Onward March

March 14/16, 1942

Mid-March 1942 was a significant time in the Southwest Pacific theater, marked by one of the most notable events of World War II, as well as some lesser events, woven through the fabric of the Eager Beavers story, whose import would only be known in time.

On the 14th, the 40th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group was formed at Townsville in northern Australia, and flew its first mission that day. The 40th would become well-known in the coming months under its new designation, the 435th Bomb Squadron, which it would receive in April. It was another step in the 19th’s ascension to primary bomb group in the theater; elements of the 7th Bomb Group were, that very day, ceasing operations in Australia, or more tragically, in the case of the ground echelon of the 14th Bomb Squadron, fighting for their lives as infantry at Mindanao in the Philippines.

An aerial photo of Royal Australian Air Force airbase Laverton during World War II
RAAF Laverton during WWII

Coincidentally, the day was also significant for another reconnaissance squadron in the theater, the 13th, part of the 43rd Bomb Group and home of future Zeamer crew members Joe Sarnoski and Rocky Stone. The squadron transferred that day from its temporary home at Camp Darley in Bacchus Marsh, northwest of Melbourne, to RAAF Laverton, southwest of Melbourne. Their C.O., Capt. Thomas “Nick” Charles, had argued for an airdrome and got it. Laverton would be their home for the next six months, where they would spend much of their time servicing the B-17s of the 19th Bomb Group, including some of those used by the 40th/435th. (In another coincidence, the 13th would be redesignated a bomb squadron, the 403rd, in April as well.)

Two days later, on March 16th, B-17s of the newly-formed 40th made history as they evacuated General Douglas MacArthur and his family and staff from Mindanao to Australia, where in April MacArthur would assume command of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific theater.

Also on the 16th, the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group—later to be led by legendary pilot and close friend of Jay Zeamer, Ken McCullar—arrived in Sydney, Australia. The 43rd’s various squadrons were scattered around Australia and would be dormant for months, largely unknown to each other and even to 5th Bomber Command in any way but on paper, but would eventually congregate in Queensland that fall, taking the reins by the then-exhausted but much-respected 19th.

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