Benko and The Goon

(U.S. Air Force Number 53334AC). National Archives Identifier 204829567.

Official caption:

Chengkung, China, copied 8/8/44 308th B.G. The crew of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Goon”. Left to right, back row: T/Sgt. Archie L. Fleharty, Cozad Neb; Capt. Samuel J. Skousen, Thatcher, Ariz; T/Sgt. Robert M. Kirk, Alpha, Ill; T/Sgt. Arthur J. Benko, Bisbee, Ariz; (now missing in action) S/Sgt Casper J. Chirielseisen, Washington D.C.; and T/Sgt. William Novak, Pueblo, Colo. Left to right, front row: 1st LT Malcolm S. Sanders, Madison, Wisc.,(now missing in action); 1st LT Daniel J. Palmer; 1st LT Ralph E. Bower, Columbia, S.C.; Capt. James J. Lichtenfels, Cincinnatti, Ohio; Maj. Robert F. Burnett, Buttonwillow, Calif.

Although the above is dated 1944, it was taken in late 1943. Goon was B-24D-20-CO Liberator s/n 41-24183
374th BS, 308th BG, 14th AF. The bomber was a functional loss on 14 November 1943 after a mission to bomb Hong Kong from 14th Air Force/KMT bases in Eastern China. Three of the crew stayed with the plane and managed to get it to the base at Kweilin, China. Five of the seven who bailed out were returned to duty and two were listed as missing (Sanders, Goon’s Bombardier, and Benko, Gunner/Asst. Engineer) were killed.

Pulled from bombing duties and disarmed, Goon was later used by the 1330th Army Air Force Base Unit as a transport in the CBI but was later lost in an accident in 1946, taking her four-man crew down with her into the Philippine Sea.

Of note, T/Sgt. Benko, was the highest USAAF gunnery “ace,” being credited with swatting no less than 16 Japanese aircraft out of the sky with his twin 50s including 7 of 29 Japanese Zeros in an aerial duel over Haiphong, on Halloween 1943.

The plane, along with Benko, was made famous in a January 1944 National Geographic, although at the time he was most likely already passed.

As detailed in Chennault’s Forgotten Warriors

An item of pride for the 308th was having the top gunner in all the air forces during World War II.   He was T/Sgt Arthur J. Benko of Bisbee, Arizona. A full-blooded Indian, he was Arizona skeet and rifle champion in 1939-40. He was a top turret gunner on the Goon.”
 
“Art belted his own ammunition, removing all tracers. He did this for two reasons; (1) He didn’t want the enemy to know he was being shot at; (2) tracer fire gave a false trajectory by losing weight as it burns in flight.”
 
“There was some skepticism at group headquarters as Benko’s score mounted so they sent an intelligence officer on one mission. Art sent seven Japs down that day and made a believer out of the officer.”
 
“Art’s record stood at 16 confirmed victories. Then homeward bound from a Hong Kong mission with one engine out and one faltering, the pilot, Sam Skousen, hit the bailout button so that maybe the plane could clear a mountain range. Benko and Lt. Malcolm S. Sanders landed on the Jap side of the river and were captured. Later, a Catholic missionary sent the Air Force photographs of their crucifixion.”

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