Lieutenant Nunnery (Doc) Wilson
Nunnery Wilson was born in Washington, Oklahoma in 1922. He was the youngest of a group of 5 brothers and was named after the local town doctor, Doc Nunnery. He attended Oklahoma State University and was studying to be an engineer when he was drafted into the Army Air Corps at the beginning of World War II. Doc was trained to be a dive bomber pilot but blacked out on a training mission and was washed out of being a pilot. Instead he was trained as a navigator and bombadier for the large four engine B-24 Liberator.
After completing training, Doc was sent to Adak, Alaska. Christmas 1942, Doc came come on leave and married his high school sweetheart, Velma. They had a two week honeymoon before Doc had to go back to the Aleutians.
Doc Wilson was in the Eleventh Air Force stationed on the Aleutian island Adak from mid-1942 until January 1943. Doc was the navigator on A B-24 Liberator bomber flown by Lt. Thomas F. Bloomfield. According to research gathered from various locations on the Internet and the book The Aleutian Warriors by John Cloe, the following is known.
Lt. Bloomfield's crew was part of the 21st. Bombardment Squadron, flying missions to bomb the Japanese occupied islands of Kiska and Attu. The following map shows the locations of these islands.
The first references regarding Lt. Bloomfield's plane are on September 23, 1943, when three B-24 bombers were sent on a high-altitude attack to bomb ships in the Kiska harbor. The pilots on this mission were Captain Lycan, Lt. Bloomfield, and Lt. Pruett. The target was bombed from an altitude of 11,000 feet. Each plane dropped five 500 LB bombs, but missed the ships below, which turned out o be a Japanese transport ship, and three destroyers. The bombs did hit Japanese shore installations on Kiska.
The men of the 11th Air Force wore patches on their uniform that looked like the following:
Since Doc was a navigator, the wings he wore on his uniform looked like this:
The following pictures show the air base at Adak where Doc's plane was based. All of his missions where started here.
Of course it is very cold at this base, so the following shows the type of clothes they wore at Adak.
The following picture shows a B-24-D which is the same type of plane Doc flew in. Since the crews sometimes flew 5 to 10 different aircraft during their tour of duty, this one might have been Doc's plane.
Here's a picture of the crew of a B-24. This is not Doc's crew, but this picture was taken in Adak.
And here's another crew from another B-24 in Adak.
Here are a series of pictures showing B-24 bombers from Adak flying on missions to Kiska and Attu.
When bombing Kiska, sometimes the weather was bad. There was a large volcano on the island that could be used by the navigator to plot a target to the harbor area where the Japanese installations were located. The following two pictures show that mountain. In the first one you can see a B-24 flying past the mountain.
One thing interesting about the picture above is the number 22 on the front nose of the B-24. I contacted an Eleventh Air Force historian and he wrote me back the following:
"Lt. Bloomfield's aircraft was a B-24D serial number 41-23822 when he was shot down on 18 January 1943."
I wonder if Is it possible that the 22 in that serial number was the 22 painted on the nose of the plane in the picture above?
Despite terrible weather, the B-24 crews flew in almost any weather condition. It was said that "they didn't check the weather, they flew anyway." On January 18, 1943, a weather reconnaissance B-24 spotted two Japanese ships in Kiska harbor. A mission of six B-24s, four B-26 Marauders and six P-38 Lightenings. The P-38's were single seat fingers and were assigned to attack anti-aircraft guns and provider fighter protection.
The mission got off to a bad start when two of the B-26's and one o the B-24's turned back for Adak after experiencing mechanical problems. The other crews continued on, only to run into bad weather.
The crews of the B-26's and the P-38's headed back to reach Adak before the weather closed in. However, the B-24 Liberators flew much slower and were not so fortunate.
The historian for the 21st Bombardment Group writes in his diary for Jan 18, 1943:
"Captain Smith took the weather mission today. Six B-24's took off on a Kiska mission. Lt. Tarvin returned at 4:39 PM with engine trouble. Weather closed in before the others returned. Lt. Manthe landed his B-24 in semi-light with almost zero visibility. His plane crashed into two P-38's on the runway, tearing them both apart and causing damage to the B-24. Captain Moore flew on back to Cold Bay. The other three crews (Pruett, Bloomfield, and Hamilton) are still unreported. Just where they are, or where they might be heading, we do not know."
The next day, Lt. Pruett was found on the west side of Great Sitkin Island. He had landed his B-24 on the beach. One member of his crew suffered a back injury in the landing. A passing destroyer spotted them and picked them up. The B-24's flown by Lt. Bloomfield and Lt. Hamilton disappeared without a trace.
The following is a map of the Adak Island area. You can see Great Sitkin Island in the top right part of the map. This is where Lt. Pruett landed his plane. You can see that it is not far from Adak, where they were supposed to land.
There are reports in the weekly mission records on the Internet that say on Jan 19 the weather so bad, no aircraft could leave Adak to search for the missing air crews. Starting on Jan 20, (two days after the mission) six planes were sent out looking for the missing air crews. The next day, two more planes went out, and this continued for approximately one week until the search was canceled.
What exactly happened to Lt. Bloomfield's plane that fateful day, we'll never know. Since Bloomfield and Pruett had flown together a lot, might they have stayed together when the weather socked in Adak? Did Bloomfield try to also land near Great Sitkin, but instead crash into the ocean or the mountain? Or, did they try to make it all the way to Cold Bay like Captain Moore. That's a long way, practically all the way up the island chain (see the map at the top of this site). Or, did Bloomfield and Hamilton's planes collide in the fog? Or, were these planes shot down over Kiska. The Japanese had recently installed fire control radar and were able to shoot at planes through the clouds.
What we do know is that Doc Wilson was not responsible for what happened. Even though he was the navigator, the weather at Adak was so severe, visibility was zero. It was impossible to safely land. The one plane that did somehow managed to land at Adak crashed into other planes on the runway because they couldn't see. We know Doc did everything he could to plot a solution on his navigation charts. There were just too many things going against them...weather, fog, and the Japanese.
The following is the list of the crew of B-24D serial number 41-23822, flown by Lt. Thomas Bloomfield:
Lt. Marvin Bryant
Lt. Charles Davis
Lt. Nunnery Wilson
Sgt. Curtis Burgdorf
Sgt. John Crowder
Sgt. Jessie Easterling
Sgt. Eric Rundle
Sgt. Ralph Thomas
May They All Rest In Peace