Captain assumed command of the 64th Bomb Squadron. At the time of his undertaking this duty of great responsibility; interest, results and morale within the organization were low. As a result of this state of mind on the part of personnel, previous to assumption of command by Major McCullar, combat records reflected little credit to this organization, Major McCullar, in the brief period from January 15 to March 31, 1943, built his Squadron from a mediocre into a superior unit. Through his leadership, his men developed pride in their organization, desire always to obtain the best results and, consequently, ability to accomplish any task assigned them. Their morale was lifted to the highest level. Major McCullar's unit established a record for the number of aircraft from one heavy Bomb Squadron over the target in one month, when, in March, this year, his organization successfully completed one hundred and four separate sorites. Two members of the 63rd were also lost:

S/Sgt. Michael J. Paz, 7021462, (Father) Michael J. Paz Sr., Bridgeport, N. J.

S/Sgt. O'Grady, Pierre 6146594, (Mother) Mrs. Jennie O'Grady, [address omitted], Ft. Kent, Maine

Sgt. Paz was first engineer on Major McCullar's crew when he was first assigned to the 63rd. He was going as extra gunner on this mission.