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Tribute to Captain Charles F. Pratte, Jr. World War II Pilot of the US 7th AAF Pilot of the B-24 Liberator: the Belle of Texas Missing in Action January 22, 1945 This is a tribute to Captain Charles F. Pratte, Jr., a well-respected pilot of the 7th Army Air Force, 42nd Squadron, 11th Bombardment Group stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He was also my Uncle Charles (or Charlie, as most people called him) and my father’s brother. Although I never had the great opportunity to meet him, to this day I still think the world of him -- from growing up remembering my Dad and grandmother speak of him -- he was tall, handsome, quiet, intelligent and well-liked; the romance of his marrying his hometown sweetheart, Bernadette Cote, in Warren, Rhode Island in February, 1942; and the shock of their being informed that the B-24 Liberator he was piloting never returned from a mission to Chichi Jima on January 22, 1945. Warren was a small town where everyone knew each other and the news of him being Missing spread quickly. His beautiful young wife was living with her parents in town while my uncle was serving in the Pacific. The news was devastating for both families and everyone who knew him. My Uncle Charles was born on March 29 and after I married, when my then-husband’s birthday would come around on March 31, my Dad would always take the opportunity to mention that “it was just after his brother Charlie’s/Uncle Charles’ birthday”, whose birthdate was March 29. How painful it must have always been for my Dad in remembering those days. We used to have a painting of my Uncle Charles hanging in the dining room of the home of my parents. I wish I knew what happened to that painting. It was my uncle, who was the pilot of the B-24 Liberator: the Belle of Texas, when it and other B-24s of the 11th Bombardment Group took heavy enemy fire, which also resulted in the loss of the brake system on this aircraft. Luckily, or miraculously, my uncle and crew survived this air battle, but now had to find a place to attempt a landing of this aircraft. My Uncle Charles remembered there was an airstrip on the island of Tarawa that was just being completed. He instructed his crew to attach parachutes to the gun mounts of the Liberator and when the time was right, he gave the order to let the parachutes billow out. The bomber came to a stop just a few feet from the edge of the island -- and the Pacific Ocean. This innovative landing was commended by General Hap Arnold of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Major General Willis Hale, Commanding Officer of the 7th Army Air Force. Their remarks stated that this was the first landing of its kind. From this point on, it was used by several other air men and talked about by many in the months to follow during the war and thereafter. The Belle of Texas was repaired as best as possible on the island of Tarawa, but was flown back to Hawaii, I believe, to be retired. Unfortunately, my Uncle Charles had to continue on. After surviving many missions, on January 22, 1945, he and his crew began what was to be their last flight. Their destination: Chichi Jima, on a mine laying mission in a certain area of the bay of the island. My Dad always told me it was believed he crashed into the Pacific. Now it is believed he might have crashed into the cliffs of Chichi Jima. This B24-J Liberator Bomber he and his crew were flying that day had a tail #42-109871. I would like to list his flight crew flying with him that day on January 22, 1945, as follows: 2nd Lt. Paul E. Vinroot Co-Pilot 1st Lt. Randolph H. Ball Navigator 2nd Lt. Richard J. Meagher Bombadier Technical Sgt. William H. Mashaw Engineer Technical Sgt. John Slawsky Radio Operator Staff Sgt. Joseph R. Hyson Radar S. Sgt. Arthur T. Maloney Gunner S. Sgt. William J. Farrell Tail Gunner Captain Pratte and his crew are memorialized in Honolulu, Hawaii on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. I would also like to say it is with pride that my Uncle Charles was bestowed the medals: Distinguished Flying Cross Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters Purple Heart I am writing this tribute, not only to honor my Uncle Charles, but to honor his crew and the many, many others who fought in this war (including my Dad, a Purple Heart veteran from the U.S. Army). What sacrifices have been made by so many. My true heartfelt thanks to all who served and some, like my uncle, who lost their lives and never came home again. In addition, I would also like to note that Lt. Pratte (later Captain) is mentioned in many books written both at the time of the War of his courageous brakeless landing of the Belle of Texas, as well as one book written recently in 2011, which tells of the many men with whom he served. These books and articles are: "Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific" by Phil Scearce, 2011 "One Damn Island After Another" by Clive Howard, Joe Whitley, 1946 “World War II in the Air -- The Pacific” by Major James F. Sunderman, USAF, 1946 Brief Magazine (magazine of the 7th AAF during WWII), one particular issue: Vol. 1, No. 20, April 18, 1944, which includes an interview article with my Uncle Charles following his air battle and heroic, brakeless landing the B-24, the Belle of Texas. There is still another newspaper article found online written in The Post-Star, of Glens Falls, NY on March 9, 1944, of the Belle of Texas landing. “Hale’s Handful ... Up from the Ashes -- The Forging of the Seventh Air Force from the Ashes of Pearl Harbor to the Triumph of VJ-Day” written by Peter S. H. Ellis, Major, USAF, July 2002. (This can be found online.) His Niece, Rita D. (Pratte) Alderson
Tail Gunner Staff Sgt. William J. Farrell of Little Falls, New York Holder of the Distinquished Flying Cross for extraordinary heroism against the enemy with 3 bronze oak leafs clusters awarded Posthumously Sgt Farrell plane a B-24 Heavy Bomber Liberator Tail markings 42-109871 that went down with all the crew including Capt. Charles F. Pratte of Warren, R.I. , Tech. Sgt William H. Mashaw, Lyons Falls, New York,, 2nd Lt Paul Vinroot co-pilot, 1st. Lt. Randolph H. Ball Navigator, 2nd Lt. Richard J. Meagher Bombadier, Tech. Sgt. John Slawsky Radio Operrator, Staff Sgt, Joseph R. Hyson Radar, Staff Sgt. Arthur T. Maloney Gunner and Sgt's Farrell tail gunner and mashaw, engineer, on a mining laying mission they crashed their plane into the cliffs of Chichi Jima an island in the Gilbert Chain, there original plane was known as the Belle of Texas and had flew many missions.