What follows here is an excerpt of a speech Mat Self, who initiated the recovery of SCHAF’s B-25, gave in Greenwood, South Carolina in 1983.
The story of raising the B-25 from Lake Greenwood could best be described as a story of teamwork. This team consisted of (the late) Sen. Strom Thurmond and his office staff, the US Department of the Navy, the Navy Reserves, the citizens of Greenwood County, along with the citizens of the state of South Carolina, and others throughout the country.
In August of 1982 when I was reading Air Force Magazine, I ran across a letter written by John Dinges of Homewood, Ill., requesting and looking for a B-25 to place in the National Air and Space Museum. I immediately called John Dinges and told him about the one that had been in Lake Greenwood since June 6, 1944. I also contacted Sen, Thurmond’s office in regard to John Dinges’ letter as well as the Air and Space Museum.
In the following month, it was determined that the cost of restoring an airplane that had been in Lake Greenwood for 39 years would be too great to consider (for accession in the Air and Space Museum). But in conversation with Sen. Thurmond’s office, it was decided it might be possible for a Navy Reserve unit to try to come down for a weekend drill and locate this airplane. Sen. Thurmond followed up with the U.S. Department. of the Navy, which passed the request on down to its mobile diving and salvage units. (Commander) Frank Wood volunteered his naval diving unit to come and try to locate the airplane.
Chuck Messick, a member of this unit, who is originally from Lexington, S. C., came down during Christmas 1982. He, Billy Hoole and I went out to the lake to discuss the problems of locating the B-25. Billy Hoole and his father were of great help to the project. Without their assistance, the success of this operation might have been in doubt.
Also, Sen. Thurmond realized that there were not just one or two individuals concerned about raising the B-25; it was a community effort involving many, and a great diversity of individuals.
Finally, in March of 1983, Commander Wood, along with eight other members of the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 506 out of Little River, Va., arrived in Greenwood. They were preceded by three regular Navy personnel from Norfork, Va. These three individuals were explosives ordinance and disposal personnel (EOD). They also brought along with them side-scan sonar. Without this sonar locating the B-25 would have been virtually impossible because of the visibility conditions on the bottom of the lake.
The three EOD people brought their own Navy boat because the sonar equipment operated off of their boat. The navy reserve unit used Mr. Hoole’s pontoon boat for a diving platform and his runabout boat for transportation back and forth.
On Friday, the three EOD people covered a good bit of the lower end of the lake, but without much success. First thing Saturday morning, they went to Mrs. Anna Knox and asked her where the airplane was. Mrs. Knox’s husband was the person who took the five crew members off the plane and back to shore. This was the first time in 39 years that anyone had asked her where the plane was located.
On the first pass - where she told them to look - they located the B-25.
Danny Berry and Stanley Davis of the South Carolina Wildlife Department (now SC Department of Natural Resources) were of great help in assisting the Navy Reserve Unit at this time.
On Sunday the Navy Reserve unit departed for Virginia elated over the possibility of raising the B-25 during their two-week active duty training period.
From the end of March on, they developed their plans, consisting mainly of using local support and equipment to raise the airplane. In May, Super Chief Mike Putnam and Lt. Commander Clyde Shiraki of the unit returned to work out the logistics. Henry Carter and Blackie Drummond were contacted, and they offered the use of their lake homes as bases of operation. From those lake houses, personnel could go directly to the location of the airplane, and they were close to the Panorama Restaurant, on whose lakefront they would eventually take the plane out of the water.
On the Greenwood front, it was determined Duke Power had a barge that would be a sufficient lifting platform on which to raise the airplane. Duke Power was very cooperative in providing its barge and in cutting off some of its power lines when the airplane was to be lifted.
It was also determined that A. M. Tuck, Inc. had a barge that would make a great diving platform, and the company cooperated in providing its barge. Also, T M R Mechanical Contractors, G. E. Moore Company, and Greenwood Mills Service Department provided many other items and support. Coleman Oil Company, Inc. provided fuel and 55-gallon drums which were used for lifting the airplane under the Duke Power lifting barge.
Greenwood Motor Lines and Ninety Six Manufacturing Company provided transportation for much of the local equipment used in the recovery. Also, Wilson Brothers got actively involved in providing a crane and operator to lift the airplane from the water to the shore. They also provided a flatbed trailer for transport of the airplane to the Greenwood Airport. The South Carolina Wildlife Department was very helpful in providing water surface protection of the two barges and the area around them. They also towed the barges to and from the desired locations and provided long hours of assistance to the Naval Reserve Unit.
Other people and organizations providing assistance were the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Department, and the South Carolina. Highway Patrol who provided escorts during the movement of the airplane to the airport. They also provided crowd control for the area around the Panorama Restaurant. Adjutant General Eston Marchant of the South Carolina National Guard and Col. Estes of the local unit also provided security for the plane while it was resting on the ground behind the Panorama Restaurant.
The Airport Association helped clean the airplane and has been instrumental in the care of the airplane since it has been taken to the airport.
Tom Barthauer from Midland-Ross and Bob Haney from New Jersey, who provided mechanical drawings and manuals of the airplane, were greatly helpful in the Greenwood Airport Association’s breaking down the airplane for transportation. Mr. Crawford Roberts of Batesburg, formerly a chief mechanic on B-25s in WWII, provided invaluable service and technical information regarding the airplane, and helped remove the wings.
On Sept. 19th, 1983 the Greenwood Airport Association. met with Dr. Harvard Beebe from Spartanburg, who was with the 321st Bomb Squadron during WW ll. He presented a proposition to the citizens of Greenwood. Because of the time and resources needed to restore the plane for static display, he said the 321st Squadron, which is now a missile unit in North Dakota, would be willing to restore the plane if transportation could be provided for it. (Note: This plan eventually fell through)
The day the B-25 broke the lake’s surface, there were over 1,500 people behind the Panorama Restaurant and on the lake watching. There were numerous others who came to view the plane at the Panorama Restaurant, and others have been to the Greenwood Airport to view the airplane.
Why the interest in this airplane? First of all, there have been many people since the plane crashed who have looked for the plane and never found it. In fact, without the help of some of those people, such as Roy Still, who looked for the plane for over six years, the job of the Navy Reserve unit would have been harder. In fact, on the Saturday the Navy Unit arrived, there was a group of divers from Lake Russell looking for this airplane.
The recovery effort received tremendous media coverage from this event. It was covered in many state and national newspapers. There were at least seven TV stations that covered this, plus P.M. Magazine ran a local and a national story on the recovery.
The citizens are concerned that this airplane will possibly end up in North Dakota, but they realize that this could be in the best interest of the airplane. The Navy is to be commended. The friendships they developed in the community hopefully will continue into the future. This operation is an example of what reserve units, not only in the Navy, but in other branches of the service, can do as far as combining active training programs and community service. To this end, we have Sen. Thurmond to thank.
Let me represent my community in congratulating Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit II, Detachment 506 out of Little River, Va., on the very professional job they did, and also on representing the Navy.