A Butler County WWII hero is not forgotten
The United States Armed Forces reported that 78,750 personnel missing in action had been reported by the end of World War II, representing over 19 percent of the total of 405,399 killed during the conflict.
Elwood Leonard “Bud” Satterthwaite was only one of those missing in action. More than 72 years later, his story remains one worth telling.
Bud was the oldest of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Earl Satterthwaite of Udall. Before entering the Army in 1942, Bud and his wife Blanch lived in El Dorado and he worked at Skelly Oil as a trainee chemist.
Satterthwaite’s sister Lois Cool of El Dorado shows emotion when speaking of her late brother.
“He was the oldest and we all looked up to him. He was the best brother there could be.”
On Feb. 27, 1945, Sgt. Bud Satterthwaite, 23, was a left gunner on a B-29 Superfortress dubbed “Little Joe”. He had made at least eight previous missions over Japan and he liked to refer to his plane as being made in Wichita.
The radio reports that day were sketchy, but stated that after bombing the Naha airfield, south of Japan, the B-29 carrying the young Butler County soldier and other crew members, developed engine trouble and a wind milling prop flew off severing all the control cables on one side of the plane. The plane was ditched about 700 miles from Saipan.
The report listed the names of eight survivors. Satterthwaite’s name was not mentioned.
The young wife, along with the couple’s young son and other family members, held on to hope that the young soldier had survived and the possibility that he had been picked up by the Japanese and was being held prisoner.
The surviving crew members shared what had happened. The mission had been a solo job and left Saipan early that day to fly over an island south of Japan to take photos, dump bombs, take weather observations and then head home. All was fine - photos were taken, bombs were dropped - then engine no. 3 began throwing oil. They immediately headed back to base. The engine kept getting worse and eventually the prop let go with a terrific force and the shattered blade slicing back and laying open the entire plane. The control cables were useless and the bomb bay doors were open. The pilot had no control and the co-pilot had limited control. The B-29 ditched successfully with the bay doors open upon impact. The plane was broken in three pieces, the nose snapped off, the aft section broke behind the wings, floated for a few minutes, then sank. The center section and wings stayed afloat for a couple of hours.
It was believed that the four crew members in the aft section all got out following the crash, but the current was too fast and they couldn’ catch up with the others. They drowned trying to reach the raft.
Satterthwaite’s wife received a letter from Flight Officer Chester Hoyt, the plane’s bombardier and a survivor. Hoyt described the hard time he had writing the letter but wanted to be honest in saying the chances of Sgt. Satterthwaite surviving and being picked up by the Japanese were remote.
He went on to say that Satterthwaite was one of the “most courageous and dependable men” he had ever met. Hoyt described an earlier incident when Satterthwaite was willing to give up his life to give the crew a better chance to live.
“There has never been a better friend or a better man on a combat air crew than Bud. I know, I’ve flown to hell and back with him many times.”
The Air Medal was awarded posthumously to Satterthwaite and presented to his widow by the commanding general of the 7th Service Command. The young sergeant had also received the Purple Heart.
He died for his country more than 72 years ago and never made it home, but Sgt. Elwood “Bud” Satterthwaite is never forgotten and is honored on this Veterans Day.
Both the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, are reserved for family members of those missing in action, buried at sea, or whose remains were not recovered. Sgt. Satterwaite’s name can be found in the “Courts of the Missing”, along with other names of soldiers missing in action.