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MAJ George H Nicholson

MAJ George H Nicholson

Birth
Death 13 May 1945 (aged 34)
Papua New Guinea
Burial Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA
Plot SECTION 70 SITE 16187-89
Memorial ID 45701654 · View Source
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Major Nicholson was a victim of the sight-
seeing crash of C-47A Skytrain #41-23952 in
the hidden valley of Papua New Guinea known
as "Shangri-La."

During World War II, Colonel Ray T. Elsmore,
U.S. Army, envisioned building a north-south
road through the dense jungles and mountains
of Dutch New Guinea.

He had dispatched flights to survey possible
routes, and one such survey flight discovered
a marvelous valley which was to be called
Hidden Valley and later dubbed "Shangri-La."
It was discovered roughly 150 miles to the
north-northwest of the air base at Hollandia.

Photographic reconnaissance revealed the
valley to have many native peoples living in
thatched roof huts and cultivating crops.
The native population could have numbered in
the thousands.

Australian and Dutch authorities stated this
region was never explored by white people and
was shown on maps as mountains.

To combat boredom and fatigue of personnel
stationed at Hollandia, the base commander
arranged for "sightseeing" flights to the area
to boost morale.

On May 13, 1945, one such flight involved
C-47A Skytrain #41-23952, piloted by Major
George H. Nicholson of the Far East Air Service
Command. Clearing the "hump" to enter the
valley, which was approximately four miles
wide and nearly twenty miles in length,
everyone aboard surely were marveling at the
spectacular scenery. But then disaster struck.

The transport plane failed to clear the ridge
at the base of the mountain peak at the
valley's edge and crashed into the ridge and
broke apart and caught on fire.

Of the twenty-four people aboard, only five
survived the impact. When the airplane
failed to return, and other airfields
reported that no transport had landed at
their facilities, a search plane was sent out.
The following day, a B-17 spotted the wreck.
On that day following the crash, two of the
female passengers succumbed to injuries. Now
the three remaining survivors made their way
down the mountainside, where the transport
had crashed at an elevation near 11,000 feet.
They hiked down about two miles to a clearing.
Fearful that the primitive natives were head
hunters or cannibals, an American commander
with his Filipino-American troops parachuted
into the site to protect the survivors.
While waiting for a rescue plan to be devised
they removed and buried the dead from the
crashed airplane. With the protection of the
paratroopers, the survivors descended down
into the valley. They found that the natives
were friendly and smiling. This was their
first contact with white people and the outside
world.
Now a plan would need to be devised to rescue
everyone from "Shangri La."
A rescue by ground transport would take a
month to get in and a month to return. The
survivors needed medical attention for their
injuries. What would follow would become
known as the greatest rescue operation in all
of World War II.
The valley was not suitable for conventional
aircraft landing, and the ground could not
support the weight of a rescue plane, not to
mention the unforgiving weather with sudden,
torrential downpours. Colonel Elsmore began
devising a plan to rescue the survivors and
the paratroopers. In the meanwhile, supplies
and ammunition were dropped by parachute to
those awaiting rescue.
It was decided that a troop transport glider
was to be used, and crews began weeks of
practice at Hollanda to hone their skills.
On June 25th, a C-46 towed a CG-4 glider to
Hidden Valley, and the craft was successfully
landed. They erected a large "O" ring above
the valley floor connected to a long silk
rope, which was attached to the front of the
glider. After several practice run-throughs,
the C-46, with a trailing cable and hook,
passed over and successfully caught the "O"
ring and pulled the glider into the air.
Due to the valley's high elevation (about
5,000 feet) it took considerably longer to
get airborne. But the rescue was a success
and everyone was evacuated.

For his leadership in World War II and for
devising the rescue from Shangri-La, Colonel
Ray T Elsmore was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States.

The remains of Major Nicholson and the other
twenty members of the flight could not be
repatriated to the U.S. for another fourteen
years.


Inscription

MAJ, US ARMY AIR FORCES WORLD WAR II

Gravesite Details Interred June 29, 1959.

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  • Created by: ShaneO
  • Added: 22 Dec 2009
  • Find A Grave Memorial 45701654
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for MAJ George H Nicholson (14 Mar 1911–13 May 1945), Find A Grave Memorial no. 45701654, citing Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by ShaneO (contributor 47009366) .