The Best of Ed Shannon: Part 5

Published 9:30 am Saturday, November 3, 2012

Graphic by Kathy Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

Richway Drive honors memory of local airman

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series featuring some of former Tribune writer Ed Shannon’s best work. This article originally published May 27, 2007.

Richard Wayne

If the name of Richway Drive is really given its full potential title, the results could be Richard K. Wayne Drive. And today, 64 years after he died, this Albert Lea street still honors the memory of a local member of the U.S. Army Air Corps who died during World War II.

Richard K. Wayne was born on July 3, 1919, one of six children of Irvin and Georgianna (Allis) Wayne. He graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1938 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the summer of 1940. He was assigned to Fort Snelling, then sent to a technical school at Chanute Field, Ill. After graduation, Richard was transferred to Barksdale Field, La., for a year. This was followed by combat air crew training at Hendricks Field near Sebring, Fla. The next assignment for Staff Sgt. Wayne was real combat duty against the Japanese enemy in the South Pacific Theatre.

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Wayne was reported missing in action on Feb. 1, 1943. His parents were officially notified of this fact 10 days later.

Richard’s mother had the fervent hope for the rest of World War II that her son had somehow survived the shooting down of his aircraft. Maybe her son was being held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war on some remote island outpost. Also, the Japanese were extremely uncooperative in working with the Swiss Red Cross regarding the status of their American military and civilian prisoners all during the World War II period.

However, with the end of World War II in late summer of 1945 and the liberation of thousands of Americans from the hellish Japanese POW camps this hope began to fade. Richard K. Wayne was officially declared dead by the U.S. Army on Jan. 17, 1946. Then his mother finally accepted the sad reality of Richard’s final resting place as being somewhere in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Richway Drive is on Albert Lea’s north side. There are two Richway Drives, a west and an east.

Information recently acquired by Richard’s sister, Beverly Simonson of Prior Lake, provided more details about the last mission of Staff Sgt. Wayne. He was one of nine members in the crew of a B-17E aircraft assigned to the 42nd Bomber Squadron, the “Eager Beavers.” His plane took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island on a bombing mission to destroy Japanese ships near Bougainville Island on Feb. 1, 1943. Just to the south of Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, is a smaller island known as Shortland. Wayne’s aircraft may have bombed several Japanese ships in this area. During this action his plane was shot down by either anti-aircraft shells or by a Japanese fighter craft. His plane reportedly went down into the Pacific Ocean south of Bougainville and near Shortland Island.

During the six decades since the end of World War II several groups have tried to locate all the missing American aircraft in Asia and the Pacific area and repatriate the remains of the crew members. So far, the remains of the B-17 E bomber with the bodies of Wayne and the other eight crew members somewhere in the depths of the Pacific Ocean has not yet been located.

In the mid-1940s, Irvin Wayne was living south of Albert Lea and working as a real estate agent. He was involved with the development of a new subdivision on the city’s north side near the Freeborn County Fairgrounds. One of the proposed streets in this area needed a name. Irvin decided this was a prime opportunity to honor his son’s memory.

Richard Wayne had two nicknames, Dick and Rich, while he was growing up and attending school in Albert Lea. Thus, the latter one was used by his father to create what is now officially designated as Richway Drive.

Irvin Wayne died in 1976. A few years after his death Georgianna Wayne decided to take a trip to the South Pacific area to see some of the places their son had described in his weekly letters back to the family in Albert Lea prior to Feb. 1, 1943. (His mother died Jan. 23, 1993.)

Because of the manner of his wartime death, the body of Staff Sgt. Wayne was never returned to Albert Lea for burial. Instead, his continuing legacy and permanent memorial can be seen on the signposts which designate Richway Drive.