On January 31, 1944 a OS2N-1 Kingfisher scout plane from the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40) was performing gunfire spotting duties over Ebeye Island. At approximately 3:22pm the plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire, mortally wounding the pilot, LT Forney Fuqua. Fuqua instructed his radioman, Aviation Radioman 2nd Class Harrison ‘Dub’ Miller, to bail out. Miller refused, and although lacking in previous flight training, used the emergency control stick in the rear cockpit to attempt a water landing in an effort to save the pilot’s life.
On landing, a wingtip float was torn off the plane and it capsized. Miller dove beneath the surface of the water multiple times in an effort to get the pilot unstrapped and out of the cockpit, persisting in his efforts until exhausted. Miller then spent approximately an hour floating in the lagoon, clinging to his capsized plane while being shelled by enemy shore batteries.
A minesweeper, the USS YMS-383, was operating in the lagoon not far from where Miller and the Kingfisher floated. Arriving at the downed plane, crewmen Louis “Ted” Sonner and Burl Sousa rescued Miller, then attached a towline to the plane, intending to tow the plane out of range of enemy shore batteries so that the pilot’s body could be recovered from the cockpit. But after only a short distance the towline snapped and the plane sank to the bottom of the lagoon, taking LT Fuqua with it.
Miller, Sonner, and Sousa survived the war. Sonner and Sousa visited Kwajalein in January 2014 for the 70th anniversary of the battle, and are in good health today. Miller passed away in July 2014. All three have provided information that has narrowed down the search area for the plane, and the Kwajalein MIA Project draws steadily closer to finding it.