P-MAN XIII Update #23 - Jungle. The Corps honors Joe. Warren departs.
While the team was getting prepped Wesley got an early start at Sam’s, finishing his open-water SCUBA qualification. Oddly enough, his class was weathered out in San Diego, of all places, before he left, so he was forced to finish his qualification here in Palau where the visibility is amazing and the water is warm. Apparently it’s easier to move around and function when you can see your dive buddy and your movement isn’t restricted with a thick wet suit, gloves, and hood. Board shorts are the preferred attire for many divers here.
So by noon, Wesley was a certified diver. The water celebration was short-lived though as we picked him up, rinsed off the salt water, applied some Deet, and took off for the jungle. Our rental pickup truck seats five people and we have seven, so Joe and Warren happily took the seat in the back that had been made out of a 2x6 piece of wood with all the bags. Lucky for them it didn’t rain on the way up to the jungle. Somehow we didn’t bounce them out of the truck as we were taking advantage of the four-wheel drive function of the truck on the old road. The road was pretty rough; Casey and Derek had to jump out several times along the way to remove fallen trees and extended branches that were blocking the route. Finally we made it to the spot we were trying to reach without a flat tire, breaking something else on the truck, and all of our team.
A couple of years ago a Palauan elder had pointed out a hill to the south of our location where the Japanese had executed, what we think were, slaves from the war and possibly storing records. Any types of records are valuable in answering what took place in Palau and finding those lost, especially those executed by the Japanese in Palau. The Japanese battle maps show no presence in this area and it seems odd that they would choose such an out-of-the-way spot. The elder had said that the area is marked by two large mounds, so off into the deep jungle we went, searching for the mounds or other signs of Japanese presence.
We established a search pattern and began moving through the jungle stopping at each little piece of dirt that we thought could be a mound. As we were moving up a hill along a draw Pat found what he thought could be a mound about the same time that Derek saw something that he thought could be a mound. They were somewhat close to each other, so we took note of them, took a GPS mark and began to move on.
About ten meters beyond that Derek found a long thin branch that was stronger than expected. That was because he found a wire running through the jungle. This seemed out of place, so he followed it a little and it led to an insulator. Looks like we found our Japanese presence.
After a few hours out in the jungle it was time to start our journey back to the hotel. We were off the beaten path enough that we didn’t want to be caught out in the dark with a flat tire or some other problem.
Warren’s flight home is tonight and as much as we would like to figure out a way for him to stay here longer, he has to get back to work in the States. We piled into our truck and off we went. After clearing more road we made it back to the paved road for the smooth ride back to the hotel.
We all cleaned up, searched our bodies for ticks, and hoped that we hadn’t leaned up against any poison tree. Then it was off to The Taj for Warren’s last dinner in Palau. Tonight was a special dinner full of stories and emotion. Casey took the time to express what BentProp has meant to his family and to again thank the group that he is now a part of. Warren presented Joe with a plaque from the new United States Marine Corps Museum in Virginia. Warren took the lead in purchasing a brick that is be laid in Semper Fidelis Park there that has Joe’s name on it in appreciation of the work that he has and is doing. Joe then offered his own personal thoughts about BentProp. We all held back tears through the dinner and felt a refreshment of our motivation as we move into another day here in Palau.
Wesley’s first day in Palau was a full one of water and jungle. Warren is on his way home now and he is crossing paths with Flip somewhere over the Pacific, as Flip will arrive here tomorrow night.