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Lieut Robert Eric Thorpe

Lieut Robert Eric Thorpe

Rhode Island, USA
Death 31 May 1944 (aged 20–21)
Rhode Island, USA
Cenotaph Cranston, Providence County, Rhode Island, USA
Plot 54-J-7 Williams Path
Memorial ID 108104643 · View Source
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1940 United States Federal Census about Robert E Thorpe
Name: Robert E Thorpe
Age: 16
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1924
Gender: Male
Race: White
Birthplace: Rhode Island
Marital Status: Single
Relation to Head of House: Son
Home in 1940: Cranston, Providence, Rhode Island
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Street: Doylston Drive
House Number: 3
Inferred Residence in 1935: Cranston, Providence, Rhode Island
Residence in 1935: Same House
Sheet Number: 9A
Attended School or College: No
Highest Grade Completed: High School, 2nd year
Weeks Worked in 1939: 0
Income: 0
Income Other Sources: No
Neighbors: View others on page
Household Members:
Name Age
Walter R Thorpe 45
Hora A Thorpe 41
Robert E Thorpe 16
Henry Thorpe 11
Gill E Thorpe 8
Edith Gill 69

World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas about Thorpe
Name: Robert E Thorpe
Inducted From: Hode Island
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Combat Organization: 39th Fighter Squadron 35th Fighter Group
Death Date: 31 May 1944
Monument: Fort William Mckinley, Manila, the Philippines
Last Known Status: Missing
U.S. Awards: Purple Heart Medal
Air Medal
Pilot 2nd Lt. Robert Eric Thorpe, O-810434 (MIA / POW, executed) Cranston, RI
MIA May 27, 1944
MACR 5754

Aircraft History
Built by Republic at the Indiana Division of Republic Aviation in Evansville, IN. Assigned to the 5th Air Force. Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron. No nose art or nickname. The tail was painted white with a blue tip of tail and blue cowling. When lost, engine: R-2800-21 AAF serial number 41-40652. Weapon serial numbers unknown.

Pilot History
Thorpe attended Cranston High School, worked for his father's pharmacy and was a yachtsman in the Edgewood Yacht Club. He joined the US Army on September 18, 1942. Commissioned on August 30, 1943, after completing his flight training in Florida flying the P-47 Thunderbolt.

Assigned to the 39th Fighter Squadron and flew his first combat mission from Port Moresby on February 2, 1943. He had flown seventeen combat mission during his first month in combat. Including operations over Hollandia. By April 1st he had flown 150 combat hours. Thorpe earned the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster and Purple Heart. Thorpe was 20 years old when he died. Previously, Thorpe survived bailing out of another P-47D Thunderbolt on February 25, 1944 and returned to duty.

Mission History
Took off from Gusap Airfield (Runway #5) on a strafing mission to against But Airfield west of Wewak. Last seen prior to making a strafing attack.

In fact, Thorpe ditched north of Kairiru Island then swam ashore on a log. Ashore, he was captured by natives and civilians from a volunteer Formosan civilian unit based on Kairiru and escorted to the Navy headquarters on the south side of the island at St John's Mission.

Thorpe was beaten and interrogated by Lt Commander Kaoru Okuma, engineering staff officer, and paymaster Lt Isamu Amenomoro. Neither were charged in connection with the crime, nor was Lt Tsunchike Yamanoto who tried to shoot Thorpe in the legs prior to his beheading, along with Okuma. About thirty Japanese were present at the execution which took place about 1630 hours, the next day. Before he was killed, Thorpe asked what time it was, and then was executed. After being beheaded by Hiroshi Odazawa at 4:30pm, he was buried in a makeshift grave. No natives witnessed the incident. A radio message outlining the execution was later transmitted to Truk for forwarding to Tokyo.

War Crimes Investigation
After the war, the Japanese involved conspired to conceal the murder, while held as POWs by the Australian Army, who occupied the Wewak area. In October 1945, Captain Kiyoshisa Noto submitted a sworn statement to Australian Army Headquarters at Wewak, claiming that Thorpe had died of malaria after a month of hospitalization on Kairiru Island.

During the 1948 Yokohama War Crimes trails, statements from six Japanese participants directly involved in Thorpe's execution were obtained, including a map of the execution site and grave.

Yokohama War Crimes Trial
Executioner Hiroshi Odazawa plead 'guilty', the others pleaded 'not guilty'. Lt Commander Kaoru Okuma, was convicted in 1948 for the crime and hanged in 1949. Captain Kiyoshisa Noto was sentenced to twenty years at Rabaul in prison for this and also convicted of another war crime, the execution of two Australians on Kairiru in 1945, yet he served only one year of his sentence, then was released.

MIA Case Unresolved
Despite the fact that two detailed sketches were created of his grave and execution site by POWs, the American Graves Registration closed his case on May 26, 1949, stating his remains were "non-recoverable".

MIA Search
After the publication of the article Forgotten Island Aviator by Michael Claringbould , developing interest in the case. In 2005, Brian Bennett under contract for JPAC investigated this case, and followed the wartime map. The grave site was to be investigated by JPAC during May 2008, but the team did not visit.

During August 2009, JPAC excavated a grave site thought to be Thorpe, but found nothing. This MIA case remains unresolved until this day.

Thorpe is listed on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. The Thorpe family grave in Cranston Cemetery lists Robert E. Thorpe in memory.

Family Members




  • Created by: George Daigneault
  • Added: 9 Apr 2013
  • Find A Grave Memorial 108104643
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  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Lieut Robert Eric Thorpe (1923–31 May 1944), Find A Grave Memorial no. 108104643, citing Pocasset Cemetery, Cranston, Providence County, Rhode Island, USA ; Maintained by George Daigneault (contributor 47199208) .