Momote's 4,000-foot-long runway had been badly damaged by bombing, but it was revitalized by the Seabees of Mobile Construction Battalion 40, who began work on it only a few days after the February 29, 1944 landing. It is worthy of note that they did so while the area was still an active battlefield, a daring feat for which they received the Presidential Unit Citation. Here it is worth noting that the many airfields they and other units built across the Pacific are now abandoned. A little knowledge of the US campaigns during the Pacific War would provide many suggestions on locations and the challenges to rebuild US forces in the Pacific.
The plane was piloted by Rochester, New York native 1st Lt. Harold R. Prince. The crew included gunner TSgt Ashford H. Cardwell and engineer TSgt Anthony Zulkus. They were headed 500 miles across the Bismarck Sea to the then-Headquarters of the Fifth Air Force (15 June – 10 August 1944) at the Nadzab Airfield Complex on New Guinea. The weather was reported as good on the flight route. Before reaching New Guinea's northeast coast, possibly three-quarters toward Nadzab, the plane ran into engine trouble and the pilot attempted a crash landing on the water.
It was a hard landing. Prince, Cardwell, and Finnegan never surfaced. They went down with the plane. Zulkus miraculously survived the crash and was soon rescued. Although interviewed decades later by the founder of the acclaimed Pacific Wrecks website about the crash, his memory was understandably hazy. Prior to the flight, he did not know Lt. Finnegan. [If interested I can put you in contact with this researcher]
When the aircraft failed to arrive it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
MIA Lt. Finnegan was one of President Joe Biden's mother's brothers. The President is his uncle Lt. Finnegan's Primary Next Of Kin (PNOK).
President Biden is also possibly the second president with a MIA family member. Joseph Kennedy, Jr., the older brother of President John F. Kennedy, died in a plane explosion over the English Channel near the North Sea on August 12, 1944 and is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial near Cambridge, England. However, the formal military definition of MIA is someone with whom contact is lost and whose whereabouts are not known, but whose death is not confirmed. Kennedy's death was confirmed, Finnegan's was not.
So, take a moment on May 14th to remember Lt. Finnegan, another hero of the Pacific War.
Lt Finnegan is remembered at the family grave [you can leave a flower or note at this website] and is on the Tablets of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manila.
For more on MacArthur's New Guinea campaigns, see: