AP Was There: US crewmen shot down by Soviets arrive home

Apr 1, 2023, 5:20 AM

FILE - This July 15, 1955, photo shows plane commander Lt. R.H. Fischer, right, and co-pilot Lt. J/...

FILE - This July 15, 1955, photo shows plane commander Lt. R.H. Fischer, right, and co-pilot Lt. J/G D.M. Lockhart, in Kodiak, Alaska, after their Navy Neptune plane was shot down over the Bering Strait by Russian MiGs, June 22, 1955. Several crew members were injured but all 11 survived the crash landing on Alaska's St. Lawrence Island and were rescued by Siberian Yupik Eskimos living on the island, all of whom happened to be members of the Alaska National Guard. (AP Photo,File)

(AP Photo,File)

OAKLAND, California (AP) — Editor’s Note: Sixteen Alaska Native men were honored this week for rescuing the crew of a U.S. Navy patrol plane shot down over the Bering Strait by Soviet fighter jets nearly 70 years ago. With that belated honor, The Associated Press is republishing its story filed July 3, 1955, from Oakland, California, detailing the arrival of seven of the injured Navy crew members.


In cheerful spirits, despite wounds, burns and bandages, seven U.S. fliers whose Navy patrol plane was shot down June 22 by Russian jet fighters over the Bering Sea arrived here today from Anchorage, Alaska.

A huddled group of families and friends watched at Alameda Naval Air Station as the seven stretchers were eased out of their hospital plane shortly before 3 a.m. A woman burst into tears.

She was Mrs. Nellie Janke of Alameda, who had caught sight of her husband, chief electronics technician Elmer R. Janke, swathed heavily in bandages. She rushed forward to greet him.

Aviation machinist mate Thaddeus Maziarz of Oakland propped himself up to greet his wife, Ruth, and 6-year-old daughter Carol, and then gaze long and happily for the first time at his son and namesake, Thad Jr., 5 weeks old

And aviation ordnanceman Martin E. Berg of Alameda, despite hands made clumsy and awkward with bandages, clasped his wife in a hard embrace.

The other arrivals, whose families lived too far way to come, are Ens. David G. Assard, Terryville, Conn.; aviation technician Edward Benko, Chicago; airman technician Charles W. Shields, Clawson, Mich., and aviation ordnanceman Donald E. Sonnek, Minnesota Lake, Minn.

Then the group, part of the 11 whose misadventure in northern seas touched off a diplomatic storm while the United Nations was in session at San Francisco, were loaded onto an ambulance bus for the 10-mile ride to Oak Knoll Hospital in the Oakland foothills.

Ensign Assard talked briefly to newsmen about the details of the unprovoked attack on the Neptune patrol plane flying out of Kodiak Naval Station over international waters between Alaska and Siberia. The U.S. plane managed a forced landing on St. Lawrence Island.

“There were two MiGs that attacked us,” said Assard. “We know there were two because Sonnek saw them both.

“All of a sudden, I saw bullets. They sprayed the whole fuselage of our plane. Every tracer bullet I saw was hitting something. Three of the crew members got hit. We didn’t get a chance to fire back although we had ammunition aboard.

“Our port engine caught fire and Lt. Fischer (Richard H. Fischer of Pittsburgh, Pa., the pilot) said we had to ditch.

“When we landed on St. Lawrence Island the bomb bay exploded and that’s when we got burned. The crew was wonderful. We all got out and headed for a gully. Lt. Fischer tried to help us, tending to our wounds.

“After about 45 minutes, some Eskimos came after us in a boat from a nearby village. They said they had seen our plane coming in low with smoke coming from it and knew we were in trouble.”

Capt. Louis King, the Air Force physician who accompanied the men on the flight from Anchorage, said the men stood the trip well and all are in “good condition.”

The Russians, through foreign minister V.M. Molotov, expressed regret at the incident and offered to pay half the damges. This fell short of American demands.

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AP Was There: US crewmen shot down by Soviets arrive home