Veterans Day presentation connects Park City to Pearl Harbor and the rescue of General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines |

Veterans Day presentation connects Park City to Pearl Harbor and the rescue of General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines

Lecture is free, but registration is required

This B-18 crashed into Iron Mountain in Park City on Nov. 17, 1941. Historians David Nicholas and Steve Leatham will recount the crash and discuss the connection between the men who investigated the accident and Pearl Harbor and the rescuing of General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines during World War II.
Courtesy of David Nicholas and Steve Leatham

Historians David Nicholas and Steve Leatham plan to pay tribute on Veterans Day to those who have served the country in the armed forces and bring to light a few Park City connections to Pearl Harbor.

They will do that during a free Park City Museum lecture that will start at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Park City Museum and Education Center.

The in-person discussion will briefly touch on the duo’s past discussion concerning the crash of a B-18 Air Corps bomber on Nov. 17, 1941, here at Iron Mountain. They will add to the story with new information that ties Park City to Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese air assault on Pearl Harbor.

“When the B-18 crashed, there were three officers from the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron at Fort Douglas, who were assigned to investigate the crash,” Leatham said.

At that time, the three men — Harold N. Chaffin, Frank P. Bostrom and David G. Rawls, all 1st Lieutenants and top-notch pilots — were part of a team that was getting ready to move some B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers, hot off the line from Boeing, from Hamilton Field in California to Hawaii, according to Leatham

“From there they were going to move them to the Philippines, because President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the Japanese would probably attack the Philippines before any other place,” he said. “So it was a surprise when the attack was on Pearl Harbor.”

The three piloted three of 13 unarmed B-17s that took off from California, Leatham said.

Lt. Mabry Simmons was the co-pilot of the B-18 that crashed into Iron Mountain on Nov. 17, 1941. He survived the crash and went on to fly one of 12 B-17s that arrived at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. 1941, in the middle of the Japanese air attack.
Courtesy of Steve Leatham

“Chaffin’s co-pilot was Lt. Mabry Simmons, co-pilot and survivor of the Iron Mountain crash,” he said.

Upon takeoff, one of the 13 B-17s turned back, leaving the other 12 to continue the 14-hour flight to Hawaii.

“As fate would have it, those B-17s arrived at Pearl Harbor at the exact same time of the Japanese attack, and as the B-17s came into Oahu, the radar operator on the ground picked up some blips, and thought they were the B-17s, but what he actually saw turned out to be 350 Japanese fighters and bombers.”

As the B-17s approached Pearl Harbor, the attacking Japanese fighters flew out to engage them in battle, according to Leatham.

“The B-17 pilots thought the Japanese were American pilots coming out to welcome them, but then found themselves in the middle of a fight,” he said. “Through courage, daring maneuvers and luck, most of the B-17s were able to get through the Japanese attack and friendly fire from the ground that was aiming for the Japanese planes.”

Two of the 12 B-17s were damaged beyond repair, with one destroyed upon landing, but 10 landed safely, Leatham said.

“The three pilots that were part of the Park City crash investigation were among the ones who were able to get their planes down,” he said. “They were all supposed to wind up at Hickam Field, but they were chased and came down in three different spots.”

One landed at Kahuku Golf Course on the North Shore, while one landed in a small airfield in Haleiwa, Leatham said.

“The last of the three was the only one to land at Hickam Field,” he said.

After the attack, the military conducted an assessment of the B-17s and repairs were made, but they were not able to fly to the Philippines, due to a Japanese attack 10 hours after Pearl Harbor, according to Leatham.

“So the B-17s were redirected to Australia,” he said.

General Douglas MacArthur was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked, and Roosevelt ordered him and his crew to evacuate Corregidor, one of the Philippine Islands.

MacArthur and his staff left by boat and traveled 560 miles to Mindanao, another Philippine Island, where they were met by Chaffin and Bostrom, who flew them to Australia in one of the B-17s. Leatham said.

“Bostrom flew MacArthur and his family out, and Chaffin flew MacArthur’s staff,” he said. “The more research we did with the Iron Mountain crash, the more we found regarding these three pilots who started as crash investigators.”

The Veterans Day presentation will also tell the story of Steve Marinich, a Park City High School football hero who was killed during the Pearl Harbor attack, Leatham said.

“Steve’s father, Victor, had come to the United States from Croatia in 1934, and worked as a miner at the Daly Judge,” he said. “He had left his two sons, John and Steve, with his wife’s family in Croatia, and when the wife died, he sent for them.”

The two boys attended Park City High School and made their name playing football, while the Park City locals took them under their wings, according to Leatham.

“They were a little older than regular high school students,” he said. “Steve was 19 when he was a junior in 1940, and he decided to leave school to join the Navy.”

Steve Marinich was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona in September 1940, where he served for a year as it patrolled the waters along the West Coast and between Hawaii and the mainland, Leatham said.

“Steve was on board the U.S.S. Arizona when it was destroyed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,” he said. “His body and the bodies of 1,175 others, are entombed in the remains of the ship in the harbor.”

All of this information wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for Nicholas’ work in tracking down the Iron Mountain crash report, Leatham said.

“This all started back five years when David and I started to investigate the B-18 bomber crash,” he said. “Each year we do a little bit more research and find some new information.”

Obtaining the crash records was a life-changing experience for both Nicholas and Leatham when they were first researching the crash.

“I had driven down to Fort Douglas, to get some information about the plane, but my little heart was broken, because the gentleman I met said all the records they had about that period of time were moved to a facility in Kansas City that caught on fire and burned up.”

The guy then gave Nicholas a manual that listed all the resources in the U.S. Air Force today, and said, “good luck,” according to Nicholas.

“I started dialing for dollars all over the country, and finally got connected to a woman who said ‘I’ll try to help you, but you have to understand that this is classified information,’” he said.

The next day, Nicholas and Leatham receive an encrypted action report, with the keys to decrypt it.

“Steve and I refer to that report as our Holy Grail,” Nicholas said. “That led us to the flight’s crew, flight plan and the issues related to the crash. And that has provided a wealth of information that we continue to mine to this day.”

Veterans Day Lecture by Steve Leatham and David Nicholas

When: 5 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 11

Where: Park City Museum Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive

Cost: Free, but registration is required

Phone: 435-574-9554.



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