Friday, June 12, 2015

Walter Haydt KIA on Hinchinbrook Island Australia 18 December 1942

The naming of the Shoemaker-Haydt Legion Post #314 in Walter Haydt's memory is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.  Recently, Haydt's story was retold at a special Memorial Day Program at the Lehighton Area Middle School, as part of a new community initiative known as "Operation Never Forget" (click here for more information).  At that time, another area man, Ezra Kreiss was honored for his sacrifice during the war.  His story can be found clicking here.
The picture Walter sent home 
"Love Daddy" to
his daughter Janice.

 Walter was the third of Adam and Dora Haydt's six boys: James, Willard, Walter, Kenneth, Earl, and Raymond.  James died when he was just seven in 1919.  

Adam was a fireman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad working out of Perth Amboy New Jersey yard while living on Union Hill over the hill from Weissport.

Below here, please find the video played at the May 2015 ceremony that honored Kreiss and Haydt:

Brother Williard also served: he was in the Army artillery. 

Brother Earl suffered severe frostbite at the Battle of the Bulge and took a wound from shrapnel.  His feet were so frozen, he took a pair of boots from a dead comrade to save his own.

 Youngest brother Ray was 4-F due to his hearing and an irregular heartbeat.

Walter was a care-free young man who always had a smile on his face.  He loved to play the accordion.  He played in Art Webb's orchestra know as "Webby's Wonderboys," (A misnomer given the fact that they had a woman in the band as well.)

Walter was married shortly after graduating with a diploma from the Weissport School District but was divorced shortly before the war.  

He worked in the A & P grocery store.  He joined the war effort and was sent to the Army's radio operator school in Indiana.  He graduated from Class 20 there, on 13 May 1942.
An ever-present smile: 
His smile was one of
his brother Ray's fondest 
memories of
the man he said he 
idolized so dearly.
Walter's high school picture.

He was assigned to the 90th Bomb Group.  Their main mission was to fly the newly developed B-24 "Liberator" bombers into the Pacific Theater of war via Hawaii and Australia.

By December, Walter was assigned to a B-24 known as the "Texas Terror" to deliver it to the 90th Bomb Group.  They were taking off from Amberly, on the eastern edge of Australia from a dirt runway. 

It was said of these new, often times too short and crudely developed airstrips that visibility was normally a tenuous proposition.  Particualrly so, with the dirt whipped up due to the succession of propeller planes taking off


They were heading for an island known as the Iron Range.  It was considered the most forward of all Allied controlled airfields to be out of the range of Japanese fighter attack.

On 18 December 1942, the Texas Terror was the second to take off.  The following was taken from an excerpt from the flight journal of Pilot Lt. Wood:

"We encountered bad weather, so I dropped to sea level in an attempt to fly along the coast, but the visibility was zero, and there were so many mountains to the left of us, I proceeded to head out to sea.  I leveled off at 3,000 ft.  Twenty-minutes passed (blind) when my navigator screamed into the interphone that we had just missed a mountain to our right.  This meant that for twenty minutes I had been flying over land that was covered with 4,000 foot hills, while I was at 3,000 feet.  I immediately hit the throttles, increased the RPM and climbed out of danger, expecting at each moment to crash into unseen mountains.”  

Given the above first-hand account, it is presumed that this was the cause of Haydt's plane to slam into the side of Mt. Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island just off Austraila's east coast.  Up to this time, three other crews of B-24's leaving Hawaii were also lost in crashes.
Walter posing for first of two
contrasting pictures.
Walter seemed to have a good
sense of humor as seen by these
two contrasting shots.

Killed was the crew, Captain and Pilot James E. Gumaer Jr., Copilot 2nd Lt. Dewey G. Hooper, Navigator Lt. David B. Lowe, Engineer T/Sgt Waldo W. Keller, and Radioman S/Sgt Walter E. Haydt.
A close-up of President 
Roosevelt's letter
to Walter Haydt's family.

The crew was also transporting some casual company army personnel: Col. Carroll G. Riggs and Lt. Raymond F. Dakin of the 197th Coastal Artillery, as well as Captain Peter E. Kiple and Captain Carl H. Silber of the 36th Fighter Squadron of the 8th Fighter Group.  
Captain Silber in 

Also aboard, 1st Lt. John E Cooper Jr. of the 22nd Bomb Group and T/4 Michael Goldstop of the 1156th Quartermaster Company, most likely the man in charge of the large sum of Army payroll being transported.  One civilian was aboard, Robert Trevithick, employed by Pratt & Whitney of the United Aircraft Corporation.

According to Ray Haydt, the waiting wore the family down.  The crash occurred in December, and they heard nothing about the incident or anything of Walter's whereabouts until the following February when military personal visited the home.

But he was still considered Missing In Action and the army was hopeful for a possible rescue or recovery before they considering classifying him as dead.  Over a year later, some Aborigines of the island made an important discovery.

While searching for tin along the streams below Mt Straloch, the Aborigines found remnants of burnt U.S. currency, which doubtlessly turned out to be remnants of the payroll the Texas Terror was carrying.

"Those two years of waiting were extremely difficult for everyone...I saw how it wore the life out of my parents," Ray Haydt would say many years later.

Today, the crash site is memorialized in many ways.  A cross was erected years ago while a more permanent one listing those on board was installed near the base of the mountain.  Much of this work was conducted by a son of one of the victims, Carl Silber Jr.
Lt. Cooper's dog-tag returned 
to the family.

Over the years, various pieces of memorabilia have been turned over to family members, namely Lt. Cooper's dog-tag as well as various parts of the plane.  The crash site is amid some rugged terrain only accessible to the heartiest of climbers, and even then, a successful climb can be cippled by rain-swollen creeks.
Walter's daughter Janice 
smiles with
her father's hat.

~Please click on this link to be taken to YouTube to see the wreckage in a video shot recently by a climber.  Among the more salient images, near the end, you will find a close-up shot of Walter Haydt's radio.

Fortunately, Walter Haydt fathered a daughter named Janice before he entered the war.  She was raised by her mother and step-father in Lehighton.  And Janice and her husband had two daughters, Jodi and Jennifer. 

Take one look at Janice's smile is a reminder that more than Walter's smile survived.
Walter Haydt plays the accordion for Art Webb's "Webby's Wonderboys."
The remains of the crew were buried together in Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska, 
the home-base for the 90th Bomb Group.  
Flowers were provided by Lehighton Area Middle School's "Operation Never Forget" inMay 2015.  
The 1945 newspaper clip announcing
that the Lehighton Legion Post #314
would bear Walter's name.

Cross erected at the top of Mt
Straloch near the still visible
remains of the B-24 "Texas

Cross near the base of Mt Straloch,


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