ATTACHMENT 7: Holding a memorial ceremony for Major Quintus B. Nelson, Squadron Commander, VMF-122 (KIA, BNR, 16 April 45), 16 April 02
It started off as an isolated coincidence: while planning for P-MAN IV, I realized that the 57th anniversary of MAJ Quintus B. Nelson�s combat death over Palau on 16 April 45 would occur during our time in Palau. I decided to plan a small ceremony to honor his loss, regardless of our findings. This coincidence actually tied to an earlier one � a few months before, Jim Nelson, MAJ Nelson�s son, had heard of my searches for MIAs and contacted me seeking information about his father. At the time he called, he did not know that I had already spent more than 5 years looking for MAJ Nelson. And at the time I planned the ceremony, I did not know that Jim, and his wife, Neel, would ultimately join the P-MAN IV expedition. These would have been coincidences enough. But certain members of the team worked hard to create a few more. Others just happened.
Prior to leaving for Palau, Flip Colmer had made a request to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (USMC), GEN J. L. Jones, asking for his consideration to provide a letter in honor of MAJ Nelson to be read at this ceremony. As of the morning of the ceremony, however, this letter, which had been approved, written, signed by GEN Jones himself and forwarded, had not yet arrived. This same morning, Val, both very talented and at least as lucky, learned that a Marine F-18 squadron had just arrived in Palau the day before on a good will mission! This was the first time ever in Palau�s history that such a mission had occurred and the squadron was still on island. Our team F-18 jock, Flip (USN, LTCMDR (Ret)), managed to reach his Marine counterparts and convinced them to participate. Flip, not about to stop there, also contacted the US Embassy and asked the Charge D�Affaire, Mr. Ronald L. Harms, to join the ceremony. Unfortunately unable to attend, Mr. Harms sent the team a letter for the ceremony.
By 16 April 02, the P-MAN IV team had already made a first serious and unsuccessful attempt to find MAJ Nelson�s crash site (see ATTACHMENT 4a) above) and more searches were already scheduled. We had planned the ceremony as part of our �day off� in between searches. But what started when I woke up as a small informal sunset gathering, by breakfast evolved to include the Department of Defense and the State Department, not to mention a video production company. Before midday we needed an agenda - so I began creating one. While Flip was busy collecting letters, Val and Dan made a floral lei for Jim (Bill Belcher�s idea) and ran other necessary errands. In the late afternoon, we met the Marines of VMFA-225 (�Vikings�) and Bill Belcher took charge of working out the flag ceremony with them. We decided that, as long as the ceremony remained respectful, it was not necessary to tell the Nelsons what was going on until just before the ceremony (since we did not know ourselves who or what would show up until it started).
The site I chose is a dock on the southern side of Koror with Ulebsechel and Ngermalk in the background separated from Koror by an intervening channel. The view from this dock provides a broad view of the battle scene somewhere in which MAJ Nelson fought and died. With high probability, his crash site overlooked our ceremony.
By evening, nature decided to become a kindly participant: as the time drew near, the skies cleared and the winds calmed. The waters around Koror flattened out and reflected the setting sun down the channel upon us. To add to the moment, we found out that the VMFA-225 Marines had just flown back from Peleliu - where MAJ Nelson had taken off on his last mission, exactly 57 years ago. Bill Cantrell�s presence was also significant he had been on Peleliu that day 57 years ago also as a flying Marine.
Mary Alice and Bill Cantrell stayed with me to greet the Nelsons, whom we escorted to the ceremony. As we got out of the van, I managed to mumble something to them about some additions which, to their credit, and my relief, they took in great stride.
Demographically, we were a disparate congress: women and men, young and old, from homes all over the United States, most of whom had not met each other before this trip, in a place most had never visited, some with military connections others not, now honoring someone whom no one present had ever met, except for Jim as a baby. But all these differences had somehow brought us together this evening, perhaps by coincidence, and for these few moments we became one family.
The ceremony itself came off as if rehearsed for a month: We all welcomed Neel and Jim Nelson and Dan presented the lei to him. As we stood together along the silent shore, I gave a brief opening about what had transpired on MAJ Nelson�s last mission. Val then recited a poem for the Nelson family:
We toast our hearty comrades who have Fallen from the skies,
And were gently caught By God's own hand to be with him on high.
To dwell among the soaring clouds they've known so well before.
From Victory Roll to tail chase, at heaven's very door
As we fly among them there we're sure to heald their plea,
To take care my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll just for...
Your son Jim
[Adapted from �ONE MORE ROLL� by Commander Jerry Coffee]
Flip next came forward and read the letter
from the Charge D�Affaire from the US Embassy, Koror, Palau.