Dernberger, William Lyon

Name: Dernberger, William Lyon, LT (jg), USNR

Local address: 4 Edgemere Drive, Matawan, NJ

William was born January 19, 1917 in Matawan to Joseph Andrew Dernberger (1889-1974) and Rena C. Lyon (1894-1993). Their second child Mary was born in 1921. Father Joseph was a successful stockbroker in New York City and he apparently moved to Matawan from Newark around the time of his marriage to Rena in 1915. The family eventually purchased one of the first homes built on the newly completed Schenck Avenue, #10, in 1921 and infant Mary was brought home to this residence. Young William spent his childhood here, until his father commissioned and had built a large, beautiful home located at 4 Edgemere in 1936.

William grew up on Lake Lefferts and had a canoe there in 1931. That fall, he entered the Lawrenceville School, a prep boarding academy in Lawrenceville, NJ. He subsequently enrolled at the Mount Herman School in Northfield, MA and graduated from there in 1936. He then attended Upsala College in East Orange and the University of Pennsylvania Dentistry School.  In 1942 William completed a 10-week civilian pilot training course at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

On May 21, 1942, while a student at U Penn, William enlisted in the US Navy. In October of 1942 he underwent pre-flight instruction at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC (also in his class was Arris Banke, another Matawan resident who disappeared during a training flight and is documented in our Wall of Honor.)

After competing his pre-flight training in December 1942, he transferred to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base Memphis, TN for primary flight instruction, completing this in March whereupon he was appointed an Aviation Cadet and transferred to NAS Pensacola, FL for advanced training.

In June of 1943, he completed this training and was designated a naval aviator and commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy. After visiting his parents in Matawan, he was assigned to NAS Miami as a co-pilot in a Beechcraft SNB-2 Navigator, piloting students undergoing navigation training (the above-mentioned Arris Banke was lost in one of these aircraft out of NAS Miami two months before).

In July of 1943, he became engaged to Highland Park, NJ native Mary Doris Harney (1920-2007) and they were married in Miami on September 18, 1943.

Naval aviators traditionally do a stint as flight instructors prior to assignment to combat squadrons. Having experience flying the twin engine SNB-2, he transitioned to the Navy’s version of the B-24, the PB4Y-2 Privateer. In November of 1944, after a visit with his parents in Matawan for Thanksgiving, he departed for San Diego. This would be the last time he saw his parents. He deployed to the Philippines on January 1, 1945, and eventually was stationed at Palawan in that country on April 11, 1945 with navy squadron VPB-111.

William was co-pilot of PB4Y-2 BU#38913, The Rugged Beloved, under the command of LT (jg) Louis Tulane Bass. There is excellent documentation – including photographs – in Naval War Diaries reporting various patrols and bombing missions over Borneo and Malaysia. On May 30, 1945 while scouting the inner harbor of Singapore, their plane was jumped by six (6) Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars, formidable Japanese fighters. After engaging in a 20-minute dogfight, the bomber was able to escape, damaging one enemy aircraft and possibly downing a second. This must have been a terrifying experience.

On June 16, the aircraft failed to return from patrolling the Makassar Strait between the islands of Borneo Sulawesi. According to Pete Hittle, whose wife was the niece of crewman Alden Anders and who has researched the incident, Radio Tokyo broadcast that the Japanese had shot down a B-24 over the Bay of Makassar on the 16th of June. He supposedly also located a letter from a prisoner in a nearby POW camp who saw a B-24 strafing targets, was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and went down in the bay. Hittle had contacted me some years ago when he saw my earlier research on Dernberger online. He believed I was a descendant of William’s and requested DNA – the government had supposedly found remains and needed DNA from 6 of 10 crewmember families to assist in identification. I was able to locate next of kin for them and provided this to Hittle so he could coordinate with the military. A report detailing these efforts can be viewed here: MIA Report. As of last year, the military had not concluded their testing, per an article in the Cedar Falls Gazette, January 4, 2023.

William’s wife Mary never remarried, and she died in 2007. Her obituary advised she had no living family at the time of her death.

According to neighbor Vic Fredda, who would later attend the Naval Academy and become a Naval Officer, children in the neighborhood would peer into the Dernberger garage to see William’s Cadillac, covered in dust, which remained there until the house was sold.

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Mark Chidichimo
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