George J. Ocavage



Branch: Army Air Force
Service Number: 32077440
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Outfit: 14th Air Force, 308th Bombardment Group, 425th Bombardment Squadron


836 Lambert Avenue, Mt. Ephraim
George J. Ocavage was the youngest sibling of the Ocavage family having several sisters and a brother. Born to Lithuanian immigrant parents John and Margaret on March 2, 1919 in New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a coal mining community located in Schuykill County approximately 70 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Most of the town residents at that time were mainly of Lithuanian descent. His father John, who was employed at the Silver Creek Mine, passed away just prior to George's second birthday. The Ocavages eventually moved to 836 Lambert Avenue in Mt. Ephraim some time just prior to 1940. George attended Audubon High School until the end of his junior year (1939). He was said by the Courier Post to be a star athlete. 

On July 28, 1942, George received notice that he was selected be inducted into the military by the Camden County Draft Board #3 (Gloucester City). Ocavage reported to Ft. Dix on August 11, 1942. According to his military medical charts from August 25, 1942, he stood at 5 foot, 6 inches and weighed in at 125 pounds.  He qualified to join the Army Air Corps and spent about 6 weeks in basic training.  Upon completion of his indoctrination, George spent an additional 5 weeks of aerial gunnery training at Harlingen, Texas, earning his silver wings and promotion to Staff Sergeant in November 1942.  He also spent some weeks of training as a radio operator.  

B-24 Liberator
By early June, Ocavage was transferred to Herington Army Airfield in Kansas.  He was assigned as a gunner and assistant radio operator on a B-24 “Liberator” bomber piloted by 1st Lieutenant Clarence J. Robinson.  The rest of the crew consisted of Co-Pilot 2nd Lieutenant Paul E. Bitner, Navigator 2nd Lieutenant Wesley M. Green, Bombardier 2nd Lieutenant John R. Boetcher, Radio Operator/Gunner Technichal Sergeant Harry E. Wade, Engineer/Gunner Technical Sergeant Oneal R. Linford, Assistant Engineer/Gunner Staff Sergeant Cloyd D. Brown, Gunner Staff Sergeant Arthur L. Bartlett, and Gunner Staff Sergeant Felix Grochocki.   Their aircraft was nicknamed the “Yankee Jayhawk," no doubt paying homage to pilot Lt. Robinson's home state of Kansas.  The crew spent a few weeks working as a cohesive team, taking to the skies over Kansas where they rehearsed combat missions.

14th Air Force Logo
In late June 1943, the Yankee Jayhawk departed Kansas to be deployed overseas.  They flew to Homestead Airfield, located south of Miami, Florida.  The aircraft left the next day for Puerto Rico.  While en route, Lt. Robinson opened up an envelope containing their orders.  He revealed to the crew that their destination was China.  The Yankee Jayhawk traversed the globe, making stops in Belem and Natal Brazil, Ascension Island, across Africa, and to Chabua, India by early August.  The lay-over in India was longer than expected as the bomber experienced engine trouble and needed time for the ground crew to make necessary repairs.  After a few extra days in Chabua, the Yankee Jayhawk departed for China via the Himalayan Mountain range (nicknamed “The Hump”).  They touched down at the 14th Air Force Headquarters base in Kunming, China by August 12th.  On the same day, Lt. Robinson and crew were assigned to the 425th Bombardment Squadron of the 308th Bombardment Group (Heavy). The 308th was part of the 14th Air Force, more commonly known as the "Flying Tigers.”

On the evening of August 23, 1943, the pilots of the squadron were told to be ready to fly a mission by daylight. At the briefing held the next morning, they were informed that seven B-24s from the 425th Bombardment Squadron were to rendezvous with seven B-24s from the 373rd Bombardment Squad to bomb the airdrome at Hankow, China (now known as Wuhan). Additionally, they would have six B-25 “Mitchell” bombers from Kweilin go ahead of the Liberators to act as a diversion.  Eight P-38 “Lightning" and fourteen P-40 “Warhawk” fighter planes would join the group as they rendezvous at Hengyang to escort the formation to their target. Just 3 days prior, the 308th Bomb Group flew a disastrous mission to Hankow.  Of the 14 bomber that left from their airbases, only 7 returned with badly wounded airmen.   Major William Ellsworth said during the briefing, "They clobbered our friends over Hankow the other day, and we're going back to show they can't do that to us!” 

The flight and ground crews prepared for the mission, loading up on ammunition, ordinance and supplies. By morning the Liberators set off for Hankow with their bellies loaded full with fragmentation bombs.  This was the 15th mission for the 425th Bombardment Squadron.  For some of the crews involved, especially Lt. Robinson’s men, this was to be their very first official combat mission.

For an unknown reason (as of this writing) the original bombardier, John Boetcher was not available to fly this mission.   Lt. Robinson was assigned a replacement bombardier, 1st Lieutenant Emmett B. Van Deventer.  Van Deventer was originally the bombardier for another Liberator crew by the name of "Five By Five.”  This aircraft was wrecked after a hard landing at Kunming back in July 1943.  Having no bomber to fly, the crew was relegated to be replacements for other crews.

Bomber formation for Aug 24 1943
The other B-24s from the 425th assigned to the mission included “Sherazade” who was the lead plane, “Chug-a-Lug,” “Belle Starr,” “Cabin In The Sky,” “Glamour Girl,” and “Stardust.” While en route, word came over the radio that the Liberators from the 373rd Squadron would not be joining up because, while the 425th experienced clear skies at Kunming, the area surrounding the 373rd's airfield in Yangkai, China was too foggy for their aircraft to fly.  The decision was made by lead flight officer Captain Horace Foster for the 425th bombers to continue the mission without them. The P-40s and P-38s which had joined the group soon went off ahead of the bombers.   The heavy Liberators could not keep up the pace of their quick moving friends. The P-38s were supposed to provide "high-cover" above the B-24s but arrived at the target and found no enemy aircraft and returned home.  As for the P-40s, they however did find enemy aircraft at a distance and engaged them instead of protecting the formation.
  
After five hours in the air, the bombers neared Hankow and its twin city of Wuchang along the Yangtze River. They lined up on their target.  Heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire started bursting all
Artist rendering of Hankow Raid. Yankee
 Jayhawk is situated below Sherazade.
around them.  The little red light flickered on the pilots’ instrument panels, indicating bombs away. Some of the planes bombed the airdrome at Wuchang by mistake since the route took them directly over this location before reaching Hankow. The rest of the formation released their payload over Hankow and turned for home. Just minutes after the Liberators left the target, they were attacked by approximately 40 enemy fighters which kept the bombers of the 425th engaged in combat for 45 minutes. The combination of the highly aggressive Japanese planes and flak took a heavy toll on the Liberators.  

The Yankee Jayhawk was the first casualty of the mission as it was struck by Japanese anti-aircraft gunfire in the area of Fong Shu Dong and immediately started streaming a trail of gray smoke from the right wing. It dropped back out of the formation and was quickly losing altitude. When last seen, it was spinning and apparently out of control.  Crew members from the other bombers witnessed three parachutes exit from Robinson's aircraft.  The plane crashed at Pan Pei, approximately 15 kilometers South of Haieng-Ning (now Xianning), China. 

Three other planes from the 425th were lost on this mission as a result of enemy action on August 24th; Cabin In The Sky, Belle Starr, and Glamour Girl. The remaining three Liberators were so badly crippled, they had to land at the airfield in Kweilin.  The following day, Stardust crashed near Milo while returning to Kunming killing all but 2 airmen.  In the end, only two of the 7 planes from the 425th made it back to Kunming.  Of the 70 airmen from the 425th that flew on this August 24th mission, 50 were either dead or wounded.  

Crew of Yankee Jayhawk
(minus Oneal Linford)
The crew of the Yankee Jayhawk were officially listed as MIA on August 29th as no one was heard from and their whereabouts were unknown.  The War Department sent a telegram to George’s mother, Margaret, in early September 1943 reporting that he was listed as missing in action.

A U.S. Army search team visited the crash site at Pan Pei on November 30, 1945.  They found and exhumed 5 graves which contained 7 remains. Wesley Green and Oneal Linford's remains were positively identified by means of dog tags.  The remaining unidentified crew members were given designations of Unknowns X-11 thru X-15 and interred in Section A, Grave 364 at American Military Cemetery in Shanghai, China on December 6, 1945.  One statement from a local resident claimed that one crew member died in the aircraft (burned) and the rest were shot and killed by Japanese who surrounded the area.

Upon reprocessing, X-12 was found to be 2 bodies and amended the designations as Unknowns X-12A and X-12B.  In June 1947, the crash scene was revisited and additional remains (very meager collection of bone fragments) were recovered. These remains were designated as Unknown X-885.  In 1948, the remains were examined with the the dental and physical characteristics of Unknown X-12A. The results compared favorably with Staff Sergeant George J. Ocavage.  About the same time, the remains of Staff Sergeant Felix Grochocki were also positively identified.  In late 1948, the graves were disinterred from Shanghai and transported to the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii where the Unknown remains were stored in the U.S. Army Mausoleum.
  
Oneal Linford was returned to his home town of St. Charles, Idaho for burial.  Wesley Green was buried as well in his home town of Wellington, Texas.  Felix Grochocki, from Rochester, NY was buried in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The unidentified remains of the Yankee Jayhawk crew were buried together in a plot at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. 
George J. Ocavage Grave Marker


In the April 1949, George's remains were returned to the mainland United States and he was buried on Monday May 9, 1949 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA. He was survived by his mother Margaret, sisters Mary Ibbettson, Helen Howell, Margaret Stankus, Agnes Stankus, Marcella Ocavage, Frances Ocavage, Anna Norton, and brother Anthony. 

Monument to Aviation Martyrs
Kunming, China





You can find George J. Ocavage’s name inscribed on the monument at Veterans Triangle in Mount Ephraim, as well as the Monument to Aviation Martyrs in War of Resistance Against Japan, located in Kunming, China.







May their sacrifice never be forgotten.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

James W. Dye Jr.

Leslie A. Holtzapfel

Delbert K. Sandt