70 years ago today. 1st LT Michael Rebo, shot down over North Korea. MIA for many years, and a childhood friend of my Dad
This article is part of a series:
- MiG Group Build : 1/48 Tamiya MiG-15 bis, Captain Pavel Milauszkin, 176 IAP / 324th IAD, Korea 1952.
- MiG Group Build, Tamiya 1/48 MiG-15 bis, Major Nicolay Shkodin, 147th GIAP, 5 victories Korea July 1953
- MiG Group Build, Tamiya 1/48 MiG-15 bis, People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Korean War
- 70 years ago today. 1st LT Michael Rebo, shot down over North Korea. MIA for many years, and a childhood friend of my Dad
This is one of those things that you want to do... no, scratch that. This is something that I just HAD to do once I heard about the events that unfolded on this day over North Korea. I owe a sincere thank you to Jim Burke, who operates the Mount Zion Historical Society. Much of the personal information I found on his website. Thanks Jim !
This event happened on November 10th, 1951 approximately 30 miles Southwest of Pyongyang, North Korea shortly after noon time. I recently checked the area out using Google Maps. It still looks like a remote area, and it's not too far from the Yellow Sea on the West Coast of North Korea. The closest city is now called Nampo.
Many of you know that my Dad was a US Army Korean War combat veteran. Dad served in Armor and also as an Infantry "grunt". He held a dual M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty). He was trained as an Armor Crewman, and he was also classified as "Heavy Weapons, Infantry". Back then this was often the case.
My Dad would occasionally joke with me about just how "heavy" these weapons became when you had to carry them...for miles on end, up and over the mountains of Korea. However, even though he had to carry everything he owned as an Infantryman, he liked serving in the Infantry better than he did while serving as a "tanker". So I asked him why: His answer was simple... "They didn't shoot at you quite as much !" ...to quote dear old Dad, word for word.
Dad never really opened up to me about any of his experiences over there in Korea, until the last two weeks of his life. Then what Dad told me was the stuff that nightmares are made of. Only then, did I finally realize why he didn't want me to play the trumpet as a musical instrument as a child... or why whistles were not allowed in our house when we were growing up. It turns out the Chinese soldiers would often blow bugles and blow whistles to signal mass "human wave" attacks at night or in the early dawn hours before sunrise. These attacks were very similar to the "Banzai" charges the Japanese did in the Pacific Theater, earlier during World War Two.
This is the story about one of my Dad's childhood friends. His name was Michael Rebo. Mike Rebo and my Dad grew up together in a tiny little Pennsylvania coal mining town named Weedville during the Great Depression. This little town makes up part of an area that is commonly called "Bennett's Valley".
Mike Rebo was 4 years older than my Dad, and Mike had served in the US Navy during WW2. Mike also had 4 brothers that were also serving our Country during it's time of need during WW2.
After the War was over, Mike went to college at Penn State University using the new "GI Bill". Once Mike earned his college degree, he enlisted again. However this time it was in the US Air Force, and he completed pilot training, following in his older brother Joe's footsteps. (Mike had an older brother who flew B-17's from England during WW2). This is a picture of Lt. Mike Rebo standing in front of an AT-6. I’m not sure if this is a picture that was taken during his flight school training, or if he flew the T-6 as a target spotter for the other aircraft in his unit.
Mike was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant upon earning his college degree. . Upon completion of his flight training, soon thereafter Mike was flying F-80’s and then later F-84's in Korea.
Mike flew with 9th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 49th Fighter Bomber Wing stationed first in Japan, and then they moved to South Korea once the Pusan perimeter was pushed back and the Inchon landing had occurred.
By now Second Lieutenant Rebo had been promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, and he had flown numerous combat missions in Korea.
The 49th initially flew Lockheed F-80's when they first arrived in Korea, out of a place called Taegu.
The unit converted from the F-80's to the Republic F-84E during the summer of 1951. The F-84 aircraft from this unit were frequently tasked with ground support missions, and they were also routinely flying "up north" with a pair of 1,000 pound GP bombs hung under the wing racks. These bombs were used to cut the rail lines in an effort to hamper the supply lines of the North Koreans and the Chinese. Just as fast as the rail lines were cut during the day, they would be repaired overnight... due to the huge number of workers that were used for such purposes. Because of this, the 49th often flew repeat missions to the same locations. Later on in the war, they flew nightly missions and dropped bombs with proximity fuses set to detonate 100 feet above the ground. This seriously hampered the railroad repairs and slowed the delivery of men and supplies to the front.
Mike and his family were of Russian descent. Dad told me that Mike could speak Russian fluently. Dad also said that it was rumored Mike would taunt the MiG-15 pilots over the radio... who were actually Russian pilots during this point in the War. Not many people realize this, but Russian pilots were using "MiG Alley" as a training ground during the Korean War. Occasionally when aerial combat became heated, our intelligence units would intercept enemy radio conversations. It was determined the pilots flying the MiG's were reverting back to what they knew best. They were speaking their native language when highly stressed. Rumors about Russian pilots were mentioned among the UN troops. Dad told me about this many years ago.
Only years later was this found out to be true...and not just a rumor as had been reported. The American leadership during this era wisely wanted to avoid World War 3, and they kept this bit of information under wraps for years after the Korean War cease fire was signed.
This is another bit of information that most people don't realize... Technically, a state of war still exists to this very day in Korea. The only thing keeping peace in the region is a strong showing of military force, a little common sense, and the fact the cease fire that was signed on 27 July of 1953 is still being honored by both sides.
On November 10, 1951, while on a combat mission, his flight of 12 F-84Es was attacked by an enemy flight of 24 to 30 MIG-15s 30 miles southwest of Pyongyang, North Korea. When the MiG’s were sighted, they were thousands of feet above the F-84’s. When the MiG’s started diving down towards the flight of F-84’s, the pilots flying the Thunderjets jettisoned their bomb ordnance.
The American pilots didn't stand a chance as the MiG's sliced through them like a knife goes through hot butter. The F-84's were armed with ordnance for a bombing mission, which was quickly dropped to help them maneuver against the MiG's in a swirling dogfight where they were outnumbered at least two to one... in the MiG's favor. From what I have read, the F-84 was more agile than the MiG 15 at slower speeds, and lower altitudes. It could turn inside a MiG under these conditions. But when loaded with ordnance, at altitude, and at high speeds, this was not the case.
The last radio traffic from Mike was that he was wounded and was going down. He and his airplane were never found... at that time, or so it seemed. A Search and Rescue (SAR) mission was made shortly afterwards, but it was not successful.
He was initially listed as Missing in Action, and his family was notified.
The whole "Bennett's Valley" community rallied around Mike's Russian immigrant parents, while they were awaiting word from the Air Force. It was later on December 31, 1953, that Mike was officially presumed dead, with his official death date listed as November 10, 1951.
70 years ago today... Rest in peace Lt. Rebo. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
On 10 November 1951, Lt Rebo was shot down and killed, ironically by a Russian pilot, named Captain Pavel Milauszkin... flying a MiG-15 from the 176 GIAP, wearing North Korean markings... I previously built a model of the MiG-15 that shot down Lt. Rebo several years ago. It was part of the MiG Group Build. Here is a picture of the model. Sadly, Lt. Rebo is represented by one of the 10 small red stars you see under the sliding canopy on the Mig. Captain Milauszkin was a Russian Ace, and he was credited with 10 victories over various United Nations aircraft during his tour in Korea .
Mike's wife, Mona J. Woodring Rebo, of Medix Run, Pennsylvania, posthumously received the Air Medal and Purple Heart for his meritorious action in battle from General Rogers at Luke AFB, Arizona. Lt. Rebo was also awarded the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Korean War Service Medal, plus his flight unit was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
Lt Michael Rebo’s name is inscribed and honored in the courts (the “Tablets of The Missing”) representing American servicemen missing from the Korean War at the Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii. A memorial marker also has been placed in the Morningside Cemetery in DuBois, Pennsylvania.
Mike's partial remains were only recently repatriated several years ago from North Korea, when they were handed over at the DMZ that runs between the border of North and South Korea today. "DMZ" is an abbreviation for De-Militarized Zone. The present day "DMZ" follows the lines of the front after the war had stabilized, which began to resemble the trench warfare that was fought during the First World War. It is currently a hot spot... with land mines, barbed wire, observation towers and foot patrols. Occasionally a few rounds have been known to cross the border, and there have been several infiltration attempts made.
After DNA samples were obtained from his surviving relatives, and a positive match was made by the Department of Defense, Mike was finally returned to his family. My understanding is that Lt. Michael Rebo received a military burial with full honors once he finally made it back home.
Lt. Rebo is also listed in the Korean War Project, as Key No. 24556
This now completes the story, and checks another item off my bucket list. I have always wanted to tell Mike's story, and do it by building models of the aircraft involved.
1st LT. Michael Gordon Rebo
9TH Fighter Bomber Squadron
Aircraft Type: F-84E
Aircraft Serial Number: 51-549
Freedom isn't free. Here's proof.
The model itself is a 1/48 scale Revell F-84E Thunderjet. I have a build journal started as part of our Korean War group build, that is still underway, and will end on the same date as the cease fire was signed... July 27th, 2023...(only 70 years later) You can follow the build process here.
The F-84 model is not quite done. If you look very closely at it, you will notice there are some of the smaller clear parts missing. Landing and navigation lights. I wanted to get this in the headlines section today... on the 70th anniversary of Lt Rebo's disappearance. I'll add them now the article has been posted. I just didn't have enough time to do so...
The model itself went together very nicely. No filler was needed anywhere. It was covered using various shades of bare metal foil. On the compound curves, like the wing tanks, these areas were sprayed using Model Master "Metallizer" paint, then buffed to a high shine.
Usually, I don't install pilots into my models, simply because I am not very good at painting them. This time I wanted to add the pilot. I did my best, but it still could use a better looking pilot in my opinion.
I also have the canopy slid back, and the flaps are down, as if the plane is taxiing out for it's last mission. The RATO (rocket assisted take off) bottles were not installed, because I didn't have time to do so. I might just leave them off and use them on the F-84G kit I have underway. I have a lot of pictures of F-84's in Korea, and the RATO units were not always used on takeoff.
It's very possible the jet could have looked just like this (or very similar) that day back in 1951. Armed with a pair of 1,000 GP bombs. These larger bombs were used to cut the rail lines, because they made a larger crater, and therefore made it harder to fix...
I have done a lot of research on the F-84's that were used in Korea, and dug into the history of the 49th. On some of the planes from the unit, they have wing tip refueling probes, while in other pictures from the time when Lt Rebo disappeared, they did not. Also, this plane likely had the newer style canopy installed on it. This is the same type that was used on the later F-84G. It used fiberglass reinforcement strips that were applied inside the canopy. These newer style improved canopies with the fiberglass reinforcements were often retro fitted to older aircraft, as they became available.
This was done because they found out during combat, a single hit from a MiG striking the canopy would shatter it, and likely cause the loss of the plane. This bit of information came directly from our fellow Imodeler Rodney Williams, who installed these strips into similar aircraft canopies on the assembly line during the Korean War.
I don't have a picture of the F-84E jet that Lt Rebo died in. So I left it "as is" without any nose art or name. The nose number and vertical fin serial numbers are the same as the plane he died in. There is a small chance the fuselage number could have had a capital "A", "B", or "C" following it, as have been seen on other F-84's in Korea.
The F-84’s typically carried a mix of various types of ordnance. They could be seen carrying rockets under the outer wings, with smaller 250 or 500 pound bombs carried on the inboard shackles. Sometimes they would carry napalm or even extra fuel tanks. They carried on the traditional ground support roles just as their predecessors did, another Republic plane, the P-47. The F-84 was also a rugged plane, and it would regularly return home with serious damage inflicted, just as the Thunderbolts would years before.
I installed bombs from another 1/48 model. These represent 1,000 pound General Purpose bombs, and are typical of what would have been carried on that day. The bombs that were provided in the kit were much smaller. I’m guessing they represent a 500 or possibly even a 250 pounder.
The base the model was photographed on is something I recently made. It doesn't have a PSP surface, like the airfields in Korea had.
As always, comments are encouraged. Should you be interested in reading more about Lt. Rebo, and the other veterans from the Bennett's Valley area, please feel free to check it out, by following this link.
Once there, you can search for other veterans. My Dad is listed under the "G" section under the numerous Gardner names. Our family had 4 brothers serving in the US Army as Infantry in the ETO during WW2. Two were killed and the other two were wounded in 108 days. This sounds a lot like the movie Saving Private Ryan doesn't it ? Three of the Gardner brothers participated in the Normandy invasion, with one jumping in with the 101st Airborne Division. He was later seriously wounded at Bastogne and once he was evacuated to England, he spent the rest of the War recuperating from his multiple injuries in a hospital. He was wounded during a mortar attack and then he was shot twice by a German sniper. Once night fell, and it was dark enough to move and not be seen, somehow he managed to crawl back to the rest of the men in his platoon.
War is hell. Freedom is not free. If you don’t believe it, I suggest you take a little tour of any VA center, or take a stroll through any of the numerous American Military cemeteries that are located throughout the world.
Thank you for reading the article. This is something I have wanted to do for years, and it finally happened.
Take care and stay safe.