21-22-23 February 2005
Wednesday 23 February
Last night at Sam's Tours, we were lamenting our transportation situation, and Dermot Keane offered to swap a 4WD vehicle that they use for customer pickups for our van for today. The vehicle is a Toyota Land Cruiser with a smooth-running little turbo diesel. It holds six people - maybe not comfortably, but it stands tall, doesn't scrape bottom on every pebble it crosses, and actually goes up hills without anyone having to get out and walk. THANKS, DERMOT!
We started by heading up the west road to check out a story we'd heard about a construction company moving something into the area near the old Japanese military police station where we believe several AAF airmen, several Navy UDT men, and several priests and missionaries. It turns out that the area at the top of the hill and on the east side where we think there are burial sites is untouched. But it appears that the side of the hill down toward the west road is being prepared to serve as a landfill area. Hmmm.
We continued up the west road to a point roughly across from Melekeok, then took the (only) cross-island road over to the east side. In Melekeok, Joe stopped to ask if we could interview an elderly Palauan woman who had lived there during the war. She told some interesting stories, and informed us that SEVEN of her sons and grandsons have served in the US military - several are presently serving in the US - and one of her sons was killed in Vietnam. She had no info, though, that is going to assist in our searches for MIAs.
We then moved down the street a few houses and interviewed a man who had spent the entire war working for the Japanese in New Guinea. He therefore had no first-hand recollections of the goings-on in Melekeok during the war.
Two interviews in Melekeok
Photos © Flip Colmer 2005
We headed on up to the new National Capitol building. It's on a beautiful hilltop between Melekeok and Ngiwal, and commands a breathtaking view of the bay to its north. But it looks a bit like it was dropped intact from a UFO. There's nothing around it except jungle. The almost-complete capitol building is modeled after the U.S. capitol. There are a few problems that have to be overcome before the country's government can move to the new building. For example, no one lives in this areamost of the population lives down in Koror. It's nearly inaccessible, although they're building a new road to it. It was designed to be air conditioned, but it isn't air conditioned, so mold is growing on all the inside walls. After they iron out a few bugs like these, it's going to be a world-class capital building.
A magnificent, empty building. All you hear is the wind
whistling across the deserted hilltop...
Photo © Mark Noah 2005
A common motif on external walls of the capital.
We're reluctant to speculate about its meaning.
Photo © Flip Colmer 2005
We continued up to Ngiwal, where we interviewed an old man who worked for the Japanese as a laborer at the German lighthouse near Koror. He had some fascinating stories, and even recalled hearing of a US aircraft being shot down in the water near the lighthouse, but couldn't shed any light on the event since he had only heard about it. He thinks he may know the locations of some areas where there was Japanese activity up in this area, so we will probably go back and talk to him some more, later in the trip.
Interview in Ngiwal
Photo © Flip Colmer 2005
The day was slipping away fast, so we decided to head back to Koror instead of continuing up to the north end of the island. The distance isn't great, but the condition of the roads makes travel very slow, and it feels akin to taking a several-hour-long ride in a clothes dryer. In a week or so, we may plan another road trip, coming back up the east side to continue the interview in Ngiwal, then press on to the north side and stay overnight up there. The following day we'll return down the west side, stopping in villages along the way to interview elders.
Tomorrow morning (Thursday) we're heading by boat down to Peleliu, and plan to stay through Saturday night. We'll be picked up Sunday morning for the return trip, and will probably make multiple dives on the way back. We expect to be out of Internet contact till we return, so please be patient—we'll be back on the air when we return.