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Remembering World War II
William Richard Shank
Name: William Richard Shank Rank: Lieutenant Service Number: O-659595 Service: 71st Bombardment Squadron, 38th Bombardment Group, US Army Air Force Awards: Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster Date of Birth: March 29, 1919 Place of Birth: Cape Breton, NS Date of Enlistment: October 28, 1941 Place of Enlistment: Boston, Massachusetts Age at Enlistment: 22 Address at Enlistment: Suffolk Co., Mass. Occupation: Actor Height: 5 feet, 5 inches Complexion: Ruddy Hair Color: Blonde Eye Color: Brown Date of Death: July 27, 1943 Age: 24 Cemetery: Manila American Cemetery, Philippines Grave: Tablets of the Missing William Richard Shank was the son of John R. Shank (1868-1920) and Mary Ann (McKenzie) Shank (1869–1934). His mother was born in Prince Edward Island; his father – in Chatham, New Brunswick. He had 3 older sisters, Margaret Shaw Shank (1893-1971), Annie Carswell Shank (1898-1969), and Catherine Pearl Shank (1904-1985), and two older brothers John Malcolm (1901-1964), and Henry Alexander ‘Harry’ Shank (1907-1987). William was either born in Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia, and was a Nova Scotian (resident) from 1921 to 1924. William’s father died in Cape Breton in 1920, and William and his mother were living in Glace Bay, Cape Breton in the 1921 census. On the census, his relationship to the head of the household, his mother, states “Bro son” or brother’s son, - so he may have been a son of one his mother’s 3 brothers. In other words, his adopted mother’s nephew (from her side of the family). The family immigrated to the US via Vanceboro, Maine in 1924 and settled in Boston, Mass. In the 1930 census, their widowed mother and all the children were living at 21 Shafter St in Dorchester, Mass., with the exception of Annie, a nurse, who was living at the home sanitorium where she worked at 42 Beaumont St in Boston. William’s mother, older sisters Margaret and Catherine Pearl, and older brothers John and Harry resided at 21 Shafter St in Dorchester, Mass. William’s sister Margaret was also a nurse, working as such at a local department store. William studied at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. and played on their hockey team. He registered for the US Draft on October 16, 1940, in Dorchester, in Boston, Mass. He was living with his older sister Margaret at 19 Bradlee St in Dorchester, Mass. On his draft registration he listed his sister Margaret as his mother (his mother had died in 1934 when William was only 15 and she likely had become his legal guardian then). By 1940 (as per the census), William’s sister Catherine is no longer in the home, she was living and working as a servant in the home of George W Mansfield in Brookline, Norfolk, Mass. His older sister Annie had moved home again and was living with the family again. William enlisted in October 1941 entering the service as an Air Cadet with the US Army Air Force. William’s brother John enlisted in the US Army October 13, 1942 (Service No. 31210866) and served with the Transportation Corps until July 1945, and his brother Henry Alexander also served in the US Army Air Force (as a Sergeant) from December 23, 1942 to October 7, 1945. Airman William transferred to the Pacific with the 71st Bombardment Squadron. On August 12, 1942, the 71st Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 38th Bombardment Group (Medium), moved from Batchelor Field, Australia (a dispersal field for Allied aircraft), to Breddan Field, Australia with B-25s. Their first mission would be September 15, 1942. In New Guinea, William was presented the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (for flying in 34 combat missions) by the commander of the Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), General George Churchill Kenney. Lieutenant General George Churchill Kenney (1889-1977) was born in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. At 0800 hrs. on July 27, 1943, B-25D-15 Mitchell Serial Number 41-30496 took off from 17 Mile Drome (Durand) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt Ercoli Ducci, on a practice bombing mission against SS Pruth and returned to land safely at 10:58am. The five-man B-25 crew included: 1st Lieutenant Ercoli Ducci, Pilot (Service No. O-659959) of Rochester, NY 2nd Lieutenant Harry D. Mack, Co-Pilot (Service No. O-797154) of Kings County, NY 1st Lieutenant William Richard Shank, Navigator (Service No. O-659595) of Dorchester, MA Staff Sergeant Ellwood S. Norton, Radio Operator (Service No. 39083374) of Solano County, CA Technical Sergeant Albert A. Steele, Gunner (Service No. 18053518) of Oklahoma County, OK At 13:00 hrs, B-25 41-30496 took-off again with the same crew for another practice bombing against SS Pruth. Over the wreck, a bomb skipped too high and knocked off the stabilizer which caused the aircraft to crash into shallow water atop a coral reef between Idihi Island and Bavo Island to the west of Port Moresby. All five crew were killed in the crash. On the afternoon of the next day, on July 28, 1943, O8 Type Crash Launch from RAAF Marine Section arrived at the crash site and recovered the bodies of three of the crew: Ducci, Mack, and Steele despite extremely difficult conditions. On July 29, 1943 the same O8 Type Crash Launch from the Royal Australian Air Force Marine Section with RAAF Sgt Ritchey and six Americans from the 71st Bombardment Squadron again motored to the crash site, and recovered the bodies of the two-remaining crew, Shank and Norton. When departing, for unknown reasons the launch exploded, caught fire and sank to the waterline with the two bodies aboard. The stranded rescuers were dropped a life raft by a B-17 Flying Fortresses and swam to nearby Bavo Island to await rescue. Unaware they were on the island, B-17 Flying Fortresses commenced three hours of bombing runs against Bavo Island from 30,000 feet. As the bombs fell on the island, the rescuers took cover among the rocks but four of the Americans were wounded. Meanwhile, another rescue launch from 45 OBU Marine Section arrived at the scene with Flying Officer John Shelton aboard and spotted the men on Bavo Island. Between bombing runs, Shelton reached the island to treat the wounded. Four were seriously wounded and required morphine. Finally, an orbiting B-25 spotted them and dropped another life raft and the bombing practice runs were aborted. Using the life raft, the group returned to the launch and were returned to Port Moresby. Afterwards, Shelton earned the Medal of Freedom from the US Army and Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for this and other rescues he performed. Lieutenant William Richard Shank is remembered on the panels of the Manila American Cemetery’s Memorial Walls of the Missing. Manila American Cemetery is the largest of all American overseas cemeteries occupying over 150 acres on a prominent plateau, with a breathtaking view of the Manila skyline. Here rests more than 17000 American servicemen and women, most lost their lives in the Philippines and New Guinea in WWII, but over a dozen campaigns across the Pacific are represented there. On the wide terrace of the memorial, a limestone hemisphere contains an astonishing 36000 names of those who’s bodies were not found or recovered. The Manila American Cemetery tells an epic story of sacrifice and valour in the service of liberty.” – American Battle Monuments Commission
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