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World War II: Dick Suehr Flew to Defend Port Moresby

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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For every thoroughbred World War II fighter that engendered fond memories for its fliers, there is another whose pilots may feel lucky just to have survived flying it. Among the latter was the Bell P-39 Airacobra, a promising high-performance design with the engine mounted behind the pilot and a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller shaft. By the time Bell had completed the P-39's development to meet U.S. Army Air Corps requirements, however, the Airacobra had lost its turbosupercharger and was overweight. Its performance was inferior to that of most of the aircraft it would have to fight.

'I'll give Bell credit for going to the nose wheel — you could drive a P-39 just like a car, from the landing field to the hangar,' recalled Thomas L. Hayes, who had flown Curtiss P-40Es over the Dutch East Indies and P-39Ds over New Guinea in 1942 before scoring 8 1/2 victories flying North American P-51 Mustangs with the Eighth Air Force over Europe in 1944. 'Like the P-40, however, the P-39 had little high-altitude capability, and the Japanese were always above us. The P-39 was very demanding; its high wing loading made it less maneuverable than the P-40. With the engine behind the pilot, it could easily spin flat or inverted.'

Although Soviet pilots did well with Lend-Lease P-39s in the low-level environment in which they typically fought over the steppes, American pilots generally found themselves at a severe disadvantage in the Pacific, engaging Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters at intermediate altitudes. Moreover, the Airacobra jockeys serving in New Guinea found themselves up against some of the best pilots in the Japanese navy — the aces of the Tainan Kokutai (naval air group), based at Lae. On top of all else, while the P-39's 37mm cannon could be murderous to anything it happened to hit, not all Airacobras had them. Many of the Bell fighters were P-400s — export variants with a 20mm cannon in place of the 37mm weapon, shipped to Britain, only to be rejected and returned. They were then shipped off to American units in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where a P-400 came to be defined as 'a P-39 with a Zero on its tail.'

Surviving in an Airacobra was something of an accomplishment in the Pacific. Scoring a victory in one was an even greater achievement, and it is little wonder that several of those pilots who did so went on to become aces once they got their hands on a better fighter. One of that 'rare breed' is Dick Suehr, who while flying a P-400 managed to open his account with one of the dreaded Tainan Kokutai's Zeros and went on to become an ace in the Lockheed P-38F Lightning.

Born in Crafton, Pa., on May 4, 1917, Richard Charles Suehr graduated from Marquette University in 1940 with a degree in biology. He promptly joined the Army Reserves and served as a flying cadet from March 17 to October 31, 1941. Commissioned a second lieutenant and rated a pilot at Craig Field, Ala., at the end of October, he joined the 66th Squadron of the 57th Pursuit Group, but after Pearl Harbor he requested a combat assignment and was shipped out to Darwin, Australia, with the 33rd Pursuit Squadron (Provisional). By the end of December 1941, Lieutenant Suehr had accumulated 217 hours 15 minutes of training time and 14 hours 30 minutes of pursuit time — all of which nearly came to naught when he was forced to crash-land while en route to Darwin.

After spending some time in the hospital, Suehr transferred to the 39th Squadron of the 35th Pursuit Group in April 1942. Equipped with P-39s and P-400s, the 39th was based at Port Moresby, on the southern coast of New Guinea, helping to defend that vital sea and air base from the threat of Japanese invasion by both land and sea. Between offensives, Port Moresby was the constant target of Japanese air attacks, at the same time launching strikes of its own against the enemy air bases at Lae and Salamaua. It was at that time, too, that the 39th Squadron was suffering its heaviest casualties at the hands of crack Tainan Kokutai pilots such as Junichi Sasai, Toshio Ota, Saburo Sakai and Hiroyoshi Nishizawa.

In spite of the shabby reputation the Airacobra acquired in the Pacific, Suehr got along fairly well with his aircraft. 'I never got into an inverted spin in all the time I flew it,' he said. 'I figured the answer to that was to keep the needle and the ball in the center. As long as you did that, you didn't have any trouble. I thought it was a beautiful airplane and I loved to fly it, but I didn't love to fly it in combat. It just looked nice, but when you got to 20,000 feet, forget it. You [chose] between a stall and maximum speed — there was no in between. The Zeros were always above us and we couldn't touch 'em in a 39 until they came to engage us. You could do one thing with a P-39 — if a Zero was on your tail, you pushed the throttle forward and you dove. Charles King and I disagreed on the P-39. Charlie King flew the thing long before I did. Whenever he heard me cursing the Airacobra as no good, he'd say, `No, it was good airplane."

As it happened, Suehr's first combat in an Airacobra brought him his first victory. At 0851 on the morning of June 9, 1942, 11 Martin B-26 Marauders of the 22nd Bomb Group departed Port Moresby's Seven-Mile Airdrome to attack Lae. One plane — The Heckling Hare, piloted by 1st Lt. Walter H. Greer and carrying a congressman and future president, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lyndon Baines Johnson, as an observer — developed generator problems, compelling its pilot to drop its bombs 80 miles short of the target and return to base. The other Marauders were intercepted by elements of the Tainan Kokutai and pursued to Cape Ward Hunt, where a Zero pilot, Petty Officer 1st Class Saburo Sakai, claimed two of the B-26s. One, The Virginian, crashed in the sea off Salamaua, killing 1st Lt. Willis G. Bench and his crew. The other, Rum Runner, was badly shot up but managed to reach Seven-Mile Airdrome before crashing, and was later made airworthy again.

At 1040, just as the Zeros were breaking off their engagement with the fleeing B-26s, one of their flights was suddenly jumped by eight P-400s of the 39th Squadron. 'We didn't have the range to go over the target with the B-26s,' Suehr explained,'so we made arrangements to meet them when they were on the way back and escort them home. They were already being shot at when we got there, so we bugged on in there.

'The Zeros were down below us,' he continued, 'and that's the only time they were down below us. They were shootin' the hell out of those B-26s, and they weren't paying attention to us. We got down to their level, and I started shootin' right away. I'd have to admit I was scared, and I was firing out of range. I soon got hold of myself, though, and waited until I got closer before I fired again, and I got one of the Zeros. It was my first combat mission in a P-39, and I got scared, just like a lot of people, but that's the only time I was ever scared.'

Two Japanese airmen paid the price for underestimating Airacobras. In addition to Suehr's success, 2nd Lt. Curran L. 'Jack' Jones shot down the Japanese flight leader. Jones, born in Columbia, S.C., on October 4, 1919, had attended Clemson Agricultural and Mining College but left the school in his senior year to join the U.S. Army Reserve. He became a flying cadet on October 14, 1940, and qualified as a pilot — and received his commission as second lieutenant — at Maxwell Field, Ala., on May 29, 1941. He was then assigned to the 39th Squadron of the 31st Pursuit Group, which was transferred to the 35th Group on January 15, 1942.

Jack Jones was leading a four-plane element in 1st Lt. Robert 'Joe' Green's flight when he spotted a Zero below and radioed, 'Joe, I'm taking my four and going down.' Jones later recalled, 'All four of us took a potshot at him,' but the Zero was still twisting away when Jones sensed something coming up on him and radioed, 'Is that you behind me, Bartlett?' The reply from 2nd Lt. Price Bartlett was 'No,' and Jones looked back to see another Zero about to attack the rearmost Airacobra. 'I made a turn and shot that one down while he was still approaching my No. 4 man,' Jones recalled. As the Zero made its final 5,000-foot descent, Jones remembered seeing the pilot — who had no parachute — slide back the canopy and step out onto the wing. The Japanese airman was still forlornly holding onto the side of his cockpit as Jones watched him go the rest of the way down and hit the water.

Many years later, on meeting Jones at a symposium in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1988, Saburo Sakai — who had survived the war with 64 victories — told Jones that his victim had been Warrant Officer Satoshi Yoshino, credited with 15 Allied planes at the time of his death. 'You must have been a great pilot yourself to have downed my comrade,' Sakai said. 'Yoshino was one of our outstanding pilots.' Japanese records also identified Dick Suehr's victim as Petty Officer 1st Class Sakyo Kikuchi.

Five days before Suehr and Jones scored their first successes, the U.S. Navy had won a far more significant victory, sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers for the loss of one at the Battle of Midway. The Japanese had lost the initiative in the Pacific, and the United States tried to seize it by invading the island of Guadalcanal on August 7. As the Japanese strove to retake the island, activity shifted to the Solomons, including the transfer of the Tainan Kokutai from Lae to Rabaul, New Britain. During that relative lull over New Guinea, Suehr was promoted to first lieutenant on September 3.

In the following month, the 39th became the first squadron in the Fifth Air Force to be re-equipped with Lockheed P-38F Lightnings. The new fighter was intrinsically a vast improvement over the Airacobra, but its highly sophisticated systems were at first a challenge to the ground crewmen — especially when operating in the tropical heat and frequent rainstorms they had to deal with in New Guinea. Once the maintenance crews had ironed out the initial bugs, such as superchargers that had to be constantly synchronized and fuel tanks that leaked after expanding under the sun, the P-38s flew their first combat sortie, a raid on the airfield at Lae, on November 26.

Suehr recalled that the Lightning's most obvious improvement over the Airacobra was its high-altitude performance. 'When we got the P-38s,' he said, '[Lt. Gen. George C.] Kenney ordered us to fly them no lower than 25,000 feet until we were in combat. The other squadrons that were still flying P-39s and P-40s used to call us the `high-altitude foxholes,' because we weren't allowed to go below 25,000 to 30,000 feet.'

Other changes took place in December 1942. On the 4th, Jones, who had been promoted to first lieutenant on July 3, became a captain. On the 18th, a Japanese army fighter unit, the 11th Sentai (regiment), arrived at Rabaul to assist the straining Japanese naval squadrons with their duties over New Guinea. The 11th Sentai's experienced pilots had distinguished themselves over China in 1938 and against the Soviet army air force over Nomonhan in 1939. The unit's aircraft, however, was the Nakajima Ki.43, called Hayabusa (peregrine falcon) by the Japanese and code-named 'Oscar' by the Allies. Although it was even more maneuverable than the navy Zero, the Hayabusa was some 30 mph slower, structurally weaker and — equipped with two 7.7 mm or 12.7mm machine guns — less well-armed.

On January 6, 1943, Allied coast watchers on New Britain radioed sighting a Japanese convoy passing along the south shore toward the west. At midday, Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24 bombers from Port Moresby took off to deal with the convoy, escorted by P-38s of the 39th Squadron led by Captain Jones. At about 1700 hours, the bombers found the convoy off Gasmata and Jack Jones' squadron dealt with an intercepting force of 11th Sentai Ki.43s. 'We were above them,' recalled Suehr, 'and the bomber crews never did see the Japanese fighters — we kept them engaged.' In the ensuing dogfight, Jones was credited with two victories and a probable, while Suehr downed a Ki.43 and damaged another. Second Lieutenant Stanley O. Andrews claimed one Oscar and probably got a second, while single Ki.43s also fell to 1st Lt. Charles P. Sullivan, 2nd Lt. Richard E. Smith and 2nd Lt. Walter Markey, the latter a member of the 9th Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, attached to the 39th.

In total, the Americans claimed nine Oscars, but the convoy was not stopped and General Kenney, commander of the Fifth Air Force, ordered another strike against the Japanese troop transports the next morning. Thirty-six Curtiss P-40Ks of the 49th Group's 7th and 8th squadrons were earmarked to bomb the ships, which in the meantime were shadowed by a Consolidated Catalina flying boat of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which sank a straggling freighter and reported that the convoy had altered course for Salamaua.

As the P-40s headed for Salamaua on January 7, they were escorted by six P-38s of the 39th Squadron, led by Captain Thomas J. Lynch, accompanied by two others of the 49th Group's 9th Squadron, flown by 2nd Lts. Richard I. Bong and Carl G. Planck, Jr. Encountering 16 Ki.43s, Bong and Planck damaged two on their first pass, and on their second Bong shot one down for his fourth victory. The 39th Squadron's P-38 pilots claimed six Oscars in the action. The rest of the Oscars plunged through the clouds near the Markham River outlet and dived on the 8th Fighter Squadron, breaking up its attack on the ships. Zeros also attacked the P-40s, disrupting most of the Americans' bomb runs. Only 2nd Lt. Claude Burtnette managed to score a 300-pound bomb hit amidships on Myoko Maru, damaging her engine. Myoko Maru managed to reach Lae Harbor and offload her troops onto barges, but the crippled ship subsequently had to be beached and abandoned.

A second Allied airstrike was dispatched to Markham Bay that evening, only to be again intercepted by Ki.43s of the 11th Sentai, which harassed the Allied bombers over the convoy and then turned to deal with P-40s of the 8th Squadron. Only 1st Lt. Ernest Harris got through to strafe one of the ships, then climbed back to 6,000 feet, saw an Oscar on a P-40's tail and shot it down in flames. Harris then sent a Ki.43 into the haze in a flat spin and another smoking into the clouds. Dropping below the overcast, Harris saw three crash sites and was credited with all three planes. First Lieutenant Warren Blakeley claimed two more Oscars, and 1st Lts. Kenneth Johns, Rufus Jordan, William Day and Robert White, and 2nd Lt. Joseph Littleton also claimed to have destroyed single Oscars. When a Ki.43 shot up 2nd Lt. Cyrus Lynd's P-40, rather than risk flying over the Owen Stanley Mountains, Lynd force-landed at Dobodura, where ground crewmen counted 23 7.7mm bullet holes in his wings, fuselage and tail surfaces. Less fortunate was 2nd Lt. Eugene D. Dickey, who was forced to land his crippled P-40 in the river delta west of Lae airstrip and was last seen wading ashore. His fate thereafter remains unknown.

The 11th Sentai had not been the Americans' only problem. After descending to 6,000 feet, 'Bo' Jordan encountered what he called a'square-wing-tipped Zero' — an A6M3 Model 32 of the 582nd Kokutai — and fought it to a draw. Second Lieutenant Robert Howard engaged an A6M3 head-on, only to have his hydraulic and electric lines shot out by the Japanese pilot's wingman. With his guns also disabled and his fuel low, Howard nursed his P-40 to Rorona airfield, managing to land without flaps or brakes. Remarkably, the damage to his plane turned out to be reparable and he was able to fly back to his base the next day.

On January 8, it was the Japanese navy's turn to meet the P-38 in battle, as the 35th and 49th fighter groups conducted another sweep over Lae. They met plenty of Zero opposition, and Suehr was credited with two Zeros and a 'probable.' The 582nd Kokutai recorded at least two losses that day — Petty Officer 2nd Class Susumu Otsuki was killed over Lae, while Warrant Officer Mitsuo Hori was injured but bailed out of his crippled Zero and was subsequently rescued. While escorting Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s over Markham Bay later that afternoon, Dick Bong of the 49th Group won a head-on gun duel with a Ki.43, to become the first Lightning ace in the Fifth Air Force.

Suehr was on leave in Sydney, Australia, on the morning of March 2, when a B-24 crew spotted a Japanese convoy of eight troop transports and eight destroyers off the western tip of New Guinea, 100 miles northeast of Lae. General Kenney promptly dispatched all available squadrons to attack the convoy, and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea was on. In spite of heavy rain, three flights of B-17s managed to sink two transports and disperse the convoy formation. Cloud cover handicapped fighter operations, but the 39th saw some limited action, with Captain Jones probably getting a Zero at about 0935, and Captain Charles W. King, another lucky survivor of the P-39 days, scoring his first of an eventual five P-38 victories when he downed an Oscar 50 miles west-northwest of Arawe.

March 3 saw the largest Allied air operation of the New Guinea campaign to date, with some 300 U.S. Army Air Forces and RAAF bombers hammering the convoy. Amid the air battles that ensued, Captain King probably downed a Zero over Huon Gulf, while Jones downed a Zero 70 miles east of Lae in the morning and scored his fifth victory over another Zero 60 miles east of Salamaua at 1530.

But the 39th Squadron did not escape unscathed. Jumped by Zeros — probably from the carrier Zuiho's air group, then operating from Kavieng — 1st Lt. Robert Faurot, 1st Lt. Hoyt A. Eason and 2nd Lt. Frederick Schifflett were shot down and killed, along with the B-17 they were escorting. Zuiho's group lost Leading Seaman Masano Maki (allegedly while ramming an enemy plane) and Chief Petty Officer Takio Dannoue, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Shizuki Nishiyama of the 204th Kokutai was also killed over Lae.

The Bismarck Sea action ended as more of a slaughter than a battle. By the time the three-day operation was over, nearly half of the more than 7,000 Japanese soldiers being transported to Lae had been killed, including the entire headquarters staff of the Eighteenth Army. A total of eight Japanese merchant ships and four destroyers had been sunk, and nearly 60 aircraft had been destroyed or damaged, in combat or from operational causes.

April 1943 saw Curran Jones complete his tour with the 39th Fighter Squadron. On April 1 the Japanese launched Operation I, a massive air offensive conceived by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to reverse the Allied advance that had been gaining momentum in the wake of Japan's failures at Midway, on Guadalcanal and in New Guinea. Although Operation I did considerable damage to Allied sea and air components, it failed to deal a crippling blow sufficient to justify the attrition that Japan's army and naval air arms suffered over the Solomons and New Guinea in the first half of the month.

One of the last Japanese air attacks was launched against Port Moresby on April 12, with Lt. Cmdr. Masaichi Suzuki leading 17 Mitsubishi G4M1 bombers of the 751st Kokutai, followed by another 27 G4M1s of the 705th Kokutai, led by Tomo-o Nakamura, all of which were escorted by 131 Zeros of the 204th, 253rd and 582nd Kokutais.

'When I took off, there were six P-38s,' Suehr recalled, 'but all I had at 35,000-40,000 feet was me and my wingman, Harvey Clymer. The others had dropped out. The other groups, the 8th and the 49th, were going to Milne Bay, but by the time I got to altitude, we got the message that the Japanese were coming into Moresby, not to Milne Bay, and fighter command started sending the others back. When we arrived at Moresby, we immediately got engaged as the Japanese were dropping their bombs.'

The G4M1s, code-named 'Bettys' by the Allies, found an enthusiastic 39th Fighter Squadron welcoming committee waiting for them, as well as more P-38s of the 49th Fighter Group's 9th Squadron and the recently arrived 80th Fighter Squadron. The G4M crews courageously pressed on and managed to drop their bombs on Moresby from an altitude of 8,000 meters, destroying a fuel dump, a Bristol Beaufighter and three North American B-25s on the airfield, and damaging another 15 Allied planes. They paid a grim price, however. Charlie Sullivan shot down a Betty near Port Moresby, Lieutenant Richard Smith downed another 20 miles north of Kokoda, and Captain Charles S. Gallup claimed one of the Zero escorts 30 miles north of Moresby. In his first combat mission, 1st Lt. Grover Fanning of the 9th Squadron was credited with a Betty and two Japanese fighters, while 1st Lt. Don McGee of the 80th claimed another Betty near Moresby. On the debit side, the P-38 flown by 1st Lt. William Sells of the 80th was damaged, and he crashed on landing. Four P-39s of the 41st Fighter Squadron were shot down — one by Betty gunners, three by Zeros — but three of their pilots survived.

For his part, Dick Suehr dived straight down on one of the Bettys, with almost disastrous consequences. 'When I made my pass, I hit compressibility, though I didn't know it at the time,' he said. 'I had my feet up on the dashboard, trying to get that thing into trim and pull out of the dive, to no avail. That airplane was going straight down. But when I hit heavy air, that airplane suddenly made a 180-degree turn, going straight back up. I thought my posterior was going down. Then, when I got back to altitude, I went looking for them again.' Catching one of the Bettys on his second try, Suehr sent it crashing on Mount Chamberlain, near Goilala outside Moresby, before a cheering crowd of thousands.

The Japanese records agree fairly well with the Americans' claims. Six of the 751st Kokutai's bombers were destroyed by the P-38s, while a seventh was wrecked as it tried to land at Lae. The 705th Kokutai fared marginally better, with 11 damaged planes limping back to Lae, though one was also written off after crashing on the runway. The April 12 raid was the 106th major daylight airstrike against Moresby. It was also the last.

Dick Suehr's April 12 success finally entered him in the ranks of the aces, and not a moment too soon. He had flown 93 combat sorties by then, and his tour was about up. He was promoted to captain on May 13, 1943, and with 95 missions in his logbook, he was shipped back to the States. Meanwhile, Admiral Yamamoto, satisfied that Operation I had accomplished its goals — thanks to overoptimistic claims by his aircrews — concluded the air campaign on April 14. On the 18th he flew off to inspect the airbase at Ballale. Unknown to the Japanese, however, the Americans had intercepted radio messages heralding the flight and managed to decode them. In consequence, the most brilliant strategist in the Imperial Japanese Navy was ambushed, shot down and killed over Bougainville by P-38Gs of the 339th Fighter Squadron.

Suehr returned to the Pacific later in 1944, flying with his old sister group, the 49th, based at Tacloban airfield on Leyte in the Philippines. For his 11th mission with that unit, Suehr led a flight of 7th Squadron Lightnings on a raid against the Clark Field complex on Luzon on January 1, 1945. Some Japanese air opposition was encountered by the 49th Group, but it only resulted in Zeros being downed by 1st Lt. Joel Paris (for his eighth victory), 2nd Lt. Milden Mathre (his fifth) and 2nd Lt. Francis Hill, as well as a Ki.43 for 2nd Lt. Irwin Dames and a Kawasaki Ki.45 twin-engine fighter by 2nd Lt. Nial Castle for his fifth.

During the flight home, Suehr lost one of his two wingmen and led the other, 2nd Lt. Ralph Watson, southward through a heavily clouded sky. Suehr turned west to make sure they were over Lamon Bay, then descended in hopes of getting below the cloud cover — only to discover that it extended right down to sea level. As Suehr turned back, his left wingtip hit the water and his P-38L cartwheeled into the drink. Watson circled the crash site but found nothing. Then, noting that Suehr's disappearance had occurred five miles off Coringo Island, Watson began a series of climbing left and right turns across a 150-degree heading. After 30 minutes of flying on instruments, he broke out of the clouds to find himself 14,000 feet over San Miguel Bay, 100 miles southeast of Lamon Bay. From there, he was able to return to Tacloban to report Suehr's death.

Reports of Suehr's demise, however, proved to be premature. Escaping from his rapidly sinking Lightning, he swam 15 miles to an uninhabited island. Later asked what was available to live on during the three days he spent as a castaway, Suehr answered: 'Well, there was water. And I found a lousy coconut on the ground and ate that. On the second day a fisherman saw me, but he thought I was Japanese. He went back, and when he returned he brought a couple of people with him, armed with long swords to kill me. They were still a little skeptical about coming to get me, but I took my undershirt off and went in the water, yelling, `Me Americano! Me Americano!' They pulled me into the boat. By then, my stomach had gotten tight, which was unfortunate for me, because after they took me to the main island of Luzon, they fed me a beautiful chicken dinner. Did I get sick as a dog! After that, we started back to Leyte. I even rode in a captured Japanese launch, but that wasn't too good, because a goddam B-25 tried to bomb me, but fortunately he missed us. After that I said, `No more of this.' So we used a couple of Philippine sailboats, and I rode a water buffalo for about three or four days. Finally, the Filipino guerrillas got me to our forces on Leyte, and once I got back there, I got those guys a bunch of ammunition. I went over to Fighter Command headquarters, and they made me assistant operations officer.'

Suehr was eager to let his wife, Ruth, know he was all right through the American Red Cross, but he was told that he would have to inform her through the Army. 'I sat down immediately and wrote her a letter,' he said. 'She was staying with my mom and dad, and they had just come back from a funeral mass for me when she got my letter. She got on the telephone and called the Army in Washington, D.C., and said, `Hey, I just got a letter from my husband, dated from last week — he's alive,' but they told her, `As far as we're concerned, he's dead.' But they called her back about a week later, told her I was alive and that I'd rejoined my outfit. And she sent the Purple Heart back.'

Suehr still has a letter that his wife had received, informing her of his death. It read: 'Dear Mrs. Suehr: In the death of your husband, Captain Richard C. Suehr, you have my heartfelt sympathy. His service was characterized by his devotion to our beloved country. And in his death we have lost a gallant comrade-in-arms. Very Faithfully, Douglas MacArthur.'

Promoted to major on June 6, 1945, Suehr was released from active duty on February 2, 1947, but he re-enlisted on July 5 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on December 27, 1955. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in August 1968. Having survived the best that Japan and Mother Nature could throw at him, Dick Suehr — who had been officially given up for dead on New Year's Day 1945 — continues to turn up, very much alive, at reunions of the American Fighter Aces Association.


This article was written by Jon Guttman and originally published in the September 2002 issue of Aviation History. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!

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8 Responses to “World War II: Dick Suehr Flew to Defend Port Moresby”


  1. 1
    James Wagner says:

    Hoyt Eason was my great uncle and some believe he lived that
    crash. Thanks for the info.

    • 1.1
      Zdenek Kocab says:

      Dear Mr Wagner,

      Do you know the EXACT DAY of promotion of Hoyt A. EASON to 2nd Lt and also 1st Lt?

      I am trying to find out ranks of US aces of the second world war. Unfortunately, I have not find any info about it in the book „Stars and Bars“ by Frank Olynyk.

      Help me, please.

      Regards Zdenek Kocab

  2. 2
    Rebecca Suehr says:

    Wow. This is amazing. I cannot believe my uncle Dick has such an amazing story! thank you for the information.

    • 2.1
      Marissa Rogers says:

      hey Rebecca! Uncle Dick is my great grand uncle! I am doing our family tree and I am stuck after uncle dicks parents names! Was hoping you would have them…so neat we are family and don't know each other!! I am dorthy Williams granddaughter! Hope to hear from you soon!

  3. 3
    Bev Nova Scotia Canada says:

    I found an old picture on the back it says

    "Dutch" McConnell (left) from S Carolina

    Hack Horgan, from Worcester, Mass (right)

    "The Three Flying Cadets"
    Love
    Col

    I don't know if anybody is interested in the pict. Three men are pictured on the front with a Bell Airacobra P39

  4. 4
    Sam McGowan says:

    I knew Col. Suehr at Pope AFB, NC where he retired. Instead of spending all of his time at the officers club, he often came to the Base Service Club and hung out with the lower ranking enlisted men playing cards, drinking coffee and talking. I don't remember him ever mentioning his combat experiences a single time. I did ask him one time what he flew during the war and he said that he was a fighter pilot and flew P-38s. Although I knew him fairly well, I was a very young airman and never pressured him to talk about World War II. It wasn't until after I left Pope and an article came about him in AIRMAN magazine that I even knew he was an ace.

  5. 5
    Michael McQuiston says:

    Jack Jones went to my church here in Temple, Tx when I was a child. He gave me a signed picture of himself next to his P-38…This is the first time for me to here this story about him. He always told me to do well in school so that I could be a pilot like him.



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