Honor your hero with thoughts, memories, images and stories.
The name of Sergeant Philip Howell Childs, US Army Air Forces can be found on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.
Philip Childs was born on February 7th, 1919 to Benjamin Terrell Childs (1899 – 1987) and Ada Oxsheer Childs (1899 – 1965). His father was born in the state of Georgia and mother in Shelby County, Texas. His brother John Franklin Childs (1917 - 1999) was two years older, born in Timpson, Texas and graduated from THS with the class of 1934. Sister Sophia (1921 - ) was two years younger and also born in Timpson, Texas. Philip graduated from Timpson High School in 1938 and joined the Army Air Forces the next year, 1939 at the age of 20.
He trained as a gunner and was assigned to the 8th Bomber Squadron of the 3rd Bomber Group. He spent time at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, Savannah Air Base, Georgia then overseas to Charter Towers in Australia and finally to Port Moresby, New Guinea where he flew with West Point Graduate First Lieutenant Virgil A. Schwab as the backseat gunner on an A-24 Attack Dive Bomber.
On July 29, 1942 in what has been called “Disaster in New Guinea” eight A-24’s of the 3rd Bomb Group took off on a combat mission to bomb Japanese transports 20 miles north of Gona. Lieutenant Schwab and Sergeant Childs flying aircraft # 41-15819 were a part of this mission. The Requiem for “The Last Survivor” found on the Home of Heroes tells of the events that happened that day.
“Seven aging U.S. Army A-24 dive bombers nosed neatly down in formation on the north side of New Guinea's Owen Stanley Range to break out of the heavy clouds. Ahead of them sparkled the blue-green waters of the Solomon Sea. From his position as flight leader, Captain Floyd Buck Rogers scanned the clearing skies for any sign of the American P-39s that had been tasked with covering his seven strafer/bombers on today's mission. Somehow, in the clouds that covered the high mountains that split the Papuan peninsula, Major Tommy Lynch's fighter escort had become separated from the A-24 flight. It was time to make a critical decision.
Captain Rogers was commander of the 8th Squadron of the 3d Bombardment Group, and had been well briefed on his target. A Japanese convoy had been sighted moving towards Buna to reinforce the enemy garrison that was already dealing death to the valiant but battle-weary Australian forces. To prevent these additional Japanese infantrymen from landing, Rogers had been ordered to take his eight A-24s, the last serviceable such aircraft in New Guinea, to intercept the convoy. One of the eight had been forced to return home shortly after take-off, leaving only seven dive bombers to rendezvous with their fighter escort from the 35th Squadron. It was not unusual. The few American aircraft still flying in the Southwest Pacific were all showing the strain of relentless days of combat against an overwhelming and well-supplied enemy air force. Battle-damage alone made it all too common for any flight to be quickly pared down, more as a result of equipment failure than as a result of enemy combat. Matters were even worse for the men who flew A-24s.
The A-24 Dauntless was the Army Air Force's version of the Navy's SBD (Slow But Deadly), a dive bomber with lethal capabilities but a very slow air speed and limited range. The Dauntless was lightly armed and carried a two-man crew: pilot and gunner, the latter defending his aircraft by manning a 30-caliber machine gun from a standing position behind the pilot. Originally developed as a counterpart to Germany's Stuka dive-bombers for service in Europe, ironically 54 of the initial 78 A-24s were sent to fight Japanese shipping in the Pacific instead. By the summer of 1942 the slow-moving, lightly armed, 2-man dive bombers were both obsolete and nearly extinct.
Without protective fighter cover, Captain Roger's formation would be at the mercy of enemy Zero’s. The squadron commander had every reason, and every right, to abort and return to Port Moresby for the sake of the thirteen men flying with him. When weighed against the cost for the men in the jungle below him if the enemy troop convoys proceed unmolested, it presented the veteran officer with a difficult decision. Such is the burden of command.
In the distance fifty miles from Buna, small blotches came into focus across the swells of the Solomon Sea. The enemy convoy, target for the mission, quickly morphed from a distant speck on the water into a distinguishable convoy of six troop transports and two escorting warships. Captain Rogers made his decision and wagged his wings to signal his following pilots to prepare for battle.
Diving at near water-level into the enemy guns, Captain Rogers felt his own airplane begin to shudder when his gunner, Sergeant Robert Nichols, opened up with the 30-caliber machine guns from his position behind the pilot. Two dozen Japanese Zero’s tore through the 8th Squadron formation like sharks in a frenzy, chewing the old A-24s into shreds. In a flash of fire Captain Rogers' lead dive bomber rolled over and plunged into the sea. He and Sergeant Nichols were the first casualties in what would become the darkest day in 8th Squadron history.
First Lieutenant Virgil Schwab dove on another vessel and felt his dive-bomber coming apart, as no longer capable of flight, it careened into the sea to forever claim his body and that of Sergeant Philip Childs, his gunner. Two more A-24s erupted and Lieutenants Robert Cassels and Claude Dean went down along with their gunners, Sergeants Loree LeBoeuf and Alan LaRocque. The Japanese ship Kotoku Maru was hit once by the second wave forcing its troops to unload and leave its cargo undelivered.
Of the seven aircraft that had crossed the Owen Stanley Range less than an hour earlier on a mission to turn back the enemy convoy, only one badly-damaged Dauntless returned to Port Moresby. When at last it landed there was no celebration. Of fourteen men who began that fateful mission, Lieutenant Raymond Wilkins and his gunner Sergeant Al Clark were the only survivors.
Lieutenant Schwab and Sergeant Childs were listed as missing in action until December 1st, 1945 when they were officially declared dead. Both earned a Silver Star not for this mission but for prior missions against Lae, Papua New Guinea during April 7 – 13th, 1942. For this day they would be awarded the Purple Heart (posthumously). I have been unable to find information on the Silver Star mission.
I located Philip’s cousin, Gus Childs who lives in Timpson. Gus and I met at his home on Saturday, April 6th, 2013 and had a nice conversation about his close friend and relative. Gus said they both joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 and went to basic training at then Barksdale Field. Both were together for about the first year of service. Gus became a flight engineer and Philip a gunner. He remembers both returning home in 1940 on furlough riding brand new Harley Davidson motorcycles that they rode all over the country. There was one other time after that they came home together on their Harley’s and that was to be the last time they saw each other. Gus recalls being in North Africa and receiving a letter back that he had written to Philip while in England. It simply said, “Missing in Action”. A month or two later he was camped out in pup tents when someone called out “Gus Childs, you have a Childs here to see you down at operations”. Gus immediately thought about Philip who was MIA and wondered how he would ever get to North Africa. It turned out to be Earl Childs who was a distant relative. While he enjoyed seeing Earl, Gus admitted it was a disappointment that it was not Philip.
Gus also had a couple of letters that Philip had written him. One was on Christmas Day, 1939 and the other was dated January 21st, 1940. Keep in mind that World War II had not yet begun so it was mainly idle chit chat between friends. His Christmas letter asked if Santa had stopped by and did Gus have a good dinner because he did as he was home on furlough. Philip said he was in training with the 8th Bombardment Group and liked it. He apologized for not having written soon and since it was raining in Timpson he hadn’t had a chance to go squirrel hunting. It was signed Happy New Year.
Philip’s letter of January 21st was a short one saying he was OK and hoping Gus was also with not much going on. He inquired if Gus’ school work was very hard and thought he would go to the show tonight. He signed it Good Luck.
These letters were not full of exciting news, just keeping in touch. A few other things jump out at me however; they were handwritten, started with “Dear”, not one complaint, not one obscene word, inquiries into the others state of being and in general just nice.
Gus Childs went on to have a distinguished career in the United States Air Force retiring in 1961 in the top enlisted rank of Chief Master Sergeant. He said he reluctantly gave up motorcycles as his wife Margie didn’t care for them and he thought more of her than anything. Gus ended our interview by saying “the Lord has surrounded me all my life with good people”. I left his home knowing that I had just met a very good person and that we had talked about and remembered another good person who loved to ride Harley’s and gave his life for his country at the age of 23.
References: Military Times Hall of Valor; 3rd Attack Group.org; Shelby County Historical Society; Pacific Wrecks.com; Home of Heroes.com; American Battle Monuments Commission.gov; Ancestry.com; CMSgt (Ret) Gus Childs; David Pike.