Home | Our Goal | Donations |" LAST FLIGHT HOME" THE MOVIE| Expedition News | Mailing List | Contact Us | Links
BentProp Org's 2007 field progress reports 2006 blog Google links explained My son, Mike's, blog

click anywhere to close the pop-up image window

BentProp Supporters Update #21 Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hello Everyone,

Since you have become friends with the BentProp Team of 2007, it is with deep, deep sadness that I inform you of the passing of Bob Holler. The details are sketchy at the moment, but he died yesterday, March 17th, on a skydive in [Dublin,] Georgia. [Bob had a canopy collision with Danny Page at 100' that killed them both. — Blogmaster]

It is fitting that we pay tribute to him on these pages. I was honored to have been with him for the 30 days of P-MAN IX. He made a lasting impression on all the team members and he has altered the way we do business in the field. All for the better.

He will be missed by many people around the world: from his charges at The Hawk's Nest, to the hundreds of PJs that he has worked with over the years. He has made a positive difference in countless peoples' lives.

Life is meant to be lived and Bob lived it to the fullest. He woke every morning with a purpose in life. When he was active duty, it was his PJ world that drove him. I know from our talks that he lived for his daughter and looked forward to watching her and her family go forward in life. He wanted to be the best granddad. The one who drove his grandchildren to school on a Harley and taught them how to skydive.

I'm not Bob's closest friend. But I wish I could have been.

Bob Holler, you will be missed.

Here is a short, and wholly insufficient biography of a great man along with some thoughts by a fellow PJ reflecting on Bob’s retirement in 2004 from the U.S. Air Force [I was there and it was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime event that some PJs said was much better than retirements they had attended for Generals (and that's sayng something). — Blogmaster]. The newsletter came from The Pararescue Association. With some pictures from P-MAN IX to remember him by.


“It is my duty as a Pararescueman/Combat Rescue Officer to save life and aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do that others may live.”


PJ Lt/Col Vincent Savino, 38th RQS Commander presents
Retirement Certificate to CMSGT Robert L. Holler

Chief Master Sergeant Robert L. Holler is the Chief Enlisted Manager at the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody AFB, Georgia.

Chief Holler joined the Air Force in July 1974. After enduring a year of extremely tough, mental and physical training he graduated as a PJ in July 1975. During his AF career he has had assignments at Nakom Phanom, Thailand; Clark AB, Philippines; McClellan AFB California; Kadena AB, Japan; Eglin AFB, Florida; Hurlburt Field, Florida. As a PJ Chief Holler has been credited with over 500 lives saved.

Chief Holler’s military decorations include the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Outstanding Unit Award with Valor Device and eight oak leaf clusters. His other achievements included Distinguished Graduate, Academic Achievement and Drill Master awards from the NCO Academy.

Chief Holler is an avid skydiver with over 4,700 freefalls and was a member of World Team ’99 and ’04. World Team is a collection if expert skydivers from over 30 different nations who, in 1999, as one team, set the large-formation skydiving world record of 282 and in February of this year, set the current large-formation skydiving record of 357. (Note from Flip: Bob was a member of World Team ’06 and helped set the new record at 400.)

Key Achievements: Flight Examiner; Chief Certifier; Validation of long range desert tactics (Quick Force); Developed and tested the Rigging Alternate Method Zodiac (RAMZ); Developed and tested the Special Purpose Underwater Deployment System (SPUDS); Established Combat Mission Needs Statement (CMNS) for high altitude delivery parachute; Led strategic shift from flight to enhanced and simplified training.


As we close in on the 2004 reunion, I am looking forward to a great turnout. To increase the potential turnout, I would ask everyone to make contact with their classmates to see if everyone in their class is coming, and if not to encourage them to come. The application for the reunion is online, as well as likely to be part of this newsletter. If they are not members of the association, no better time than now to join.

Recently, one of our members, CMSgt Bob Holler, had a retirement ceremony that was the most awesome experience, and to be a witness to the event was an honor. As we reflected on the 30-year career of one of our premier members, it was obvious to see how our lives affect those around us. The depth of the PJ career field present, from old to young, to share in the reflection of Bob’s life as a PJ and leader was representative of how true this is. It is obvious we have made a difference in many of our brethren who don the beret and live by the motto. This has been instilled in us as well by the generations of PJ’s who were our instructors, teammates, friends, students and their families. We trade our knowledge and learn both up and down, as many skills are shared by the nature of our careers. I was lucky to have worked with Bob, but not as much as I would have liked.

Bob and Pat, February 18, 2007

Bob on the barge with JPAC, February 19, 2007

Bob conducting an interview, February 20, 2007

From Bob’s camera, February 20, 2007

Taking 5 in the jungle, February 22, 2007

In search of an elusive lizard to photograph, February 22, 2007

Shooting Japanese aircraft parts, February 24, 2007

Up at Pineapple Hill with a Chief, February 25, 2007

Bob on the left pontoon, February 26, 2007

Marking metal detector hits, February 27, 2007

Bob on the Jake, February 28, 2007

In town, taking care of business, March 1, 2007

Enjoying the sunset, March 1, 2007

Chowin’ down, March 1, 2007

The Chief can fix anything, March 2, 2007

In the mangroves, March 2, 2007

Computer consulting, March 5, 2007

On the Wildcat site, March 7, 2007

Flag ceremony in the mangroves, March 8, 2007

Same ceremony with Joe and The Palauan Flag, March 8, 2007

Udong, with pork and egg, March 9, 2007

Caught a boat, March 10, 2007

It’s just a fiesta, March 11, 2007

A new coin, from JPAC, March 11, 2007

And after this coin was passed, Bob handed me a cigar and drove me to the airport. He wouldn’t let me take the hotel shuttle. That’s Bob.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #20 Sunday, March 11 thru Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 11, 2007

Well Flip has departed the Island so I have been appointed the new Field Reporter. Ignore my errors in spelling and punctuation.

Most of our day was about lessons learned today. Since it was Flips last day, it was the last time the entire team would be together this trip. We determined that it would be a good day to review and debrief the mission as a whole. So, after breakfast, we got down to business. We discussed the gear that we use in the water and in the jungle and what we could use or leave at home next year. It seems that we are mostly happy with what we have but we still made a few tweaks. We are redeveloping our checklists and some of our other protocol.

Joe showed up shortly after we got started and gave us some of his suggestions, which we quickly took to heart. Then Joe told us what some of the local Palauans have been saying and thinking about Bent Prop. Over the years Pat has developed a trust with the local populace that is rarely seen by others from outside the country. With that though there are a lot of people that are still skeptical of our mission here. Some believe that our mission might not be to find those lost during the war but a treasure hunt of some sort. So they choose to keep their distance. That is understandable to a certain extent and we are aware of that, but following that Joe told us what he tells people that think that and what he thinks about the mission and the Americans that fought here. Joe went on to tell us how Palau and the Palauan people would not be here if those Americans had not come and died here. Those people not only gave their life for the United States, they gave it for Palau. Palau is a free nation because of their sacrifice. Finding them and returning them to their home and loved ones is what should be done. Hearing that from a man born and raised here is unbelievably touching. You could have heard a pin drop while he spoke.

Throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon we talked more about what we had found and didn’t find this year. We made some decisions about what we want to do next year and over the next eleven months in preparation for PMAN X.

The main event for the evening was the dinner we had planned with JPAC. If you have followed the updates the last couple of days you know that we have found a new establishment that we like to frequent in the evenings, Banditos. We found out when we arrived that Dave and Margie, the owners had closed the place down for us when we got there, so it was private party. The dinner turned out to be a success with good times had by all. The JPAC servicemen had a curfew at 10:00PM and several of them stayed until then. The Bent Prop team did not have the same curfew so we stayed for the rest of the evening and “visited” with Dave and Margie. We finally made our way out of there at 1:30sh. I guess I should say the team minus Flip, who had to leave around 11:00 to catch his plane home. Which explains why this update lacks pictures. Flip took all the pictures that night and then left the country with his camera. [What! The bounder! — Blogmaster]

Earlier morning tomorrow!

Semper Fidelis,

March 12, 2007

Today was once again dedicated to interviews. Joe met us at the hotel and made some phone calls to let some of the people know we would like to speak with them. The places we were planning on traveling to today were a little out of the way and it would be better to ensure there was going to be someone there when we got there instead of driving all that way to only find out no one is around. As it turns out some of the people were not going to be around but others should be. Also, a governor for one of the states we wanted to talk to was just down the road, so that would be our first stop.

The governor we were meeting governs the state where we found the aircraft in the mangrove. His brother a few years back gave us information that eventually aided us in finding the airplane this year. We wanted to inform him of our find in person and have him forward thanks to his brother for his assistance (his brother is currently ill). He was very happy to hear of our find and offered assistance for our future efforts.

Morning with the Governor!

From there we got into our van and hit the road for the 50-minute drive to our next interview. Recently we were told a story by Joe about a man who had found some bones and with them a dog tag. Apparently the man had died but we were hoping to touch base with any of his friends or relatives that might have heard the story or know the location of the bones/dog tag. Joe took us to where he thought we might be able to find someone. Good luck because, as it turns out, the story had changed a little bit and we ended up finding the man that found the bones. He allowed us to interview him and after a short while he told us that there was no dog tag, but he left the bones where they were and he thought they were American. Then he told us he knows where they are and would show us today. That got us a little excited, so we all jumped back into the van and headed back to town where he said the bones were. On the way we called Rich from JPAC and explained the story to him and he agreed to meet us at the site. Well we arrived at the site and the man took us right to the area and pointed to a spot on the ground. There has been a lot of build up in the area since the time he discovered the bones but there is still a chance they could still be there. Some of the local workers became interested in what we were doing and began to ask questions. As it turns out when they were building up in this area they found several shallow graves and the Palauan officials know about it. After talking to them a little bit more, Rich recalled some of the stuff that they were talking about and as it turns out the remains that they found were other foreigners. Bent Prop and JPAC are still interested in the site and will delve into it more to see if this could possibly lead to some missing Americans.

Joe translating and interviewing.

Is there an American serviceman buried in this spot?

From there we took our guest to lunch before another long drive back to his home. After dropping him off we had time for one more interview. We started looking around the village to find a man we have been trying to locate this entire field season. Finally we found him but he explained he only had about ten minutes to talk. He was 83 years old and had been in the area during the war. Shortly after the interview started he told us about a plane that he had watched crash into the mangroves nearby. As it turns out, we had found an eyewitness to the crash site we discovered only two weeks ago! Bent Prop had been looking for this site for ten years and we finally find the eyewitness after we found the plane. We were still able to pull some valuable information from him and he ended up talking to us for much more than ten minutes.

The funny part of his story was when he was talking about the plane crash and it going into the mangroves. He had said that no one ever went in there to recover anything from the plane because it was just too thick and ugly. He said in his 83 years he had never heard of anyone going into those mangroves. Then we explained to him how we had gone in there and discovered the wreckage. He seemed to think it was the craziest thing ever and was very entertained by it.

From there we once again jumped in the van and headed back to town. Way too much time in the van today but with good results! Tomorrow we meet with JPAC in the morning for a trip to show them two more sites and to follow up on a lead we have about wreckage on a small island.

Bent Prop Team gathered
around the eyewitness.

Semper Fidelis

March 13, 2007

Up early to meet the JPAC boys and get on the road or on the water. We are trying to work around the tide so we want to get to our first site relatively early. It is in pretty shallow water and we decided to not bring tanks, only snorkel gear today. So the shallower the better! We met and hit the road relatively quickly. And only five minutes into our ride we hit rain. Looks like today is going to be a wet day. Well the rain passed quickly ad we got to the site in an expedient manner. The site was another wreck that we discovered this trip. It has had us a little puzzled but we continue to find more info on it. Today was no different. A few of us quickly jumped in the water and began to outline the site for JPAC. They took a ton of pictures, which is good, because our underwater photography this year has been lacking as we are without a decent camera. After an hour or so there we decided we should get a move on if we were going to have time for the rest of the things we wanted to do that day.

Pat investigating more wreckage.

Me trying/doing the same thing.

So back in the boat we went and headed to land. The next stop was a discovery from last year. This really peaked JPAC’s interest. Rich, the ever thorough man he is, almost had to be drug away from the site to get food and water, but we promised him we would come back, so he agreed to go. From there we enjoyed a nice lunch before returning to the site. We wanted to take a look inside a local bone yard to compare the prop in the water to a known Japanese prop. Initially when we found the prop in the water we thought it was Japanese because of certain features, but other evidence changed our minds. So the Bent Prop team plus George stopped at the bone yard to look at the Japanese propeller and the rest of JPAC returned to the previous site. We found what we were looking for, made the comparisons, took some pictures, then coordinated our link-up. It worked out pretty well and we didn’t have to wait too long for Rich to finish his diagrams and measurements.

About that time the rain came and we moved on to our next site. We got information that there was airplane wreckage on the north side of a small island. The island is only about 150x50 meters and it is across a few hundred meters of water that runs into an inlet. We were hoping that with the tide headed out we could just wade across it and get to the island. We got to the inlet and it looked as though it was exactly how we thought it would be, so we headed out across the inlet. The rain was coming down pretty good and the water was about 2-3 feet deep, so no staying dry now. We waded out to the island, saw a couple of islands along the way. The island was small and covered with jagged coral. We searched it north to south and discovered a piece of a external fuel tank in the middle of it. It was painted red so we thought that it was Japanese. We took some pictures and waypoints, looked at a couple of small caves on the island with nothing to show for it. With that we walked back across the inlet and called it a day. The ride back to Neco was a little wet but not too bad.

Our crossing point over to the island in the distance.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Those of you that have been following along know about Flip’s adventure in trying to get some boots that he ordered from the beginning of the trip. Well this morning when we got to Neco, there they were, waiting for us. Pat had also ordered a pair and was able to enjoy them for the rest of the day, while the rest of us enjoyed the joke of Flip’s boots finally getting here after Flip left.
Flip’s Boots!!!

Semper Fidelis

March 14, 2007

Today will be the last day for our updates from the “field.” Bob leaves this evening and with him goes his wireless server giving us access to the internet. So this will be a short update, mostly just a sign off.

We did do one interview this morning with an older gentleman who was here during and after the war. Pat had previously done an interview with him a few years ago but we had reason to believe that he might have information leading to a missing Marine Corsair that we are looking for. As it turns out he did not have any new information to give us but we enjoyed talking to him for a short while.

Since the interview we have been running around town in preparation for our departure. Also on the list is ensuring everything is set for Dan to show his documentary, Last Flight Home, about Pat and some of the Bent Prop missions that have been done here in Palau. It looks as though it will be a good turn out.

It has been an amazing time. Thanks for following along.

Semper Fidelis

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #19 Sunday, March 11 thru Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 11, 2007

Lessons Learned:
  1. No matter what time you depart the hotel, 0145 is way too early to be flying.
  2. We have great soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines defending our nation.
  3. Mission scrubbing is a valuable tool to utilize while still in the field.
  4. 0500 is way too early to be sitting in Guam waiting for a flight.
  5. Sometimes you can get lucky. Sometimes very lucky!
  6. Once you leave the team, you’re chopped liver.

The day started at the crack of 0615. No alarm was set but I’ve gotten into this demonic routine out here of being up before 0630 every morning. Part of me would like this to continue when I get home. I’d get so much more done in a day. Then the rest of me says wait until the sun hits your face to get up. Our bedroom at home is on the west side of the house. [Hey! Wait just a danged minute ... — Blogmaster]

We had breakfast as a group and then started debriefing. We went over everything we did this year and discussed targets we’d like to look at next year. We kept this up until Rich Wills from JPAC showed up. We gave him a data dump so that his job as an investigator is a bit easier. He got photos, reports and miscellaneous information pertaining to MIAs in Palau. Hopefully he can develop recovery missions from this stuff.

When Rich left we went back to debriefing. Worked until about noon and then went out for lunch. Then back at it and I think we got done, including assignments to accomplish once we get home, about 3 pm.

One of the items on our agenda is to develop better briefing guides for each mission we do. The idea is to maximize safety but also so we don’t forget stuff. We also want to revisit the concept of mandatory verses nice-to-have equipment. I think as we get older, more safety items will become mandatory. As was quoted by Cynthia, DOB’s wife, “Nobody in this group has the 'what-if' gene.”

I ran a couple of errands and then packed my stuff for shipment home. Rather than lug a 70# bag as I fly standby around the world, I’m mailing my stuff home. And unlike my boots that I ordered with a rush delivery, which I still haven’t received, I can ship my stuff home slowly. Dan said he would take my bag to the Post Office.

Tonight we hosted a dinner party for the JPAC teams that are out here. The crew included a large contingent of Navy Divers from MDSU and the military and civilian members of JPAC. We had the dinner at Bandidos and they closed the restaurant for us. Margie and Dave worked hard, yet they still seemed to enjoy it. Dave laid on carne asada as a special for us and it was great. So if you ever get to Palau, do go to Bandidos. Mexican Restaurant. Mexican food in Palau? Yes!
Dave and Margie during their
one calm moment of the night.

We took some photos...

These last two photos taken by one or two MDSU or JPAC members.

New desk nameplates (in the shape of a bai) courtesy of Esther and Joe.
Derek, Bob and Joe received JPAC challenge coins from Eric Emery.

BentProp '07 alumni.

Ate some food, drank a margarita or two and then before you know it, the place was empty and Bob took me to the airport.

The plan for my return is to allow enough time for the hitches that always seem to plague me on my journeys. I’m leaving Palau on the 12th so that I can catch a flight out of Japan on the 13th. If everything goes my way, I can make it all in one day. However, as you know, things don’t always go my way. That’s why I’m allowing that extra day for traveling. Then when I get home, I’ll have a few days to decompress and get my body in the right time zone. This is definitely the worst part of the trip to Palau: the return.

The flight to Guam leaves at 0145. I got there way too early but was still 20th in line. I had checked the available seats before going to the airport and it looked like there would be no problem with me getting on. Then the gate agent said it did not look good for me. The only thing worse than this 0145 departure is staying until 0145 and not departing. And then having to do it all again the next night.

I put on my best smile and decided to hang until the bitter end. One of the gate agents said that if I did not get on, that she would give me a ride back to town. Well, at least I had that going for me.

March 12, 2007

The reporting I do should really be related to what is done out in the field. So, before I tell my tale of travels, here’s the itinerary for the rest of P-MAN IX:

  • 12 March – Interviews.
  • 13 March – Hiking into some jungle somewhere.
  • 14 March – Taking a boat to Peleliu to investigate one possible new site and showing Rich Wills the TBM Avenger that was found last year and to show him the prop we found this year. Also, there will be a showing of Dan and Jennifer’s film Last Flight Home for Palau at The Coral Reef Institute.
  • 15 March – The Team probably will do a mini scrub of the last few days, pack out and go to the airport for their departures on the morning of the 16th.

Now back to my story. With 15 minutes to go the counter agents made a P.A. call for all of us standby people to go to the gate for possible boarding. Then I saw what my problem was: 20 other standby passengers who all had a higher boarding priority than me.

Immigration didn’t want to stamp my passport until they knew I was going. And with 37 seconds to spare I was given a seat assignment. One of the gate agents ran my passport to Immigration while I ran to the plane. She swore I wouldn’t leave without my passport. She caught me, returned my passport and as I stepped on the plane, they slammed the door shut. On time! Whew. I wasn’t the cause of a blip in the system.

Off we went. Not a wink of sleep until 10 minutes out from Guam, then I slept through the landing, the reversing of the engines and the parking of the jet. When the passengers around me started walking off the airplane, I woke up.

Out through U.S. Immigration, in through security and then it was 5 am Guam time. This is way too early but I was lucky on the first leg of my journey. If I can get on the first flight to Tokyo, I’ll be lucky twice. Then, maybe I can get lucky for a third time and get on the flight to Detroit. I’m not thinking that’s going to happen so I’ve got a hotel in Tokyo lined up.

I got on the early Continental flight out of Guam! It’s really rare that happens to me and it was quite the opposite experience in Guam vs. Palau. Normally I get my boarding pass early in Palau and they wait until the last minute to give it to me in Guam. This morning as soon as I showed up in Guam I got a seat assignment.

The flight was uneventful and here I am in Tokyo. A few hours to kill, five to be exact. I went to the public showers again. The price has gone up to $5.00 (500 yen works too) for a 30-minute refreshing shower but it’s the best deal in all of Japan this morning. Put fresh clothes on and I felt like a new man.

Now it’s a few hours later and I’m about to hit the wall. I got up at 0630 yesterday and it’s now 1430. That’s a long time for me to be up with only a little plane nap. (Time warp forward)

I am enroute again. I got on the direct Detroit flight! I left Palau at 0145 on the 12th and will arrive at 1450 on the 12th. The dateline definitely works in our favor going east. So allowing extra days for travel means I get through without many problems. If I waited until the last possible moment to return, I would not have had a smooth a trip.

I’ll arrive in DTW feeling worn out. I just know it. But I will be home.

March 13, 2007

I arrived on time on the 12th and felt pretty good. Rebecca picked me up and we went home. I decided not to try and finish this yesterday or do any financial work. I hit the wall sometime after 6:30 pm. I went to bed at 8:00 pm. I had no choice. Of course I was up at the crack of 0430. But I did get a lot accomplished today.

I tried to find out what the guys are doing out in Palau so I could report that to you but I’m not out there anymore so I, guess I don’t get early information. We’ll all have to wait for Derek to tell us via the update what they’ve done. Which means I still don’t know about my boots.

And that brings you up to speed about my travels out to Palau and back. We did some great work out there with the discovery of a Corsair and an unknown prop. Maybe some day we’ll find out what plane the prop belongs to and find out that JPAC has found the pilot from the Corsair. But, until then, we’ll just keep on searching the jungles and waters of Palau for our fallen heroes.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #18 Friday, March 9 & Saturday, March 10, 2007

March 9, 2007

Hello Everyone!

It was a very calm day out here in Palau. Hot day, warm breezes and nothing new to report. Well, except what’s in the story.

Lessons Learned:
  1. My lessons learned section will now be a pre-mission briefing guide.
  2. Mexican dinner parties are easy to plan. Just make sure there is ceviche.
  3. No matter what you order from the waitron, she’s always correct.
  4. Privileges are not meant to be abused.
  5. Always take a camera.
  6. It’s nice to have buddies.
  7. The law of the high seas states you will rescue other sailors.

The day started as they all do. We went out looking for a Marine Corsair. We had one more shot at the smart-man theorem. If we don’t find him today, we’re going to have to wait until next year.

It was just the normal crew. No guest searchers. Derek still had the plan on how to search. We would get to the pump house which was a bit north of our previous search tracks. Then we would search south until we got to a clearing, shift a little west and go back whence we came. Then if we did not adequately cover the area, we would do another round trip.

We didn’t see diddly.

However, we have good evidence that this was a tree farming area and that Japanese soldiers had installations here. So if our target aircraft crashed here, then the crash site would have been visited. The pilot would have been buried and for some reason, we just can’t find him. We got out of the jungle and back to the van. It was only 15 minutes to Ngatpang dock so we had another seaside lunch. I forgot the chips so I was sent to my corner for 15 minutes.

We discussed what to do next and searching without more intel did not make sense. So we decided to try and track down the man who started the tree farms out here in the early 1960s. We got to the man’s house but his wife said to call back tomorrow to make an appointment to see him.

So it seems we’ll have to analyze the charts and reports again. Look at what we did in the field this year and then draft a new search plan for next year.

Then we went out to the Belau National Museum to chat with Tina.

Here’s the only war relics we saw today. And they were at the museum.

We wanted to chat with her about Japanese schools on the big island prior to the war. She told us that there was a Japanese national that was researching this exact issue. It seems that enough time has passed since those years that the sensitivities of the people have receded and they are now speaking of those experiences. The Japanese set up parallel school systems in Palau. One was for the Japanese children and the other for Palauans and other islanders. The schools were separate but definitely not equal.

You know when this researcher will be back on the island? You got it, the day the entire team leaves. We will leave this for next year as well.

Now we were into the late afternoon. Not enough time to go back to Babelthuap to search and too much time to just sit around. We got a little work done around the house and then headed out to dinner. A lovely time at Teppan Tai.
Da boys at dinner.
Then back to Bandidos for one last margarita.

Yes, it was another lame photo day. Tomorrow may be better.

And to set up a party. One thing this team has is an appreciation of not only the men and women who served in America’s past conflicts but of the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces today. We’re going to host the entire JPAC team for a Mexican fiesta night on Sunday. We wanted to talk with Margie and Dave to iron out all the details. And we wanted to taste test the margaritas one more time to ensure they were just right for our guests. I could have sworn I ordered a medium sized margarita with no extra anythings added. I got the humongo glass with a shooter to boot. The waitress couldn’t have been wrong and it would have been rude of me to contradict her. So, I handled it.

The party is set up. The guests will be there and then later that night, I’ll be heading out. So I only have 2 more days in Palau. Tomorrow, we’ll be diving with the two JPAC anthropologists on the B-24. We may have found it a few years ago, but the Republic of Palau owns it and the U.S. Navy controls it so long as a dive team is working the site. Using all the right channels, Eric Emery and Rich Wills (2 JPAC anthropologists) coordinated a visit for us to the site. However, for that story, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

March 10, 2007

And it’s come so fast. We woke up early today in order to be out the door by about 0800. We’re meeting Eric and Rich at Neco Marine and we’ll all ride out together to the B-24. Joe Maldangesang is really the guide on this trip. He is a Palauan national treasure and was named by the Historical Preservation Office to be the guide today. He also had to pick a boatman who had already been to the site. The HPO wants to protect the B-24 from salvage and souvenir hunters. By restricting who goes out there, they can limit the number of people who know where it is. Plus, there still is a Presidential decree making this site protected by the Palauan Government. The reason they are doing this is that eight U.S. Army Air Force members went down with this airplane and that is why JPAC is investing so much time out here. They want to bring the crew home.

We got out to the barge, Eric and Rich grabbed some of their gear and over the side we went. We were very familiar with the site as we have dived it two years in a row. The airplane sits on a coral head. The front half of the airplane is on the west slope of the coral head and the tail and aft fuselage section rests on the other side. The two major sections sit in about 45 and 60 feet of water respectively.

We dropped in on the nose first. It was amazing the difference since we were last there. We were expecting to see mangled metal as the JPAC team searches for remains. Quite the opposite. This is a more interesting dive now than when we first saw the aircraft all covered in coral. As the coral reef recedes, and more of the airplane is exposed, there is more to see. With all the silt taken out, there’s more to see inside the aircraft. None of us took underwater cameras down as we did not want to document the dismantling of this warbird. Big mistake.

After a few minutes, we circled the coral head counterclockwise so we could inspect the tail section. As it was in the past, it’s a pretty dramatic approach. As you swim along the base of the coral head, the distinctive tail of the B-24 looms out of the silty water. The back half of the aircraft is also improved as a dive site. What were once just dark undefined shapes in the fuselage now have become racks and bracings. You can tell how big this airplane once was.

When the recovery operation is finished, JPAC will determine whether or not to return to this site. When they close this case, Palau will have a wonderful opportunity to have another great dive site. Our hope is that all the divers who ever visit this place treat it with respect. There will be folks who take things from this site. That’s really a shame as it will diminish the site for all future divers. So if you’re reading this, and if you ever get to Palau, and if you ever get to dive the B-24, make sure all your dive buddies treat this place with reverence. I know you will as you wouldn’t be on this e-mail list if you did not have that quality in you.

Three years ago, there was a single lion fish living at the top of the aft fuselage section. This year, he/she has a mate. Now there are two lion fish up there. Beautiful to look at but please don’t touch. Another reason to have a camera with you at all times.

I was looking into the fuselage from the side and DOB comes up to me with his underwater writing board. “Where’s Bob?” I thought I had seen him come with us around the coral head but DOB was right, he wasn’t in sight right now. Bob is an accomplished Air Force PJ. He’s been to Navy Dive School. He’s in tip-top physical condition. What could possibly have happened to him? So I looked back to DOB and told him we’d wait five minutes (enough time to ensure if he was in trouble, he’d be in deep kimchi by then) and then he and I would swim back the way we came looking for him.

Five minutes came and went and there was no Bob in sight. So we told our guides what we were doing and headed back. It was pleasant swimming along with only a single dive-buddy with me. We looked the west site over and there was no Bob. Up for a safety stop, then to the surface. We checked the boat and there was no Bob. Then everyone surfaced and Bob was the last one back. Turns out, just by coincidence, every time DOB and I looked around, Bob was at our backs so we never saw him. We were sure glad he wasn’t lying on the bottom somewhere ... it was his turn to buy beer.

We dropped Eric off at a dock near his hotel. He has work to do. Rich on the other hand had brought aboard his side-scanning sonar and was willing to look at a new red shift site near the Corsair we found in the mangroves. Maybe this was a new airplane or maybe this was part of the Corsair we found. Although it is about a kilometer away, stranger things have happened in war.

We drove up north and Rich explained the different tasks that had to be done to successfully use this device. We also had to warm up his gear and get the sonar device, "the fish," ready.

Rich readying the fish.
Bob “stroking the fish.” I swear I’m not making this up. [Please keep in mind that this is an ex-sailor telling you fish stroking is an accepted practice aboard ship and he's encouraging other ex-service members to participate in the act. It gives me the willies just thinking about it. — Blogmaster] They have to test the fish to see if it works and the way to do that is to run your fingers down the sides of the fish.
After stroking the fish, and washing his hands, Bob had a relationship blossoming. (This I am making up.)
Reel master.

We dropped the fish (the actual pod that houses the sonar that is towed in the water) in after we got to the site. Bob was the line handler. DOB had the take-up reel. Joe had directional control of the boat. Rich ran the boxes and that left Derek, Pat and Me to watch the screen ... and make lunch.

We ran between 2 and 3 knots back and forth and back and forth. We would let line out so the fish would ride closer to the bottom and haul it back up when the sea floor rose. And do you know what we found? A couple of interesting hits that are probably coral or rock outcroppings. Not enough interest to drop down on. And this area is not conducive to search patterns by a group of sport divers. The depth can be as much as 150 feet in this area with average depth around 100. Plus the currents in this channel are supposed to be pretty stiff. So, unless we saw the image of an airplane on Rich’s scope, we probably were not going to go down this afternoon.

So we didn’t. However, about half way through our searches, we saw a boat in distress. I’m not sure if they got water in their gas or ran out of gas, but I think they were happy to have us stop our searches and drag them into shore.

Good karma begets good karma.

We got done looking at the final area of interest and headed back. Rich has some gee whiz program that will stitch all our runs into a picture that makes more sense. He’ll analyze it all and if it warrants a dive, well, that’s why he has Navy Divers here.

Back to the barge to drop off some of his equipment and then back to Neco Marine.

A quick round of sashimi and beer and then we headed home. Out to dinner to a sushi place. The food was good and we got home early.

For once.

So we watched a family movie, Venus.

Now I’m here, typing away. I’ll throw some pictures in and make a promise that I’ll try to get an update out about tomorrow’s festivities before I leave. But, you know me, and you know the odds of that happening. [Something about a snowball in Hell — Blogmaster] Derek Abbey has volunteered to take over reporting duties for the last couple of days.

So until the next report, and there will be one, have a great day.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #17 Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hello Everyone!
If you want to know the story of the picture, you’ll have to read on. But first, Lessons Learned:
  1. Do a checklist every time you leave the van.
  2. Having extra bodies does help with searches.
  3. Mexican food in Palau can be good. So are the margaritas.
  4. You can make friends all over the world if you’re willing to say hello.
  5. Sometimes things can start on time in Palau.
  6. You may have the cutest kids in the world, own your own grass runway, get to escape to Thailand to avoid your "hectic work life," but if you’re not mentioned in dispatches from Palau, while not in Palau, I hear about it.

We started the day with another brief with JPAC. With four of them, and six of us, we should be able to cover a lot of ground. They were going to help us search for a Marine Corsair, and then we were going to show them the aircraft crash site we found in the mangroves a couple of weeks ago (it seems funny to say how much time has passed since we’ve been here).

For the first crash site, we showed them where we thought the Corsair should be due to the "red shift." We have searched wide areas near where the red shift puts the aircraft but Derek, who is directing this search, says we need to be on the west and east sides of the road and head towards the pumping station. And that is what we’re planning to do.

Out we went and we lined up on the west side of the road. We searched and searched and found nothing. We got to our northern boundary, a river, and then turned around. And we searched back to our vehicles. Then we searched the east side of the road in a savannah area up to the start of the jungle. Then we ran out of time. Low tide for our next search area was at 2pm and we wanted to be hiking in at 1:30pm (1330 for those that understand real clocks). So we stopped our searches short of where we wanted to. We’ll have to return here in a day or so.

We hopped into the vans and headed to the entry point for the mangroves. You remember me telling you of the guns that guarded the channel towards Koror? If you don’t, go back and reread what I’ve written. We got to the guns and had our lunch. If you haven’t figured it out already, lunch is the most important meal of the day to us. Unless of course it’s a different time of the day and then that meal takes precedence. It’s all time sensitive.

Our merry band headed out and we entered the mangrove at the point where we created a "trail."

How would you thread this needle?

Pat hacking.

Except Bob forgot the GPS. Although JPAC had GPS units with them, Bob’s was the newest version and actually tracks us very well in mangroves, jungles and steep valleys. The other units lose satellite signals within 10 feet of a tree. So Bob ran back to the van, got the GPS, and ran back. He met us in the mangrove.

With 10 of us there, and most with machetes, we were able to get back to our wreckage, and create a wider trail in the process. We still had to duck to make it around some mangrove roots. Pappy, one of the JPAC team members, said this was the toughest going he’s ever had on any mission. Well, that certainly pumped up The BentPropers.

We walked in and showed JPAC the pieces we had found so far. We gathered up around the first machine gun and held a flag ceremony. The BentProp Project likes to recognize each individual we find. It may only be their airplane at the time of the ceremony, but we want to acknowledge their sacrifice and create a keepsake for the families. When JPAC says it’s okay, we hand the flag over to the surviving family members. Right now, since we believe the best candidate for this crash site is a Marine, Derek Abbey will be the caretaker of the flag, until we can deliver it to the family.

JPAC kept looking at the pieces we discovered. They’re trying to attach this wreckage to a particular airplane and pilot. We fanned out to the south and tried to find a larger debris field. And we were successful. We came upon a few non-descript pieces of aluminum but then we came upon what looks like a wheel. It may be from a Corsair.
A few minutes later, we found a piece of aluminum with a large circular hatch-like cut out.

It looks almost exactly like the fuselage section that is behind the motor and in front of the cockpit. If we’re accurate in our assessment, this is a Corsair. Now the pilot just has to be found.
We also found the end of the pier I mentioned the other day. This stone pier is 470 feet long and we still can’t see the end of the mangrove out towards the sea. The mangrove has grown quite a bit since 1945.

We had set a 1630 departure time from the site and we stuck to it. Joe had been doing some trail maintenance while we were searching and those with machetes did some more. It was like a super highway leaving the site. What took 35 minutes the first day with our first cuttings of a trail, took 10 minutes today.

We cooled down at the vans, ate some Oreo cookies and lead the way out of the area. We parted company with JPAC as we stopped at Bem Ermii 2 for milkshakes.

Back at the hotel, the big discussion was where to eat. Matt from JPAC said the Mexican place, Bandidos, was really good. Mexican food in Palau? We were suspicious. However, we did have a recommendation, so we decide to go. Not all of us. Dan decided he wanted to see Dan Bailey’s presentation that he was putting on at Sam’s. Just like Pat, Dan has been diving Palau for years. Only he looks for big hunks of metal; ships. He has cataloged almost everything that is at the bottom of the harbors, bays and shallow areas of Palau, and he has multiple books out about the wrecks of Chuuk (Truk Lagoon). The presentation was at 7pm so Dan could not eat with us.

We went to Bandidos and it was great. The food was tasty, the margaritas superb. We got their top shelf tequila for the price of the bottom shelf tequila. Great value. And we made some new friends with the owners. Dave and Margie own the place. Dave is a retired Marine Warrant Officer and Margie has put up with him for over 20 years. They came to Palau to be teachers at the Palau Community College but that did not work out. They had previously lived in Hawaii and did not want to return to that rat race. They’ve been here 10 years and they are about to celebrate their first anniversary of having Bandidos. So if you’re in Palau, you better come here and eat and drink. Make sure you try their beer margarita. It’s different. It’s good and it doesn’t have a name yet. [Does "Ooooo, my head" qualify as a name? — Blogmaster]

Bandidos one and all.

We went back to the hotel. However, I wanted copies of the pictures of us in the sombreros. Margie has a digital camera, but no computer at the store to burn me a disk. The quick solution was to go back to the hotel, get my computer and a USB cord, come back and download the photos so I can use them. This seemed like lots more fun than listening to any lecture. So we hatched a plot. We would swing by Sam’s and take a photo of Dan listening to, well, Dan. [Is this a prime example of "narcissim" or is Dan just self-absorbed? — Blogmaster]

Then we would have our photos and you could be the judge of everything. When we got to Sam’s, the place was emptying out. Seems as if Dan missed Dan’s lecture because our Dan was late. Assuming everything in Palau starts late is not a good assumption. Dan Bailey was punctual and there wasn’t any part of the presentation that our Dan got to see. So we gave him a choice. We’ll pick you up in ten minutes or you can come with us. Dan didn’t trust our watches, so he came along.

I got the pictures and we each had more margaritas. Once again, you need to go to Bandidos and have their beverages and food. All are great. However, when we did this quick stop at the hotel, Derek bailed on us. So we had 4 for each event; Dan wasn’t at dinner but Derek wasn’t at cocktails. However, at Bandidos, when every other patron had gone, we decided to leave too.

So that was the end of the day. I came home feeling light footed and ready to face the next day. That’s why this update did not get out last night.

I hope all is well with you. My time is growing short here. I’ll be leaving before the mission officially ends but I’ll try to keep you up to date with the goings ons after I leave. Once I get home, it’s eleven months of research for the next P-MAN mission: P-MAN X.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #16 Monday, March 6 & Tuesday, March 7, 2007

March 6, 2007

Hello Everyone!

It has been two days since I last wrote to you but I will break into my narrative of the day's occurrence with Lessons Learned:
  1. Once again, a plan is just something to deviate from.
  2. Smart man theorem bests brute force every time.
  3. The best sashimi is the one that’s fifteen minutes off the boat.
  4. History lessons for the public can be entertaining.
  5. Late night PowerPoint practice sessions can be very entertaining too.

Dan took the van to the tire shop and got us a new tire. Fresh off the shelf. How long the other three will last is something betting pools could be made up for.

We had three tasks we wanted to do today. There’s a Corsair down in the jungle that hasn’t been found nor has the pilot been recovered. We wanted to take the information we got from Minoru and walk the jungle. We’re finding that the more we do analysis of the red circles on Minoru’s map, the more accurate they are. So we would look for this airplane.

We then wanted to walk into an area that on a topo map had a legend for graves. We’re told that Palauan graves are not listed on topos maps. Maybe this was an American grave or maybe another nationality but until we go, we won’t know.

Not too far from there, a Corsair was shot down. The pilot was not recovered. JPAC did a recovery operation there and really scoured the ground but they did not find the pilot. However, by doing some analysis, maybe the pilot made it to the graves that are on the topo map. Again, the only way to find out is to walk the ground.

After breakfast Derek came in with a different analysis of the situation. Derek is a Marine Corps Captain. All Marines take Basic School in how to be a grunt. Derek made a perfect score on the orientation section. His compass had been broken but he scored 100% because he figured out how to read terrain and relate it to a map and visa versa.

Derek made the case that all of our lat/longs are off due to bias in each of the coordinate systems. I won’t bore you with all the details but Derek ignored the lat/longs and took Minoru’s red circle map (which has locations of supposed aircraft crash sites) and checked topography of that map to the topography of our maps and Google Earth imagery. When he did that, all of our previous lat/long points for crash sites were found to be off. So we recalculated, then compared the red circles to the crash sites we have found and they matched.

When we did that for the last site, it made no sense for us to go. We wouldn’t be able to add anything to what JPAC had already uncovered.

For the graves we lowered the priority for that due to the shifting red circle on the aircraft I just mentioned. Before the red shift, (a little humor there for any physicists in the crowd) the red circle was between the crash site and the graves site. Once we adjusted, the red circle was on the crash site. It doesn’t make much sense for the Japanese to bury a pilot so far away. We might get there but only if we run out of things to do.

However, our big focus for the day was looking for the Corsair I first mentioned. We did the aerial reconn a week ago looking for this pilot. We searched one section of jungle due to the red circle and a Palauan hunter’s recollections. We saw nothing of value. However, Derek looked the topography over and laid out a case for another search. Before this new analysis, we thought that this was the end for this case because we had nothing new to go on. So today, Derek is the mission commander and will direct us in the field.

Slippers being secured.
We picked up Joe and headed out to our search area. We parked the van near where I got it stuck. Then Joe found our path into the jungle and we started to go. However, for a Palauan, slippers (flip-flops, Tevas, sandals) sometimes can be a hindrance. This is how Joe goes through the jungle most of the time.

This is one with nature.

We split into our usual two search groups. Joe on independent duty and the rest of us doing search lines.

We walked about 20 minutes when our mission commander said, “We should have turned right at the stream and we turned left.” So we back tracked a little and got to the correct side of a field of ferns. Then we searched on-line for a good couple of hours.

Sad to say, no luck. We found some interesting Japanese fortifications: slit trench system, artillery firing positions and foxholes. No aircraft pieces. We had a box area to search and we thought we would cross what we think the pilot’s flight path might have been. However it didn’t work. We took a 15 minute break and searched some more. Still nothing. Joe checked in by radio and reported finding an old sawmill.

We took another lap through the area and of course found nothing. We met up with Joe at the van and wolfed down our lunch. We got a late start this morning due to doing the red circle analysis and we did not come out at a reasonable lunch hour.

Pat was going to make a presentation, about what we do here, that night at Sam’s Tours. Since it was late in the day, we thought we’d leave the jungle and head home so Pat could fine-tune his PowerPoint presentation.

That gave Derek some time to analyze what he thought we should do and what we did do in our searches. He came back to us and stated that we were on the wrong side of a ridge. He looked at the topography again and found some more info that says to look over "there." To give Derek credit, the red circle map is a hand tracing of the topography so it is not exact as a USGS topo map would be. He has to interpret to make it work and he is making it work. He told us where we need to look next. But that would be in a couple of days. We have a date with JPAC tomorrow to make our case for a new recovery mission for them. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Tonight we went to Sam’s early and had dinner. It was, by far, the best tuna sashimi I’ve had while I’ve been here. A nice yellow fin tuna that was fresh off the boat. Hmmmmm good.

Pat setting up with Sam.
People started filing in and sometime around 1930 (7:30pm) Sam Scott (owner of Sam's Tours) kicked off the presentation. Pat gives a brief overview of our operations, a history of why Palau was important in the war, what kind of airplanes operated here and then tells the story of The BentProp Project. He chats about the Palauans who have helped us and the organizations that we work with. He updates every one of what has happened since our last mission here (same timeframe in 2006) and what we are doing this year.

Dan chatting with David Rykken (the hospital
administrator). He swears my insurance is good here.

Pat and John Vogt (Melekau Environmental Consulting).

Then he tells the folks what they can do to help which really means keeping your eyes open as you roam around Palau. He fielded some questions. Some very "original" questions too and that was it. Home we went.

Bob put some finishing touches on the PowerPoint presentation I’m giving to JPAC tomorrow. We’re taking them to the field to show them The Stone Grave site and the Wildcat site. We think both should be investigated. However, without some background information, going to the field to see a possible execution site would just be going to see some rocks.

We used to think Pineapple Hill was Police Hill. Now we know it’s not which shifts all our thinking further north. However, JPAC still thinks Police Hill is Police Hill only because they haven’t dissected the transcripts as we have, and done the interviews that we have done this year. Our thoughts are only a working hypothesis. However, we’ll lay it out for them and if they like it, they’ll do something with it.

The team wanted me to practice my presentation for them. I complied but I knew I had peaked when I did. Never get too good, too early. The good news is that JPAC is going to the field no matter what. I could sing Super Freak by Rick James (we just watched Little Miss Sunshine) and they would still go out with us, but, I humored the team and they were happy with my PowerPoint prowess.

Here’s my title page. If it doesn’t get a laugh, I’m giving up standup comedy. [Hooray! Oops... — Blogmaster]

Then, it was to bed.

March 7, 2007

Hello Happy Campers!

Today we escorted an assorted group around Palau showing them sites. The main emphasis was to take JPAC to these sites as we feel they should be put in the queue for future recovery missions. We had three JPAC folks with us: Rich Wills, the anthropologist and team leader, Rodney, an Air Force medic and Matt, a Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) expert.

We also had some other guests. Jolie Liston was joining us again and so were Kurata-san and his daughter Emiko. Jolie was going to fill in some info about our sites as it pertains to Palauan antiquities. Kurata-san was a Japanese soldier here during the war. He lived on Babelthuap up until he was 18. Then the Army got him and he spent his time on Anguar. He was one of the few Japanese defenders of Anguar to have survived the war. He was a POW and interned somewhere in the U.S. He went back to Japan, had a full career and then moved to Palau. He’s now the resident go-to man for Japanese visiting the islands and he is a zoologist and botanist to boot. He was brought along to look at the Japanese installations and to read some Japanese writing on the wing of a Wildcat. As I’ve found out, some of the kanji writing from 60+ years ago is mis-read by today’s Japanese. I guess styles of prose have changed significantly in the ensuing years. Emiko is a crocodile researcher and her Dad’s interpreter. We’re told Emiko taught the Palauans how to take blood samples from crocs so that they could test DNA and see to the health of the crocs. Her Dad taught her what she knows. I haven’t seen it yet but I hear she has a pet croc at home that's 6-8' long.

I gave the JPAC team our briefing in our ready room. Why was I chosen you ask? Pat asked, “Does anyone want to do this?” No one volunteered so I chirped up. I think we were enroute to eating something and I wanted nothing to get in the way. And just so you know, the joke bombed but I’ve decided the show must go on so I’m not giving up standup. Not just yet anyway.

Our brief essentially laid out what we gleaned from the Guam War Crime Trial Transcripts; what we learned from our interviews this year, why we think we need to shift our attentions north, some new anchor-points in which to calculate distances from points A to points B and a general overview of the area. We essentially had to suspend our past belief structure to create a new map. Our Stone Grave Site fits to a great degree our new reality.

Is this a 100% match? No. However, we feel sufficiently positive about this that we wanted to show them. It will be up to JPAC to decide if our intel is good enough to warrant a mission.

We loaded up and headed to The Palasia Hotel to meet Kurata-san and Emiko. However, safety being paramount, Matt the EOD guy gave us a field safety briefing.
Matt, EOD1, U.S. Navy.

Essentially it boiled down to the same brief that Bill Belcher gave us so long ago; “This is a battlefield. We will find unexploded ordnance. If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it. If you know what it is, don’t touch it. Tell the EOD guy and he’ll note it. And don’t touch it.”

Off we went. The first stop was the Stone Grave Site. If our sleuthing work is accurate, then three American POWs were executed and buried here. So were three Jesuit missionaries and members of their community for a total of 10 additional victims. In addition, a British national was also executed in the area. There may be 14 people in this grave area.

We parked along the side of the highway and then tromped in. The first 50 meters or so is pretty steep. Then we go through 50 meters more of tall ferns and grasses. Then we level out until we reach the jungle and enter.

Kurata-san is 81 years old and uses a cane to walk. He showed up in hiking boots and we knew we could not keep him from making the hike. He kept up a good pace and managed to point our flora and fauna to his daughter. On the last hike of the day, we think he discovered a new species of plant that eats bugs. Similar to a Venus Flytrap but it looks like a tube with a toilet seat top on it. It’s not that this one in the picture is new, but that he found some miniature ones growing out of a rock wall. He had never seen that one before.

A couple of them. Not the new
ones. These are the old ones.

This is where the new ones are.
We think the cane is really just a heavy pointing stick for him.

Kurata-san explaining, Emiko translating and Derek absorbing.

We showed JPAC around a bit and then they went to town taking measurements and making notes. That’s what they do when they go out and survey. Matt used a metal detector to search the area as well.
JPAC at work, sweeping and measuring.

Kurata-san verified that the bunkers we found there were indeed constructed as air raid shelters. Air raid shelters played a pivotal role in the British national case. One of our assumptions is that since we have never seen any structures constructed in this way in any of our searches anywhere on Palau, then there’s a pretty good chance these are the correct ones. Jolie, who has roamed further than we have throughout Palau, also doesn’t remember ever seeing something of similar construction.
One of two unique concrete constructions: air raid shelter.

Shave and a haircut. Two bits.
We spent a number of hours here. During the stay, Jolie started wandering and she yelled for Pat. Pat went where she went and he yelled for me to bring my camera. This was a section of ground we hadn’t walked before and we found some remnants of the Japanese army: water filter system and a barber’s chair. It could be a dentist’s chair but we like barber’s chair better.
The water filter system used a clay filter bed in multiple cartridges all housed in a metal container. The clay is knocked off of the tube shown here but we found another tube with the clay intact.
There were also a few caves in the area but they all looked as if they suffered from some cave ins so we thought it best not to go into them.

We hiked out, said goodbye to Jolie and then proceeded back toward Koror. Instead of turning right to go over the KB Bridge, we turned left to the airport. We were heading back to a Wildcat site that we found a few years ago.
On a subsequent expedition, we stumbled upon a parachute cone in the debris field. We tagged it and bagged it and handed it over to The Historical Preservation Office of Palau. We also informed JPAC and on this mission they wanted to see where we found it.

The importance of the parachute cone (in old emergency parachute systems a series of metal cones with holes across the narrow end of the cone were used with pins to keep the parachute container closed until needed) is that it was a part of the parachute system which presumably would be attached to the pilot. So the theory goes if you have this sort of equipment in the crash site, the pilot has to be there somewhere.

I showed the JPAC team where we had found it.
Rich also told us of some Japanese writing on the Wildcat's wing which appeared to be a poem written on March 8, 1945. We asked Kurata-san and Emiko to translate for us. It says:
Translation by Emiko
We hiked out of the area and bid farewell to Kurata-san and Emiko.

Long day for them without food or even much water. Kurata-san said he did not want to sweat a lot, so he refused our offers of water. Then we headed to The Truckstop for burgers, fries and a milkshake. I normally have mocha but had strawberry just to try it. Mocha is my favorite. The JPAC team joined us and we got to chat some more about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Back to the hotel, got cleaned up, checked e-mail and we watched Little Miss Sunshine. Once I insert some pictures (yes I know, yesterday’s was a little skimpy on the picture taking) I’ll send this off to you and hit the rack. Tomorrow we’re heading out with JPAC again. They’re going to help us look for the Corsair that Derek is honchoing the search for and then we’re going to show them the mangrove find I told you about a week ago. I hope they bring chainsaws for this because we are not going to show them the path we cut. We worked for this find and they’ll have to as well. We’re doing the mangrove show-and-tell in the afternoon due to the tides. Low tide isn’t until 4pm and the tide is 6' tomorrow. That would be pretty wet in the mangroves but that gives us 4 extra bodies to use in our searches for a Corsair. That increases our odds a bit.

So goodnight everyone. I hope you’re getting properly prepared for the two most important holidays of the year that are coming up later in the month: The Ides of March and Saint Patrick’s Day.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #15 Monday, March 5, 2007

Hello Again!

We really had a day off today. Well, sort of. We went hiking without any intention of looking for airplanes or MIAs. Except we were confirming some bits of testimony from the Guam War Crime Trials. So maybe it was a work day. But it certainly was a great hike.

Lessons Learned:
  1. Premonitions about tires can come true.
  2. Packing a lunch into the jungle is worthwhile.
  3. Brownies and beer at the far end of the hike can be worthwhile too.
  4. Sweet potato fries are different in Palau.
  5. Bob Holler is a task master when making PowerPoint presentations. But he’s also correct.

The day began with our usual breakfast and briefing. We dashed out the door and picked up Joe at Neco Marine. We were driving north to meet Jolie for a hike today.

The plan was to put into the jungle in an area where the Kempetai (Japanese Military Police) had had a headquarters. We were going to walk to the Jungle Army HQ, then to the General’s Summer House and on to The Stone Grave Site. The purpose of this walk was to see some sites that we hadn’t seen before; take a real archaeologist with us to see if we had ancient sites mixed in with Japanese sites, check on times between points that were mentioned in testimony at The Guam War Crime Trials, let Jolie see places in Palau she hadn’t been to before and borrow her GPS since we fried ours the other day.

Dan dropped us off at our let-in point. Then he drove the van to the exit point where Jolie agreed to meet us. They moved her cooler of beer to the van (her price for us to make lunch for her) and then drove her car back to us. Now we had wheels in both locations.

We set off to see what we could see. Initially we followed some hunter trails and then we were following old Japanese roads. Mostly we just walked through the jungle. We were in hilly/valley areas and we tried to stay to the high ground so we didn’t burn up too much energy. We stopped part way there because the GPS unit didn’t seem to be working properly. Dan and Bob fussed over it a few minutes when I chimed in. “Does the basic old compass mode work properly?”


“Then turn it off for 30 seconds and then back on.”

After a heading calibration dance by Dan (Two 360° slow turns as directed by the unit itself.) the GPS worked perfectly. My Airbus training proved valuable in the jungle: if it doesn’t work, reboot it.

We pressed on until we found Derek, Joe
and Dan sitting down in an odd pose.

This was the first bit of structure we found for Jolie to look at. At first glance she thought it might be ancient but revised her conclusion as we left. She said the ancient peoples had straighter stone work. This was probably Japanese.

We walked on and got to a river with a waterfall. Joe didn’t even know there was a waterfall up here. In many different written sources there is mention of a waterfall. We’ve always assumed that every mention of it meant the big waterfall near the road. Maybe some of the references were to this one which made good sense. We were very near the Jungle Headquarters of Japan's 14th Infantry Division.

We knew we were there when we came across some caves.
Photo by Jolie Liston.

There were four entrances and the tunnels were all connected. We found concrete steps that were installed in one to make it easier to go in and out. Although no people live here, there are some cave dwellers.
A bat just came out of the cave.

We looked around a bit and were still amazed that the Japanese cleaned up so well after themselves. Very little war debris. Peleliu on the other hand is littered with everything from rifles to unexploded mortars rounds and artillery shells.

Batteries and sake bottle.
We had lunch on top of the cave system and then looked around a little up there.

Then we headed on out through a valley and we found a lot of prepared trenches, dugouts, etc. There were 30,000 Japanese troops garrisoned in this area. We’re pretty sure that even though we do not see them all, there are plenty of caves in the area.

We found a few interesting artifacts.

A gun mount .

Burnt aircraft aluminum.

A flower pot.

We were now heading towards the General’s Summer House. This is what the Palauans called it. It may have been another headquarters or it really could have been his house. However enroute we pointed out a Japanese trench built into the side of a hill. Jolie took one look and told us that this was an ancient crown. A high point that was developed into a defensive area against other clans. The top was actually a shallow depression with high sides at the top. A lot of years and the Japanese occupation reduced the size of the top but you could imagine that without the jungle, this area commanded the high ground.

One of many trenches we found.
At the Summer House we did find stacked helmets and prepared trenches.
Can you find Dan in all of the green? He’s near the top of The General’s Summer House.

We did not stay very long and walked towards The Stone Grave Site. According to Jolie, we were now entering an area with lots of ancient remains. There should be terraces and bai’s and all sorts of stone works.

We broke out into a savannah while Jolie was still in the jungle and yelled back at her “What’s this Aztec pyramid doing out here?”

Conqueror Bob.

Conqueror Joe.

She broke out of the jungle and gasped. It was a large crown with a very commanding view of the surrounding area. It had a trench built all around it as a protective device. The ancient Palauans would fill it with water or put stakes in the bottom of it to impale people. The tribes of Palau were not at peace with each other in the old days.

The Japanese had filled in the moat on one side and created a road to the top. I can only imagine that they had artillery pieces there for the defense of the island.

Here’s a major reason why we asked Jolie to go with us. She pointed out all of these ancient sites and told us what they meant. We’ve been walking in site of this crown and just thought it was a treeless hilltop. Now we know better.

We left the crown and pressed on for 5 minutes and we were at the large ancient bai that Jolie found last time she was out with us. That meant only 5 minutes to The Stone Grave Site. Since we were going to bring JPAC out here on Wednesday, we just passed through the area so we could exit to the beer and brownies. I mean to our car so we could drive back to Koror.

See the not-so-obvious bare areas?
If there isn’t an existing trail through the tall ferns, it’s going to be tough going.

Photo by Jolie Liston.

We rested at the car and consumed said brownies and beer. Got our boots off and let the toes air out. I really needed to as I slipped and went into a river up to my knees. Saved the camera though. Pat also planted boot prints at the bottom of the river. But I think he chose to.

We loaded up the van and started to drive back to our starting point which is where Jolie’s car was parked. About halfway there, Bob stopped and asked Pat for a tire check. Sure enough, the tire was flat. Remember how we left the jack and spare tire loose in the cargo area? How fortunate for us. The tire change took less than 10 minutes with all of us pitching in:

Pat directed traffic.

Derek loosened lug nuts.
Bob directed all of us, Jolie installed the chocks on the rear wheel, and Dan cranked the jack up and down. The tire was replaced, no one got hit by a car and off we went. Except Jolie did not remove the chocks and we drove over the front one and flattened it. But hey! What are the odds of having another flat tire?

Dan is taking the van in to the tire shop in the morning to get a real tire put on. Seems the sidewall blew out on ours.

After cleaning up, we went to a restaurant that we had never been to before, To To To. Not sure what it means but we were told it had the best sashimi in town. The fish was pretty darn good and so was everything else we had. Except maybe the sweet potato fries. They came out looking like regular fries. But when you tasted them, they were sweet. Not sweet like a sweet potato but sweet as if they had sugar sprinkled on them. Not what I had in mind but the menu did not lie. They were sweet.

Back at the casa, we all worked on various BentProp projects. Pat is giving a presentation tomorrow night for Wreck Week at Sam’s Tours so he was making some changes to his PowerPoint presentation. The rest of us worked on a justification proposal, ramrodded by Bob, to JPAC for possibly looking at our Stone Grave Site as the possible final resting spot for some American Airmen. Photos were flying back and forth for different purposes and now I get to finish writing to you.

That’s it. Get some sleep. I’ll write again tomorrow.

Or the day after...

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #14 Saturday, March 3 & Sunday, March 4, 2007

March 3, 2007

Hello Everyone!

When is a day off not a day off? When you find something really cool. But first,

Lessons Learned:
  1. Expect the unexpected, even on days off.
  2. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, call in a friend.
  3. Water resistant GPS units probably aren’t.
  4. There’s no Z in TEAM.
  5. The pointy ends of the rain drops hurt.
  6. Palauan cuisine is unsurpassed.
  7. Full as a tick on a hound dog.

The day was scheduled to be a fun-dive day. We got up and had another wonderful breakfast courtesy of Dan. Out the door reasonably on time and we loaded and boarded our dive boat. It’s about a 45-60 minute ride down to Peleliu. We were going to pick up Bradford. We’ve worked with him for the past few years when we do our side excursions to Peleliu. He contacted Joe the other day and said he had a new find to tell us about.

Seems about a year ago he was clamming northeast of Peleliu. He came upon a plane, and a boat in fairly shallow water. He said that he could stand on the aircraft propeller at low tide and be partially out of the water. He said it was easy to find, no one else but his buddy knew about it and he would take us there.

The waters where WE thought it was located are pretty heavily traveled by divers and fishermen. WE figured everyone but US knew about it and that if it was anything, it was Japanese. It would be nice to find and get a GPS spot on it. That way if anyone ever reports it again, we can say we’ve been there.

On the ride to Peleliu we passed by an island near where Pat found a TBM Avenger a number of years ago. The only things found were a landing gear and some small pieces of aluminum. It was piloted by a Marine Major who had a crew of two with him. Major Scullin had a great reputation as a pilot and leader. He was shot down northeast of Peleliu. Please see earlier P-MAN reports for the full stories.

We pointed that out as well as many other sites along the way to our first-time team members. When we got to Peleliu, Bradford and a friend got on the boat and off we went. We drove back the way we came and then we started heading right to the island near where Major Scullin was lost. Could this be his airplane we’re about to find?

We turned left 90° when the island was tantalizingly close. We then came to a rest over a coral head. Bradford pointed out where to go and we snorkeled our way around the boat. Didn’t see a thing.

Moved to another coral head. No luck. We might have looked at a third coral head as well. I can’t quite remember all the details tonight. Then Bradford called a buddy (using a cell phone to call back to Peleliu) who really knew where it was. He’s a policeman on Peleliu. He was willing to show us where it was and was able to do it right now. So we drove back to Peleliu. Picked up a policeman and motored back on out. The roundtrip ride to the spot was just 15-20 minutes each way.

Between trips to Peleliu. Photo by Bob Holler

We made our 90° left turn a little earlier and we did not go as far west as we did previously. We all got out and snorkeled. Just when everyone was going to give up, Joe stood up on the top of the reef and started waving his arms. Joe finds everything.

We all moved over to Joe and there was the propeller. At first look we thought it was Japanese. The scrap pieces of metal that were visible to us were inconclusive. We were getting ready to log this and move on when Joe and Dan grabbed scuba tanks and went under for a few minutes. Our preconceived notions were about to be dashed...
Photos by Derek Abbey except where you see him.

Joe came up and told us that there was blue on the aircraft parts. Blue? That belongs to U.S. Navy and Marine squadrons not Japanese squadrons. Well this was confusing. It looked like we shouldn’t be interested at first and now we had to do some work. But this was a day off!

We at least had to return our guests back to Peleliu and by the time we went to the dock now for the 3rd time, we were ready for lunch. When we got done with that, we really did not have enough time to dive Blue Corner and not feel rushed. So we declared it a workday and went back to this prop.

We did a circular search pattern on a buoyed line. We took about 90 feet of line, attached it to the prop and then swam in a circle to see what we had as far as a debris field. We found some debris at the 11 to 1 o’clock positions from the prop. Bob Holler was following us on a snorkel with a GPS unit. The same unit that worked so great in the jungle. He would mark each piece so we could do some analysis and see how the debris field lies. The GPS unit is advertised to be water resistant: one meter deep for 30 minutes. [Water resistant does not mean water proof. — Blogmaster] Bob was just snorkeling on the surface so he did not put it in a bag.
Photo of Bob by Derek Abbey

Photo of Pat by Derek Abbey
We then let out about another 90 feet of line, moved the folks down the line to new positions further away from the prop and repeated our circular path. We found more debris in the same clock locations. Bob continued to mark each position. We added another line to the original line and did one more sweep. As a team we got as far as the 12 o’clock position. As a team, we stopped to look at some items. Then we continued the search. However, I seemed to be the only diver still on the line. I thought the movement was easier. Seems as if whatever we found on the last sweep was more interesting to my teammates than finishing the sweep. You know what they say about the word TEAM: there’s no I in TEAM. My response has always been: "There's no Z either!!!! What's your point?”

To make matters more interesting, on the last pass with our search line, I had to swim towards the boat a little ways so I could duck under the anchor line. I didn’t want to get caught up on the boat and then wrap my line in ever decreasing circles around the boat.

As I said, the movement was easier and then I noticed that I was swimming in an ever decreasing circle radius. I was spiraling in out of control! I came up and found I was only a few yards behind the boat. I asked Joe, who was out of the water already, if anyone besides me was on the line. He, of course, said "No."

No point in moving on without them so I started to reel in my line. But rather than reeling towards the prop, my take up was taking me to the boat. Finally I followed the line to the bow and there was my line, over the anchor line. I know I went under the line. To make matters worse, Bob had come to the boat at the same time and was making fun of me for not having gone under the anchor line but I knew I had gone underneath. Can you get narced at 6 feet? Come to find out that our fearless leader, who shall remain nameless, unclipped the line and re-clipped it over the anchor line in an attempt to be helpful. Why I oughta……..

I finally wrapped up all the line and went back to looking at pieces. The propeller at first glance looked like it was Japanese due to the counter weight system it had on the prop hub but the pieces we found, some fairly good sized, were more reminiscent of American made products.

And to confuse the site more, there really was a boat close by. The aircraft debris field either ends at the boat or they are intermingled. It looks like this was a wooden motor craft. Fairly big motor with shaft and prop but no hull.

We have one underwater camera with us. It’s an el cheapo film camera that we will have to take in, get developed and then make digital copies. (Wonders of modern technology, it’s done and the photos are inserted for your viewing pleasure. They will be tweaked and improved by the back room people: Pat Swovelin at BentStar and Reid Joyce at BentProp. At least that is what they normally do when I send them substandard images. Check the websites.) Hopefully someone can lend their expertise and tell us what we have.

But of course you want to know what we think we have. We all pondered that on the ride home. A few big waves got most of us standing up to absorb the impacts against the hull. I had to leave my bow sunning position. We knew we would have to look at some books back at the ready room.

We got back and quickly dove into the books. Nope, not a Corsair. Not a Helldiver. Nor a Hellcat. Not even a Wildcat, Avenger, Kingfisher, B-24 or any other aircraft from a book we have.

Except one.

The counter weights look pretty close to an early model SBD Dauntless and they did fly in this campaign but not this old of a version of the SBD. There was a change of propellers in the later models of the SBD.

We’re going to go back to the site tomorrow and take more measurements and look at what we have and compare that to the book photos we have. However, if any of you historically minded people want to figure out how a SBD 1, 2 or 3 flew in the Palaus or if a SBD 4, 5 or 6 switched props to the older model while out here, go for it. Mark? Katie?

Tonight we were hosted to a marvelous Palauan dinner at Joe and Esther’s house. We were feted with calamanzi lemonade, taro and seafood soup, fried and boiled crab, beef, chicken, potato salad, kancun with clams (that Joe caught and we tasted as sashimi, chicken and tapioca for dessert. It was wonderful.

I had multiple helpings of each course. Esther knows how to put on a banquet. We waddled to the car and headed home.

I was going to send this out to you tonight, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. The Internet is down again in the hotel.

I hope you’re all surviving winter and that the early daylight savings time works for you. Rebecca sent me this photo to remind me of what awaits me on my return.

March 4, 2007

Hello Again!

Had a wonderful day off today. Except for the 5 minutes we took at the SBD site. That was a good bit of work Pat and Derek did.

Lessons Learned:

  1. GPS’s might take forever to dry out.
  2. Joe is a great dive guide.
  3. Nature is beautiful.
  4. Well fed sharks are great to look at.
  5. Blueberry bagels and salami sandwiches redefine the rules of deli.
  6. The more we do here, the more there is to do.
  7. If you don’t pull the camera out of its bag, you don’t get many photos to share.

We leisurely headed out the door today for a fun dive day. Dan elected to stay behind and run some errands so the four of us, Pat, me, Bob and Derek headed to Neco Marine. We did not have to bring anything but scuba gear; no Deet for bug protection nor hiking boots in case we found anything.

A little confusion about our boat. Seems as if it was parked at an adjacent pier and someone hotwired it and took off. I’m told that happens a lot and the boats are always returned. It took a little bit but we got a replacement boat with Charlie as our driver. Joe would be our underwater tour guide.

A number of years ago the laws in Palau were changed to require a dive guide and boat captain for each dive boat. In addition two motors are required for all drift dives. I can’t remember all the details but before the law was changed, some dive boat couldn’t get to the divers who were on a drift dive and the divers ended up 65 miles or so away from Palau. They were not alive when found.

So we headed out for a beautiful drive to the dive spots.

We attached ourselves to a buoy at Blue Holes. There are four vertical shafts that lead to a large chamber in the reef with a couple of exit points. Then you drift along the reef wall and see all the amazing wildlife. If you look to your left, all the corals and small reef dwellers as well as those fish that graze on the flora and fauna there. If you look to your right, you look out into open ocean and see sharks, tuna, Napoleon fish, unicorns and countless other species. It’s like an oil painting looking at all the bright colors.

The first animal I mentioned was sharks. Lots of them. However, they are all well fed. Including the one that was swimming in small circles in the tube at Blue Holes that we went down. The last animals we saw as we left the reef were barracuda, hundreds of them and probably closer to the 500 I mentioned years ago. As I said before, this is my fish story.

Joe led us on a great dive. We entered at Blue Holes, drifted through Blue Corner (which might just be one of the prettiest dives on the planet) and surfaced. The boat came to us and we all climbed aboard. We untied from the buoy and moved to another buoy closer to the reef and the island. After all, we have to have great scenery for lunch.

I never thought I would ever have deli meat on a blueberry bagel but we ran out of our standard provisions and had to make do. Derek made up for my deficiencies of putting the lunch together by bringing not one but two packages of Oreos.

We stayed on the surface for about an hour and a half. This is a safety parameter as well as a lunch break. When scuba diving the body’s tissues absorb nitrogen. If you get too much in you, without enough pressure to hold the nitrogen in the blood, you get the bends. This hour plus break allows us to breath off the some nitrogen prior to re-entering the water. Safety first. If you aren’t a scuba diver and really want to learn about this, call me when I get home or take a scuba course and get certified. Then you can look at pretty fish in Palau!

Our second dive was at Drop Off. It is a wonderful wall dive with a little drifting. Overall I’d say the currents were not as strong on these dives as they were a few years ago. Especially the Peleliu Express dive. That was wicked fun with a ripping current.

There’s different sea life at Drop Off. The corals are brighter and with more variety. One type of coral got all of our attentions; a hard coral that was deep forest green. Beautiful.

I saw one fluorescent fish nibbling on a piece of string coral as you and I would eat corn on the cob. I watched with rapt attention.

Joe once again led us on a great dive. He not only briefs us well (short and to the point) but he takes us on a great tour, keeps an eye on us, points stuff out and maintains a high level of safety.

Back to the surface with a 3 minute safety stop at 15 feet. Once again, safety with nitrogen. This stop allows us to breathe some of it off while the body is still "pressurized.” Then back into the boat and off to….a work site.

Joe drove us right to the SBD prop. Pat and Derek jumped in with a measuring tape and took a few key measurements. This prop and motor assembly pretty well match an older SBD type of aircraft. The problem is we can’t find any mention of this airplane in this battle area. We are going to either come up with the explanation for this SBD find or figure out what airplane it really is.

Home, cleaned up and went out to Indian food again. The owner ordered for us and we once again asked for really spicy. Last time, we conquered the spices. This time, the spices conquered us. However, while I was being damaged by the spices, Dan taught me a counter spice trick; drink coffee. The acids in coffee supposedly counteract the spices. Seems to have worked.

Now it's back at the hotel, typing, inserting photos and wishing I were in bed already. But if I don’t get to this now, I’ll just have to do more tomorrow.

I just realized that I really didn’t shoot any photos today. So, at the last minute, I’ve stuffed my book report with filler. Don’t even try to deny you did this in grade school.

Thanks for reading this.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #13 Friday, March 2, 2007

Hello Everyone!


Today was a great day. We found something that has not been seen since 1944/45 and we did not actually think we would be successful. The odds were slim. But, taking into account shifting plans and a whatever it takes attitude, we were graced with a find.

But first, Lessons Learned!
  1. A plan is just something to deviate from, again.
  2. The most valuable asset to this team is Joe.
  3. Mangroves are tough going. We told you so.
  4. Technology improvements are improving our abilities.
  5. It’s a beautiful thing when your van has a flat that the owner drives by on the way home.
  6. Victory dinners for the team are sweet!
  7. This is a very good tired.

The plan for today would be determined after we heard what Joe found out from some contacts we’ve been chatting with. After he reported in we determined that we should do three things today:

  1. Two more interviews with elders.
  2. Search the edges of a mangrove and see if we got lucky and saw something.
  3. Hike into an area that is labeled graves on a topo map.

We decided to leave the grave hike for last as we thought it would be a quick trip. It’s only a quarter mile or so off the road. On the USGS topo maps of Palau there are occasional references to graves. After chatting with Jolie Liston this invariably means not Palauan graves. We have had no reports that anyone has ever visited these listed graves and they happen to lie underneath the flight path of an airman we’re looking for. His airplane has been found but he hasn’t been. We never got to do task three today.

We loaded up the van with all the gear for hiking the jungles. Since we planned on not entering the mangroves we did not need our water shoes and sting suits. We also had the normal lunch menu in a cooler.

Our first stop was going to be with an elder we talked to about 4 years ago. We had been searching a mangrove for an airplane and afterwards we talked with this gentleman. He said we were searching in the wrong place. He said that it was 200 meters in the other direction in the mangrove. Well, without any corroborating evidence, we decided not to re-enter the worst mangrove that Pat had ever been in. Since that was my first mangrove day, I only knew it was next to impossible to make any headway. If you go back to the updates from a few years ago you’ll know we cried uncle.

We got to this man’s village and Joe looked for someone to tell us where he lived. Joe came back to the van with some sad news. The elder had a stroke last year and could not speak anymore. We did not want to disturb him or his family so we went to the next elder.

We had never interviewed him before. We wanted to see if he could add anything to our intel files. Unfortunately he was in the hospital in Koror. Nothing overly serious I’m told. So on to our hiking site.

Enroute to the site we came upon a naval gun emplacement the Japanese had set up. Five massive guns pointing right at the channel leading into Koror. The story is the guns were never fired in anger. And they don’t seem to ever have been hit by any ordnance. After a few tourist photos we geared up and drove the rest of the way to our let-in point.

We got the property owners permission to park our van and cross their turf. Some of the prettiest views in the world. We hiked to another tourist spot that had been altered by the USMC during the war. A light house installation. Since Bob and Derek are here for the first time we want them to see some of the historical sites but as we looked around the site, the old hands saw more and more buildup of the area. Maybe there were storms that cleared some leaves and vines (doubtful) but we found out-buildings, bomb craters light poles, unexploded bombs and more. We hadn’t noticed so much in the past.

Pat and Derek at the bat filled lighthouse. Notice the pockmarks?

Joe taking in the surroundings.

Tiled floor in the lighthouse, evidence of pre-war construction.
Well we dropped down to the mangrove. The plan was to walk the edge along the shoreline and see what we could see but when we got to the edge there were obvious thin spots to the mangrove. So we slightly altered the plan. We would walk the thin spots until we encountered thick enough mangrove that you had to pretend you were on monkey bars at the playground. Then we would angle to shore until we found another thin spot.
Land on the left, mangrove on the right.

We did not have our mangrove equipment with us but the tide was out and it was relatively dry. As we did our thing we let Joe go solo. That’s what he does best. The most charitable thing we can say is that we slow Joe down if we attach him to us.

So we looked around and found some interesting stone work. A pier heading out through the mangrove towards the sea. We went a little ways down it. Just enough to see that it goes a long way out there. We found what could be an ancient platform, and at the end of the day, maybe even an ancient grave. We’ll have to get Jolie out there to make that determination.
DOB at the far end of the pier.
More stone works.

Then, the radio call from Joe we all want to hear when we are in the thick of things; “I’ve found something we’re looking for.”

It took us easily 30 minutes to grope our way through the mangrove to Joe. Those with machetes were hacking and those of us without (me) were crawling, climbing, twisting and swearing our way through the thatch weave of the mangrove roots. Joe had to talk us to him as we only have about 15 feet of visibility.

Knife photo by Pat Scannon.

We got to Joe and he had two pieces of metal. It was obvious that they were aviation, did not belong in the mangrove and they didn’t just float in. After inspecting what we had, we found that we had the feed chute to a 50 caliber machine gun and the machine gun to go with it.

Feed chute. Some rounds still in it.
Photo by Bob Holler.

What’s left of a machine gun.

We broadened our search and we each took a heading out from these pieces; one person heading south, southwest, west, northwest and north. Items were found both north and south but none out to the west and none as we came in from the east. This is exciting! A debris field was being defined.

We found another machine gun and feed chute, a wheel and some larger chunks of aluminum.

Another machine gun.

Pieces parts.
Photos by Bob Holler.

We can’t determine exactly what airplane this is yet, however, with the blue paint we found, we feel pretty good about saying that it is a Navy/Marine Fighter type and we do know that only one Navy/Marine aircraft was ever listed as going down in this area. The pilot is still MIA but maybe this is the first step in bringing someone home.

We have already informed JPAC of the find. They are here and they are the professionals. If they want to see it, we’ll take them in. However, we aren’t going to let them use the trail we blazed through the mangrove. They’re going to have to sweat a little. We sure did!

It’s amazing how technology improves. Bob Holler bought the same model of GPS that Pat has it's just a few years newer. His antenna picks up satellites all the time so even in the deepest jungles or mangroves Bob can track us and get waypoints for us. DOB plotted all the points on Google Earth and that confirmed we have a linear debris field. The next time we go to the site we’ll do an in-depth search both north and south and see if we can find more of the airplane. The engine and airframe cannot be too far away.

We decided to extract ourselves a little earlier than we had planned. Joe felt a storm coming in and did not want us out in the mangroves when it hit. But before we left, Pat and Derek said a few words to commemorate the sacrifice that this aviator made. We’ll go back and do a flag ceremony as we always do. If this aviator is ever found and the family is notified, we’ll have something for them. Captain Derek Abbey, USMC made a two word speech; “Semper Fidelis.”

So we hacked our way out, widening our trail so it will be easier (not easy mind you) to get back in.

Hiked back to the car and had a victory meal of salami sandwiches with fiery hot Pringle potato chips. We had skipped lunch as no one wanted to leave the mangrove to get lunch. Then Bob Holler made our day. He said that this was the toughest jungle stuff he had ever seen. And he’d seen a lot on Okinawa.

After tending to some small scrapes, we piled into the van and headed to Bem Ermii (Come and Try) 2. You might recall they make the best milkshakes on the island and they have a second store at the KB Bridge. They were great. Nothing ever tasted so sweet. As I was sucking the last of my shake through the straw, I noticed the front left tire was a little low on pressure. Bob went to check it out and it was flat.

No problem, we’ll just use the spare. Problem, no jack and only a short handle that wouldn’t reach to lower the spare tire down. Well at least we’re closer to Koror than when I creamed the transmission pan.

Just then Mason Whipps pulled in. He takes great care of us all the time. He’s the owner of the van. He smiled and called his tire guy to come out and take care of us. He gave us some tools. He left and we started taking care of business. Derek was loosening the lug nuts and jacking the car up. Someone was trying to lower the spare. However, the crank rod got stuck. Not a big deal except we would not be able to lower the rear hatch of the van with it in place.

All was healed when the tire guy came out. Rod removed. Car jacked. [They were carjacked? Dang. — Blogmaster] Then the new tire went on, the car was lowered, we moved the spare to the rear cargo area (I think we all thought that this was not going to be a one-time occurrence) and off we went. Normally, we like going to Sam’s for sunset but after we clean up. However, we seem to go there directly from successful field trips for a celebratory beer and plate of sashimi. It’s fun to see the look on the faces of the scuba divers when we walk in covered in dirt and sweat. I’m pretty sure Sam and Dermot, his manager, know why we come in sweaty and stinky and they tolerate us. I was going to say they love it but that would be a stretch.

We went back to the hotel to pour over pictures, check GPS readings and now I am writing to you.

It’s an amazing feeling to go through what we did today. We went out expecting nothing but sweat and dirt. We got a lot more. We have more work to do on this site. However, to give some knees a rest and meet up with someone who is going to lead us to a water site, we are going diving tomorrow. It’s a day off with just a little work enroute but I’m sure I’ll have a story for you tomorrow.

Did I mention that it’s a great day?

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #12 Wednesday, February 28, & Thursday, March 1, 2007

February 28, 2007

Hello Everyone!

We spent the day on the water! Finally we get to enjoy the pristine waters of Palau. Well we would if we went to the cool reefs where all the fish hang out. We seem to go to places where the waters are a bit murky due to mangrove runoff. That’s where the airplanes seem to end up. It would be handier if they crashed at Blue Corner but then we probably wouldn’t get as much accomplished.

Lessons Learned
  1. When your underwater photographer doesn’t come on the mission a plastic trash bag doesn’t suffice.
  2. A good reporter is great to find.
  3. We like diving by ourselves better than with a bunch of tourists.
  4. Priority Mail to Palau takes only a few days, unless I order something.
  5. No matter what country it is, a tour of the President’s office is cool.

We headed to Neco Marine early so those of the team that needed to rent scuba gear could get squared away. We loaded the boat with tanks, gear, lunch and water and off we went. The fisherman who showed us where the B-24 was reported seeing two other pieces of wreckage. One was a wheel in a mangrove and the other was some aluminum on the slope of a reef. Joe went out with him to verify and now it was our turn. Joe marked the mangrove entrance with a broken tree branch. The reef site we would have to do a little searching for. They did not actually find the piece.

The wheel could be from the B-24 or it could be from something else. Although not a big find in and of itself, we do need to catalog it. If it is from the B-24, then it matches some things we’ve seen in the bomb run photos that show this B-24 breaking up and going in. If it’s from another airplane, it might be a clue to another location. We hoped it was an Avenger landing gear. If it is, it probably belongs to the lone Avenger wing we found in a mangrove two years ago. That would be exciting since it would start defining the debris field and we could start to think about a smart search.

But first we need to do a check-out dive. As water safety officer, I’ve been assigned the task of making sure we’re safe. We have one fairly new scuba diver with us and the rest of us have been out of the water for a year or more. So rather than jump in and start searching, we started with an easy dive. Out to the Jake.

A Jake is a Japanese float plane from World War II. The beauty of this dive site is that it is shallow, 40 feet or so. It’s easy to find. The currents are not normally strong. And the wreck is relatively intact. The tail was shot off and is lying to the side. The motor has broken off and is sitting at an angle right in front of the fuselage and there are a few fish hanging around.

All underwater photos by Derek Abbey except the self portrait by me.

We dove on it, came up and went to the mangrove. It was low tide and the boat had to stay a couple of hundred yards from our entry point. We walked across the shallows and mangrove flats and then entered where Joe had marked the trail for us. Within a few minutes, the wheel was found again.
And it was a B-24 wheel. The diamond tread is characteristic of it and it is a big wheel. A fighter wheel is much smaller.

We did a little bit of searching towards shore just to see if anything landed close to it. Nothing more. Out we went and as we crossed the flats again, we spread out and line-searched back to the boat.

Our boat driver for the day said that when he and some buddies were fishing they found some aluminum on a coral head. He took us to the area he thought it was in but we decided to go to our other target for the day first. If we had time we would return.

We cruised over to the reef and Joe pointed this way and that and he motored us in close and dropped anchor. The fisherman didn’t know exactly where it was but it was close. Search 100 feet either side and no deeper than 30 feet and you’ll find it.

We split into two teams. Joe, Derek and I went left. Pat, Dan and Bob went right.

After about 200 feet or so Joe turned us around and we went back to the boat and then proceeded past the boat for 200 feet. This was the area that the other team searched first. A little overlap doesn’t hurt. We came back to the boat when Joe pointed down and there was the aluminum. Unbeknownst to us, Dan jumped overboard, turned right and saw it immediately.

Once it was found Derek photographed it.

Reid Joyce normally has the underwater camera. However he’s not with us this year. Derek purchased a reusable underwater film camera and had the honor of taking the photographs of this new find.

And we don’t know what it is. It looks like Japanese construction. And our inclination is to decide it’s part of a float. However if any of you airplane motor-heads want to take a stab at it, please do so.

We did an area search to see if there was any more debris. Didn’t find a thing. So we left to look at a coral head.

The boat driver took us to the place where he thinks there’s some aluminum. However it’s not the same place where we were an hour ago. Not to hurt his feelings, we went over the side. As you can guess, nothing was found. He said he would contact his buddies and see what they remember.

We left the coral head and went back to the Jake. We don’t have any Japanese aircraft books with us but we do have a Jake to look at and compare. We thought we’d look at the float and see if it was similar to our mystery piece. There were different models of seaplanes operating in the Palaus from both sides, Japanese and American. It could be anything.

When we got to the Jake, there was another dive boat on it. We had never seen any other divers on this site before. Now it was getting crowded. But we had a mission to perform. The plan was a 6 minute dive and a 3 minute safety stop. It’s not that this was a deep dive but it would be our fourth time in the water and we wanted to get back for sunset sashimi.

DOB and I would bounce down. Look at the float. Look at the tail section. Then go to the anchor line and come up. As we jumped in and headed down we passed a diver from the other boat and I did not see any one else. Well it’s not so crowded after all. Then as I got to the Jake, a dozen divers with cameras and strobes were busy about the place; photo of the prop, photo of the rivet pattern, photo of the girlfriend/fiancée/wife next to the fuselage. Flashes going off as if it were New Years Eve. Now it’s crowded and we didn’t have time for this.

So with a friendly wave like you would give to someone who just let you in a line of traffic, I swam around everyone to the float. Aft to forward, port to starboard and then a look at the rivet patterns. That done and with another friendly wave, we paddled through the pod of divers to the tail, looked it over and headed to the anchor line. After our safety stop at 15 feet, we surfaced. As I was heading up you could see the pod looking at us with that stunned puppy dog canted head look: “Who were those guys on a 6 minute dive?” They’ll never know.

We made it for sashimi. The reason this is important is that if you don’t get to the pubs early enough they can run out of fish. Yes, this is an island nation with a strong local fishing economy and they run out of fish. They also run out of Victoria Bitter (VB) but that is another issue.

Dinner was at Teppan Dragon, a Palauan Benihana. A fine meal. Then I typed my heart out and did not get to bed until way late. Thank goodness today was a sleep-in day. I was up early anyway but not with an alarm and that’s always a good thing. So I’ll write-up today’s events, add pictures to this whole thing and call it another night.

March 1, 2007

The mission is really halfway over. The last flight out for us is March 16th. Some may be leaving earlier but no one is leaving later. I’m already thinking of that 0115 departure time.

Pat said he wasn’t going to do many meet-and-greets this year. Nor was he going to do any presentations. Both of these concepts have stayed concepts. Today was meet-and-greets, some research and some planning.

The first appointment was a small meeting with the Vice President. Pat and Bob met with him for about 30 minutes while the rest of us went shopping and did various errands.

Traditional looking sitting area. The old capital building.

I went to Continental to check on flights home for me. Then to the Post Office as a box I’m expecting has not shown up yet. I saw that the JPAC team leader had a really cool pair of water shoes. The inner boot was a neoprene dive bootie but the outer boot had a hiking sole and sides that laced and strapped up. Bob Holler has a similar pair and he loves them. So I ordered a pair for me and a pair for Pat. In the meantime the JPAC Captain loaned me his for our mangrove walks. (I did test them in the mangroves. They’re great and can’t wait to get my own.)

Bob Holler ordered a piece of exercise equipment that he saw the Navy Divers using. He ordered this a day after I ordered the boots. He got his box already and mine is nowhere to be seen. In my order I mentioned that time was of the essence. I also called them the next day to reiterate that. I’ve gotten a few emails saying everything will be all right. I hope I see these boots prior to next year’s mission. They said they shipped it Priority Mail rather than Global Express. Well the last time something got shipped Priority from Palau it took 3 weeks to see the goods. As you know something always happens to me enroute. Maybe this is this year’s happening.

Derek, Dan and I did some shopping and were back at the rendezvous spot for our next appointment.

Politics. It’s everywhere.
Esther and Doyle dropping off Joe.

The new capital.
We were waiting for Joe and then we would head to the new capital for a meeting with Billy Kuartei, The President’s Chief of Staff.
We got there a little early and Mr. Kuartei received us and gave us a quick tour of his boss’s new digs. I last saw this building when it was under construction when we ate our lunch under the skyway that connects the President’s Office with the Executive Building and watched the carpet layers do their thing. Now we got to see the finished product. The President’s office is spacious, light and airy. Nicely appointed.
Another product placement
revenue loss for us.

Then back to Koror and lunch.

We met up with Kurata-san and his daughter Emiko. We wanted to show him more maps and see what light he could shed on Japanese units during the war. Kurata-san turned 18 during the war and was put into the infantry and immediately shipped to Anguar. He was one of the only soldiers to be captured alive from the campaign. His first-hand knowledge of anything to do with troops on Babelthuap is limited. However he can read Japanese maps for us. Actually the literal translation of Infantry in Japanese is "walking soldiers."

We gave him a list of units we would like information on and he said he would work on it. We also told him of our work at the grave stone site. He said he would like to see it so on Sunday we’ll take him there. Last year he went hiking with the group. I’m told the group could not keep up with this 80-year-old man. He is fit.

The Sunday outing will also be attended by Rich Wells from JPAC. We’d like him to see what we’ve found so far and make our case for some investigations there. Jolie will also be along to add to her antiquity finds.

We left Kurata-san and headed over to the Minister of Health’s office. Pat has worked with Dr. Yano for a few years mostly on bird flu preparedness. He wanted to check in with him again and we all got to meet him as well. He likes what we are doing and now we have another social engagement to attend. Something about a celebration on a pier.

More food shopping and DOB went to get the transmission fluid serviced. The owner of this van has his own maintenance facility for all the vehicles he and his family own, including big construction equipment. The mechs told Dan that we (okay, I) flattened the transmission pan and that they had to beat it out with big metal implements. Well no wonder we’re leaking fluids.

Sunset at The Palau Pacific Resort (PPR).
Out to Carp for dinner. Most of us had lobster or coconut crabs. Hmmmmm good!

Some serious eating going on here.

Jolie joined us and we briefed her on our Sunday hike with Kurata-san. Although everyone knows everyone here sometimes they never meet on their own. BentProp seems to be a focal point sometimes for folks who live here to meet each other.

Now I’m typing again.

And I honestly don’t know what we’re doing tomorrow. We’re waiting to see if Joe connected with folks who were going to get us some info. If he has, it may change what we are going to do. So until I know, you won’t.

I hope all is well with you and that your March comes in like a lamb and leaves like a lamb. We have to get some benefits from global warming.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #11 Monday, February 26 & Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 26, 2007

Hello Again Everyone!

So you must be wondering, "Now why don't he write?" Quote courtesy of a soon to be dead guy in Dances With Wolves.

I'm trying a new tool. Please let me know if it works out for you. I'm trying Thunderbird as an e-mail client. It does some things better than Outlook so, in theory, my notes to you should get out quicker. We'll see about that. (Writer’s note. Practice before you try a new program. I’ve tried for a bit to get this out and it won’t send. It’s not the program, it’s just me. Back to Outlook until I learn.)

Lessons Learned:
  1. Seniority doesn't mean a thing when you have mission accomplishment on your mind.
  2. It's a really small island.
  3. Pouring over maps and trial transcripts is fruitful work, however mind numbing it can be.
  4. Check camera settings frequently.
  5. New restaurants can be good.
  6. If you can show an archaeologist really big old stuff, they're quite happy to help you search for small chunks of metal.
  7. Even Canadians get it.
  8. John Wayne gets a pass about crying in a movie, for all others, it's contextual.
  9. Don’t change e-mail horses in mid-stream.

So there we were. Waiting in the ready room until 11am. At that time, the owner of a helicopter that is on the island, John Walker, would be walking into the room for a flight briefing. John is an airplane nut. He owns a T-28 and a Beech Staggerwing just to name a few beyond his MD500 helicopter. He came to Guam a number of years ago to wrench on helicopters in the tuna fishing industry. Like all expats, there's always a story. Now he has a helicopter in Palau. And he volunteered to fly a spotting mission for us.

We worked on our mission planning last night, and now we were getting some charts and photos together to show John the areas we wanted to overfly. With Google Earth, we can really make detailed charts of what we want. It's a great tool.

We hashed out what we wanted to see. We had three target areas that were of interest:

  1. An area south of Ngatpang Bay.
  2. Around the jungle headquarters of General Inoue of the I.J.A.
  3. A peninsula north of Ngatpang that is surrounded by thick mangroves. Two of the areas may hold Corsairs and the third the execution site of American POWs and some Jesuit Missionaries.

But who was going to go flying with John? There are only three passenger seats in the MD500 and there are six of us. Well, we all certainly wanted Joe to go so we can get his jungle attuned eyes over the jungle. Although we've all ridden in helicopters before, and most of us have skydives from them, we all wanted to fly over Palau in a helo.

We collectively decided that the guys with the most current experience looking for stuff on the ground should probably go. That meant Bob Holler who is a retired 30-year PJ from the Air Force and Derek Abbey who flies in F/A18s for the Marines and picks up items on the ground in Iraq that requires "special attention." That also meant that the old hands of the mission, me, DOB and The Boss would stay behind. Grrrrrrrr.

I was going to be the next in the batter's box for this mission just in case Joe did not want to go. He'd never been in a helicopter before so he wasn't sure about all of this. However he knew that morning he wanted to take this opportunity.

We briefed with John and he basically said, "I'll do whatever you all want.'" Music to our ears.

The helicopter is based at Neco Marine. Easy access for the tourists and quick getaways to see the beautiful Rock Islands. We drove over, loaded up the mission crew and off they went.

The BentProp Air Crew. Joe's first liftoff.
The BentProp Air Crew on the first helo mission.

The ground pounders for the day tried to do some errands. One was showing The Director of Public Safety our map of mine fields in Palau. He thanked us profusely as there is going to be a lot of building going on in Palau over the next few years. This will be very helpful in reducing injuries due to UXO (unexploded ordinance).

That burned up some time so we went back to Neco and waited for our boys to come home. After the helicopter landed, everyone came out with big grins on their faces. I don't know how much good intel we'll get from this flight, but it sure was a different way to see Palau.
Almost home.

Joe liked his flight. Joe's job was to scan the jungle for what was not right. He did not see anything that did not belong. And before 15 minutes passed the whole island knew Joe had been up.

Bob reported that he had some great shots of his knee, the forward bulkhead and the seats of the helicopter. Seems as if the timer button got tripped so he would snap a photo, and then 10 seconds later, after the camera was put down, a photo would be taken. Bob's job was to snap stills and then scan the jungle.

Derek reports he had a good time as well. His part of the mission was to use the video camera and try and get coverage of all of our target areas and visually scan when Bob was shooting stills.

We came back to the hotel mid-afternoon and then poured over maps, charts, photos and testimony from the War Crime Tribunals. We did not get any actionable intel about the two Corsairs. However, we feel good about a site that could be a burial ground for our missing airmen but we won't really know until we explore it. That's what we'll do tomorrow. Put boots on the ground with an archaeologist that Pat met last year. Tomorrow Jolie Liston will be joining us to lend her experienced antiquity eyeballs to our cause. But first, dinner.

We tried a Korean restaurant for the first time. It’s been here longer than we’ve been coming to Palau but we never made it there for some reason. We finally went and we’re glad we did. We’re going to try and explore some of the hidden restaurants of Palau. I’ll let you know if we have much culinary success.

February 27, 2007

The day started early as we had an appointment in the field. Jolie Liston, an archaeologist, was going into the woods with us today. she has been working along the Compact Road Project for 8 years. Her job was to check out and catalog ancient Palauan sites. If the road had to be rerouted, so be it. The Palauans want to save their history as much as anyone.
Jolie Liston, Senior Archaeologist,
Garcia and Associates.

We wanted to show her our sites and see if she could shed any light onto them for us. Although she thinks anything younger than 800 years is modern, she liked the idea of going out into the field with us. We were going to look at three areas on this trip. One was a possible execution ground as reported by a Palauan Elder. It seems that when the Japanese executed some civilians, Palauans were ordered along to observe. They never witnessed an American being executed but they did witness Asians and Pacific Islanders being executed.

The report was that about an hour walk from a Japanese wartime hospital was the killing ground. Some stones were set up as an execution platform and that was what we were looking for. We had several people bring us to an area that seemed like a good fit for the distance from the hospital. We had already scoped out the area from a road but hadn't gone into the jungle. We thought about a 100 meter arc from our entry point might be a good way to start.

Old stones.
We made a sweep to the east and then started back the other way. Joe, who was on independent search duty as usual, called out that he found something. When we got there Jolie was excited. It seems that ancient Palauans made platforms from stone for many functions. We were looking at a small platform that was used as a resting area (iliud).

It’s said that these resting platforms were built at a distance from each other that corresponded with the time it took to drink the milk out of a coconut. I’m pretty sure that did not mean chugging.
Then Joe called again and as we moved down into a little gully. Jolie let out a peel of delight. We were walking on an ancient Palauan path. More like a narrow causeway that crossed this particular gully and wouldn't you know the path led to the resting area. Jolie said she liked this concept of looking for airplanes but finding stuff her life revolves around is more important to her.

We found some Japanese debris in the gully. Looks like it could have been a communications center. We found what looked like radio cases, phone junction box, light bulbs and the ubiquitous 55 gallon drums. Nothing that we were really interested in but it does confirm that the Japanese military was in the area.
The first person to translate this wins.

Although we built a case for this area, we are not convinced we have the spot here. So it was on to site 2.

The second site we wanted Jolie's opinion on was something we found a few years ago. We did not think much of it then but, after reading the War Crime Trial transcripts, we developed a hypothesis that what we called the stone graves site might be where Americans and a British national were executed and buried. Of course we can't just dig up stuff here in Palau. If we could, I would be telling you answers right now. However, Jolie was able to tell us that some of the "stone graves" are Palauan (bluks) but most are not. She also told us that when the Japanese buried Americans they might have buried them near Palauan graves. In Palau a clan burial area is called an odesongol. Clan life is probably the most important facet of Palauan society.

We checked all the graves with a metal detector and only got hits on the non-Palauan graves. That is a very good sign.

She let us know that the area of Palau we were in was heavily populated way back when and this was the ancient city Iksid. If you look around, even in the jungle, you can see terraces, fortifications and many stone structures. In the clear areas of the jungle, the terracing is very obvious. As an aside, the exposed terraces that you can see in Palau are all infertile. Only very hardy ferns can grow there. The soil is very acidic to begin with and when man started clearing land and farming thousands of years ago, they sealed the fate of these chunks of land. It seems even today you can only farm this land once cleared for 2-3 generations. Then the ferns rule. There have been studies and tests done and you cannot economically make the terraces usable again. Unless of course you can figure out a market for the fern that grows there. Salads maybe?

We walked further into the jungle looking for other signs. I was using the metal detector and heard Jolie cry out again. We found a huge platform. One of the biggest she's ever seen. This must have been a very important village. And there were 3 big stones at the corners of the platform. These are called btangch (pronounced tongs). Sometimes they are used as backrests and sometimes they are commemorative. They can be plain stone or carved. The ones we found were plain.

I scanned the platform with the metal detector and did not get any hits. Again, this is good.

Jolie agreed that there was enough modern intervention in the site to warrant JPAC looking at this site. If they agree with us, then maybe they can do a mission to this site and see what they can find. It might not be anything other than piles of stones. On the other hand we may be able to find 13+ people missing since 1944.

The third site was really just a "reality check" for us. What we don't want to do is create a hypothesis for a particular idea that we fall in love with. If you do that you have a tendency to not look at other possibilities with an open mind. So we went to the New Japanese Memorial in Ngatpang State. The Japanese could not pronounce Ngatpang so they called it Gasupan. Gasupan was on their maps everywhere. Made it hard to pinpoint exact locations. One of the elders said that where the Memorial is was Gasupan. We wanted to search the area for Japanese artifacts to see if this was a settlement area.

When we got there we found that all around the site the Compact Road crews had moved dirt. They piled it here, they piled it there, they piled it everywhere. [Sounds like Dr. Seuss was the project foreman — Blogmaster] Jolie had previously looked in the area up to the jungle but not at this location. We decided we would not get anything useful out of a search here. So we parted company with Jolie and headed out to do another interview.

We drove further north into a small village along the ocean. We were looking for Daniel. We had wanted to interview him since we got here and had missed him repeatedly. He has a farm up north and a house on the west coast of Babelthuap as well as down in Koror. We drove into the village and asked directions to his farm. Not to miss an opportunity I walked out onto the beach and dipped my toes in the ocean while Joe was asking directions.

We drove back south a little ways and found Daniel at his farm, getting ready to depart. He graciously took the time to chat with us.

He did not add any actionable intel to our list but he did say that he would keep an eye out for us and look at some sites that might prove fruitful for us. One recurring theme from hunters is that they tend not to look at the ground while in the jungle as they are hunting for birds and fruit bats. Their game is up, not down. However, at 70+, he still hunts and now that he knows what we're all about, he'll look at the ground a bit.

Came back to town and cleaned up. Debriefed the day’s mission. The bottom line is that we will contact the JPAC people who are here and make our case for an investigation into the stone grave site. If we have our ducks in a row, then JPAC might fit it into their schedule.

Over to Kraemer's for the all-you-can-eat spaghetti night. Only one plate for me. Got to full on sashimi and poke appetizers.

Came back to the apartment and made a promise to finish this update. Didn't happen. Fell asleep at the keyboard. So I'm finishing this up after a day of diving and finding stuff. However, you'll have to wait for the next update to find out what we found.

Blue SKies, Flip

PS. If you do not like spiders do not look at the photo on the right. In the jungles of Palau, there are not many dangers. However, one of the irritants is this large spider that tends to weave its web across our trails. If you're focused on the wrong thing, you might miss the spider and get a bite on the nose.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #10 Saturday, February 24 & Sunday, February 25, 2007

February 24, 2007

Hello BentProp Supporters!

We had a very long day of interviews. We only got 6 people in. However, it’s time first for your favorite section, Lessons Learned:
  1. (said in your best Peter Sellers' French auck-cent) “Eets not my dawg.” Joke concept by Bob Holler.
  2. How can a blind man tell you what he sees?
  3. You still have to ask the right questions, no matter how much help someone has been before.
  4. It’s a small world when a Palauan meets a cousin who they did not know they had, who lived in Oregon for a long time but is back in Palau.
  5. Parental supervision in any nation is a good thing.
  6. The definition of a Man movie is not the same as a Guy movie.
  7. Repeat interviews are valuable. Even when done by happenstance.

We had a reasonable starting time today. Tomorrow will be earlier. However, that hasn’t happened yet so I guess I'd better complete today’s story. Joe came to the hotel and off we went to interview some folks. We used to look for elders predominantly and hunters secondarily. We’ve found that the children of elders sometimes know their folks' stories since Palau has a rich oral history heritage. Today we spoke with elders, their kids, hunters and fishermen and people they all recommended we go talk to. We are definitely networking the Palauan way.

We got some great tips for where to search and whom to talk to next. We might even have a guide to a new wreck site. In water! I might actually get to use my scuba gear!

We easily have 3 more days of interviews to get through if we choose to. You might be wondering when are these guys going to find something. Remember our time up on the island waiting for Simeon to return? Patience everyone. Patience. We have found over the years, and it is a military maxim, you can never have enough intel. We’ll head back into the woods when we have a little more direction. That will be soon.

Rather than go over every interview with all of the folks, let me introduce you to some wonderful Palauans.

However, I must tell you about our first injury. It happened at our first interview site of the day. We were told to be there in the morning to chat with the nephew of the elder we spoke with two nights ago. He couldn’t make it and asked his sister to tell us to come back at 7pm. That fit our timeline perfectly. On the way out, the dog that was friendly yesterday was a bit territorial today. One of our intrepid adventurers went to pet him, showing the back of the hand first so the dog could sniff, and got bit on the knuckle. Pat Scannon, MD went into action. A makeshift surgery was established in the cargo area of our van. Brown fluids showed up. So did a forceps. Gauze and bandages. An opaque gel. An assistant was recruited. When all was done, a call to the Minister of Health to check on the dog bite protocol for Palau.

The patient is not in any danger, does not need a series of really painful shots (if they even do that anymore) and we pressed on minutes later. I tried to get a picture of the offending animal but all I could find was the human. I even tried again tonight at 7pm. No dog to be seen.

I believe in the trade they call this a slow news day.

On to our Palauan friends.

Photo by Derek Abbey
Bob interviewing a blind elder. He could barely see during the war but his friends told him a lot about what was going on around him. His eye issues are not a result of the war. What I learned from this gentleman was that in life, sacrifices are necessary. This man lost family members to U.S. bombs and bullets. However, he is happy to have his freedom and realizes his family's sacrifice was the price to pay for getting out of Japanese bondage.
This elder was forced by the Japanese to move off island to Papua New Guinea as a laborer. In fact, this is a common story in many Palauan family histories. He came back to Palau in 1946 when the war was over. He helped us locate some bridges that the Japanese had named, but are called something else today. It was interesting to learn that the Japanese did not name things universally. They were named by the local Japanese and these names really were not used outside of the villages or States. For example, the Yamato Bridge (Yamatobashi) was named by the local Yamato Japanese residents but on the map drawn up by the Japanese government, the same bridge is just called "two lane bridge good for trucks." I think the Golden Gate Bridge is known worldwide.
Photo by Derek Abbey

Photo by Derek Abbey

This fisherman helped us find the B-24 that is being worked on by JPAC right now. We should have asked him about other things three years ago but we never met him until today. Pat was finally able to tell him how much his information has meant to the families of the crewmembers of the B-24. Tomorrow he and Joe are going by boat to check up on two leads he has for us.

This is the fisherman’s wife.

Even their cat was interested.
This shot is for Rebecca.
Above 2 photos by Derek Abbey
For all you hardware people, here is some Japanese aircraft wreckage. Now that the tail section is uncovered who can make an identification for us? Two clues: inverted V-12 engine, and only one of them. Previous thoughts were a Tony. See P-MAN III.

We took our lunch break at the Ngaremlengui pier overlooking a beautiful section of ocean. We had the usual fare. A Palauan teenage girl pedaled up and started a conversation. Her story is that she was born in Corvallis, Oregon, and moved here when she was around 10 years old. We were chatting back and forth amongst the seven of us when the obvious parental mother-unit showed up. The next five minutes was all in Palauan but we all knew the message by the Mom’s tone and stance: “These are strangers. You shouldn’t be talking with them. Come away with me now.” Now all you Moms and Dads can easily imagine the teenage posture that accompanies “But Mommmmmmmmmmm.”

Gloria, the Mom, switched to English and when we were done chatting about 15 minutes later, we were blessed by her and she went off. She had been in the U.S. going to college and at some point, decided to return home with her family. Then Joe let us know that he was related to them. The three were cousins.

For us, back to work. We drove from the pier back into the village.

Here’s Dwight, a hunter we’ve worked with before. Although it was great to see him again, as he has a great attitude towards us, he had no new information for us. Some interviews are in houses
and some not.

Photo by cute little girl.

Said cute little girl, and her sister.

Can a dog bite affect you in 3 hours? [Yes if you're insane to begin with — Blogmaster] Actually DOB set up the cute little girl, in the next photo, to take our pictures.

We met with this Chief five years ago. His health and memory have deteriorated a little bit but he still filled us in on events in the area during the war. As did his wife. His daughter and granddaughters also filled in some local color, including a Palauan liquid refreshment.
Union coconut milk break doesn’t include stopping the documenting process.

If only we could get product placement money.

Enroute to our last interview, the subject of Guy movies and Man movies came up. We certainly could have talked about something more pertinent but we didn’t. It had been a long day. We have decided that any movie John Wayne was in is a "Man" movie. And, although there are "Guy" movies by the score, not all of them, and probably not many of them, are "Man movies. What exactly is a "Man" movie you ask? Well, if you have to ask, maybe you don’t watch many "Man" movies. They are thematic though. (The group took a vote. We would like to hear from all of you and hear what you all think a "Man" movie is. Especially Mike O’Brien, DOB’s brother.) [Send your answer(s) as a comment at the end of this Update — Blogmaster]

Our 7pm appointment had some great information for us concerning bridge locations in Japanese times. Lucio is going to take us to meet a 90-year-old Chief whom he says still has great memory. We’re meeting up with him tomorrow morning while Joe goes out with the fisherman to check on his two leads.

Then it was out to a Thai dinner, buy groceries and more video tapes and then a quick digestion of what today’s events mean for us.

We’re amazed at how many interviews we’ve gotten so far. Normally it’s towards the end of the mission that the interview subjects come to the fore. This is a good sign. The more intel we get, the more effective we are in the field. And it strikes us funny that occasionally, someone will tell us that everything that can be found is already found, or that there’s no one else to talk with. Then the next day we get 4-5 more names to interview.

And now I’m going to bed. I stayed up past my bedtime to make sure I got the correct photographs into today’s missive. It’s an early get-up and I don’t want to be dragging butt tomorrow. So, good night.

February 25, 2007

I stayed up way too late in order to type yesterday’s note to you. Thank goodness for the elixir of life: strong coffee.

Kudos to Bob Holler. As a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, he always told his troops to “take care of your equipment and your equipment will take care of you.” Throw in a little command voice and you have it down pat. Well, Bob is treating us no different. Each morning, he gets up early, gets in some yoga, a run and then he checks the van out. He services the oil, transmission fluid and checks the fuel level. If he could lube the zerc fittings he would be in heaven. Then he comes in for breakfast.

We were out the door around 0745. We had to pick up Lucio at 0800 on another island. We were on time. Then he took us to the elder Chief he knows. We drove up to Babelthuap on the new good road and then got off the road to Aimeliik to visit with the Rebluud. This is an honorific based on his Chief position.

As we rounded the corner to his house, we all realized we had been here just a few days ago. Well, not to waste an opportunity to chat someone up, we acted as if this was normal. The Chief must have looked at us and thought we were idiots. And we were not about to ask this as our first question “Have we met before?” Although we saw the women of the family laughing at us the Chief and Lucio never let on that we had been here before. Pat wants to think that the Chief just thinks we had more questions for him.
◄ Before and after photos.►

[the Chief's excitement was palpable — Blogmaster]
And, as it turned out, it was as if we had never interviewed him before. He never contradicted himself from the earlier interview but he added things in he never talked about before. He even volunteered to show us around the sites we asked about. All told, he spent another 3.5+ hours with us including a drive all around our target areas.
In a nutshell, what we have called Police Hill over the past few years has been renamed to Pineapple Hill. It seems that there never was a Kempetai (military police) presence at this area and in fact it was a pineapple farm and agricultural research center. At least the GPS nomenclature can remain the same.

He showed us the location of some bridges from Japanese times. Including one bridge area that had been filled-in during recent construction. Instead of a valley with a bridge at the low point, they filled in the valley with a pass through for the river. However, this "bridge" was a key point in the testimony at the War Crimes Trials.
We received a few stories over the years about the location of the execution site of some American POWs and a group of Jesuit missionaries. The Chief’s memory was so good that he directed our driver to make all turns while driving to the sites. He would ask us to stop the van so he could get his bearings and then we would press on. Although he never saw anything of the executions, or where the prisoners were housed, he did show us the same area that others have shown us. So we have a pretty good feeling about making a search of this new area.

We have a map of this area from the war period. We also have current satellite photography and World War II bomb run photos. I think we can make a case to really search this area well, unlike the Taiwanese farm area where we have a single story about a Corsair going down somewhere in there. So into the jungle we will go. But not tomorrow.

After our whirlwind trip with Rebluud we had lunch in town. We met up with Joe and he filled us in on his adventures. It seems he had troubles getting a functional boat. We he finally got one that would get him to his appointment he and our fisherman headed out. They confirmed there is a wheel in the mangrove. This is new to us! And it might be one of the last remaining pieces of the B-24 to find. So this is good news. On the other hand, if this wheel comes from a single engine fighter, then this is a new wreck site to investigate.

They also checked out an area that a plane is reported in. They did not actually see the airplane but the fisherman showed Joe where it was. We’ll have to go back with scuba gear to check it out. I think we’ll do that in a couple of days when we do our check-out dives.

Then back to the hotel by 3pm and we sequestered ourselves in the room to digest all this information. We compared photos from 1944 to 2007. We laid out testimony from the War Crime Trials and compared that to the real world. We were visited by Kurata-san and his daughter Emiko and chatted far into the night about his times as a Japanese soldier here in Palau. And as it turns out, as far as he knows, he’s the last remaining former I.J.A. soldier in Palau. And we shared a fine sashimi meal with them here in the ready room.

The most important question of the night was asked by me. I wanted to know where the sake cache was stored. I figured 63 year old sake must be pretty smooth by now.

Tomorrow’s plan is simple. We have a helicopter to play with. We going to send up some folks to look over the areas we are interested in and see if we can: A) get lucky and find something and B) get a good look at the lay of the land. We have three areas to look at. The first is the overall area near the Taiwanese farm. Then up to a small peninsula to look for a Corsair that is down. Then back to this new area that we are calling the execution site. All told we should be able to take up 3 of us and the pilot and video and look at all three areas in under an hour.

That will leave 3 team members on the ground. They will make some appointments with people we still want to see and maybe get some other logistics items taken care of. Of course they can also do some interviews or take some naps. After all, we are getting older.

And that brings you up to speed. I hope all is well with you. And that it is getting warmer wherever you may live.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #9 Friday, February 23, 2007

Hello Everyone!

This was a great hiking day and we got some interviews in. But first, your favorite section, Lessons Learned:
  1. If you brief in the evening something to do the next day, you really ought to remember to do it.
  2. Don’t give Joe, The Palauan Guide par excellence, the topo map when you know nothing of the area.
  3. When divvying up the radio supply, maybe Joe who goes off on his own should have one, rather than bunching up three radios within 50 feet of each other.
  4. Sometimes you get really good intel and it just doesn’t get you what you want.
  5. Bob’s GPS antenna is far superior to any previous GPS unit we’ve had in the field.
  6. Cabela's Elks Skin gloves are fantastic! Thank you Greg Meadows.

So there we were. Today’s adventure was to search a jungle section near where we were looking the other day. (So you’re probably wondering why doesn’t he say "such and such" a village, town, state, etc? Since we are looking for MIAs, and there is a chance they are still in or near their aircraft, we don’t want fortune hunters or souvenir collectors disturbing the sites. If we give up too much information, well, that would be bad. So don’t you go off trying to look for hiking trophies!) Our preferred entry point was through the Taiwanese Agricultural Station that I mentioned in a previous update. However, when we talked with the onsite manager, he said we would have to get an authorization from his boss in Koror.

So this morning Pat typed up a letter requesting permission. Knowing how functionaries can be, we tried to figure out how long it would take to get this permission. And if we did not get it today, how we would proceed by bypassing the Taiwanese Station.

Since this seemed like office work, most of us stayed in the car. Pat and Joe went in. A few minutes later, they came out carrying fruit trays. It seems that this boss gets what we do. He insisted we get to it today and hopes we find what we are looking for. And the fruit trays were samples of what they are growing on the farm: star fruit, wax apple, guava, papaya and cherry tomatoes. Good eating in the van.

Out to the farm and drove as far as we could through their fields. Changed into our hiking duds which include hiking boots and thick socks, long pants that tighten around the ankles, long sleeve shirt, bandana, hat, sunglasses, gloves, deet and sunscreen. Then we strapped on our accoutrements: Camelbacks with 3 liters of water each, rain gear, compasses, GPS units (Shameless marketing alert: Garmin’s 60 CSX is killer in the jungle. We’ve always lost satellite signals in the jungle with any other GPS unit we’ve ever used. But even in the thickest stuff, Bob’s GPS easily has 4 sats all the time and sometimes more. If anyone knows someone at Garmin HQ, can you get them to comp me one?) and cameras with spare batteries and memory cards. And off we went.

For about 10 yards.

I stopped to take a picture.

Today I needed both batteries and the spare card. I turned on my camera and nothing happened. I did not even get a low battery warning either yesterday or today. So I swapped out batteries and again, nothing happened. A third set of batteries came out and I had a warning note that no memory card was installed. I must have left it in the reader when I transferred pictures to my computer. Pulled out the spare one and I was ready to go. So off we went.

10 yards later, I called a halt again. My shoes came untied. [He's ex-Naval Air so please give him a break — Blogmaster] Off we went again. And we didn’t stop until we found our entry point for the jungle.

Simeon, who took us to an island to look for a plane, told us of his times hunting in the area we were about to search. He told us if we went in on a certain heading, we would come to some steel and metal next to the river. It was still on dry land and not in the mangrove or on the river bottom. We took a heading 30 degrees further south and came in. We wanted to make sure we did not miss his location so we figured we would walk to it this way.

However, we did not want to slow Joe down, so he set off on his own. If he had to tag along with us, well, that’s not an effective use of his talents. After he was out of sight, and out of shouting distance, we realized that he had the topo map and we hadn’t given him a radio. Even Palauans get hurt so not having a radio was not helping him if that came to pass. Joe having the topo map is way too redundant. We really needed it since we do not know the terrain. We use GPS (global positioning system) and Joe uses JPS, (Joe positioning system). Generally, Joe is always within the tolerances of the GPS system.

Well, pretty much what Simeon said came true. We found the steel drums he was talking about as well as a pretty intricate cave system dug into the hillside. We found at least 8 entrances and it looked as if they were all interconnected.

Derek and Pat, post spelunking. Part of the cave system around the corner from where Pat and Derek are (left image).
However, we found very little debris left behind:
a sake cup, canteen, helmet, and not much else.

We’re not sure who cleaned it out but this is very typical of former Japanese installations on Babelthuap. Since the American forces never battled for this island, the Japanese seemed to have cleaned up after themselves. There are still all sorts of unexploded ordnance around but no personal items of any great degree. Especially when you think that there were 25,000 troops on this island at the time of the surrender.

We kept pressing on keeping a river/mangrove on our right. Now this wasn’t straight line hiking. The river/mangrove meandered quite a bit and so did we. We even found some dead ends as we were trying to follow the river, and stay out of some areas of very tall ferns.

As the Biib flies (National bird of Palau), we covered 5 miles from our let-in point. As the people search, well it could have been double that, or more. When we reached what we thought was our turn-around time, we turned around. Seems coming out of the jungle goes quicker. We knew we were tired, both physically and mentally so we tightened our search line a bit. Better to search a small area well, rather than search a large area poorly.

We came back into the farm exactly where we let in. Great navigation Bob! We walked over to the first shed and Joe had beaten us out. He hadn’t seen anything but did find some betel nuts growing. A quick chat and we went back to the car for lunch. Within just a few minutes, it started raining. For once we were not out in it.

Wonderful leftover lunch from yesterday. The committee lunch yesterday wasn’t consumed. The timing didn’t work out. So we kept it cool and had it today. The bread wasn’t soggy on the sandwiches and the chips were still crisp. The orange wasn’t as sweet and I thought it should be but I’m sure there’s not a storage issue with that.

As it turns out, we were only in the jungle for 4+ hours but we were sweaty and filthy. The van is starting to take on an odor. Not Bill Belcher, it’s not that yet. But I’m sure it will be soon.

Home to the hotel. Relaxing shower and change of clothes. Gather around the computer and Google Earth. The more we play with GE, the more we really like it. It has 3D renditions of terrain which is really useful for figuring out which way to go. You can use the altitude function as a radar altimeter to figure out height above the ground and many other features. We even cobbled together a hypothetical/possible flight path for this particular aircraft loss.

Out to dinner that was 20 feet from our hotel door. One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Local fish done in a wonderful way. We chatted some more about what to do tomorrow. Then Joe showed up. We had to go as we had an interview with a Chief on Arakabesan.

Pat and the Chief. The Chief’s son.
Sprang, the Chief’s grandson.

The Chief chatted with us last year. Last year we did not ask him about what we were working on this year because last year we weren’t working on it. His son was the interpreter for us. His Dad is in his eighties and, according to his son, has had a big change over the last year. His memory is going. He worked for the Japanese throughout the war. Seems he was in the local maritime force. Mostly he loaded supplies onto small ships and unloaded them at their destination in Palau.

He did not know anything about our current search, but he reported picking up an American who parachuted down from a big airplane. It was towards the end of the war but he could not be certain when. His boat picked up the American off of Aimeliik and brought him to Koror. Then the American was whisked away and that was all he knew. However, Pat has no idea who this is. We’ll have to do some research to see which aircraft he could have come out of and when.

This Palauan family brought us all cold drinks and asked about us after our interview was over. A good time was had by all.

Now I’m typing. I’m even awake enough to add the pictures and get ready for tomorrow’s adventures.

I hope all is well with you. Take care and don’t forget to hug a vet!

Blue Skies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #8 Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hello Everyone!

First off, an apology. It was late when I got to the last update and I inadvertently left off appropriate photo credits for the last four photographs. This person ◄▬, who thrust the video camera into my hands, took the last four photos that were on update 7. My apologies to Dan O’Brien for not giving timely credit.

Col. Kurtz, Jr.

Now on to Lessons Learned:

  1. You really get pinged on for not giving photo credits, after you talk to everyone about giving appropriate photo credits.
  2. If you’re up to your hips in mangrove mud, it’s time to crawl. Happens faster for Bob Holler.
  3. Just when you think you have a plan, it changes.
  4. A plan is just something to deviate from.
  5. Bem Ermii milkshakes are still the best.
  6. There are various degrees of getting stuck in the mud. It seems to be similar to “that depends on what the definition of is, is.”
  7. BentProp surf and turf is a delicacy.
  8. Losing track of the days means you miss all you can eat spaghetti night.
  9. Palau is a lot better than Iraq.

We started out at a reasonable hour today. Hopped in the van (yes the originally assigned one, transmission and all) and drove out to do interviews again. The more intel we can get, the better off we are in the jungle. It’s not that we mind going through the woods in a random fashion. A hike in the jungle is a wonderful thing. However, since we want to find stuff that will lead us to an MIA, having some intel makes sense. The “work smarter, not harder” theorem.

We got some names of people to interview yesterday while we were heading around the islands. Our first stop was to a Chief on Koror. He wasn’t in and we were told to stop by again around 7pm. We thought that might make picking up Derek at the airport a little problematic. We decided to think about it over the course of the day. We then went to see the son of an elder. He’s a retired government worker.

Photo by Bob Holler, DOB interviewing.

Now when I speak of an elder, I’m really referring to someone who lived during the war. Many of them have died out. However, we have found that some of their older children remember their parents’ stories from the war.

As an aside, when did World War II start? Okay, I’ll give you a minute ...

Did you say December 7th, 1941? That would be our entry date. Some of you probably thought about September 1st, 1939. That was when Germany invaded Poland and the Europeans started shooting at each other. However, for the Palauans, the war started in March 1944 as that was when the first Fast Carrier Attacks happened. It’s just an interesting perspective.

This man hunted the area we were looking at yesterday. We talked about his time hunting the area and talked about his memories as a child of being there. He was nice to chat with, but no real intel for us.

We headed up to Babelthuap and stopped pretty close to the K-B Bridge. Here we chatted with Simeon, a brother of Joshua. Joshua is a hunter who took us to an island a few missions ago where he said there was an untouched airplane. We couldn’t find it even with his help but I do remember him saying he would talk with one of his bothers about it. Simeon is this brother.

Photo by Bob Holler again, with me interviewing.

We first asked about our green area target and at first, he did not have any info for us. However, he started talking about the island Joshua took us to. He said we looked in the wrong area and that he would take us to the correct area. A date was set. We’re going to be hiking our first coral island tomorrow.

That wasn’t what we thought we’d do. Derek Abbey would be joining us tonight and we thought we’d give him an easy first day. However, our informant is leaving for Yap on Saturday and we had to have him take us to this new find. So, Derek gets to hike with us on an island that is almost as hard as Hell Island. (If you don’t know which is Hell Island, you need to go back to the beginning of my involvement with BentProp and read my field reports.)

Then Simeon started talking about seeing some metal in our green area. He told us to hike along the edge of the mangrove on dry land and we should see some things. We’ll fit that in day after tomorrow since we are taking Derek on his first nature hike with us tomorrow.

When we got done with Simeon it was time to move further north.

We went back to the area where I got us stuck in the mud, near the Taiwanese Agricultural Demonstration Station.

We thought we should have some lunch before we pressed on. Bob, being the smart man he is, did not go down the road I went down. He found a spot to park in a grove of trees that provided a little shade along with a little breeze. We had a true taste sensation for lunch: BentProp surf and turf. That would be tuna fish with mayo, along with Spam, lettuce and tomato. I believe we’ve coined this dishes’ new name: Spuna™.

After lunch, we realized that Bob had parked in an area of mud. No problem. We did not load up the van and Bob pulled forward. But only a bit. Then for only about 5 minutes, we pushed from the back, we pushed from the front, Bob got the van turned toward a dry spot and we were free.

Being the mature adult I am [Yeah right, we're talking ex-Naval Air fighter jock here — Blogmaster], I only mentioned it three times that my mud was deeper and that he got stuck in really shallow mud. Everyone else pointed out that I needed a short yellow school bus to pull me out while Bob got us out with only the four of us pushing. It’s back to that what the definition of is is thing all over again. However, I digress.

We did a couple of more interviews and although they were fun, they did not really provide any actionable intel. We did get a couple of names of folks who might know something, but we’ll have to do some more interviews in order to find out.

Photo by Col. Kurtz, Jr.

We headed back to Koror and got cleaned up. Over to Sam’s for sunset, sashimi and a couple of cold ones. We chatted with Sam himself, Dermot his general manager, the helicopter pilot from Americopter (who by the way is going to fly us on a recon mission in the next few days) as well as the usual suspects who hang at Sam’s (a great dive and touring center). Palau is a long ways from the U.S. but if you want a really exotic location for diving and touring, that is also very cost effective, Palau is the place for you.

Out to the airport and we only waited a few minutes until Derek Abbey showed up.

Photo by Bob Holler

The traditional Corona welcome drink and a trip to The Truckstop started Derek’s Palau adventure. Derek is a Marine Corps F/A18 WSO (pronounced whizzo, the guy in the backseat who runs the weapons system and lets the pilot think they’re in charge.) who just came back from Iraq. I think from listening to Derek talk, he may have the most air combat time of any Marine around. I’m sure as the trip goes on, we’ll get some great stories about his part in defending the nation.

I was typing most of this after Derek arrived and finished close to midnight. We had an early get-up on the 23rd so I had to sleep fast.

And now it’s the 23rd. Thursday more specifically. And we realized that we had missed by two nights Kraemer’s all-you-can-eat spaghetti night. Kraemer’s is an expat hangout, especially on Tuesday nights. I guess we’ll get there next Tuesday. That is unless we forget again.

Up at the crack of dawn. Breakfast by DOB. Lunch by committee. Briefed, packed and out the door just before 0800. We are meeting Simeon at Neco Marine. He’s going to call us this morning to confirm the time but we know it’s going to be early. He’s going to take his boat and we’re going to take ours and he’s going to lead us to what we think is a new crash site. Everyone else says he’s just taking us to a known Japanese crash site, one that everyone has been to. However, Simeon says no, this one is further south.

At 0830 we finally get the call that 0930 is the push-off time. Patience, not a strong suit of the team, was being put into practice. We will need it later. So we hang out. DOB makes some phone calls, we all look at the Neco store offerings and then we all seem to meet up at the outdoor restaurant the dive center has.

One of Dan’s phone calls was to Kurata-san and his daughter. Kurata-san is a World War II Japanese soldier who lives in Palau. The team met him last year and he went into the jungles with us. He still likes hiking the jungles and can put a younger man to shame with his stamina. He has been very helpful to The BentProp Project.

And 10 minutes later, he and his daughter show up. We want to get together with them to ask more questions and we will do so later in the mission when his out of town guests depart. His daughter interprets for him. Of course if he thinks she doesn’t do a good enough job, he tells her so. So if he needs an interpreter, how does he know how well the job is being performed? Hmmmmm.

We left Neco and stopped once again over QB Nelson’s crash site. I repeated the story about how we found this Corsair. I also repeated the part of about my sunglasses flying off my head the year before and ending up in the crash wreckage. A few missions ago, I passed out used sunglasses so anyone could have a karmic experience of losing glasses and finding a wreck. I brought along two more pair and gave them to the new guys so that maybe we can have another fortuitous loss of glasses.

Out to our island in question. Simeon tells us where to tie up. We get off and find it’s pretty easy to get on the island: it’s high tide. If you remember the Rock Islands of Palau, they are coral upheavals. Due to the passage of time and the effects of wind and waves, all the island are undercut at the water line so the islands look like ice cream cones. At high tide, it’s pretty easy to get onto them. At low tide, it can be a bit difficult.

We hiked straight up the island. And I mean straight up, as these island are all very steep. And it’s all loose coral and slick vegetation. It can be tricky walking in this environment. Simeon led the way up and stopped us at a saddle in the climb. It was a fairly broad flat area. He said to make this easy, he and his brother Richard would find the airplane and then lead us directly to it. We were to stay here and wait.

On an island with streams and different looking terrain, it’s easy to find something you once found before. However, on a Rock Island, it’s more difficult as the terrain is all the same. He did not want us to waste our energies looking so he would find it first.

But first, time to hunt. He began making pigeon sounds and his brother circled to the left. After about 15 minutes, the brother took one shot with his pellet gun. (Palau outlawed civilians owning guns a number of years ago. Hunters now can only use pellet guns. Simeon’s was a 22 caliber pellet rifle.) One shot, one bird. And this bird was pretty high up in the trees. We’re told black pigeon goes for $15 a bird in town. The brothers were happy.

However, Simeon knew he was on a mission so he left his rifle with us so he would not hunt and he and his brother went off. For an hour. Then two. Three. Four and some change. Patience was practiced today by a group of Type A’s. But as Derek says, Palau is better than Iraq.

We chatted up a storm. We talked about Man movies. We talked about our military experiences. We shot some photos. We wondered why you say "a pair of scissors" or "a pair of sunglasses." We slept, drank water and ate Bob’s and Pat’s power bars. We griped that the only way to get Simeon back was for someone to go down the hill and bring back lunch. We never did that.

Joe waiting in the jungle. Bob waiting.
Taking a photo twice of DOB, with one
hand, laying on your back, isn’t the best
This worked a little better for Pat. Still waiting.
Here’s the money shot. My boot. Waiting. Here’s what we’re waiting in.

Simeon returned without being able to find the wreck. The problem is that we entered the island on the west side and he was unfamiliar with the path to get to the wreck. He encountered two large cliffs that made his task very hard and next to impossible.

Even though he’s leaving for Yap on Saturday, his brothers are not. So he’s going to have them go back in on the route that they know and find it. Then they’ll show us early next week how to get there.

The good news is Simeon showed up, led us to an area to search and went on the search for us. These are all good signs. Some folks in the past have just pointed and were unwilling to lend a hand and break a sweat. And Simeon has a great reputation with other Palauans. So, we believe that he has something for us. It will just take a couple of days to re-find it.

We went to the base of the cliffs and they were not scalable to unequipped hikers. But, we did get to sweat some more and that’s always a good thing.

Back down the island. This is the harder part. Going downhill, with the loose coral and slick detritus. We took our time and all worked out well. No scrapes on anyone.

Got to the shoreline and it was now low tide. What was an easy climb out of the boat and onto the island was now an 8 foot drop from a tree limb hanging out over the edge of the island. And I hate heights.

However, since I am typing this, I must have made it. We found a nice area to swim in and wash the sweat off of us.

This is better than Iraq too.
Photo by Dan O’Brien

Then back to Neco. A little sashimi at the pub, clean up, more sashimi at Sam’s then out to dinner at a Filipino restaurant.

Bob Holler’s Mom is a Filipina and I asked him to order for me. I think he ordered for most everyone. All his selections were top notch. And there was too much food for us to eat. Amazing after such an arduous day in the jungle.

Frank the owner came by. He’s a Palauan who as a child was on Peleliu when the war came to the islands. He may have some information for us so we’re going to put him on our list of interviews to do. He then invited us to join him at his Auntie’s birthday party next door. He had just bought us ice cream and we all wanted to get home to do our "homework." However, Pat and Derek went across the street to run an errand. That left DOB, Bob and I to our own devices. DOB (I think) suggested we go in and sing happy birthday to the birthday girl. So we did.

Our singing was a hit. Auntie loved it. And we can see why Frank invited us: 25 people. All women save Frank. He wanted some male bonding time. But we’ll save that for another day.

I think this catches you up. I now have to add some pictures to the words and I can launch this tonight. That is if I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard.

So there you go. I hope everyone is having a great February. Take care. Okay, bye for now.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 1 — read commentsback to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #7 Monday, February 19 & Tuesday, February 20, 2007

February 19, 2007

Hello Everyone!

The morning started off great! I hadn’t been billed for a transmission repair yet.

DOB made another great breakfast. I prepped lunch and we headed out. All the way to Neco Marine: 200 yards away. We were invited out to a barge off of the big island of Babelthuap. Have to use a boat to get there.

The barge is being used by JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command). They’re doing a recovery mission on the B-24 we found a few years ago. You last saw this aircraft in my update when Tommy Doyle came out to dive on his Dad’s airplane. Jimmie Doyle was the tail gunner on this B-24.

JPAC brought a team of Navy Salvage Divers (MDSU, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit) along to do the heavy lifting. Literally. They propped up the fuselage of the aircraft by constructing a cradle so it would be stable to do their work. They also do the suctioning of the sand and silt along the ocean bottom as well as the contents of the airplane and move all of that to a basket that a crane has to lift up onto the barge. Then the JPAC team members sift through all of this looking for signs of the crew. They look for human remains, life support equipment and any personal or military equipment that might help identify a MIA.

There are over 25 people, including 2 anthropologists, working the site. There is a possibility that 8 MIAs could be brought home.
Yes, overall, these are pretty lame photos from the barge visit. I always seemed to be 30 seconds out of synch with what was going on. So, you see two helmets in the water, rather than their splash in. And above, you see the Admiral’s back. I promise I’ll do better.

In addition to the barge team, JPAC is doing a side scanning sonar survey of the bays and harbors around Malakal and Koror. There were quite a number of airplanes shot down in the waters around Koror and Malakal. So many that we should have been finding some every year we’ve been here. But we haven’t. A few years ago Pat proposed that JPAC do this survey. It took a few years but here they are.

We got a great tour of the barge set up. There were a couple of divers on the barge that we had met two years ago when JPAC started work on the B-24 and they were here again. We got to see the divers doing there thing as they had a video link to a helmet cam on the working divers. Then the material that is lifted to the barge is sifted in a wet screen sorting process. Every little bit that is brought up is examined. A few clues were brought up that might help make some identifications.

A little bit later, Rear Admiral Leidig, COMNAVFORMAR arrived. He is the boss of the CAT (Civic Action Team) that is in Palau. He came for an inspection of the CAT Detachment and his staff also arranged for a tour of a JPAC operation. JPAC wanted him to meet us as everything that was going on was due to Pat’s 10 year search for this aircraft. We’re also pretty sure the Admiral thinks we’re stalking him because for the rest of his time here, we seemed to be in the same locations: Neco, heli-pad, PPR, etc.

The CAT groups used to just be SeaBees. But, when the number of CAT groups around the Pacific went to one, the CAT Detachment in Palau became a joint forces duty station. Sometimes it’s an Air Force group as this one is and sometimes it’s a Navy SeaBee group. Either way, they do great things here in Palau such as installing runway lights on the Peleliu and Anguar airports. The Admiral was here to commission the new runway lighting systems that will allow Peleliu and Anguar to be more useful to The Palauans.

Mason Whipps, who loaned us the van, was very gracious about me rendering his vehicle useless. He still hadn’t heard from his mechanics so we still did not know the disposition of it. I hoped I was not on the hook for a new van.

Once the meet and greet was over, we headed out to meet Rubas Obek who was going to take us to wreckage he knew about. If you get someone to take you to supposed crash sites, there is a possibility that the wreckage is really there. If they just point you in the right direction and say good luck, then the odds of seeing anything are really, really small.

The JPAC sonar team went along with us as the anthropologist wanted to see the stuff too. We needed to go to this new stuff at low tide and we had a bit of time until that occurred. We had lunch at the pier that we picked up Mr. Obek. Then we took the JPAC folks to the Avenger wing that we found a few years ago. It is inside the mangrove in the area we were about to search. We took a few pictures of the wing and came out.

We were hoping that we would find more wreckage that would confirm which Avenger this wing belonged to. Unfortunately, Rubas could not locate the parts. We did some search patterns across the now exposed flats with no luck. It’s very likely that the parts are all covered up by mangrove silt and sand. In which case, we’ll come back with metal detectors to search again.

Had a swim call just off the flats and we could dive down and find some nice cold water to refresh in. Walking through the mangroves and across hundreds of yards of mud flats is not an easy task. It was nice just to play a bit in the water.

We headed back in as we did not have much else to do with a boat that day. Rubas says he’s going to try and locate the parts he saw. It could be someone salvaged them since he last saw them. It’s just as likely that they are covered up. Hopefully he’ll come through before we leave.

We did get word that the transmission repair would break the bank: $90.00. They say all that was wrong was the transmission fluid was low. We got the bill and the van back. We’ve paid the bill, the team says it’s a team expense, and the van does run. The red intercooler light still comes on, and the key is difficult to get out of the ignition. And I’m still not allowed to drive it on Babelthuap. I’m sure there is more story to come about the van.

We met the JPAC team that joined us on the water for dinner at The Rock Island Café. We talked about all sorts of things and just enjoyed the camaraderie of teammates out on The Ville.

And that wraps up the 19th.

So on to the 20th.

We started a little later than normal. We had some errands to take care of. The first stop was Neco Marine to return some water jugs and get new ones. You have to have bottled water while in Palau. There is even a sign in the bathroom not to drink the tap water. And if you’re hiking the jungles of Palau, you need a lot of water. Neco cuts us a deal on gallon jugs. But we have to return our empties for refilling.

While at Neco, we ran into the Admiral on his way to Peleliu.

There is a helicopter in Palau now. We had met the operator of this bird a few nights ago. He’s very keen on aviation and wanted to chat with us about our project. We wanted to rent his helicopter for some searching. We came to a mutually agreeable solution and will probably go flying with him in a few days. We also ran into the Admiral again at the heli-pad. I wanted to keep this going and thought we should call someone on Peleliu so they could say hi from us to the Admiral. Kind of like the joke about “Who’s that guy standing next to Joe?” [Earn 5 extra credit points if you know this joke — Blogmaster]

Then we delivered some maps to the Vice President, Historical Preservation Office and a couple of other government offices. This was a map of mine fields that were set by the Japanese during the war on the islands of Arakabesan, Koror and Malakal. The mine fields ‘probably’ do not exist now. However, not every mine was recovered after the war. That’s a problem since these three islands are heavily populated. We thought the government should know about these maps.

Now is a great time to introduce you to another researcher that helps BentProp: Mr. Minoru Kamada. Mr. Kamada is a Military Historian in Tokyo, Japan and seems to be able to find info for us that is helpful to our quests, and inaccessible to us. Sometimes Pat asks questions and sometimes Minuro just sends stuff. He’s been a valuable resource. And he’s willing to go to great lengths to help us and Palau. The minefield maps were hanging on a wall in the Military Archives. However, the Japanese rules are that you cannot take photographs of any archival material. A third party contractor has to do the work. Of course you have to pay for that and it takes time. So Minuro hand traced the minefield charts so we could deliver them to the Palauans while we were here. Now that is above and beyond.

After all of our errands were done we drove up to the big island to start our interviews. We scoped out the area of interest from a high road in the hills.

See the green area? ...
That’s our search area!
Just a pretty flower.

Then we drove to Ngatpang and had lunch on the ocean.

Terrible place to have lunch.

We found some folks to chat with after we drove off the pier. [Won't they ever learn to NOT let Flip drive? — Blogmaster] We chatted with some local hunters, a Chief, an elder and a couple of sons of people who lived on Babelthuap during the war.

I had video duties today while Bob asked the questions. Joe was interpreting of course.

The elder we spoke with was fascinating. It seems he may have witnessed up to four airplanes crash in the area. We asked him lots of questions and he was very forthcoming. It has been 62 years since most of this happened but he was able to recall a lot of detail. He could not give us "the smoking gun" but he did give us a lot. He also reiterated that the elders are dying out. All of his friends from that time are gone.

We came back to Koror, dropped off our stuff at the hotel and then turned around and went out for dinner. Japanese tonight and, on Bob Holler’s suggestion, I had the best bowl of Udong I’ve ever had. He also made fun of me for sticking with my Windows computer while he used his MAC. I may have to rethink my aversion to that bit of hardware.

Now I’m writing to you. It may not seem as if we made much progress yesterday or today. But we did. We’re picking up valuable clues to help us find some more wreck sites. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get more good intel tomorrow that will give us a warm fuzzy feeling about going into the jungle. It’s a big section of land that this one airplane is in and we really would like to narrow down the search area. By tomorrow afternoon, I’m sure we will.

So back at ya. More later as it transpires.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 1 — read commentsback to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #6 Monday, February 18, 2007

Howdy Y’all!

A great day in the jungle. But first, Lessons Learned:
  1. Dent and kill a transmission on a loaner van, and you don’t hear the end of it.
  2. You have to ask the right question in order to get a meaningful answer.
  3. Sometimes, the smart man theorem gives way to just getting dirty.
  4. Palauans are the world’s most helpful people.
  5. DOB’s blueberry pancakes are great.

We got up at a reasonable hour. Pat let us sleep in 30 extra minutes. DOB made blueberry pancakes and my favorite turkey bacon. Sam’s Tour’s offered to loan us a van, but not until 0930. I’m pretty sure Pat signed papers saying I would not drive off of real pavement.

Photo by Pat Scannon

We told the owner of our first van that it no longer works and he said his mechanics would look at it and let us know.

JPAC called to see if we could be at the barge over our B-24 site the next day at 0900. An Admiral is coming into town and JPAC wanted him to meet us. Of course we said yes. So tomorrow will be a boat day.

Joe came by, we loaded up and headed out. Our first stop would be to visit with a hunter named Wilson.

Wilson and family. For Mike Olds and his girlfriend. Can you
tell what the rooster is anchored to?

He chatted with us about his area and said he didn’t know anything that would help us. But he said we should go see Jason. However, he would be happy to take us out into the jungle. We thought that was an excellent idea.

Jason and Joe conferring.

Jason is also a hunter in the area, about 10 minutes drive from Wilson. Jason said he hadn’t seen anything, but we should chat with an elder that he knows.

We went to see the elder and enroute we came across some very unusual antenna systems. The signs don’t really tell us much. But here we are out in the middle of Palau with unusual hunks of metal. And the radar looking dish sweeps the sky level, then inclined at a 45 degree angle and then straight up. What’s with that?

We swear that this antenna pointed at us and started to track us.

There’s a lot of metal in the antenna field attached to this sign. However, those photos all came out blurry. Me thinks it’s not a good idea to hang around there.

The elder had a beautiful piece of property.
If I could have these views……

He said that he did not know anything about airplane wreckage in our area of interest, or in our search area yesterday. His son, Olu, said that there was wreckage long ago, but the ocean reclaimed it. We asked if he meant salvagers but he said no, the ocean. That could mean the wreckage is still there, but just covered up by silt and sand. We may go back with a metal detector. Olu by the way is the Clerk of The Senate in the federal government.

Then we asked if he knew anything else and he volunteered that he found a plane in the water near the power plant with a data plate that said Douglas and 1944. He wrote the serial number down but has long since lost it. A Douglas aircraft wasn’t on our radar screen at all. Could an unknown aircraft be down there? We have a pretty good handle on what has been lost in the area. However, it’s not perfect knowledge. Could a Helldiver be down here? The elder is meeting us at the dock near the power plant tomorrow and taking us to where he says he found the wreckage. How convenient that we already have a boat for tomorrow.

He had such a pretty view, and some good breezes blowing through that we asked to have lunch on his veranda. He said yes and we all shared our picnic lunch together.

After a bit of socializing, we left him, examined the radar and radio antennae more and picked up Wilson. Out to our area of interest and we began to search. Some of the area was just your standard jungle. Some was thick ferns that were piled so high that you could not tell what was underneath. So, we elected to search the areas that we could see the ground. We do not have a lot of intel about this area other than a Graves Registration Unit (GRU) lat/long. We were counting on a little luck to find something here. But we did do a fine circular search pattern. Bob Holler, our para-rescueman, complimented us in our ability to learn.

Close to the scene of the great Van
Massacre. And check out the yellow
boots. I think it’s going to get wet in
the jungle.
Into the jungle for a short hike.

We decided that it would not be warranted to go back until we can get some more recent intel. We’ve decided to visit the villages in the area and see if any elders are around who may know more about this shoot down.

We all came out of the jungle pleasantly whipped. We all like this trekking. The Palauan jungle is quite tourist friendly. There are no poisonous snakes, no bad diseases and not many bugs. The mosquito that causes dengue fever is really an urban bug, not a jungle bug. It is warm in the jungle and we sweat quite a bit. But we all loved being back in it. Just a walk in the woods.

Drove back to Neco Marine and dropped off Joe. We headed to the hotel, got cleaned up and headed out to The Taj: a great Indian restaurant. The owner is a great host who recognized us. A waiter sat us down and offered us menus. We politely declined and the owner came over and he crafted us a meal, as he did the past few years. It was wonderful.

We’re back at the ready room. DOB, Pat and Bob are pouring over waypoints and search tracks on their GPS boxes. I’m writing to you. Is that dedication or what.

Hopefully, when you read tomorrow’s update, we’ll have a new crash site to report to you. But until then, have a great day.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #5 Friday, February 16 & Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hello Everyone!

First off, a public service announcement. You get these emails because you’re on the A list. However, there is an ‘add on’ feature at the blog site that you are not getting. DOB gives Pat Swovelin the coordinates of our travels and he puts them in a format that Google Earth understands. You get to fly right to where we’re working. Depending on the day, you might even see us waving! (g).

February 16, 2007

Today was our first day in the jungle. It was great to get sweaty and dirty again. But first, Lessons Learned:
  1. DOB still makes a great breakfast.
  2. Half hour appointments take longer.
  3. There’s still mud boggin' in Palau.
  4. Diesel vans really do need their transmissions intact to run.
  5. Fresh sashimi in Palau is the best.
  6. Palau is still at the far end of the skinny wires of the Internet.
  7. Mangrove mud is still medicinal.

It was up at the crack of 0630. The normal routine is for the first riser to start the coffee pot. Then we have breakfast together in the ready room. Briefing of the days activities and eating sometimes takes place simultaneously. We cover what we are going to do, where we are going to do it, safety precautions to be followed, procedures to be adhered to and what time we’ll return.

We had some courtesy calls to make first thing today. We were out the door at 0800 to drive to the Capital .

Still under construction in 2005. Palauan detail.
Open for business with the
Palauan flag flying proudly.
Joe, Pat, Bob and DOB.

You may remember that a new capital complex was built on the big island. It looks as if an alien spaceship just plopped it down out in the middle of the island. The government has moved in and is functioning wonderfully. However, I can still remember the day when we ate our lunch on the veranda when we were the only folks there, except for the two carpet layers.

We had a meeting with the Vice President, who announced today that he was running for President in the next election.

Pat at the VP’s door.

Vice President Chin is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. He flew helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. He knows about our work in the islands and he is very supportive of it. We gave him an update on our efforts to date and a brief description of our intentions this year. We showed him Google Earth and he immediately saw the benefit of this technology for both us with BentProp and Palau.

Vice President Chin and the 2007 team.

He kept us longer than planned and we raced back to Koror to meet with some State Governors and some Chiefs from Ngatpang State . There are two governmental institutions in Palau: the federal government, which includes President, VP, Senators, Representatives, Governors and State legislators, etc, and the traditional Chief structures. Both play a very important role in Palau and must be addressed in just about everything that we do.

We met with the Governors and Chiefs for well over an hour. Lots was said and we got the blessing of this council for our work.

Out to a real lunch and then we geared up for our first journey into the jungle. A number of years ago, a local hunter took us into the jungle to where he said there were some graves. What we found were some mounds with stones all over them. Could be something there. There was also a small concrete bunker in the area. Very well made, but not very big. We did not think much about this site until we started reading the Guam War Crime Tribunal records last year. Piecing together the testimony of the Japanese on trial, with a few grains of salt, and looking at some Japanese wartime maps we have since found, we thought maybe those mounds might be the graves of some executed American Flyers and 10 members of a Jesuit missionary community who were also executed.

On the walk in. Yes, it’s not much to look at but this
is what has got us a little excited.

There was also a British national executed who was married to a Palauan woman. It was reported that he was incarcerated in a small air raid shelter by the edge of the jungle and was taken out and executed nearby. We found some things that fit this description. As we walked in, we saw more structures than we did four years ago. We found the mounds and we feel that a look by JPAC is in order. All told, maybe 14 people could be found by this lead.

Was this the Brit’s last home? Just wanted to stick one of me in so you know I’m really here.
Photo by Pat Scannon
Bob on patrol, again. Pat and Dan conferring near our soon to be dead van.

We then drove around the new road (Under Construction for the past bazillion years but almost done.) looking for other sites. We got off the paved road and went onto a dirt/rock road. We drove to Wilson’s house. He’s a Palauan hunter in the area and if anything is in the hills here, we’re told he’ll know about it. He wasn’t at his house. However, we left a message and the family said he’d call us.

We drove back out and started down a couple of little roads trying to get close to a GPS waypoint we have. After the war, the Graves Registration Unit (GRU) tried to find these missing airmen. Sometimes, they would get a lead from a local, not have any success locating a wreck but still record the lat/long. We have those points and wanted to find a spot along any road that was close to our destination. All the roads we passable, save one. And of course my teammates said “let’s go down that one.”

We got into an area of serious mud. The van was making it through and then we bottomed out on something. With a loud bang. And a crunch. And spinning wheels. And another crunch. I managed to get it to dry ground and then we stopped and let Pat out to reconnoiter. He went down the road farther, and Bob took a left 90 degree turn to check out the jungle entrance area. Meanwhile I turned the van around for our expected departure.

However, when I went to race out, I picked the wrong side of the road and got stuck in the mud. In our attempts to get unstuck, we noticed the drive wheels sometimes were not turning. Not in reverse, not in forward. We were stuck. And the van wasn’t helping us get out.

We got it going for a little bit and made a little more forward progress. However, we also made downward progress and were stucker.

Joe went to the villagers nearby and soon a short yellow school bus showed up. A bit of rope and a tug and we were out. However, without a push up to 8-10 mph or so, the van would not go on its own. And if it encountered a hill, it would roll backwards in drive. It seems that when I bottomed out the van, I took out an already cantankerous transmission. The intercooler warning light had come on intermittently for the past day.

However, we nursed it to the local store, called Neco Marine and they sent another van to rescue us. It took an hour for the van to show. In the meantime, the villagers brought us a mosquito coil and some treats: ice pops and donuts. Mmmmmmm, good.

We left the van at the store and started back to our hotel. This rental van was a loaner from a good friend of the BentProp Project. We’d have to wait until late Saturday to call the van owner and tell him what happened. They’re Seventh Day Adventists and are pretty serious about not doing anything from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. Pat said he’d make the phone call. He knows if I made it, it would be a ‘good news, bad news’ call. The bad news is the transmission is trashed. The good news is we filled the tank just prior.

Dinner at Kraemer’s which is an expat hangout. Great food and a beautiful view of Malakal Harbor. This is where some Marines sang the Marine Corps Hymn in sight of where we would eventually find the airplane of Major QB Nelson, USMC.

Fell fast asleep and all of a sudden, it was the next day.

February 17, 2007

Up at the crack of 0615. This was going to be our first water day. We would have to take jungle gear as well as water gear as there was a chance of doing both. Joe secured us a boat from Neco Marine and off we went. No courtesy calls today.

We went 100 yards and came to a halt. Just wanted to stop and show Bob how close some finds are. This was QB Nelson’s site. We cruised out toward Babelthuap.

Didn’t get many pictures
today but I did snap this.

Wanted to say "Hi" to the JPAC team who is working our B-24 site. However, it was an off day for them so no one was aboard the barge.

Then we went to a spot that Kenji said he once saw wreckage. Kenji is the manager of a local insurance agency. He owns the land where we found the Wildcat a few years ago. We put on our water walking gear and waded to shore. We walked the shoreline, into the mangroves and a bit on top of the island. The wreckage was reported on the water’s edge but we looked all over anyway. No luck.

We headed out to the outer reef to see a Japanese airplane that we found last year. Even though it gets buried in sand all the time, there is still a little red paint on the rising sun on the wing. Interesting site but really doesn’t help us.

Art shot of two aircraft carriers, San Diego,
CA. Nothing to do with Palau, but I was a bit
lacking in the photo department today.

We cruised back in and took the rest of the day off. Had a great sunset at Sam’s: cold beer, lots of sashimi and finally met some of the Navy Divers that are working our B-24 site. Two of them are alumni as they had worked the site in 2005.

Now were back at the hotel, ready to crash. The tropical sun can really take it out of you. I had to close my eyes a bit so I could finish this off.

The plan tomorrow is to go hiking. And I can’t wait. This jungle is relatively friendly. The terrain may be hard going, but being in the jungle is a hoot.

And that brings you up to speed. I hope you all are doing well.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #4 Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hello Everyone!

We’ve had our first full day in Palau. It is great to get back to this wonderful country. But first, Lessons Learned:
  1. By mistake, I left my raincoat out of my postal shipment to Palau. It was raining in Tokyo.
  2. Beer distributors never cease to amaze me. Sudswerks beer in Guam.
  3. As time goes on, people get to know us better and actually smile when we return.
  4. Our plans always get altered the moment we start activities in Palau.
  5. People remember us.
  6. My 4 band world cell phone, isn’t.

So we flew across The Pond to Japan and spent 4 days there. Details about that part of the adventure will come out shortly.

From Japan, Rebecca went home and I went to Guam . DOB and I stayed with friends of ours who are Continental pilots. They have a wonderful home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Phil and Jan’s view from the front porch .

Spent many hours getting caught up and went to bed at a reasonable hour. My body was starting to adjust to the time zone.

On Valentine's Day, we had a meeting with Don Shuster of the University of Guam . Don is a Micronesian expert and has a keen interest in our hunt for the missionaries and their families that were executed by the Japanese in late 1944. Don has worked with Pat for years, but it had been awhile since anyone from the team had sat down with him to brainstorm about this.

He talked, we talked, he showed us a map, we showed him the same map. He asked us questions and we asked him different questions. He made some interpretive statements and so did we. He called his wife to come over and help us decipher some Japanese military maps. His wife, Wakako Higuchi, is the leading expert on the Japanese military presence on Guam. Her dissertation is on the Japanese plans for Guam as part of the defensive strategy of the homelands. At least that’s what I heard.

After about 6 hours, we all agreed that we need to shift our search pattern about two kilometers north of where we’ve been looking for years. We have a hand drawn map of the execution areas, maps from 1944 showing roads then and maps from today showing us how the roads have changed. And we have Google Earth. A very powerful tool to help us blend today, into yesterday’s images and maps.

Back to Phil and Jan’s for a quick change and out to the airport. Time to go to Palau.

Pat Scannon arrived from Honolulu. It’s always great to see the boss. We boarded, we left, we arrived in Palau 2 hours later.

On the plane, I met Joe, who is the head of immigration on Palau. Nice man and we had a great chat about BentProp, the problems of some people trying to get to the U.S. via Palau and about the recent bank failure in Palau.

Greeting us at the airport were Joe, Esther and Doyle Maldangesang. Doyle is Joe and Esther’s almost two year old son. His full name is Doyle Colmer Eriang Maldangesang. So you can see why I have an interest in Palau beyond BentProp. We had hugs all around. Leis placed around our necks and made our way to The Truckstop .

For those who are new to this story, The Truckstop is a burger stand that makes fantastic milkshakes and burgers. I was only going to have a milkshake but when Pat and Dan ordered a burger, well, how could I let them eat alone?

Checked into our hotel and some of the same staff members from earlier missions were still there. They remembered us. That felt nice.

Chatted about the next day’s activities and went to bed.

Up for a 0730 breakfast at the restaurant next door. The restaurant in the hotel closed last year so we have to walk across the driveway to find something to eat. Well, at least until we go grocery shopping so we can cook for ourselves.

Today would be mostly meet and greets. We find if we tell all the officials of Palau what we are planning on doing, it goes much easier for us. We went to our own Embassy and met the Charge de Affaires. We spoke with Senators and Governors from Palau. We made appointments to see the President and Vice President of this great nation. And we checked in with Rita from the Historical Preservation Office.

We have a delicate balancing act we have to do when we conduct our searches. We cannot dig or excavate for a number of reasons. From the U.S. Government Historical point of view, these are historical sites and should be preserved as is. They could also be final resting spots for U.S. Servicemen and should not be disturbed. From the Palauan point of view, it’s their land and nothing can be done by a foreigner without their knowledge and permission. We dust around the edges to make a case for JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) to petition the governments of both countries to allow them to excavate to repatriate the missing.

Rita has been great over the years teaching us what we can and cannot do. We in turn follow her instructions and provide her with reports that fill in some gaps in Palau’s historical knowledge.

Spoke with a previous acquaintance and we got some good intel about new aircraft debris finds. Might be part of the aircraft that belongs to a wing we found 2 missions ago in a mangrove off Babelthuap.

Went to the Phone Company and found out my cell phone won’t ever work in Palau. Bait and switch from my cell phone provider. So I now have a calling card to keep in touch with Rebecca.

Stocked up on groceries. Went to the Post Office and retrieved gear bags and boxes. All of our stuff is now in country.

Out to dinner with Joe. Thai food. Then we went to the airport to pick up our fourth member of the team: Bob Holler. Bob is retired Air Force. He spent his 30+ years all as a para-rescue guy [Pararescue Jumper — Blogmaster]. This guy knows his stuff and is in shape. And he listened to us and brought a bag of really good whole bean coffee.

DOB and Pat. Fresh as daisies. They’re about to hit the wall... Ding, Ding. Ding, Ding. Ding, Ding. [The sound of someone being rang aboard ship, it doesn't work for Air Force types like Bob — Blogmaster] Bob Holler, arriving.
Since this is Bob’s first visit to Palau, we had to take him to The Truckstop . And I stuck with my original idea of a milkshake only.

We got Bob settled into his room, set the hour for breakfast and off to bed everyone went. Except me. I wanted to type a little something before too many days go by. I know today’s update is short on pictures. I’ll do better in the future. Especially when we get out into the jungle.

That’s our story so far. More to come as time goes on. I hope all is well with you.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #3 Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hello Everyone!

Well you know who’s flying over the big pond to go to Palau. You know why we’re doing this. The next question is how are we going to do this. However, this how, is really a whom, so we can get to the what, because of the why.

The last who to introduce you to is Joe Maldangesang.

Joe and Esther actually. Without them, The BentProp Project would not be as successful as we are. To label Joe as a guide or boat captain, is woefully inadequate. He is certainly both of those but he has educated us over the years about Palauan customs and legends. He has been a translator when we need one. He opens mental doors that would normally be closed. He knows the Palauan waters. He knows the Palauan jungles. He knows the Palauan people. His people. And he knows us.

Joe met Pat about 10 years ago. At first, Joe thought Pat was just another client. Take him around. Show him a good time. Thank you very much.

But Pat kept coming back. And Joe kept taking him out to where tourists don’t go. A bond built and I can attest that for those who meet Joe and Esther, you feel as if you've found a member of your family.

Without Joe and Esther, there would be no updates from the field.

So, here’s Joe.
Beetle nut harvester Proud Papa with Doyle.
Interpreting for us. Deep in the mangroves. Preventing hypothermia in the tropics.
Right with us in the mud and rain.
And it’s broad daylight in the jungle.
Their country’s unofficial ambassdors.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #2 Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hello Everyone!

Although The BentProp searchers are a group of individuals and I do tell stories about what we are doing out in the field, the real story is about the men and women who lost their lives so long ago, and their family members who were left behind.

I try to somehow link us to that concept in my writings early in the mission. I have done that with pictures of some of the participants and photos of cool old airplanes. I was thinking about how to do that this year as I sat down in my seat on the airplane in Detroit. I was contemplating which files I would go to in my computer to find photos from the war years. I thought it would be nice to not duplicate photos I’ve used previously. I was lost in my thoughts when I was abruptly brought back to reality.

A United States Marine Corps Sergeant, ramrod straight, walked onto the airplane and had a seat. If he had been wearing any uniform other than the one he had on, I probably would not have taken much notice. He was wearing his full dress uniform. You know the one: dark blue jacket with red piping and ribbons, blue pants with the red leg stripe and white gloves and cover ["cover" is hat in Marine Corps lingo — Blogmaster]. About the only time you see that is when they are recruiting or escorting one of their own home.

I don’t know the Marine’s name who was killed [Adam QuituguaBlogmaster], nor how and where he died. He died in the service of his country and this Marine Sergeant was honored to be performing this service to his fallen comrade in arms. The Sergeant did not know the Marine until given this assignment. They started their journeys separately, but would travel together from Philadelphia to Detroit, Tokyo and the next day, south to Saipan. The escort would make sure all was right during this journey home.

Saipan is where this fallen Marine was from. Saipan is about an hour north of Guam by air. Palau is about an hour and 45 minutes southwest. Both are small islands. Both had horrific battles where many Marines were lost in fighting for our Democracy’s right to exist.

Saipan is so small that most of the island’s population will turn out and line the streets as their hometown Marine is taken to his final resting spot. We may never read a news story about this, nor see any pictures. Saipan is far away and the mainstream media might not even hear about this. But we have.

And that is what The BentProp Project is all about. It’s not about us. We are just a vehicle to tell the stories about the fallen and those they left behind.
In honor of this fallen Marine, I’m sure The Blue Angels won’t mind me borrowing them.
Photo sent to me by Jim Edwards from a forward he got about the Blue Angels.

Blue SKies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

BentProp Supporters Update #1 Wednesday, February 6, 2007

Hello Everyone!

It’s that time of the year again. Bags are being packed and shipped. Airline tickets that were purchased months ago are being searched for. Plans are being made so we have something to deviate from, again! Yes, we’re heading back to The Republic of Palau for The BentProp Project’s annual search for MIAs from World War Two.

But first, everybody’s favorite section, Lessons Learned:
  1. Don’t ship your bag the day you pack it. Even with a list, you’ll leave something out.
  2. TSA’s one quart bag and 3oz fluid limits don’t allow you much sunscreen lotion for a month in the tropics.
  3. Nothing beats reality for weirdness of events. Sometimes you just can’t possibly make this stuff up.
  4. One full year between missions doesn’t give you enough time to return to the Archives after you’ve uncovered another rabbit warren of information.
  5. This story still resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Let me introduce the players for this year’s trek. All photos are by me unless otherwise noted.

Pat Scannon: The Boss, El Jefe, BentProp Founder, SMF #1,
Chief Medical Officer, Head Safety Man, Mentor, Friend.

Pat has been leading teams to Palau for over 12 years. Some years the team count was one but an expedition nonetheless. He takes us wherever there is a chance for success in finding the lost heroes of World War Two. To read up on the entire history of The BentProp Project and the history of this part of the world go to the The BentProp Project site.

Dan O’Brien: DOB, FTDOB, Filmmaker, Fund Raiser, Fun
Raiser, Skydiving Legend, Land Safety Officer, Chief
Oatmeal Maker (damn good too), Friend.
Photo by Reid, I think. Is it just me
or is there a pattern brewing?

DOB got me addicted to this part of the world. Thank you DOB. He switches hats from year to year. Sometimes he’s a filmmaker and sometimes he’s a trekker. This year, he’s a grunt trekker, except if he sees something he wants to film. He and Jennifer Powers-Krazny are partners in The BentStar Project which made a film about searching for the missing in action and their families. Check out their website. They will be hosting my blog again this year. And this is hot off the presses. Their film, "Last Flight Home: Searching for and Finding MIAs", has been accepted into the Memphis International Film Festival. It will be in Memphis, TN on March 22-25. Make your plans and go.
Bob Holler: FNG, CMSgt (Bob, forgive this Navy
man. Air Force ranks confuse the hell out of me.
[He was a Chief Master Sargeant, the highest
Enlisted rank — Blogmaster
Skydiver Extraordinaire, Land Safety Officer2,
Land Navigator (I think), Friend.
And that’s DOB on the right! Now I know how Bob
got the slot. And a moment of silence for the man
in the middle.

Thank you.
Unknown photographer. ID photo? This is the
only photo Bob sent me when I asked for one.
So now Bob, you pay the price.
Unknown photographer.

This will be Bob’s first mission with The BentProp Project. He was recommended from a variety of sources and passed the excruciatingly long interview process. He retired from the Air Force having spent his entire career [30 years and 12 days, but who's counting? — Blogmaster] as a PJ [A Pararescue Jumper, they're the guys who fetch downed pilots behind enemy lines — Blogmaster]. Folks in general talk about steely eyed men in the military. Bob is one. He served us well all over the world. Today he enjoys the well earned rewards of retirement. Bob is our connection this year to the U.S. Army Air Forces that plied the unfriendly skies 60+ years ago.

Okay Bob, as a counterpoint to the above photo.

Bob and his men. (see note below)
Unknown photographer
[Note: this was before a mission in Afghanistan and a lesser quality angle of this same shot (clearly the author is no photographer) is on the back cover of None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism by Michael Hirsh — highly recommended reading, Blogmaster]

Derek Abbey: FNG2, Captain USMC, Whizzo, we’ll find some title for him out in the field.
Photo by some Marine Self-Portrait

I have not met Derek yet, but he impressed Pat so much that an invite was proffered. He is still flying F/A18s (sigh) with The United States Marine Corps and is enroute from Iraq to CONUS and then on to Palau with us. He is the connection this year for us with the U.S. Marines who fought on these islands so long ago.

Last but not least, me.
Not sure who took either of these photos. The one on the right was either Wade Kellogg or Drew Massey.

Some of the usual suspects are not going to Palau this year. Reid Joyce, the Webmaster and mapping master is taking care of family this year and is unable to attend.
Photo by Rebecca Colmer. Reid on the right.

Mike Olds is deep in his studies to be a lawyer. Well, at least that’s what he’s telling us. You know the story, “you buy them books and pencils and all they do is………”

Bill Belcher is unable to join us due to the ‘needs of the service’.

Bill is an anthropologist with JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) and he does this stuff for a living. When we get some intel of where to look, he’s the guy we send it to.

Reid, Mike and Bill, you will all be missed.

We’ve been to The National Archives a bunch of times. Each time we go, we think that we’ve seen all there is to see. By the end of the following week, we know we have to go back. Mark and Katie have been putting in many hours into fluorescent lighted research tables. Thank you for all your efforts.

So, you already know I’ll have a story to tell about getting to Palau. No skydiving this year so in theory, I should arrive intact. However……..

Rebecca and I head out on the 8th for a few days in Tokyo before I head to where it is warmer. We thought we’d go to Bangkok, but there are no seats available for employees.

Sent to me by someone who grabbed it off the web.

So instead, Rebecca gets authentic sushi. Then on the 13th, she heads home and I head to Guam .

The first order of business is to interview Don Shuster who is a professor at The University of Guam. He’s been researching the execution of missionaries on Palau during the war. We’re going to brainstorm a bit and see if we can think outside of the box with him.

Then we meet up with Pat and we all arrive in Palau on the night of the 14th.

So stay tuned for the further adventures of The BentProp Project.

Chat with you later.

Blue Skies, Flip

add a comment to today's entry — comments 0 — read comments — back to top of page

YOU can help bring MIAs home. How? DONATE! and then send The BentStar Project
link to ten friends challenging THEM to donate and challenge ten friends to do the same.

© 2007 The BentStar Project