Kim Duk-hyung Memorial Page

In the early hours of August 7th 1945, 8 days before the end of the war in the Pacific, a U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 'Liberator' bomber with eleven crew members on board, flew to destruction into the 3,000 foot peak of Mangwoon-san on Namhae Island in Southern Korea (Latitude: 34-20-00N, Longitude: 126-50-00E). All eleven airmen perished.
Crew of B-24 Snooper (# 44-42131)

The crew of the B-24 that crashed on Namhae on 7 August 1945.

Back Row (left to right): Steve Wales, Nose gun;   Ed Mills Jr., Pilot;   Nick Simonich, Co-pilot;   Joe Orenbuch, Navigator;   Ron Johnson, Bombardier;   Walter Hoover, Gun;

Front Row (left to right):   Jim Murray, Engineer;   Henry Ruppert, Radar operator;   Warren Tittsworth, Top gun;   John Regnault, Radio operator;   Tom Burnworth, Tail gun.
The aircraft was a B-24M "Snooper" (aircraft no. 44-42131) of the 868th Bombardment Squadron (H), which flew out of Okinawa, piloted by Lt. Edward Mills Jr. of Carbondale, Pennsylvania.   The aircraft that these men flew was a specially-equipped B-24 long-range bomber that used radar to aim its bombs at rather low altitudes (around 1,000-2,000 feet).   These black-painted B-24s, nicknamed 'Snoopers', seemed to be especially tasked with attacking enemy shipping at night, hence the use of radar in bombing.   The status of these kinds of planes and their missions were somewhat of a secret at the time.

Lt. Mills and his crew took off from Okinawa at 10:06pm on August 6th (the day of the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima) on an armored search for Japanese shipping off the southern coast of the Korean penninsula.  

Hwa-do ( 화도 or 큰 관탈섬 ).   Due to Hwa-do's relative isolation in the surrounding waters, and its jutting profile, the two B-24 Snoopers probably used this island as a sort of spot of radar certainty to fix their position and to serve as their "Initial Point" from which to begin their anti-shipping search.
They were accompanied that night by another "Snooper" (aircraft #780) commanded by Lt. Robert Ellingson.   The two planes flew to Hwa-do (a small island just north of Jeju Island, Korea), from where they began their search. Their designated path was to go East along the coast to Pusan and then return to base. The crews decided with the flip of a coin that Lt. Mills' plane would search the coast, while Lt. Ellingson's plane would fly a parallel path 50 miles further out over the ocean to the south. While Ellingson's crew successfully attacked a 200-foot vessel near Busan and returned to Okinawa at 8:54am, Lt. Mills' crew failed to return, instead, crashing into the mountain on Namhae Island. (See map below)

A map of the south coast of Korea.  The 'X' shows where the plane crashed on Namhae Island.

The last contact with the ill-fated B-24 was made by VHF radio by Lt. Ellingson's plane at 1:50am on August 7th. Searches were conducted for the next few days (including one by Ellingson's crew on the morning of the 8th), with no sightings. The search for the lost plane was called off on September 9th, and the crew were officially listed as MIA.

Three of the officers of the Mills crew
From left to right; Ed Mills, Nick Simonich, and Joe Orenbuch (the men in dress uniform).

Meanwhile, at the crash site on Namhae Island, Japanese authorities and Korean laborers searched the wreckage of the B-24 for useful parts, leaving the bodies of the crew to rot.  
Kim Duk-hyung.

Kim Duk-hyung (circa 1950s).
One of the Koreans at the site, was a civil-servant working for the county government in Namhae named Kim Duk-hyung ( 김덕형 ).   Although no one else would inter the dead airmen, Kim Duk-hyung, reminded of his brother's recent death while serving in the Japanese military in Burma, took it upon himself to properly bury them.   He gathered up all the items needed for the burial, and collected what identification he could find from the bodies.   He formed a mound with rocks from the hillside and placed a cross of pine tree branches on top of the graves.   The next day, the Japanese found out about the burial and arrested Mr. Kim.   For his selfless act, Mr. Kim suffered torture at the hands of the Japanese during his confinement.   Luckily, the war ended on August 15th, and Mr. Kim awoke that day to find his cell door open and the jail abandoned.   He left the jail injured, but alive.

After the war, Southern Korea was under U.S. Military Government occupation (1945-1948).   It was during this time that the U.S military first learned the fate of the missing crew.   US Army Captain Charles DeLaney was appointed military governor of Hadong, Sachon, and Namhae island, when he learned of the story of the American airmen while attempting to deal with the activities of Namhae's Red Peasant Union.  
Memorial on Namhae Island, Korea

The monument that Mr. Kim built is situated below the peak of Mt. Mangwoon on Namhae Island.
Kim Duk-hyung led Captain DeLaney to the crash site, where the names of the crew were identified.   Their remains were soon shipped back to the U.S.   However, it was only after DeLaney returned home to Carbondale, Pennsylvania in mid-1946 that he learned that the pilot of the plane, Ed Mills, was also from Carbondale.   After a chance meeting with members of the Mills family, it was confirmed that one of the pilots who perished at the crash site DeLaney had visited in Korea was from his own hometown.

The eleven airmen were to be the only U.S. casualties in Korea during the Second World War.

Back in Korea, Kim Duk-hyung resolved to build a memorial at the crash site for the airmen, who he believed had fought and died for freedom and justice against Japanese aggression.   In 1948, Mr. Kim was granted Korean government approval to organize the "Memorial Activities Association for the U.S. Air Force".   He raised enough money by 1956 to build a twelve-foot tall granite monument at the site on Mt. Mangwoon ( 망운산 ).   This was done in spite of interruptions by communist partisans in the late 40's, and another dose of torture, this time at the hands of the North Korean army during the Korean Civil War.   The monument dedication took place on November 30, 1956, and was attended by high-ranking South Korean and U.S. military and civilian officials.   It has since been cared for by Mr. Kim, his family, and his supporters.

Monument dedication 11/56.

The gathering of dignitaries for the dedication of the monument, November 1956.
Monument for B-24 crew on Namhae Island.

The monument as it looked in April 1996.   The base of the monument is written in English, with the names of the airmen and the people involved in making the memorial.   The front face of the monument's spire features Chinese calligraphy written by Korean president, Yi Seung-man (Syngman Rhee).

Me next to the monument.   This gives you an idea of its size.   On the right is Kim Duk-hyung and I standing in front of Mr. Kim's little pharmacy in Namhae city. The memorial hall is next door on the left. (April 1996).

Kim Duk-hyung receiving the Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 1986 (left). And (right) Co-pilot Nick Simonich's nephew presenting Mr. Kim with Nick's Purple Heart Award in 1997.
Years later, in 1989, Mr. Kim established a memorial hall in the town of Namhae, where annual memorial services for the dead airmen are held in the early afternoon of October 26th. Mr. Kim's dedication to the foreign airmen has made him somewhat of an oddity in his own community.   Kim Duk-hyung has visited the United States at least twice, visiting family members of the crew, and receiving coverage in US newspapers.   On November 14, 1986, Mr. Kim received the Distinguished Civilian Service Award at the Pentagon, accompanied by family members of Joe Orenbuch, the navigator of the B-24.   He got this high honor nearly 40 years after he had risked his life to preserve the remains of the American bomber crew.   Mr. Kim had previously received various awards and citations from U.S. military organizations and civilian associations.

At the annual memorial service in 1997, US Army Captain Michael Fitzgerald, nephew of Co-Pilot Nick Simonich, presented Mr. Kim with Nick's Purple Heart as a gesture of their family's gratitude.

In Memoriam: Kim Duk-hyung

Kim Duk-hyung passed away on June 6, 2010 at the age of 95.

This author of this site owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Bill Allen, brother-in-law of the late Lt. Ed Mills Jr.   Mr. Allen's enormous help in providing me information about this story made this site possible.

Korea Photography Gallery