Lt. Col. Frederick C Eaton - HQ 301 BG
Captain Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr
Born July 15, 1917 in Scarsdale, New York. Eaton attended Dartmouth College and played on their squash team before joining the US Army Air Force.
Assigned to the 7th Bomb Group, 22nd Bomb Squadron. Known as 'Fred' or 'Freddy' to his squadron mates. At 25 he was piloting B-17E 41-2446 on his first combat mission of February 23, 1942. Part of a planned nine bomber raid, this aircraft took off from Garbutt Airfield, late on the night February 22 to bomb shipping in Rabaul at Simpson Harbor at dawn the next morning, and return via Port Moresby's 7-Mile Drome to refuel before returning to Garbutt Airfield. Only five B-17s made it to Rabaul, the other aborted. Over the target, Eaton's bomber had to make a second pass, due to a problem with its bomb bay, but finally dropped onto a freighter of 10,000 tons. On this second run, an anti-aircraft shell that passed thru the right wing without exploding. Results of the bombing were hard to observe due to clouds. Off the target, the bomber was intercepted by fighters over Rabaul, and maneuvered to escape them. The tail gunner claimed one Zero, shot down at 24,000 feet after firing burst of 400 rounds from a range of 200-300 yards. Waist gunner Crawford, claimed two more. Their plane was hit by the attacker's 7.7mm and 20mm fire. After the battle, they flew as far as the north coast of New Guinea, before running short on fuel. Eaton force landed in a kunai field with the wheels up. He thought it was was dry ground, but actually it was a swamp. As the bomber touched down, it turned slightly, pointing the nose of the bomber slightly SE, at 183 degree heading. The crew walked away from the crash site, and with the assistance of local villagers, and Australian Resident Magistrate, Alan Champion. They arrived by boat back at Port Moresby on April 1, 1942, 36 days after the crash, and returned to combat. After the crew's escape from the swamp, Eaton returned to combat, flying a total of 54 missions and 435 combat hours in the South Pacific theater. Eaton had other harrowing missions, like force landing an LB-30 at Milne Bay.
After this tour, he went on to fly in Europe, flying 4 mission and 21 combat hours from the United Kingdom and another 44 missions and 222 combat hours in Italy (15th AF, 301st BG, HQ), totaling 102 missions and 678 hours, all in B-17s.
After the war, he worked for Sears Roebuck & Company. In the late 1980's he retired to Martha's Vineyard with his wife Peggy, and spent winters in South Carolina. Eaton passed away March 31, 1994.
Wartime photo via Richard Gillespie, current photo via Mrs. Eaton.