Many young people in their early 20’s are focused on graduating from college and beginning the rest of their lives. For Wynans Frankfort, he was too busy fighting the Japanese on a remote island to think of long term goals.
The youngest son of Harry and Elise Frankfort, Wynans grew up in Southampton County in the southeastern part of the State. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Wynans decided to do his part and support the war effort by enlisting in the Army Air Corps. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and trained as a fighter pilot with the 5th Air Force, 348th Fighter Group, 342nd Fighter Squadron.
5th Air Force Emblem
He and his squadron soon deployed to Wakde Airfield off the coast of New Guinea. During his deployment, Wynans completed over 400 hours of combat flying and was credited with 2.5 enemy kills. On May 24, 1944, Wynans began his day like any other. There was no foreboding sense of something horrible happening in the near future. He took off from the airfield on a routine patrol mission. While on patrol, he spotted Japanese aircraft strafing the American-controlled beachhead. Wynans immediately made a mad dash in his P-47 Thunderbolt towards the Japanese attacker. He chased the enemy plane inland but crashed and the plane exploded on impact. Other American pilots witnessed the chase and recalled that the last time they saw him, he was ‘diving through the clouds.’ Wynans was listed as Missing in Action but was pronounced dead in 1949.
His parents and brother never gave up hope that one day Wynans would be found but that day did not come until 1991. A native of the island happened upon the crash site and alerted the U. S. Army. An agent was sent to examine the wreckage. What he found was a World War II plane with the Army Air Corps’ emblem completely visible through the overgrown brush. The pilot’s remains were still intact in the cockpit and turned out to be Wynans’. Sadly, his parents did not live to know the fate of their youngest son. His body was returned to the Virginia and buried with full military honors next to his parents.
At the Virginia War Memorial, we pay tribute to Wynans and all those heroes who gave their lives to defend our freedom.