Following the wonderful and touching news of the recovery and burial of PFC Manley F. Winkley, decades after his death on Tarawa, comes the announcement via the DMPO that two more Marines have been identified – nearly seventy years to the day after their Dauntless dive-bomber crashed into a tiny island near Espiritu Santo.
Henry Sedric White, born around 1919 in Arcadia, Louisiana, had enlisted in 1941 and earned his wings as a dive-bomber pilot. He left the United States in December, 1942 as assistant flight officer of VMSB-233, and was introduced to combat flying out of Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field as a member of the Cactus Air Force. White began flying aerology and reconnaissance missions along with the occasional attack in January, 1943; he had a close call on April 6 when Japanese antiaircraft shot his bomber from the sky over Rendova. White and his gunner, Staff Sergeant Warren Sanders, had quite an adventure returning to their squadron.
Excerpt from the war diary of VMSB-233, April 1943.
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After completing his first tour of duty, Lieutenant White was transferred to VMSB-141.
Thomas LeRoy Meek was one of the older members of the squadron, born around the year 1913 in Kansas City, Missouri. He joined the Corps in May, 1941 and trained as an aircraft mechanic before the war began; while stationed on Oahu with VMSB-232, he was reclassified as an aerial gunner. Like White, he saw his first tour of duty with VMSB-233, rising to the rank of staff sergeant before joining VMSB-141 in late spring of 1943.
On July 21, 1943, White and Meek were assigned to take SBD-4 06969 on a night training flight. Henry White in particular had a good day; his promotion to captain had been approved just hours before. Theirs was one of four such flights scheduled for the evening, and as their SBD rumbled down the Fighter One airstrip at Espiritu Santo and took to the sky, nothing seemed amiss.
A few minutes later, there was an explosion and gout of flame visible on Aessi Island, just a few thousand yards from the end of the airstrip. Captain White, believed to be suffering from vertigo, had lost the horizon and slammed the bomber into the ground. He and SSgt Meek were killed instantly; the plane was totally destroyed.
War Diary of VMSB-141, July 21, 1943.
The following day, an expedition located the crash site, and the remains of White and Meek. The men were buried at the site of the crash, which was recorded at 167° 13’ longitude, 15° 24’ latitude.
Muster roll of VMSB-141, July 1943.
On July 3, 2013, the remains of the to Marines were recovered. The DMPO has announced that Henry White and Thomas Meek will be buried together in Arlington National Cemetery, at a date as yet undisclosed.