Inside JCPRD: The Merriam Bomber Crash of 1944

A B-24 “Liberty” Bomber in flight. Courtesy Library of Congress.

By the Johnson County Museum

In July 1944, at the height of World War II, the unthinkable happened in Merriam, Kan. After flying unusually low, a B-24J Liberator Bomber crashed into a neighborhood of homes. Three people aboard the bomber were killed. Six aboard and on the ground were injured, four homes were heavily damaged, and a fifth house was destroyed. What caused the plane to crash? And why was it flying over Johnson County in the first place?

The bomber, which left Lincoln Army Air Field in Lincoln, Neb. on July 26, 1944, was under the command of and piloted by 2nd Lt. Kenneth H. Keech, a 1940 graduate of Shawnee Mission Rural High School. Keech and his crew of five were preparing to go to Europe to fight during World War II. The July 26 flight was to be their last test run – an opportunity to calibrate the bomber’s compass. The Army Air Forces had instructed the crew to fly at 7,000 feet and within 100 miles of the air field.