SGT. SYLVESTER L. DUEWEKE – PARK 31

The Dueweke clan is historically known as a large, longtime Detroit family of merchants.   Caroline and Frank Dueweke had 5 boys – Harold, Gordon, Clifford, Norbert, and Sylvester. Frank worked as a meat salesman to support his brood.  They were an east side family living on Sheridan Street in close proximity to the playground that stands as a remembrance to their youngest son.

DITCHING DEFINED

If an aircraft ditches, or if the pilot ditches the aircraft, essentially it comes down in the ocean in an emergency.  Ditching was commonplace in World War II.  Air-sea rescue planes [code named ‘dumbos’] and crew were always on standby to drop provisions and large life rafts to survivors in case of a ditch or distress.

The flagpole base is a little rusty but the dedication plaque is still intact.
The flagpole base is a little rusty but the dedication plaque is still intact.

 

MISSION No. 36

Sylvester Dueweke rose to the rank of Sergeant in WWII, working as a tail gunner in U.S. Army Air Forces, 873rd Bomber Squadron, 498th [Very Heavy] Bomber Group.  On March 31, 1945, Dueweke and 10 crew members departed Saipan in their B-29 for a bombing mission over the Japanese island of Kyushu.  Mission No. 36 went terribly wrong.  Thirty minutes into the flight, the right gunner along with another aircraft reported that the 3rd engine of the B-29 was on fire.  The airplane commander immediately aborted the mission and changed course heading toward Iwo Jima. No immediate danger was felt; no distress call was sent out.

Within minutes, the fire blossomed and the gunners informed the pilots that the blister [a transparent dome or bubble like window for observation] was melting and the right elevator was on fire.  The fuel shut off valve became inoperable increasing the risk of explosion. The ditching command was quickly given. The crew on board – Clinton, Ed, Earl, Fred, Harold, Herron, Harry, Orville, Ray, Robert and Sylvester – barely had time to take their positions.  A short three minutes elapsed from the abort decision to the ditch of the aircraft.

INTO THE SEA

Other craft in the formation radioed in distress calls.  Able crew members assisted the injured into life rafts and administered morphine.  A super Dumbo flew over dropping a smoke bomb to camouflage the wreckage from Japanese fighter eyes.  All men except for Sylvester managed to escape from the B-29 as it began sinking into the South Pacific.  The USS Ronquil submarine rescued the remaining crew at 12:22pm.  Dueweke heroically went down with the aircraft and died at sea. For his service, he was decorated with the Air Medal and the Purple Heart posthumously.  His service is memorialized through this Detroit Park, as well on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, HI.

USS Ronquil  photo: public domain
USS Ronquil photo: public domain

Dueweke Memorial Playground is a large park with older play equipment, basketball courts, wavy roofed picnic shelters and the original flagpole with a dedication plaque.  While the components are old, the park is tidy and always busy.  In the spring, summer and fall is it mowed regularly by the Detroit Mower Gang.

dueweke 4
Walking path with swings looking south.
Map courtesy of Google.
Map courtesy of Google.

Copyright Andrea Galluccci, 2014