Korean War pilot’s family visits memorial aircraft at Misawa

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Collette Brooks
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Team Misawa members can find two static aircraft displays located outside the wing headquarters building at Risner Circle. While driving by the area, one may not notice the engraved details and stories the jets could tell. If you take a closer look at the F-86F Sabre’s canopy, you'll find ‘1st Lt. David C. Clements’ painted right beneath it.

The plane’s namesake, David, a 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron fighter pilot, went missing April 16, 1953, after attempting to return to Misawa Air Base after conducting a practice scramble.

Due to an unknown malfunction, David’s aircraft became inverted while the nose of the plane dropped rapidly, heading toward the ground. The mishap forced David to implement an emergency ejection between Mutsu Bay and Mount Eboshi (Eboshi-Dake) located near Noheji, Japan.

The remaining three pilots from his team lost sight of the aircraft after passing down through clouds at 8,000 feet. They searched heavily wooded mountainsides for David and his aircraft but failed to locate him or the ejection seat. Shortly after the incident a search party surveyed the scene but still found no evidence of David.

Between 1953 to 1955, several pieces linked to the crash washed ashore or were discovered on the mainland. These items included plexiglass-covered flight instructions with David’s aircraft serial number, an ejection tube and a shoe.

On April 16, 1955, search crews found the aircraft wreckage located approximately 18 miles north of Misawa AB, however, the location of his remains stayed a mystery.

In the spring of 1992, Japanese farmers hunting for mushrooms discovered David’s ejection seat, personal items and body on Mount Eboshi. The evidence collected by the Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command helped finalize the official identification of David, March 29, 1993.

David’s great nephew, Tech. Sgt. Tyler Whitmore, the 35th Maintenance Group Air Force Repair Enhancement Program manager, spoke of his legacy and what the F-86F monument meant to him and his family.

“My great uncle Phillip Clements, David’s younger brother, told me about the memorial here,” explained Tyler. “With my parents visiting, I decided to re-attack the story and contact the 35th Fighter Wing historian, James Burrett, for his expertise.”

Eugene Whitmore, a United Natural Food Incorporate sales manager and Tyler’s father, described how the family felt after David had been identified.

“When they discovered David’s body back in the 90s, my uncle Phillip informed the family his older brother, who’d been missing since the Korean War, had been positively identified 40 years later,” explained Eugene. “Although the event is tragic, it was nice to finally complete and understand the story of his life here at Misawa, giving my family a sense of closure.”

To keep David’s memory alive, Phillip not only named his first born son after him but maintained every item in connection with his big brother.

“He kept the original telegrams from the base commander addressing David’s disappearance and follow up notifications of his confirmed death,” explained Eugene.

Eugene continued explaining the importance of keeping family records.

“To have all of this documentation gives us the ability to fill in the blanks,” he explained. “We now know the tail number, serial number of the aircraft he was flying, type of mission he was on and what type of training he conducted. I’m thankful my uncle Phillip kept these items neat, organized and intact after all these years.”

The Whitmore family had the pleasure of honoring David this Memorial Day by driving to the site where his plane crashed.

“It’s understandable how someone could be lost out there for 40 years,” explained Eugene. “The roads are difficult to navigate, and it’s a very desolate region. Although we didn’t make it to the exact location he passed away, it humbled us to see the surrounding area. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

Tyler added that he respects and honors all memorial sites, but this monument holds near and dear to his heart.

“Since this is a family member, it hits home,” he expressed. “It’s truly mind-blowing that I have a connection to someone who fought in the Korean War and lost their life here. It’s sobering to know 60 years ago my great uncle lost his brother, but seeing him being properly memorialized here gives me hope his story will live on for forever.”

[Editor's note: James Burrett, the 35th Fighter Wing historian, the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron commander and the missing aircraft report "53-4-16-1" contributed to this article.]