Cagayan de Misamis’ first experience of World War 2: The B-17 crashland in Cagayan Airfield

On Dec 14, 1941 a B-17D Flying Fortress with tail #40-2073 Crash landed on parade field Cagayan de Misamis, Mindanao Island PI (Camp Evangelista Golf Course Today). The Mission was to bomb the Japanese landing force in Legaspi. Ten minutes away from the bombing target, [Legaspi Bay, Luzon, P.I.] the gunner reports Japs coming in fast but the Pilot, Capt. Hewitt “Shorty” Wheless decided to go on ahead and unload the bombs. The B-17 Bomber was mauled by more than a dozen Japanese Mitsubishi Zero Fighter Planes. All the gunners were wounded and the radio operator killed. It returned at dusk, skimming over the bay, its ailerons shot away and the front tires deflated, It lost 2 engines and barely made it to Cagayan Airfield when it crash landed.

Father Haggerty had the chance to speak with the Navigator, Lt. W. Neenagh.  He learned that of the five B-17s from Del Monte Airfield, two turned back and only three actually made the bomb run at Legaspi.  The Pilot, Capt. Wheless was a pursuit pilot and was newly assigned to the B-17.  Unable to gain altitude,  Wheless’  B-17 came in last at Legaspi and the preceding bombers had aroused a nest of seventeen Zeros over their target.  “How was the aim?”  Haggerty asked. “Pretty good on the Zeros; near misses on the ships,” grinned the navigator.  “We shot down seven Zeros and ourselves got the bullets of seventeen Zeros; I’m not bragging- it was self defense and thank God Wheless forgot he had a bomber and reverted to his old pursuit days.  He flew that sieved old ship through valleys, shaved and skimmed mountains until there wasn’t a Jap on our tail.  We almost hopped from wave to wave all the way home.  No other pilot could have done it.  When we crash landed, nosed into the dirt and settled back on the broken rear wheel with a thud – none of us moved – we all thought we were dead.” 

The next day, B-17 mechanics from Del Monte arrived in Cagayan and stripped the B-17 with all its salvageable parts and weaponry.  Parade Field and Camp Bulua was bombed by Japanese planes on December 22 1941 rendering the field useless for the Philippine Army Air Corp.

The Crew of the Flying Fortress that crash landed in Parade Field, Camp Bulua Cagayan de Misamis.

  • Capt H. Wheless, pilot,
  • Lt Taborek, co-pilot,
  • Lt W. Neenagh, navigator,
  • Sgt A. Cellette, bombardier,
  • Sgt R. Brown, side gunner-mechanic, wounded,
  • Sgt J. Gootee, side gunner-mechanic, wounded,
  • Pvt W. Killin, top gunner-radio operator (KIA)
  • Cpl Wm Williams, “bathtub” gunner-mechanic, wounded.
B-17D Flying Fortress with tail #40-2073 Crash landed on parade field, Cagayan de Misamis

The B-17 of Capt. Wheless is camouflaged with branches while waiting for aircraft mechanics to salvage some usable parts

The B-17D Flying Fortress has 1,200 bullet holes

1200 bullet holes were counted in the plane and tires

A picture of the Parade Field taken on January 9, 1939

Parade Field as it looked in January 9 1939 Location Lat 8° 29′ 0″ Long 124° 37′ 0″ Photo Credit: Engr. Elpie Paras