Thursday, February 23, 2006

 

BentProp Supporters Blog Moving

Hello Everyone!

I'm moving! My blog will now he hosted at www.bentstarproject.org. If you want to keep up to speed with the goings on of all the searches in Palau, head to this new website. Of course you can always go to www.bentprop.org and www.michaelolds.com for this years field reports.

Blue SKies, Flip


Sunday, January 29, 2006

 

BentProp Supporters Update #2

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The BentProp Project

Hello Everyone!

I’m up at 11,600 meters in a Thai Airways Airbus 330, enroute from Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK). Sounds fairly simple: leave Detroit (DTW), arrive in BKK. But if you remember my past experiences traveling the globe, you know I’ll have story to tell.

We got on the Northwest flight (remember, the only airline you’re supposed to fly) in DTW. The plan was to get to NRT and an hour and a half later, go to BKK. The loads were quite full. As a back up, we had some passes on Thai Airways for the next day’s flight. Northwest only has one flight a day to BKK. Thai Airways has three. But that was for "just in case."

The flight from DTW was quite enjoyable. When we got into the greater Tokyo area, we had to hold. A snow storm was affecting the arrival flow into NRT. The Captain said we would only hold for about 10-15 minutes. Good to his word, we commenced the approach within that window. When we broke out of the clouds, we saw a beautiful snow covered Japanese landscape. Quite pretty. We cleared the runway and taxied to a spot pretty close to our gate.

Then we were told we would have to hold for a gate. Seems NRT isn’t used to a lot of snow and they were getting a lot now. Deicing was delayed for a number of airplanes due to the volume of airplanes that needed to deice. And in Tokyo, it’s mostly big airplanes such as 747s and A340s. And lots of them. Almost every airline had planes at their gates that would normally be empty for the arrival aircraft. Airplanes that were supposed to leave at 1400 were still there at 1700. And planes kept coming into NRT. That is until the airport tarmac filled up and they had to divert to other Japanese cities. Every parking space was filled in NRT.

What should have been 20 minutes turned into five plus hours to get to the gate. Our connecting flight to BKK was still at its gate so we ran to it only to be told that there would be no seats available for us. I could ride the jumpseat, but Rebecca would be left behind. Not a good plan.

Our choice was to go to Thai Airways and see if they still had a flight holding for BKK, go to the hotel or hang at the gate area. We chose the hotel. After all, I had a back up plan for Thai Airways the next day, and a bed, shower and some sleep sounded really good. However, we would have to pass through immigration in order to enter Japan. Well, at least Rebecca could see Japan this time. Last time, you should check my story from two years ago, I left Rebecca in a transit lounge while I had to deal with a ticketing issue. She never got to see Japan. And we had to go through Manila to get to Palau and she did not get to see that country either.

There was easily an hour wait just to get our passports stamped. Seems everyone else was heading out too.

Went to see about baggage. I had checked one bag. Not my skydiving gear, but all my clothes. I had checked it to BKK on NWA. To make a long story a little shorter, our agent said, trust me, I’ll transfer the bag to Thai Airways. That burned up another hour. It’s pretty close to midnight now.

Went to the area for the crew bus to the hotel, where I had a reservation. Ran into a Northwest crewmember who said they were in line for a taxi as the bus stopped running at 10pm. There were easily 1,000 people in line for a cab. All the airlines were sending people to hotels. And all the hotels were said to be full in the area around the airport. I had a reservation, but if we couldn’t get there, what good was it?

Okay, let’s go back inside to the gate area and wait for tomorrow’s flights. Nope, security closed and they kicked everyone out of the gate areas. Headed to the other terminal where Thai Airways is located. It’s a 20 minute bus ride. No Thai Airways staff personnel were around. The terminal closes for business around 11pm. Even during weather problems such as this one. Walked around a bit and found the only thing open was a McDonald’s. Not that desperate yet for food.

Found an Australian woman with her child. They were supposed to fly out and had left her hubby in a downtown hotel. He was coming out in a taxi to get her and take her back to downtown Tokyo. She offered to drop us at our hotel. She even loaned us a phone card to check and see if we still had our room. We couldn’t get in touch with the hotel, so we elected to stay. Gave our new friend some raisins and nuts and off they went to the Aeroflot sign to meet her hubby, in about 1½ hours if it all worked out for them.

So, we can’t get to the hotel, can’t get to a gate, can’t make arrangements for tomorrow and 1000’s of our new bestest friends are in the same boat: we’re camping on a linoleum floor of an airport!

We got a spot right where the line for Thai Airways will start the next day. JAL was handing out emergency sleeping bags so we grabbed two and nested. JAL was handing out these gems to anyone who needed them. It was a nice gesture. And we’re keeping ours "just in case." Went to McDonald’s to get something to eat. It just closed.

Found an Internet machine so I could try to find a way out of Japan the next day. Thankfully, I got some Japanese Yen the day prior. Only this thing only took coins. But, Japanese vending machines are plentiful and smart. Bought a can of coffee and got 90 minutes of coins as change. Figured out we’ll get out on NWA late tomorrow if not on Thai Airways. Seems the weather forced some mainland flights to cancel coming to Japan, which opened up seats for us to BKK. But, we’ll get to BKK much earlier if we stick with Thai. So we camped out on our number one spot.

Rebecca was able to sleep a bit, but I was up all night. Kept buying cans of coffee so I could surf the net. Talked with our neighbors and found many people trying to fly Quantas to various spots in Australia.

At about 6am, the airport started to wake up. One group of Australians was trying to get home. We watched them for hours being shuffled from one ticket counter to another, and back again as the Japanese system doesn’t assign counter space on a permanent basis. Each time they stopped at a counter, it looked as if they had solved their problems. They hadn’t. Saw a news report in Bangkok today about a group of Australians stranded between two ticket counters in Narita.

The Thai Airways folks started setting up their counter space and I felt much better. There is a bag security screening that is done before you get to the ticket counters. I had hoped my ID badge would get us through that early. Nope. Wait until your airline is called. At about 8am, Thai was open for business. We were first in line and first to the counter. They put us on standby and said at 9am go to counter 21 for your boarding pass. Sounds good to me. They also put a note in to grab my checked bag from NWA.

In the next hour I saw way more folks at the ticket counter than an Airbus 330 can hold. But, we had faith.

I went to ticket counter 21 and asked a little early how it looked. They said poor. We stayed the course.

At 9am, the supervisor said go to counter 16, get a boarding pass and don’t be late at the gate or we’ll leave you. 45 minutes, no problem.

Got our boarding coupon with 15 minutes to go. Problem. Had to pass through immigration and the line was at least 45 minutes long. Went to the crew line and asked if we could be granted a one time good deal to use the crew line (no waiting there). The immigration officer said to go to the head of a line. We did and got through with 8 minutes to spare. Ran to the gate and found it was delayed.

Saw a number of faces I recognized from our waiting in the terminal the night before. With all that went on, it was amazing in hindsight that no one complained while we were stuck in the airplane and we only saw two upset people the rest of the time we were loitering in the airport.

We boarded and found out we got the last two seats on the airplane.

Another pleasant flight. The Thai Airways staff was excellent.

Got to BKK and found my bag was not there. But, Thai Airways said they would get it to me. They sent a message to NWA, who put it on a flight that night and by noon today, it was delivered to my hotel. Now I can go shopping for wants, rather than needs.

So what does this have to do with looking for MIAs in Palau? Well, if there’s a story to be told enroute to Palau, I may as well tell it. And, technically, I am enroute to Palau, just with a 19 day stop in Thailand.

Hopefully, my traveling travails are over. The next update should be from Palau itself.

Friday, January 20, 2006

 

P_MAN VIII Update #1

P-MAN VIII, Update #1
www.bentprop.org

Hello Everyone!

It’s that time of the year again when a group of volunteers starts heading towards the wide open Pacific. The annual BentProp Project mission to Palau is afoot.
P-MANVIII (Palau- Marine, Army, Navy, eighth mission) is going to be a great adventure this year. We have some leads for the potential execution site/s of some POWs, a few new sightings for aircraft debris and of course interviewing the elders who lived through the war years.

And just so you don’t think spookiness has departed from our midst, we had a couple of events happen that some would say are coincidences. As you know, the BentProp Project doesn’t believe in coincidences anymore.

Pat Scannon (Founder of The BentProp Project, SMF#1) and I were driving from my home Chelsea, MI up to Traverse City in Northern MI. We were enroute to a World War Two, Marine Corps Corsair Squadron reunion. Pat attends many of these reunions so he can to update the Old Codgers and their families about the findings of our searches. It’s also a way to let them know that their efforts way back when are not forgotten.

We were talking about another trip to the National Archives (NARA) and how more aerial photography would be beneficial to our efforts. We have been very fortunate to locate an extensive collection of bomb run photography at NARA as well as many photos from other sources. Although from long ago, these photos have helped us in our searches.

Just at that moment, Pat’s Blackberry announced an incoming email. To paraphrase what Pat read to me, ‘this guy was a photo processor and photographer on B-24s operating off of Anguar in Palau and would we be interested in seeing his collection of photos some day?’ Pat looked at me and asked where Cadillac, MI was. Not only was it near, we had to go through it to get to Traverse City!

Pat called this gentleman back and we set up a meeting that would take place within 2 hours. This man and his wife, Phil and Clara Boucher, hadn’t even left the BentProp webpage by the time Pat made his call. The power of technology.

We got to his house and he showed us his stuff. He had a few boxes of photos that all were treasures. There were no ‘smoking gun’ photos that would show us where to find an airplane, but one photo really got our attention.

It seems that on one mission, a Marine Corsair flew under the B-24. Phil timed it just right and shot a photo. This was taken with one of those really big cameras that you don’t get to look through. He just hit the shutter release when he thought that this ‘under flying Corsair’ would be ‘just right’.

Of all the Corsairs in the Pacific, and of all the Marine Corsairs in this particular theater of war, and of the 3 squadrons operating off of Peleliu, this one Marine is quite well known to us: Major Jack Conger.

Photo by Phil Boucher

Pat has a longstanding relationship with this warrior and if you’ve gone to the website, you may have seen his 8mm color film he shot from his plane. It was quite a thrill to see this photo of someone we know. And think of the coincidence of this photo, plus 60 years for us to get it.

But there was one more coincidence. As we were driving back to Southern MI, Pat and I were talking about our interactions with JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command). Within a mile of where we received the email from Phil, when we were northbound, we received an email from JPAC while heading southbound. And within a few minutes, a phone call. Again, the wonders of technology. But coincidence? We don’t think so.

In late May, The BentProp Project was able to participate in a Repatriation Ceremony at Hickham AFB. Whenever someone is recovered, they are brought to CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, part of JPAC) for identification. They are welcomed home each time by official military personnel from all commands, as well as many Veterans groups. It is a simple and stunning ceremony. No one makes any speeches. It’s all about the returnee/s.

In this ceremony, there were four men coming home. Including the possibility of one of the airmen we had been looking for.

Photo by Flip Colmer

Photo by Flip Colmer


Photo by Flip Colmer

Photo by Flip Colmer

This ceremony is done every time someone comes home. And the crowds are always there: every branch of the military, many veterans organizations, civilians and tourists.



Photo by Flip Colmer

No trip to honor our warriors is complete without a trip to Punchbowl National Cemetery.

Rebecca and I stayed at an Air Force recreation area that has some cottages by the ocean. It was tranquil, idyllic and beautiful. On the weekends, one bit of the area is open to the public and campers flock there to enjoy the beach. But the Marines technically own that section of the area and they have other uses for it Monday through Friday. On Monday morning, we found this out our back door:

Photo by Flip Colmer

Followed by the sound of freedom:

Photo by Flip Colmer, Landings by your United States Marine Corps.

This year’s mission participants are Pat Scannon, Reid Joyce, Dan O’brien, Mike Olds and me. We have lots planned for the jungle and lots planned for the water. Now it’s just a matter of getting over there and getting started. The actual mission dates are 15 February through 15 March. I’m heading out a little early for one more skydiving adventure in Thailand.

As always, if you’re tired of having your inbox cluttered with my musings, please feel free to opt out. Otherwise, it’s another season of missives from afar!


Blue SKies, Flip

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

 

Update #12 — Get a Day Off, Go Home

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P-MAN VII Update #12

The BentProp Project

10 March

Great breakfast. I didn’t cook and ate at the café downstairs. It is a day off after all.

Sam’s Tours picked us up to go diving. Normally we would have gone with Neco Marine since they take such good care of us. But they did not have a boat going to Peleliu and Sam’s had two. I assumed my normal position at the bow of the boat and had a lovely ride down to Peleliu. We cruised past many of the landing beaches from the invasion days, enroute to the dive site. It was great viewing from my perch.


One of the landing beaches today. Photo by Mike Olds

There were 8 of us today. Three people from Germany with serious camera set ups, a recently graduated lawyer from Poland who now resides in New Jersey, a former flight attendant who lives in Seattle, a man from Palm Springs who gets violently seasick but loves the sport so much he guts through it, and me and Mike. I had some compliments paid to me on the way out. They all thought Mike was my son. I sure hope he does well in law school. Do you know how much tuition is? Make us proud, Mike.

We suited up and Keith, our guide, led the way. The Peleliu wall is a reef fairly close to the west side of Peleliu. The top is at about 35 feet and the bottom is well beyond visual range. I’m told there is a shelf at about 250 feet and then it drops off to a couple of thousand feet. We went down to about 70 feet and allowed the current to carry us along the wall. Very little effort is required to move. You just get to see the world as you go by. The world of fish all around you: in the open, along the wall, in the cracks, above you and behind you. Lots of corals, colors and shapes












And sharks.


All underwater photos courtesy of Dive Palau Website.

We did not see any for awhile and then we saw a wall of them. That’s when I realized that I was last in line. You know what happens to the last person in the movies whether it is a teen horror movie or a military movie?

We moved along at a good clip and got to an area known as The Cut. This is a spot where you can hook into the reef and watch the show. It also has a tendency to have a very strong current. So strong that it took two hands to hold on at times. Thank goodness I found two hand holds. Keith hadn’t planned on us getting that far on the first dive so we did not have our reef hooks to help out. But we all hung on and watched the show.

The current isn’t steady. It comes and goes like the varying of the wind. When you are anchored to the reef, you can really feel it pulsing. When you let go, that feeling goes away and you drift with the current. That feels like the last guy in line in a space movie who lets go of his anchor and drifts away from the space station never to be seen again.

We drifted a bit to look at the top of the reef and do our safety stop at the same time. Keith let go an orange buoy and the boat started to come to our position. After all the divers were on the boat, we headed to the South Dock of Peleliu for lunch. Something about it being rough out there and the effect it would have on one individual of our group.

Lunch is a long, drawn out affair. Not that we have anything more than a box lunch to eat. We have to spend time on the surface in order to get rid of nitrogen build up in our bodies. Time is really the only way to do that.

After a sufficient amount of time, back on the boat and away we went back to the wall. We repeated the dive, but with a slightly different jump in point and slightly different depth. So it was all new. This time we had our reef hooks. So when we got to the cut again, we were ready. Again, another wall of fish, sharks and sea life. We also saw a huge tuna, a bat ray, Dorie and many other things. Another great dive. And a great day off. Sort of a tease having the day off the day before you leave. But I’ll take it. Seeing pretty fish is a great way to end the trip.

The boat ride back was wonderful too. The captain found a herd of dolphin and they wanted to play. They rode the bow wave for quite some time and put on a good show for us. We also encountered a few rain showers. I, being prepared from my BentProp training, had my rain gear and stayed in my bow position. The pointy ends of the drops don’t hurt as much when you have a good L.L.Bean yellow rain slicker. Knee length. I always wanted one of those and I got it this past summer just for this reason.

At one point I remembered that I had a box of Oreos to share with my diving partners. Had to stop the boat to get the captain off the dry box lid. Everyone was happy with an Oreo in the hand and rain pelting their faces.

Back at port, Keith gave us some leads to some folks to chat with. We’ll follow up with them later.

Got cleaned up and headed to Joe and Esther’s house. Esther has been planning a dinner party for us for months. She wanted to fix us a banquet of just Palauan delicacies. And she did just that. Fresh coconut milk in the coconut, lemonade from Palauan lemons, taro leaf soup, clam chowder in coconut milk, many forms of taro, fried fish, BBQ crocodile fish, sweet taro, sweet pumpkin, some sort of nut that grows wild in Palau and I’m sure I’ve left something out. The only thing not from Palau was the rice.

And we had second servings of everything. It was all wonderful. As some might say, “Full as a tick.”

We rolled out to the cars and rolled on home.

I slept a long and sound sleep.

11 March

Slept in and then made one last breakfast for everyone. One last good cup of coffee before I start this road trip home. This is the only part of the adventure I really do not like. Tonight’s flight leaves at 0150 in the morning on the 12th. It’s convenient that it connects to all the departing flights out of Guam. But that time. 0150. Arggggggg.

So, time to get some errands out of the way. But first, a few final interviews. We interviewed one old gent who worked in the water department under the Japanese occupation. He told us some more facts about the new Avenger site we found. When he left Koror for Babelthuap, he was a hunter. His air gun broke and then his buddies told him where this airplane was and that he could get the parts from the plane that could fix his gun. So he disassembled a .50 cal machine gun to get a few parts. Turns out he could not fix his gun. But he did say there was more of the airplane there then what we have found so far. Seems like we have our work cut out for us on this one. And by process of elimination, we think we know who might have been in that plane. So we are motivated to find it. But that will have to wait until next year.


My last interviewee. Photo by Flip

He did not have information about other crash sites. So we went off to find two other folks. One went to Hawaii last night. That sounds familiar. And another, we just could not find their house. It’s interesting to hear Joe speak when we ask if he knows where someone lives. We might say something like, “I know where they live” or “I know the address.” Joe always says “I know/do not know that house.”

My errands were to the post office to ship my stuff home, barber shop so I would look less rough around the edges for Rebecca, pick up a few more goodies for her, check loads for my ride home, and try to trade some challenge coins for some challenge coins.

64 pounds, 11 ounces enroute to Chelsea, MI. They asked me if I knew why there was no guaranteed delivery anymore to Micronesia. I think they know my story of free shipping.

Found a great barber. A Filipina who massaged my head and shoulders after the haircut just like I remembered when I lived in the Philippines. Even the price was right.

Found a few more goodies for Rebecca.

Checked loads out of Guam. I’m doomed. More on that when I get to Guam.

Headed to The Vice President’s office. I heard he liked trading coins so I went to see him. He was off island but his secretary said, “Of course I’ll get one for you. Almost as good as if it was coming from his hands.”

Caught up with Reid and Mike and we tracked down some language books that we were looking for. We had to go to the Ministry of Education to find them.

Cleaned up and headed to Sam’s for one more presentation. This one would be unique. This would be an update of what we did this year, but it was going to be filmed for local Palauan television with Joe doing the translation into the Palauan language. It went great. Lots of people in attendance. Lots of interest in what we’re doing.

Traded with the O.I.C. of the Air Force for a couple of coins. And scored a DET CAT T-shirt too. Must be some guilt feelings driving a Navy boat by an Air Force crew. Okay, she has a good heart and wanted to improve my style of dress.

Gathered up the BentProp Team and headed to Carp Restaurant which is close to the hotel. In case it took too long to get through dinner, I could make an escape and stay on time. Which is what happened. After a great meal, I dashed out of The Carp to the hotel. In my room, as I was emptying my pockets, I noticed one problem. I still had the car keys for the rest of the group. Had to go back and take them the keys.

Back to the hotel, quick shower, fast pack, goodbyes to all and P-MAN VII was over for me. Now it’s just adventures in non-reving.

Got to the airport and went through the check in process in less than 5 minutes. Now what? It’s just after midnight and the flight doesn’t leave until 0150. Wait. Call Rebecca. Wait some more. Finally got through immigration and security.

Got a seat and it was an emergency exit row. Well, at least I could stretch out. With all that extra legroom, and the seat all the way back, snoozing shouldn’t be a problem.

Except for the window seat. They don’t recline. Did you know that? I did, but it didn’t dawn on me until I got to the seat. Keep in mind I’ve been up since 0700 and it’s now almost 2 in the morning.

Bagged an hour of sleep on the plane and we arrived in Guam. Passed through immigration, out to the real world and back through security. Went to the gate and had two hours until my flight to Narita, Japan. So, I’ve been typing away trying to get caught up with this update. After all, you’ve probably been thinking “Now why don’t he write?” Quote courtesy of Dances With Wolves.

Norman the gate agent showed up so I checked in with him. He said it didn’t look good since coach was full.

But I had a business class pass.

You’re not listed that way he responded.

I should be.

This is a problem he said.

Can you fix it?

Sure.

30 minutes later, with no word from Norman and the boarding process in full swing, I asked him if I needed to call Continental Reservations back. He said yes.

Walked to the far away pay phones as the close ones in sight of the podium were on the other side of a security barrier. I talked with Judy and she fixed everything.

Went back to Norman. He thanked me for doing that. Then he said wait.

At the bitter end, he said I wasn’t listed at all. And that there was nothing he could do and it was too late to do anything anyway. “Sorry.”

I of course raced to the near pay phones, jumping over the security barrier. Called Judy back and she said in no uncertain terms that I was listed. Then she did a very sweet thing. She said to put the receiver down and go to the podium and see what they say now. She wasn’t going to give up on me and make me dial again if I needed it.

Again Norman said I wasn’t listed. I told him that the reservations agent, on hold at the pay phone said otherwise. Norman’s supervisor realized I had never been checked in and was listed the whole time. A handwritten boarding pass was issued, I raced back to the phone to say thank you to Judy and raced back to the gate and got on. Good karma begets good karma.

In Narita, where I did very little of this writing, I kept checking loads on the various NWA flights that could get me home. We’re very full on every flight. The only flight out of NRT today that had any appreciable number of seats open was to Portland, OR. But, we don’t have flights to DTW on the weekends from PDX which means going through MSP and not getting home until close to 7pm. If I ride the jumpseat home from NRT, I’ll get back by 12 noon. I think I’ll go for speed of return versus having a beer in the back.

One last e-mail sweep, a shower in the bathhouse they have here and off I went to my gate. The bathhouse is probably the best deal in Japan. Use of a complete shower facility in the airport for only 500 yen [$4.77 US, Ed.]. I felt like a new man. Well, not exactly. I just didn’t feel as tarnished as I did prior.

I was up in the cockpit jumpseat for the entire ride back. Best seat in the house. Especially when there are no others. An NWA friend and his son were trying to get out of NRT. They want to eventually end up in Atlanta but as I said, the loads are tight here. The son got the last seat on the airplane and my friend rode the last remaining jumpseat.

And that brings me back home. Arrived, got through customs and immigration and jumped into Rebecca’s arms. I’m really home. But the rest of the lads are still there. If anything special happens, I’ll have another update for you. Until then, take care.


Blue Skies, Flip

 

Update #11 — Tommy and His Dad

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P-MAN VII Update #11

More lots of March

The BentProp Project

09 March

Had to set the alarm in order to get up and fix breakfast for everyone. I volunteered to make food happen for us this year and keep track of expenses. Val has done that in the past and last year, when Val didn’t come due to injuries, ‘da Boys’ failed miserably on both tasks. Well, the truth be known, I volunteered to cook so I wouldn’t go hungry. Everyone else, well, I made enough for them too.

Today I cooked enough for the Doyles as well. Might as well let them join us for the whole day, not just the cool and groovy parts. Out the door at 0730, over to Neco and Tommy started his check-in process. Tommy is a brand new scuba diver. Just got certified just so he could dive to his Dad’s airplane. But he had never been deeper than 25 feet and never in open ocean. We thought it would be prudent that his first dive not be to his Dad’s airplane. So we hooked him up with Bert.


Tommy working with Bert. Photo by Flip



Tommy’s first post student status dive. Photo by Reid Joyce

Bert was going to film the dive on the B-24 and he is an instructor so it seemed a natural confluence. We loaded all the gear and headed out no more than 500 yards to a spot that would work for a new diver. In the meantime, us more current divers paddled over and dropped down on the Helmet Wreck.

The Helmet Wreck is a Japanese armed freighter that was sunk during the war. It was carrying lots of war materials including, now this is a stretch, helmets. But in the hold are countless depth charges. Still intact, still live. So nobody sneeze. Lots of different things to look at: machine gun, deck gun, ammunition, mast, wheel house and more. The stern is the highest in the water at about 60 feet and the top of the bow is at about 90. And this wreck went undiscovered until the 70s. And the area is in sight of Neco’s dock. It’s amazing that the salvagers missed this one.

And we were very lucky. The visibility was great. There is a lot of silt down there and normally with the tide shifts, the water gets kind of murky. Not for us this day. However, as much as we wanted to stay on the wreck, we timed our ascent to be on deck when Tommy came up from his dive. We wanted to go back to Neco and clean up since we would be meeting the President [of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, Jr., Ed.] in a little while.

So clean up we did. I got some advice from my cohorts that flowered Hawaiian shirts and shorts, that are different in color, pattern and no ability to go with each other, probably would not be right for any occasion, let alone meeting the President of Palau. I put on the same shirt I wore for Major QB Nelson’s memorial we conducted during my first mission to Palau. My green shorts coordinated perfectly. People are looking out for me.

Everyone boarded and off we went. First stop, pick up the AirBees. Since the U.S. Air Force has a presence in Palau this year as The Civic Action Team, we enlisted their help with our ceremony. We asked their OIC (Officer in Charge), 1LT Megan Poyant, to say a few words from the Air Force perspective. (We call them the AirBees as they don’t really have a nickname of their own, and this used to be SeaBees territory.)


El Jefé and L.T. Photo by Flip

With them was the Acting Charge’ de Affaires for the U.S. Embassy: Michelle Solinski. The regular Charge’ was off island at a conference and her replacement came in from the Philippines. Imagine her surprise when we walked in a few days ago and said, “Guess what you’re doing with the President of Palau on the 9th?” She and her husband rode out with the AirBees in their boat. Yes, I did say their boat. It used to be a SeaBee boat, but for this detachment it is an Air Force boat. Okay, here’s a trivia question. Which Uniformed Service has the most ships? The Army. Which Service has the most aircraft? The Army. Just thought you’d want to know. And the Charge’ is not a scuba diver so when we wanted to go under, she bagged a ride back to shore on the President’s ride.

We led them out and anchored over the B-24 and lashed the two boats together. Introductions were made as there were Tommy and Nancy, Bert the videographer, 7 BentPropers including Joe our boat captain, 7 AirBees and The Charge’ and her husband. Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Doctor…………


AirBees’ Doc. Photo by Flip

As Pat started to give a little background info of why we were all there, the President showed up with his contingent: Henny, his dive guide, his bodyguard (with earpiece and wire hanging out of his ear), a photographer and two boat handlers and a police officer or two. They lashed up on the other side of us. We were quite a crowd over this spot.


Ding Ding. Ding Ding. Ding Ding.
The President of Palau arriving.
Photo by Flip

And it started. The Air Force unfurled the American and Palauan flags at the stern of our boat.


Color Guard. Photo by Flip

The President spoke first and talked about freedom and democracy and how due to the sacrifices of people such as the Doyles, Palau was able to regain its freedom and take its rightful place as an independent country and a member of the United Nations. He thanked Tommy Doyle for all the people of Palau.


The President of Palau, the U.S. Charge’ de Affairs, the Media and Security. Photo by Flip

The Charge’ spoke next and was equally eloquent. She seemed to get it that this is not about looking for airplanes to salvage. It’s about the people, and here was a couple that came all the way from Snyder, Texas, to stand on the water to make some sort of contact with this man’s Dad. And she made that more personal by representing our country at the ceremony.

Next came The Air Force. I think we gave LT Poyant 24 hours notice that The President of Palau was going to be there. She spoke eloquently about how she felt as a young Air Force officer thinking about the loss of the crew of this B-24. She ended by quoting a part of the Air Force hymn. Most of us know “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…” But she quoted a much more personal section:

Here’s a toast to the host of those who
__Love the vastness of the sky.
To a friend we send this message
__Of his brother men who fly.
We drink to those who gave their all of old
__Then down we roar to score the rainbow’s pot of gold.
A toast to the host of men we boast
__The United States Air Force.


The national flags were folded and presented to Tommy Doyle on behalf of two very grateful nations. Tommy had a chance to speak and it was evident that so much more than a simple visit to his Dad’s final resting spot had occurred. There were a few misty sets of eyes on all the boats.








Photos by Flip

A natural moment of silence ensued and then someone broke the ice and said, “Let’s go diving.”


President’s flippers



Henny



The Presdent of Palau. Photos by Flip

The President went down first to lead the way. Tommy followed him down. Each had their own entourage: The President had Henny, and Tommy had Pat, Joe, Megan and Bert was filming the whole thing.


Megan, Pat, Joe and Tommy. Photo by Flip

The rest of us stayed on the surface. The wreck is on two sides of a coral head. The plan was when Tommy and the President moved off the forward fuselage, wings and propeller section towards the tail and fuselage section, our second group of divers would hit the first section. I would lead the way with the rest of the BentProp team and the AirBees.

While Tommy was holding on to a piece of the airplane with his bare hand, The President took off his glove and handed it to Tommy to use. It was related as quite a touching moment by all those who witnessed it.

They moved off and I jumped in. When our gaggle was all together, we went down.


The Second Dive Group. Photo by Jennifer Noah

Joe, as always, put the boat right over the wreck. It was a simple swim down to the first pieces of the airplane. Then moving to the north, we got to the rest of the first section. The airplane is pretty much the way we left it. It doesn’t seem as if anyone else has been down there since last year. Or if they were, they were not intrusive.

We spent a few minutes there and then headed south towards the second section. This is a great part of the dive. You swim with the reef on your left and at the base of it. You go past some wonderful sea fans and fish. Just when you think you’ve missed it, out of the silty water looms the tail section. The rudder fabric is all gone so it looks like the ribs of some large creature, until you get close enough to see the rest of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, and above that on the sloping reef, the aft fuselage.


One of the vertical stabilizers



Jennifer and the first prop. Photos by Reid Joyce from P-MAN VI

You can get your head inside some of the holes in the airplane and look around. One of the waist gunner’s doors is fully open giving great views. Again, this part of the wreck seems undisturbed.

Meanwhile, back on the boat, our heroes… Tommy talked about the impact of the dive. I wasn’t there, but I’m told the President gave him some more kind words.

We went back to the first section, looked around some more and then surfaced. A great dive.

And a great dive for Tommy Doyle. His second dive off student status is with The President of Palau, on his Father’s airplane. How’s that for cool factor?

The President departed for land to take care of affairs of state. The AirBees hung out a bit longer and they too departed. That left just us BentPropers and The Doyles. We ate some lunch, schmoozed a little and then Tommy went down for his second dive on the B-24. He looked at both sections again, and went back to the boat. Then he spoke for the camera and with no one on the boat but his lovely bride, Pat, Joe and Bert. The rest of us were still underwater. I have not seen the footage but I’m told he opened up a bit and it was quite heartwarming. You’ll have to wait and see the documentary that DOB and Jennifer are making. Wait a minute! Should that have been a shameless marketing alert? No. I think not. That was a public service announcement.

We hung over the site for quite some time. No one wanted to leave. When it felt right, we did. Back to Neco and back to our hotels to clean up prior to dinner.

I needed to go shopping for Rebecca. It seems it’s still snowing in Michigan and hasn’t started yet in Palau. So a few more warming gifts are in order. And I felt I had to go right now to a specific art gallery. Coincidence? By now you should know it was not.

Rebecca asked me to look for something with oranges and purples. I’m not sure if that was together or separate, but I did not find any. But, at the art gallery, there is a Pacific Rim Crafts shop. I found a few things there and started talking to the owner. We talked about what we were doing in Palau and about our trip around the island interviewing the elders. Coincidentally, she works in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs as the Senior Center Coordinator. She loved our idea of interviewing the old folks. Neither of us recognized each other but when business cards were exchanged, we realized we did know each other. I was speaking with Lillian, the owner of Lehn’s Motel. We stayed there last year. She thought coming to the Senior’s Center might bear fruit for us. Pat will call her after I’m gone and set up something for next year. We’re getting a little tight on time for this year’s mission.

Out to a large group dinner with The Doyles and a lot of the players from the day. This was held at The Reef which is located in the Etpison Museum. A beautiful museum dedicated to the cultural history of Palau.

I handed my camera to the person on my left and said, “Take a photo of something, and then pass it to the next person.” Here’s a sampling of what I found in my camera.


Bert’s shot



L.T.’s shot



Reid’s shot

A grand time had by all, but this dinner dashed one of our accomplishments from earlier in the trip. The Reef still had VB! It was in cans, not bottles, but it was VB. And they still had some when the night was over. So, we did not drink the island dry. Skipper, you were right!

Back home and into bed for a great night’s rest. I had to sleep well because tomorrow was going to be a tough day. Our first day off. Mike and I are going to blow bubbles down at Peleliu. It is supposed to be a wonderful drift dive. Time will tell. So good night, I’ll chat a bit more tomorrow after our dive.


Blue SKies, Flip

P.S. It is amazing how the stories of the people involved resonate with everyone. Who would think that after 60 years, these stories would still move folks. I have found that I keep coming back to Palau for the opportunity to meet people who have a close connection with the events of 1944/45. Finding airplanes is enjoyable. Interacting with the cast of players is rewarding.

Monday, March 14, 2005

 

Update #10 — Honored Guests

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P-MAN VII Update #10

Lots of March

The BentProp Project

Hello Everyone!

07 March.

Today was an uneventful day. We had a meeting scheduled with the Ibedul at 11am. So we had a morning of making phone calls, running errands and doing some busy work. All in preparation for March 9th. Did I tell you we have special guests coming in? But, unfortunately, the Ibedul could not meet with us and we did not find out until lunch time. So we went and had lunch.

Went back to the office of the Ibedul and it was still locked for the lunch hour break. So, being the patient people we are, we went down to the dock and out to go find airplane parts.

We headed back to the mangrove where we found the Avenger wing. We were told where to look for another flat surfaced part. We went into the mangrove, found the wing and then headed west. We climbed over root and trunk and mucked our way to the shoreline.


Where’s Waldo? Photo by Flip

We encountered many pongee stakes, one rain shower and only a little bit of sun. We were going to make another pass through, but time was of the issue as we had to get the boat back and get ready for an interview at 6pm. Then after dinner, head to the airport and pickup Tommy and Nancy Doyle. Did I tell you we have some special guests coming in?

We got out and floated back to the boat. Our plan is to return tomorrow when the tide is coming in. In these mangrove areas, silt and debris really move with an outgoing tide. So if the tide is coming in, we should have better viewing. That’s what we’ll do.

Got to the hotel and did a quick change. Headed out to do another interview. This time with Einstein’s Father.


Past President of Palau Community College and
Micronesia Occupational College. Photo by Flip

He was a teenager during the war and was training to be a carpenter at the vocational training center under the Japanese Administration. He went on to become an educator and was President of Micronesia Occupational College that later became the Palau Community College.

He said he and a number of people in Koror moved to the Rock Islands and stayed there until the war was over. His parents were on the big island. He said he never saw an airplane get shot down, nor did he ever see a parachute or an American. But after the war, he did see a number of airplanes in the waters around Koror. And he said most were salvaged. The ones that he says are still out there, we already know about.

We asked about the ship running aground on the eastside of Babelthuap and he said he did know of that story. Did our ears perk up! Only he thought it was after the war and on the Westside. And it was a surface ship and not a submarine. Oh well. Maybe later.

One thing that is a constant with all these interviews is that the Palauans were confined to certain areas of each island. There were definite areas the Japanese did not want them to see.

Out to dinner with the whole crew. Then out to the airport to pick up Tommy and Nancy Doyle. They are from Snyder, Texas. They are coming in to see the B-24 that we found last year. Tommy’s dad was on that airplane.

But when the customs agents retired for the night, we realized that Tommy and Nancy were not in Palau. We checked with the Continental rep and they did not make it to GUM from HNL in time. Their airplane had a mechanical in HNL and it took a while to fix it. They would be coming the next night. We had planned a traditional BentProp Palauan welcome for them: milkshake at the “truckstop.” And since that was such a good idea no matter what, we went to the truckstop without them.

Of course when we finally got back to the hotel, there was an e-mail saying not to go to the airport as Tommy and Nancy’s airplane had a mechanical and they would be a day late.

So, tired as we were, we all retired.

08 March

Today was a hiking day. Joe found a piece of aircraft aluminum near The German Lighthouse while he was working the Survivor show. There are a few reports that an airplane with “bones” in it is just below the lighthouse, close to a very high cliff. The Survivor: Palau tribal meetings, where someone gets the axe, were held on or near the jetty that we use to get onto this island. You have to go by boat. And I must compliment the Survivor producers. Everyone we’ve talked to says they were great to work with. And they paid their bills on time and kept some accountants on the island after everyone else departed to make sure everything was squared away financially.

In addition, they greatly improved the trail leading up to the lighthouse, without sacrificing the look of a jungle road that has not been used for 60 years. This was an old Japanese Road, or maybe German, and there was a headquarters area for the naval gun batteries that were located there. It was a very nice touch to fill in the holes with gravel and gap the empty space between roots and earth with a log or two. Nicely done. And the eco-toilet that was left behind was greatly appreciated by us. But just so you know, I’m told that none of the contestants ever knew the toilet was there. It was up the trail and around a corner.


Me on improved road. Photo by Mike Olds

And more Survivor trivia. They got used to sleeping in the jungle. Hardly flinched by the end of the ordeal even when rats would crawl over them at night. Just so you know, this isn’t just a nature hike for them.

But back to us. It’s a 45 minute walk up this steep incline to get to the lighthouse. There is still a ton of war debris in the jungle and on the trail are two Japanese Naval Guns that were used to protect Malakal Harbor. Well, they would have been except the Marines took them out with their Corsairs, and we never tried to force our way into the harbor. These guns were supposedly captured from the British when the Japanese took Singapore. There were a lot of guns at Singapore to defend against the invasion that was expected from the sea. One problem. No one had the back door covered. And darned if those Japanese didn’t come from that direction.

We got to the lighthouse and were rewarded with great views and a little breeze. We’re hiking in steamy jungle and the air temp is in the 90s outside of the jungle. We then fanned out and found nothing. Joe knows he saw it and kept looking far and wide. You can’t travel very far towards the east due to that big cliff I told you about: 300 feet down to water and/or rocks. But Joe did find an impression in the jungle floor of where his piece of aluminum was. So, if any of you Survivor workerbees or producers took that, please let me know. We just want to make an identification of it, not take it away from you. Of course if HPO, NHC, AFHC, USN, USAF or USMC find out you have it, they will try to take it away from you. Just wanted to let you know.

Being skunked at the lighthouse, we thought we should go get skunked again. We went back to look for Einstein’s wing. The tides were in our favor and so was the light, wind and visibility. As we expected, skunked again.

Well, we wanted to see something today and since we were on the boat, we headed to a submerged dumping ground that a local ex-pat by the name of Dennis lead us to a few years ago. There were a couple of aircraft pieces there, including a really big wing that I kept calling a B-29 wing. That no B-29s were based here did not dissuade me from my delusion. This year, with Mark in tow, we determined that it was a Japanese Betty Bomber. In addition, there is a fuselage of some single engine aircraft down there as well as a horizontal stabilizer. Then there is a ton, more like a gazillion tons, of dumped steel. From steam shovels to trucks, landing craft to who knows what. At the end of the war, we suspect they picked an untraveled cove, and dumped stuff there. Sure wish it really had been a B-29 wing.

Got to the airport in plenty of time to pick up our honored guests. And they were fresh as daisies since they had a day in Guam to recuperate from their long day of travel.


Nancy, Pat and Tommy prior to milkshakes. Photo by Flip

We bundled them off and stopped short of their hotel to get the BentProp welcome to Palau drink: milkshakes at the truckstop. And they are so good.

Tucked them in at their hotel and we all retired to ours to plan the next day. And it is going to be a full one. Full of lots of things to do, and full of emotion. But, that is another day.


Blue SKies, Flip

Monday, March 07, 2005

 

Update #9 — Success and Not Successful

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P-MAN VII Update #9

[Preface

Hello Pat!

I spent 30 minutes of internet time today to send a 398 kb email. And it did not go out. So you'll get number 9 later tonight, but here is your update for today.

WE went mangrove walking again to look for more parts to that Avenger wing. NO luck. Yes, it has been a traveled area with crab hunters, fishermen, growing mangrove and of course the Japanese who probably looked it over way back when. All we have is a wing. No one has reported the fuselage, but we did get some intel on another wing and that is why we went back in.

At least mangrove mud is medicinal.

We're heading out to interview an elder, eat dinner and then go to the airport to pick up the son of one of the crewmen from the B24 we found last year. We're going to take him to it.

Bye, got to go.

Preface sent to the Editor on: Mon, 7 Mar 2005 3:41:45 AM EST

End Preface]

05 March

The BentProp Project

Hello Everyone!

Today was a great day. We found a new crash site to work. But first, lessons learned.

Lessons Learned

1. Finding a new site takes the sting out of being stood up.
2. If it looks like Chucky, acts like Chucky and talks like Chucky, it might just be Chucky.
3. Letting your camera get chilled by ice cold water doesn’t do to much to improve your photographs. But the batteries do last longer.
4. Seeing pretty fishes isn’t as good as finding airplanes, but it sure is close.
5. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to get through a mangrove.”
6. If you forget to bring spare batteries for your camera, just borrow someone else’s.
7. Three strikes and you’re still in the ballpark since you might have info we want that can help us find our lost heroes even though you have stood us up three times including forgetting you’re supposed to go to Hawaii.
8. Did you know Romulus and Remus nursed on a she-wolf and that’s how Rome was founded? Sounds a bit iffy to me. Are my BentProp friends pulling my leg?
9. Tomorrow we’re going to find something big!

Today started off just like any other day. A hearty breakfast, good brief, load up the car and head down to Neco Marine. 2 minutes later, unload the car, grab our scuba gear, load the boat and wait.

We’re waiting (happily mind you) for Mark and his scuba instructor Greg to get all their stuff down to the boat. Mark has only two more dives to complete and to get his certification card. We want him to do this so he can enjoy diving on the B-24 with Tommy Doyle. That will be the best day of this whole mission. However, Neco is quite busy and the only day the instructor can work with him is today. However, we have 2 possible sites to explore and Mark doesn’t want to miss that. One option is to drag the instructor along with us, drop them in the water and get them after they complete their dive and we complete our survey of a possible wreck site. Assuming they don’t drift off into the Philippine Sea, this should not be a problem. Just so you know, we did not leave them. But it was tempting.

They gathered up all their stuff, loaded the boat and off we went. Our first appointment, and I mean appointment, was with Lazarus. Lazarus has guided Pat to wrecks before: 2 Corsairs. He has also led us on a few exercise romps when he could not re-find something. And he never has stood us up before, so long as you don’t count Pat waiting 5 hours for him to show up.

I call Laz Chucky. Chucky from the movie Child’s Play. If you don’t know the movie, it’s probably your good fortune. It’s a great, silly Hollywood horror movie. In any case, a few years ago when he was about to take us to a crash site, he smiled a smile that looked just like the devilish smile Chucky has. Then he took us into a nasty mangrove.

We were with him a few days ago when we set up the appointment for today. (I did mention that we had an appointment didn’t I? And why didn’t Laz check his planner?) He had just come back from fishing. Since I first met him, I have undergone an intensive course of instruction in how to speak Lazarus. For example, when we were setting the appointment, he was asked, “When did you last see it?” His response was “I just went by it today. 20-30 minutes ago.” The casual observer might think that this was a good response. But did you notice he did not exactly say he saw it. So it was not a surprise that when we got to the dock, there was no Lazarus. Disappointing, but not a surprise.


A rare foggy day in Palau. Photo by Flip



The same day when not shot by Flip with condensation on the lens. Image by Ed.

We drove up his inlet and his boat was gone.


Lazarus’s canal. Photo by Flip
Joe hopped out and ran up to his house. No Chucky. Made a few phone calls. They think he went to his house in another State. Well that’s not good for us. So we headed out to the approximate area we thought Laz meant. Laz had shown us on a chart where he thought this plane might be. And it was an interesting description: upside down with the landing gear extended. Could be a Japanese fixed gear airplane, or one of ours that for some reason had its gear down before crashing. We had seen a post war photo of the outer reef that clearly showed an airplane like artifact in the water. But there is a lot of reef area out there. And the shallows behind the reef are huge.

While we were waiting for Joe to figure out how badly we had been stood up, Einstein, Joe’s First Mate for the day, piped up that he knew where a wing in the water was. He also said his father knew a lot about things in the water. He talked more about it and we decided to add his wing to our list of things to do today, and talking to his father a priority for our next round of interviews. That makes three potential finds possible for today.


Einstein telling us we had been played. Photo by Flip

Joe thought he might have seen Laz’s boat in our target area on the way in, but it was gone when we got back out into open water. So we looked around the area and of course we did not find anything. So we found the right spot for Mark and Greg and they plopped in to do Mark’s second to last instructional dive. I flopped in to snorkel and look at pretty fish. Everyone else stayed on the boat.


Mark and his instructor Greg. Photo by Flip



Student helping instructor? Photo by Flip

After a little bit, we all surfaced and headed to our second appointment. We had met a Chief and Paramount Chief during our round the island tour for old folks. They thought enough of us that when they found a contact, they tracked us down up at North Beach Cottages. We set an appointment to meet some mangrove crab hunters, Jason and Pat (known as Pat2) who knew where something was located. We were told to give them a call when we got to the dock by the power plant and they would come by. This sounds tenuous at best so we figured that they would stand us up too.

2 minutes after Joe made the call, they showed up. They led us to a small beach that belongs to some local Palauans. There was a complete house there with summer house, nice stone walls, stone steps, garden and picnic area. And a sign that basically said that ‘this was private property, but that if the owners were not there, feel free to use it. Just behave yourselves.’ Now why can’t those people move to a ski area in Colorado?

They led us up a couple of steep hills, down some steep hills, and into a mangrove area.

This wasn’t like our dry one from yesterday. This was an old mangrove with lots of roots, about 6 inches of water and many pongee stakes (broken off roots). Our total walk in was maybe 30 minutes. And there it was.


Can you see it? Photo by Reid Joyce



The real deal.



Leading edge slot. Photos by Flip

An Avenger wing. Still with the star and bar on it. With some other writing on an electrical panel door. And nothing else. We looked around a little bit but saw nothing but mangrove. Jason, one of the crab hunters, said another friend knows where another flat piece is, but that it is flat in the water. We could have walked right by it and not known it. Jason is going to have his friend show us this piece on another day.


Jason our guide, high in the mangrove roots. Photo by Flip



Pat2 is happy. Photo by Flip on Mark’s Nikon. Hasn’t he lost that yet?

This aircraft is a mystery. We don’t know of any aircraft shot down in this area. So we do not know the whos, the whys or the how comes. We just know one of the wheres. And this is how each of these searches starts. Someone, or something gives us a good solid clue and we delve in and try to solve the mystery and find out who are the fallen heroes from this particular aircraft.

The bad news is that undoubtedly this crew perished. They either perished in the crash, or if they survived, they were executed by the Japanese. This crash site would have been right smack dab in the backyard of bad guy territory.

Greg the scuba instructor came along with us. I think this might have been his first hike in the mangroves and he definitely got a taste for what we do. And he thought he was only going out for a ?“three hour cruise. A three hour cruise”?.

We held a flag ceremony photo op for the still cameras.


Almost all of the faces can almost all be seen. Mark’s camera but Photo by Flip

We’ll do one on video, with an audio track, when we remember to bring the video camera. We included our new Palauan best friends and they held the Palauan National Flag side by side with the U.S. Flag. By then I was shooting photos with Marks digital camera. I had finally exhausted my batteries. And guess where my spare set was hiding? Yep, right next to the video camera. But bringing the video camera was not my assignment. Batteries were and I failed. Thank goodness Mark had his camera. A really nice Nikon. I almost told him I dropped it in the mangrove. But, integrity prevailed.

We took a shortcut out of the mangrove and we were back at the boat. Einstein hadn’t gone with us. He hung back to have lunch, eat a betel nut and strum his guitar.

We dropped Jason and Pat2 at the dock and headed to the second dive site so Mark could finish his scuba qual. And of course we had to have lunch. And another wonderful Spam lunch it was. I had warned everyone that we were down to that again as I did not get to the grocery store the previous night. I tried to help my Spam challenged teammates by making an extra large, well filled omelet for breakfast and warned them to get to-go food from the café downstairs. Mark joined Mike in the anti-Spam faction but Reid, Pat and Joe hung with me. They’re better men for it.

After lunch, Mark and Greg plopped in to finish Mark’s course and I grabbed a tank to look at pretty fishes. And it was pretty. I saw a giant grouper, many brightly colored reef fish and lots of good eating fish. This coral head is almost identical to the one where we found the B-24 last year. It starts at about 15 feet, the reef slopes down to about 70 feet and then the sand continues out and down to wherever it goes to. Just a nice restful dive. I stayed out of the class’s way as Einstein warned me not to do anything that would send me to the principal’s office for a whupping.

When that was all done, we had celebratory Oreo cookies for the new diver and headed to the area that Einstein said a wing resides in. We searched some very shallow water with a number of handicaps keeping us from finding the wing: poor sun angle, outgoing tide making it very murky and a time crunch to get the boat back. But we all thought that maybe, just maybe, this was part of the Avenger we just found. Or maybe the other wing of the B-24 that isn’t too far away. But it will have to wait until Einstein finds it again.

Got back to Neco, quick change and out for some maintenance. I had a sashimi low level light on so we had to take care of that during happy hour. Then we went to The Taj again for some great Indian food. And I am proud to say, we drank the island dry of VB.

VB, Victoria Bitter is a great Australian beer and about the only one we really like here. Unfortunately, no one has any. For real. I’ve asked everywhere and no one has any. Except The Taj. We had some last time and were looking forward to more. We were really looking forward to going there tonight. We ordered five VBs and one Guiness. The Guiness was for me.

Now I know what you’re thinking: didn’t he say in a previous update that the island was out of VB? I did. I’m not mixing up stories. But between you and me, some people here in Palau are reading these updates. I didn’t want to give away our supplier of the best beer in the islands.

The owner came back and said that there were only 3 VBs left. We took them all and three Guinness’s and now there is not a single bottle left on the island. Not anywhere! We drank the island dry. And I had a commanding officer say once that that was impossible to do, so don’t try. Show’s him.

One last task for the day: grocery shopping. Our grocery stocks are up again and the lads don’t have to fear me bringing out the Spam. I wonder what will be on the table tomorrow?

So it was a great day. One out of three, when it’s a new crash site, is a great day. Hopefully we can find out which airplane this is and therefore who flew it. That will even be a better day.

So, I sign off, tired and ready to re-charge so we can do this again tomorrow. Once again, we have some leads with people who want to show us the way. The odds are in our favor that way. More later as I know it.

Blue Skies, Flip

06 March

I am whipped. We just hiked the steepest, most treacherous island yet. It had the most crumbly coral, the most pitch, the most numerous poison trees and the least success for our efforts. My knees and ankles are talking to me. I need some vitamin Aleve.

Joshua has been a source of information for Pat for a number of years and we made it a point to go out into the field with him. At his convenience of course. We met at the dock at 0930, loaded the boat and went off to meet Bena.

Bena was back from Hawaii and was ready to show us what he found. Bena was a salvager after the war. His father founded Micro-Metals that Bena dived for and Max from the other day worked for. Bena said he would take his boat and meet us at the proper island. We got to the island on time, lapped the island and realized we had been stood up again. But, Bena has some info we do want. His memories of salvaging the Palaus. Specifically what he did with regards to aircraft, where he did it and did he keep any records. Pat will give him a shout and see if an interview is possible. Ah, the island lifestyle.

So we continued to Joshua’s island, found the entry point that he liked and put in.


Map by USGS. Stick by Reid Joyce. Photo by Reid Joyce. Black arrow by Flip

To be more accurate, we put up. The first 10-15 feet were pretty vertical. Thank goodness the tide was in or I would not have been able to make the move necessary to get on the island. Then we climbed up the little valley. And up, and up we went. Joshua went the highest, Joe the lowest and us gringos spread out in between. Then after 5 minutes of movement across the ridge, we knew we were on independent duty. Joshua and Joe took off, being the good jungle men that they are and left us, planned mind you, in their…….Dust isn’t the right term for a coral island shrouded in jungle. They easily covered twice the distance that we did. Thank goodness or else we’d still be out there.

Our goal was to traverse the island to the next valley, up to the ridge, and return to our starting point. Then do the same thing in the other direction, once again returning to our starting point. We saw nothing except jungle. Lots of it. The most poison trees we’ve ever seen. Our watchword, “If it’s green, don’t touch it” really meant something today. So we went down to the boat. And started to slowly cruise around the island.

Joe drove so Joshua could just look at the island. He knows he saw the airplane, but it was 15 years ago. It’s just a matter of finding the correct let-in location. He found another familiar spot and off we went again. Only this time, Joshua was on his own from the start and we were to do a search pattern, return to the boat, and return to the first put-in location and he would meet us there when he was finished trekking.


Much easier entry. A ladder! Photo by Reid Joyce.

We did our search and got back in the boat. A quick swim call was in order and I took advantage of that. We were stanky, to say the least. Then we headed to the rendezvous spot. No Joshua. We had lunch. No Joshua. We had dessert (Girl Scout Cookies. Thanks Val). Still no Joshua. Pat was beginning to get worried. Joe said a Palauan would never get lost. That left closed head injuries, death, impalement or ravenous poison trees running amok in Pat’s imagination. Pat wanted to mount a search mission. However, Joe counseled patience and after awhile, a very tuckered out Joshua returned. We fed him and headed back to port.

I wasn’t going to make the second climb. I felt that Joshua had made his best effort on the first climb as to his memories of where this airplane really was. Anything else was a guess and I figured he was going to say, ‘let’s search this area over here.’ Something chosen at random, but with a look of really knowing. If I’m going to risk life and limb it better be with a firm conviction that we might mind something. Well, when he said he wanted us to search a small section and he would jungle man his way around a much larger section, that convinced me to keep faith with our hunter friend. I made the second climb. Damn, because the water was so inviting. Crystal blue with a large amount of visibility. I’m glad I did because I’ll sleep like a baby tonight. Hopefully my joints don’t talk to me all night long.

We dropped Joshua off and he said he would talk with his brothers again. It seems that they still hunt the island. Maybe they can help us find it.

We still had a bit of time on the boat say we cruised the couple of hundred yards to QB Nelson’s site so that we could see how it changed since JPAC had worked there. And it was a chance for ‘the new guys’ to see this site. I teamed up with Mark, our newly certified diver and he did great. Now that his ears are not causing him any problems, he’s consuming less air and enjoying the experience a lot more. I was going to lead him to all the cool and groovy parts that are lying on the bottom. We had planned a 40 minute dive and in the first 35 minutes, I couldn’t find my own flippers let alone a Corsair at the bottom of the harbor. Then I found one part the was like a road sign and I could show Mark the tail assembly of the airplane: tail wheel, tailhook, springs, empennage and more. Mark was happy and I was happy that Mark was happy.

The rest of the crew didn’t have much success either in finding all the parts we discovered a few years ago. Seems as if time has taken its toll on our memories. So I guess I really will give Joshua another chance. I’ll willingly follow him into the jungle again. I just hope Mark will splash with me again.

Back to shore. Back to the hotel. Back to Sam’s and then over to the Italian Place. It has a real name, but we just call it The Italian Place. A great meal, some leftover lasagna for Mark to consume tomorrow and some decent red wine. And a painting on the wall of an animal that somewhat looked like a cross between a lion and a wolf. With two Palauan infants almost nursing on her (After all, this is a family restaurant.) I spoke up about how silly the painting appeared when I was informed that this was a serious legend of how Rome was founded. I guess I better go back over my notes from high school. Did you know there were Palauan children in Italy back then?

Now I’m back to writing to you. I need to add some pictures to this and find a way to send this to you. Our Internet account ran out of time and the office is closed. And we can’t seem to make the broadband computer in the lobby take any of our input devices. So, I’ll finish this tonight, but I have no idea when you might actually get this. Enjoy when you do.

The mission is one week from being over. We have some exciting things happening over the next few days and you’re not going to want to miss a thing. I’ll keep you informed. Until the next time, don’t forget the Ides of March.


Blue Skies, Flip

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