Donald Harold Wilson

1933 - 1952

Air Force
Korean War

Their Story

Donald Harold Wilson was born on July 25, 1933, in Coal Valley, Illinois, to William “John” and Nellie (Johnson) Wilson. His father was a foreman/laborer in the construction field. He was also a farmer most of his life. Donald had a younger brother, John William, who went by Bill. During the 1940 Census, the family still resided in Coal Valley, Illinois.[1]  They moved to Hillsdale, Illinois, in 1947.

Donald and his father and brother showed Brown Swiss Bulls from their dairy farm in competitions. John Wilson, along with Clara Cleaveland, purchased a bull, named Foxwood’s Boy, in June 1947.[2] Brown Swiss Bulls can weigh almost 2,000 pounds and have a docile disposition.[3] One show they participated in was the Canton #3 Show in Princeton in June of 1948. They lost the championship to a bull named Laird of Maryland.[4] The Canton included nine counties in the area.  John Wilson purchased another Brown Swiss Bull, Broadview Roy, from Clara’s estate after she died,[5] and another, Peggy’s Rainbow, in 1951.

During the 1950 Census the family lived in Zuma Township, Rock Island County, Illinois. Donald was 16 and working as farm help, presumably on his father’s dairy farm.[6] He attended Hillsdale High School and played on the Hillsdale Purple Pirates basketball team.[7]  He also played on the football team.[8] He graduated from Hillsdale High School in 1951.[9]

On June 19, 1951, Donald, along with five other men, left the Rock Island Army recruiting station for Chicago for final tests prior to enlistment, all air force candidates.[10] In August of 1951, Donald was promoted to Private First Class and was assigned to Lowery Field, Denver, for training as a turret system mechanic in the Air Force. He had completed his basic training at Sampson field.[11]

In August of 1952, Donald was home on furlough before leaving for overseas duty in early September 1952. Less than two months later, he would be dead – killed when the aircraft he was in crashed into the East China Sea.[12]

Group photo

Donald was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bomber Group, and was based at Kadena AF Base, Okinawa. Airman Second Class Wilson was a right gunner and crew member of a B-29A Superfortress Bomber, nicknamed Lubricating Lady. On October 31, 1952, the Squad participated in a mission, the fourth mission for the Lubricating Lady. They flew strategic bombing missions over North Korea.[13] On this day, when the aircraft was returning from the mission over Korea and was about 110 miles from Kadena, it developed engine trouble and crashed into the ocean. Eleven of the fourteen crew members were lost.[14]

During flight, the plane lost three engines and was ditched nine miles northwest of Kadena Air Base.  There were only three survivors. There was an extensive search and rescue mission.[15] Its crew on October 31, 1952, included:

Capt. Donald Lester Adams – MIA

2Lt. Michael Bochnovic, navigator – MIA

1Lt. Gordon Nowell Froisness – MIA

Capt. Robert Gordon Harvey – MIA

2Lt. John Henry Haun – bombardier – MIA

A2c Robert Q. Hopkins – MIA

Lt. James E. Knox – spare bombardier – rescued

Edward B. LeMaster – radio operator – rescued

1Lt. Robert Francis Phalen – MIA

A2c Harry Thomas Jr. Peoples – MIA

Charles H. Rees, Sr. – top gunner – rescued

A1c Jimmy Carter Sides – KIA

MSgt. Marvin Elwood Sleppy – MIA

A2 Donald H. Wilson – MIA [16] 

Donald’s body was never recovered.[17] He was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal, and Republic of Korea War Service Medal. 

Plaque at cemetery for those MIA

It wasn’t until 50 years after his death that Donald was awarded the Air Medal posthumously, after two of the surviving crew members and Frank “Bud” Farrell, who had flown the Lubricating Lady the flight before its last, petitioned to have him honored. Donald’s brother, Bill, and sister-in-law, Judy, had applied to Congressman Lane Evan’s office for the Distinguished Flying Cross, with the help of the three veterans, but the Air Medal was what was awarded as it was for heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy, a fitting award and one the veterans and brother Bill were happy about.[18] It had been determined that two of the survivors lived to tell the story because Donald Wilson sacrificed himself to save them and attempted to save others. See story at bottom of this page.

Bill and Judy Wilson accepted the Airman’s Medal on September 13, 2003, in Hillsdale, presented to them by George Michaels, President of the 19th Bombardment Group Association.

Airman 1st Class David Martin from Shoshoni, Wyoming, wrote in 2012 for the Korean War Project that he served with the 93rd Bombardment Squadron for a couple months and his “crew was assigned to the yet unnamed Lubricating Lady in the early summer of 1952. After a few bombing missions, oil slicks were noticed from all 4 engines. It was at this time that Lt. Idylson from Walnut Creek, California, named her the Lubricating Lady. From then on it was routine for the Lady and the ground crew as well.” David Martin went on to tell a story about issues with malfunctioning bomb bay doors on the Lady during flight. They had to salvo the bombs with the door closed causing the doors to be blown apart and hanging by hinges causing major issues for the Lady and the crew. His tour ended prior to the crash of October 31.[19]

On that same site, the Korean War Project, Charles H. (Chuck) Rees, one of the three survivors of the crash that killed Donald, wrote on May 1, 2003, “This aircraft is at the bottom of the E. China Sea. I was a B-29 Top Gunner returning from North Korea, lost 3 engines and ditched 9 miles from Okinawa, Kadena AFB. Oct.31, 1952. Only 3 survived the two-hour ordeal in the ocean, during one of Okinawa’s famous typhoons. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital and then went back to flying more combat missions, no, I’m not a hero, I had no choice! but everything worked out okay. I’m married, 5 kids, 14 grandchildren and 1 Great-grand -daughter. A night I shall never forget (OCT. 31, 1952).”[20]

Edward LeMaster, known as Ebbie, another one of the three survivors, was a radio operator on board the bomber. He described to his mother in letters what happened, telling her the plane had lost two engines and dropped from about 8,000 feet down to 500 feet.  “… and then the plane seemed to straighten out and was doing pretty good on the remaining two engines. I was pretty busy for the next few minutes trying to get a distress message out, so I cannot say how long we remained at that altitude before the third engine went out. The old gal seemed to shudder all over at that time, so I stood up and braced myself on one of the gun turrets just before Capt. Harvey rang the alarm bell and said we were going to ditch. The tail seemed to drag for a minute, and then we crashed in the water, nose down with a terrific impact. Air/Sea Rescue saw us going down and said we hit a twenty-foot wave head-on. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the top of the plane, and one of the gunners was yelling at me to jump.”[21]  Ebbie was rescued and spent time in a hospital recovering from his injuries. His family later compiled his letters from Korea into a book: Love, Ebbie: Edward LeMaster’s Korean War Letters.

Chuck Rees and Ebbie LeMaster were awarded the Airman’s Medal in 1997.[22]

By the time the Korean War drew to a close in 1953, the 19th had lost 91 crewmembers and 20 B-29’s during Korean operations.[23]

The Korean War (1950-1953) claimed the lives of more than 2.5 million Koreans and soldiers from nearly 30 countries that were involved. More than 36,000 American names from each state and territory are engraved on The Wall of Remembrance at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea, including Donald Harold Wilson’s.[24]

The following is an accounting of what happened on October 31, 1952, pieced together from first-hand knowledge, official reports, and conversations with two of the crash survivors, written by Frank “Bud” Farrell. The entirety of what he wrote can be found here with updates as he gained additional information. Included on this site are photographs of Donald and other crew members, photographs of the damaged aircraft, news clippings, copies of letters, diagram of standard ditching procedures, and a Sketch of Ditching by Chuck Rees:

In April 1999, I received a detailed crash report regarding the loss of # 751, most of Captain Harvey’s crew, and three of Lt. Taylor’s crew on their first orientation flight, and I have had a great deal of difficulty thinking of their loss and whether I should write anything about this … but there is bravery and courage … and heroics here that we should remember and that you should know about!

On their return from the mission, Captain Harvey experienced major mechanical failures, apparently due to fuel starvation from a failure of the fuel transfer system, and he feathered 2 engines (rotating prop blade edges into the wind in order to prevent windmilling of the propellers turning at high speed and creating drag) of the two outboard engines, # 1 and # 4. An EMPTY B-29 could fly on the two inboard engines and of course upon return from a mission all bomb load was gone and nearly all fuel expended. A B-29 could generally NOT fly on ONE engine without having substantial altitude to give up in maintaining airspeed … and, at an already low emergency approach altitude, they lost # 3 and were forced to ditch almost immediately. Their having contacted Kadena Control, and declaring an emergency with just two engines down, brought an SB-29 “Dumbo” Rescue plane out, with lifeboat, to escort them before they lost # 3. In addition to their SB-29 escort there was an SA -16 Albatross Amphibian rescue plane in sight upon their ditching. The crew had been alerted to prepare for ditching at approximately 2350 hours- 10 minutes before midnight – dropping rapidly from approximately 6,000 feet altitude.

Upon ditching into the incredibly heavy 10 to 20 foot seas that I had just moments before remarked to Rex about, their ship – just a few miles offshore – hit a great wall of water and broke up immediately. The Extra Bombardier, 1st Lt. James Knox , was apparently thrown from or through the nose of the breaking-up aircraft, pulled the CO2 release valves on his Mae West, and found himself about 100 feet away from the ditched wreckage in the very dark and rough midnight sea! To recover greater buoyancy in the extremely rough seas, he removed his combat boots and flight fatigue coverall pocket contents. Efforts to fire a rescue flare failed and he remained adrift for approximately 1 -1/2 hours until a helicopter spotted him in search lights and directed a crash boat to him.

The Radio Operator, Airman 1st Class Ed LeMaster, and the CFC, Airman 2nd Class Chuck Rees, escaped the sinking ship through the Astrodome on the top of the fuselage just above the forward mouth of the tunnel and the bulkhead door to the front bomb bay. Both of these men apparently found a helping hand reaching into the aircraft for them … the arm and hand of their Right Gunner, Airman 2nd Class Donald H. Wilson. Chuck Rees had had his foot pinned by a falling Loran set dislodged on impact and was completely underwater when he felt a hand groping through the dark water and latching onto him from above … and literally helping to tug him loose and out of the aircraft. Chuck Rees was washed off the aircraft fuselage by heavy seas and LeMaster jumped into the ocean to clear the sinking wreckage and both inflated their Mae West’s without difficulty and turned on the attached flashlights.

Shortly after, Radio Operator LeMaster shot off a rescue flare which was spotted by a helicopter, guiding the pickup made by an Air/Sea Rescue Crash Boat. Right Gunner Donald Wilson, perhaps the first safely out of the ship, their heroic and unselfish rescuing Angel, was never found … his empty Mae West supposedly recovered, virtually impossible to have slipped off him … and there were rumors – incorrect – that Wilson couldn’t swim and that the heavy seas had taken him from his moment of joy and glory in the rescue of his crewmates.

Search all night and the following day was unsuccessful in finding additional survivors. The complete 141 foot wing of # 751, from wingtip to wingtip, floated onto the beach in Naha Harbor, indicating such a catastrophic impact that all engines and nacelles were gone, looking as if they had been unbolted from the wing engine mounts. A modest amount of debris … and ONE Mae West were found![25]

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Francis Patrick Farrell (Bud) died November 2, 2009.

Capt. Robert Harvey, the pilot of the Lubricating Lady who was also MIA on October 31, would never meet the son his wife gave birth to on that very day.


[1] 1940 United States Federal Census –

[2] 02 Jul 1947, 17 – The Dispatch at

[3] Brown Swiss Association > Breed > Brown Swiss Breed (

[4] 15 Jun 1948, 16 – The Dispatch at

[5] 23 Jan 1951, 18 – The Rock Island Argus at

[6] 1950 United States Federal Census –

[7] Hillsdale Squad Ready for Tourney, The Dispatch, Moline, IL, 14 Jan 1950, p. 15

[8] 03 Nov 1949, 27 – The Dispatch at

[9] The Dispatch (Moline, IL) 8 Nov 1952, p15, downloaded July 2, 2022 – Don Wilson, Hillsdale B-29 Gunner, Is Declared Dead

[10] The Dispatch (Moline, IL) – 19 Jun 1951, p.5, downloaded On Jul 2, 2022 – Six Men Leave Recruiting Station

[11] The Dispatch (Moline, IL) – 1 Sep 1951, p.10, downloaded on July 2, 2022 – Hillsdale Man to Go to Lowery Field

[12] NARA – AAD – Display Full Records – Korean War Extract Data File, as of April 29, 2008, 6/28/1950 – 3/10/1954 (

[13] 93rd Bomb Squadron | Military Wiki | Fandom

[14] A2C Donald Harold Wilson – Korean War Project

[15] Aircrew Remembered Korean War Database

[16] Korean War Educator: Topics – B-29s in Korea – Losses/Damage (B-29 aircraft & flight crews)* (

[17] Wilson, Donald Harold in Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Unaccounted-for Remains – Fold3

[18] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 30 Jul 2003, Wed · Page 4 Downloaded on Jul 3, 2022 – Korean War Hero Finally Honored

[19] 93rd Bomb Squadron – USAF – Korean War Project Page 1

[20] 93rd Bomb Squadron – USAF – Korean War Project Page 1

[21] Korean War letters reveal another side to Ponte Vedra Beach pioneer Ebbie LeMaster | The Ponte Vedra Recorder

[22] Halloween (

[23] 19th Bomb Group (

[24] Korean War Memorials – Wall of Remembrance

[25] Halloween (