2nd Lt. Joseph C. Rich
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Service: USAAF, 373rd Bomber Squadron, 308th Bomber Group, Heavy
Service #: 0-739054
Date of Death: 13 September 1944 as POW in Rangoon Central Jail
Hometown: Portland, Maine
Awards: Purple Heart
One of the strongest persons behind our drive for recovery of remains and locating the crashed C-47B is Lisa Phillips, the niece of Lt. Rich. Joseph C. Rich was the third child born to Joseph and Charlotte Rich of Portland, Maine. He enlisted December 8, 1941. He married Bernice Regan in 1942 in Salina, Kansas. Trained as a navigator, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to a B-24 crew, the commander of which was Lt. Thomas Stephen. Other crew members were Lt. Edward F. Ryan (co-pilot), Lt. Royal D. Butterfield (bombardier), Sgt. Joseph C. McClung (engineer), Sgt Ewell C. Temples, (Asst. radio operator/gunner), Sgt Fred Hart (radio operator), SSgt Thomas Smeal (Asst. Eng./gunner), Sgt Charles Pero (gunner) and Sgt John F. Cook (gunner). The crew was assigned to the 308th Heavy Bomb Group, attached to 14th Air Force, China. The 308th comprised four squadrons: 373rd, 374th, 375th, and the 425th, all of which operated out of bases in western China. Arriving in China, they were initially assigned to the 373rd Squadron in Yangkai. They were hardly settled when they were sent to India to assist repelling the advancing Japanese Army in Burma, specifically in the Rangoon area. The crew was assigned to a B-24 nicknamed “Maxwell House II,” Tail no. 43-73245, senior pilot Lt. Richard Merideth, commanding. On November 27, 1943, the Maxwell House II, along with 23 other B-24s, were sortied to bomb the Insein Work Shops, with secondary targets of Henzada, Thayetmye, and Akyab. Five turned back. Two aircraft were lost, including Maxwell House II and aircraft tail no. 42-73313, commanded by Lt. Kellam. The Maxwell House II suffered an engine shot out and on fire with Lt. Rich caught in the fire. Three of the crewmen perished that day: Pero, Smeal, and Ryan. The remainder bailed out. Five were shot and killed while still in the air in their parachutes: Hart, Merideth, Stephen, Temples, and Cook. Lt. Rich, Lt. Butterfield, and Sgt McClung were captured and imprisoned in the infamous Rangoon Prison Camp. Lt. Butterfield died of beri-beri June 24, 1944. Having received no medical care for his wounds, Lt. Rich recovered from the burns but subsequently died of beri-beri, dysentery, scabies, malnutrition, and physical abuse; at death weighing only 80 pounds. Before dying, he gave McClung his wedding band, which McClung hid and later returned to Captain Bernice Rich. Lt. Rich was awarded the Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, the Honorable Service Lapel Button (WW II) and the Gold Star Lapel Button.