In Honored Glory!
World War II Honor Roll

Donald G. Fanelli

Aviation Radioman, Third Class, U.S. Navy


Patrol Bombing Squadron VPB-104

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: May 19, 1945
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart

AVIATION RADIOMAN THIRD CLASS DONALD G. FANELLI was born in New Jersey in 1924 to Michael and Josephine Fanelli. When the census was taken in 1930, the Fanelli family had purchased a home on Atco Avenue in Atco, Waterford Township NJ. Michael Fanelli was working in a broom manufacturing mill.

Qualifying for flight duty after entering the Navy, Donald Fanelli served as a member of VPB-104, a United States Navy patrol bombing squadrons which flew the B-24 Liberator.  These bomber crews flew often alone on searches that extended 800 to 1,000 nautical miles across an empty and unforgiving ocean. When a crew was lost, more often than not, their fellow squadron members never knew what happened to them. VPB-104 was the only patrol squadron in WWII to receive two Presidential Unit Citations.

The book DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN NAVAL AVIATION SQUADRONS has the following history of VPB-104

6 Feb 1944: VB-104 was relocated from Guadalcanal to Munda field, New Georgia. Operational tasking was essentially the same as that assigned while at Carney Field. The squadron was relieved by VB-115 on 29 March 1944, for return to the U.S. for rest and rehabilitation. The squadron record at this time was 30 enemy aircraft destroyed or damaged, 51 ships sunk or damaged, with 1,252 sorties in a seven-month tour.

15 May 1944: The squadron was reformed at NAAS Kearney Field, Calif., under the operational control of FAW-14. A small cadre was present on this date, while the majority of personnel were at NAS Hutchinson, Kansas, undergoing operational flight training on the PB4Y-1. The latter completed this phase of training and reported to NAAS Kearney Field on 21 June 1944.

28 Jul 1944: VB-104 began the transpac to NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii. Upon arrival the squadron came under the operational control of FAW-2, and continued its combat patrol training over the waters encircling the Hawaiian Island chain. ASW training was introduced into the cirriculum during this phase.

30 Oct 1944: VPB-104 departed Kaneohe for Morotai, N.E.I. The last squadron aircraft arrived on 3 November 1944, with operational control over the squadron exercised by FAW-17. Upon commencement of operations the squadron was assigned search and offensive reconnaissance patrols, strike missions on enemy shipping, night patrols and special tracking missions.

11 Nov 1944: Lieutenant Maurice Hill and his crew were attacked by enemy fighters while on patrol between Leyte and Cebu. Hill’s crew was flying a PB4Y-1 called the “Frumious Bandersnatch,” from the Lewis Carroll novel Alice and the Looking Glass. It was equipped with a radar set in place of the customary belly turret. This lack of defensive armament was quickly noted by the Japanese fighter pilots, and the bomber was shot down near Pacijan Island. Filipino natives rescued the four survivors of the crash and tended their wounds until they could be rescued by a PT boat one week later. The villagers were later executed by the Japanese for giving assistance to the Americans.

1 Dec 1944: VPB-104 was relocated to the Army’s Tacloban Airfield, in the southern Philippines.

12 Dec 1944: Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class William E. Abbot was serving as first mechanic on a VPB-104 Liberator on patrol over northwest Borneo. The aircraft came under intense ground fire that penetrated the main bomb bay tank. AMM3C Abbot was able to transfer fuel from the leaking tank to the empty wing tanks, saving enough for the return flight to base. During the process, AMM3C Abbot was overcome by the high-octane fumes and fell to his death through the open bomb bay. For his selfless actions in giving his life to save his crewmates AMM3C Abbot was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

26 Dec 1944: Lieutenant Paul F. Stevens earned a Navy Cross for his actions on the night of 26 December. While on patrol Lieutenant Stevens spotted a Japanese task force en route to attack recently established U.S. bases on Mindoro, Philippines. His contact report gave the garrisons time to prepare for the attack and incoming shipping was diverted. After sending the report he attacked the largest ship in the group, believed to be a large cruiser or battleship, scoring two direct hits on the vessel. He remained in the vicinity tracking the progress of the task force, despite the heavy antiaircraft fire from the escorts.

2 Mar 1945: The squadron was relocated to Clark Field, Luzon, Philippines. When the squadron arrived the crews began operational night missions, daily search and reconnaissance patrols, and strikes on targets of opportunity—covering the China Coast to within 30 miles of Shanghai, the coastline of Amami O Shima, Okinawa and Daito Jima.

14 Mar 1945: Lieutenant Paul Stevens, squadron executive officer, intercepted and damaged Vice Admiral Yamagata’s Kawanishi H8K2 flying boat (Emily) off the China Coast. The aircraft flew on for several miles and made a forced landing in an inlet on the coast where it immediately came under fire from Chinese partisans ashore. The admiral and his staff committed suicide and the crew set fire to the aircraft. Admiral Yamagata was en route to Tokyo for an interview with Emperor Hirohito prior to assuming the position of Undersecretary of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Intercepts of enemy radio messages had revealed the admiral’s intended route, and Lieutenant Stevens was dispatched in the hope that the fateful rendezvous would occur.

Michael Fanelli was killed in action in the Pacific on May 19, 1945, when his plane, a PB4Y-1 (BuNo. 38890) piloted by Lt. Richard S. Jamison went down in the area of Luzon , Philippines .  His death was reported in the July 6, 1945 edition of the Camden Courier-Post. He was survived by his parents and brothers Michael and Leonard A. Fanelli.