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CCU Atheneum: Henry Lowenstein in front of his computer that shows a photo of Bud Hayes, the
Henry Lowenstein in front of his computer that shows a photo of Bud Hayes, the "Rescue Man."

Rescuing the ‘Rescue Man’: A CCU professor uncovers the story of a war hero

by Doug Bell
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In December 2015, Henry Lowenstein’s mother-in-law asked him to do a chore that nobody else wanted to do.

“I was the only one she trusted to clean out the basement,” says Lowenstein, professor of management and law and former dean of the Wall College of Business. He and his wife, Conway attorney Carla Faye Grabert-Lowenstein, were visiting her 93-year-old mother, Mary Frances Grabert, in Twin Falls, Idaho. A year after recovering from surgery, Grabert was eager to start the process of sorting through a lifetime of accumulated belongings. In a dusty corner of her vast basement, among many forgotten shelves and files and cartons and bags, Lowenstein came upon a large box sealed with duct tape. After opening it, he was glad that she had picked him for the job.

The box contained everything pertaining to the military career of 1st Lt. Frank Philby “Bud” Hayes, a World War II Army Air Force pilot and Grabert’s brother. The box had been sealed up since Hayes’ tragic death in the closing days of the war. Because of the pain it had caused, Hayes’ late mother was forever silent on the subject of Hayes’ death. With the passage of time, he had become a figure of mystery in the family, remembered mainly through old photographs of a handsome young man in uniform.

Lowenstein knew immediately that there was a story in the box, which contained all of Hayes’ letters home, citations for numerous medals never received, part of a uniform, and many other records of his military service. He asked Grabert’s permission to take the box home and reconstruct the life of her brother. “Yes, 71 years is long enough,” she told him. “I want to know.”

Soon Lowenstein was immersed in detailed primary research he describes as “a great adventure.” It turned out that 90 percent of the official records of Hayes’ unit went down on a ship at sea, and their story remained little known in the annals of World War II history. Lowenstein’s search led him to Air Force historians and the National Archives, as well to some devoted military aficionados to help piece together the story.

“I wrote as if I was possessed,” says Lowenstein. “I actually finished the first draft in January 2016, a little more than a month after I started, and I continued to add and edit the material in subsequent versions. We believe that Bud’s spirit came out of that box and got into my hands.”

An Airman’s Story
Bud Hayes was born in 1924 and grew up near Filer, Idaho, a small town just west of Twin Falls. He and his two sisters were raised by a single schoolteacher mom in the Great Depression. The event that “put the fire in his belly for flying,” in Lowenstein’s words, was an encounter with the legendary aviator-explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd. To raise money for his famous Antarctic expeditions, Byrd barnstormed the country. On a stop in Twin Falls in 1936, he took 12-year-old Bud and 14-year-old Mary Frances up for a ride.

Hayes finished high school in June 1942 and attended one semester at the local branch of the University of Idaho before volunteering for the U.S. Army Air Force in February 1943. He had his heart set on being a fighter pilot, “but his shoulders were too broad to fit into the cockpit,” says Lowenstein. “Bud was 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighed 170 pounds and wore a size 10-and-a-half shoe.”

So Hayes trained to be a bomber pilot, graduating from the advanced flying school at Douglas Army Airfield in Arizona as a second lieutenant in February 1944. From there he was sent to Louisiana for advanced navigation training and on to Pensacola, Fla., where he first got acquainted with the aircraft that would define his military service and occupy the rest of his short life.

The PBY Catalina was a “flying boat” designed primarily for patrol, sea rescue missions, anti-submarine warfare and strafing. “It was really the first stealth bomber, gun ship and aircraft submarine killer,” says Lowenstein. “It was slow moving, with a crew of eight, and it could stay aloft 13 hours, longer than any other World War II aircraft.” Hayes’ size, strength and navigation skills proved to be exactly what the Air Force needed in the nascent PBY project.

Hayes was deployed in April 1945 to New Guinea and piloted a PBY on many rescue missions in the Celebes Sea, Borneo and Liberation of the Philippines campaigns. He was one of only about 150 World War II pilots to earn wings in both the Army Air Force and the Navy as a result of a bitter turf war between the two services over which would be responsible for aircraft rescue missions at sea. Lowenstein devotes a chapter to this little known inter-service conflict and its significant impact in the war’s rescue operations.

“The joint chiefs of staff finally decided to placate the Navy by giving it responsibility for training all the Army Air Force PBY flying boat pilots,” says Lowenstein. “Sadly, in the months and years before this turf war was settled, survivors of downed planes at sea had only a 12 percent chance of rescue. But after the issue was resolved, their chances of being rescued went up to over 90 percent.”

Hayes’ outfit, the Second Emergency Rescue Squadron of the 13th Air Force, saved more than 700 airmen from the seas off the Philippines and New Guinea in 11 months. One of the airmen Hayes rescued off the coast of Zamboanga in May 1945 was a B-25 navigator with two broken ankles named Russell D. Johnson, who would later study acting on the G.I. Bill and go on to play the role of the professor on the TV series Gilligan’s Island.

The father of retired CCU professor and administrator Edgar Dyer III was also saved by the PBY flying boat. Staff Sgt. Edgar Lee Dyer Jr. was a B-24 bomber crew member who was shot down and forced to ditch in the Pacific, not once but twice. “They were bombing islands closer and closer to Japan in 1944, and my father had two planes shot from under him,” Dyer said.

Probably the most compelling story that Lowenstein uncovered in his research was how Hayes earned the Air Medal, the highest Air Force decoration. In August 1945, Hayes’ flying boat was searching for a downed B-24 off Borneo. As the sun was setting, Hayes spotted a lone raft separated from the other B-24 crew. Hayes motored his PBY on water through two miles of enemy fire and picked up the remaining six survivors.

“The aircraft was now too heavy for takeoff,” says Lowenstein, “so Bud, who had only a high school education, took a piece of paper and calculated precisely how much fuel he could dump and still get back to the landing field hundreds of miles away. Night was falling and his radio and radar had been shot out, so he had to rely on ‘dead reckoning’ and celestial navigation to plot his course home. He landed successfully in the dead of night on a tiny base landing strip surrounded by water.”

The citations for the Air Medal and several other decorations had been preserved in the box, and Lowenstein applied to receive replacements from the Army and the Philippine government. He and his wife Carla had all the medals framed in a display that they presented to her mother (Hayes’ sister Mary Frances) this past Christmas.

A Death in the Family
The war officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, but Japanese military communications were so poor that units on remote islands kept shooting for months, and allied recon missions continued through December. On Oct. 10, during takeoff on a routine mission off the coast of Culasi in the Philippines, Hayes’ Catalina was hit head on by a rogue wave. The cockpit section broke away and sank to the bottom. The three men in the cockpit, including Hayes, lost their lives.

The Twin Falls newspaper ran a front-page story about Hayes’ death on Oct. 18. And there the story ended until Lowenstein began his research for the book, which he titled The Rescue Man: A “Snafu Snatching” Rescue Pilot’s Extraordinary Journey Through World War II. Published in June of this year, the book has risen as high as No. 4 on the Kindle best-seller list (also available in paperback) and has garnered high praise from reviewers, military leaders, veterans and historians. Thanks to his research, documents that were believed to be lost have been restored to the U.S. National Archives and the U.S. Air Force Historical Office. U.S. Senators Mike Crapo of Idaho and John McCain of Arizona have sponsored legislative resolutions calling for increased efforts to find the missing, referencing Lowenstein’s research into Hayes’ story.

But more important to Lowenstein is the sense of closure the project has brought, not only to his own family but also to the family of Hayes’ co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Jack Leonard of Hackensack, N.J., who was also lost in the crash.

When Lowenstein tracked down the surviving brothers of the Leonard family to interview them for the book (including Jack’s 95-year-old brother who had participated in D-Day), he learned that they were as much in the dark about their lost aviator as his in-laws had been. They were eager to share all they knew and took an active interest in the research. Developing a relationship with the family of Hayes’ lost comrade in arms was a high point of writing the book for Lowenstein.

And though the book is now finished, the story isn’t over yet. Last year, as a result of Lowenstein’s research, the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) began an official project to locate the wrecked aircraft and repatriate the lost crew home with full military honors. Sen. Crapo, together with Sen. Tim Scott and Congressman Tom Rice and their staffs, has been invaluable in opening doors for this operation.

Lowenstein hopes that one day he’ll receive word that the plane has been found. “When I get that call, I’ll be on the first plane to the Philippines.”

 

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