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Update Series, #11, if you don't count the EPILOGUE, or 12 if you do

Hello, Everyone!

Just when you thought it was safe to open your e-mail, along comes another tome from Flip. A lot has happened since we got back from Palau. Some of it will have an impact on next year’s mission, and some just had a great feel to it. I thought I would share it with you since I’ve shared everything else. Well, everything except the secret stuff. I haven’t shared that, yet. And if I did, I’d have to k……..

After the BentProp Team returned to CONUS, we all settled into our usual routines. Some of us fly, some of us work for a living. But we were all corresponding, keeping in touch as teammates do. The best thing about this group of people is the sense of camaraderie that we have for each other. Regardless of the distance and time spent away from each other, once we are in the same locale, it’s as if we never parted.

Back in March, I spoke with Jim Nelson, QB’s son. (As an aside, Jim and Neel are planning on going to Palau next year while we are there so he can have a look at his Dad’s Corsair crash site.)

He had some video and still photos of our expedition and wasn’t really sure what he was looking at. I told him it sounded as if he needed a Navy guy to come down and ‘splain things. We just had to pick a date.

After I bid my April schedule, we agreed upon a set of days. Rebecca and I would come down, explain some of the video and still images, and make a social time out of it. What could be simpler.

Well coincidences are still following us around. Just so happens that Pat Scannon (Mr. BentProp to you, El Jefe to me.) was going to be in Texas for business. Jim, a perfect fit for our group, coalesced a plan. He invited the entire BentProp team for a party at his place in Houston. That only meant that Val & Jim Slocum, Dan and Cynthia O’Brien, Jennifer and Tom Powers-Krasney and Clem Major and Cathy Orlando had to figure out how to get there at the appointed time. Everyone figured it out.

We rallied at Jim and Neel’s house and we quartered ourselves there, and at a local hotel. The itinerary was to be dinner on Wednesday night with whoever was there, cocktail party and dinner as the main event on Thursday, and Friday was to be casual day.

Jim and Neel picked us up at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in the early afternoon and we started schmoozing and swapping stories. Jim and Neel are wonderful hosts, have a beautiful home and know how to have a good time. And they know how to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes!

As time went on, more and more folks showed up. We had a good group for dinner the first night and went to a local fish restaurant. More schmoozing and chatting until the wee hours.

Up at the crack of dawn. Okay, maybe not that early. Great breakfast, walked the dog and waited for the rest of the crowd to show. Our first appointment was at 5pm or so for the cocktail party.

We were told that this would be a coat and tie affair. Seems that Jim and Neel wanted to invite some of their neighbors to meet us. And their daughters would be there too. One lives in Houston, and the other came in from New York City. We all clean up pretty good, and no one made any wardrobe faux pas. Well, except me of course. But you knew that.

We held a small ceremony commemorating QB. Just the Nelson family and the BentProp group. Then Jim told us of his guest list.

The neighborhood Jim and Neel live in is unique in Houston. A number of oilmen and their wives (of some repute and historical significance) were the friends that The Nelsons invited. All served in World War II. One of the guests was a Marine who was wounded at Guadalcanal. Another was a Navy Captain. Ship driver I believe. And another was a flyer.

Then Jim and Neel both smiled like Alice’s Cheshire Cat. I thought for sure they were both going to vanish.

“Oh, by the way, there is one more couple coming.” Jim announced.

Their neighbors of three doors down were coming. Seems he served in the War too. And then some.

“President and Mrs. Bush will be here.” (Just to be clear: #41, not the current President, #43)

With the utterance of this one sentence, all my memory cells were overloaded, so all quotes are made up and I’m not even sure the story is accurate from the beginning.

We were given the protocol standards and told not to bother the men with the wires coming out of their ears. One item of protocol was not to have a bunch of cameras in President and Mrs. Bush’s faces. If they want a photo op, they’ll let you know. Seemed fair to me.

The guests started to arrive and the stories started to flow. The neighbors and the out of town guests all got along famously. I didn’t even realize that President and Mrs. Bush had arrived. They were just part of the crowd. Then it happened.

We were all on our best behavior with the President and his bride in the room, when Mrs. Bush said, “Of course you want a picture with the President. Slide along side.” Then she whipped out her camera and started snapping away. It was hard to get her in a picture.

© Barbara Bush with annotation

They both were gracious and congenial. They had a sincere interest in what we were doing in Palau. President Bush’s wingman from the war was shot down within a mile or so of QB Nelson’s final resting spot. Now QB’s son and the former President live three doors down from each other. Another coincidence. We think not!

And when I was introduced to President Bush and he was told we shared a similar background, both being Naval Aviators, he smiled and said loudly for all to hear “You knew who your parents were too, so you couldn’t be a Marine.” An old joke, apparently told ever since there has been a Marine Corps and Navy. And just to make sure you all know, The Marines are a part of the Navy and it eats at them to no end.

After an hour or so of snapping pictures, telling stories and cavorting with living legends, The Bushes and other guests left and the rest of us went to dinner.

A marvelous meal, heartfelt toasts, telling stories and a great time was had by all.

Back to the Nelson’s, more chatting into the wee hours and slowly the group retired.

The next day, Jim had scheduled us for a tour of NASA. Nice way to spend the day. As we were all gathered around the breakfast bar, the phone rang. Neel said not to answer it as it was probably a telemarketer. Might even be the same one as yesterday. Jim answered and just said a few yeses, okays and said, “Neel, it’s for you.”

Neel looked like she was going to give this telemarketer the best Texas ‘what for’ she knew and she said the exact same thing as Jim: a few yeses, okays and uh huhs. She hung up the phone and said that NASA was canceled, we’re going to the Bush’s home for morning tea.

Well, quick clean ups for everyone and off we went. Our entire troop, trooped down three houses and for an hour or so, Mrs. Bush told stories, listened to our stories and thoroughly entertained us. They have a beautiful home and they have history displayed on their walls. It was fascinating. Then she pulled out copies of the photos she had taken the night before and gave them to us. We parted company at noon and our group trooped back to the Nelson’s.

Our time on Mount Olympus was over. Rebecca and I went back to the airport for our trip home, while the group went to NASA for some of the tour. They had another night of dinner together and then they all started their journeys home too.

That morning, before we left, I made an offer to Jim to go see his Mom. She lives in Grand Forks, ND and I had a layover scheduled there during one of my Northwest trips. Jim’s Mom, QB’s widow, had remarried way back when, but was happy to have me come up and help explain some of the video and stills she had seen.

My trip was canceled, but my desire to go wasn’t. So, enroute to my annual “you bet your license” simulator requal, I stopped in at Grand Forks. After all, it is in the area of Minneapolis. Sort of.

She picked me up, took me to lunch. Then we went over the video Jim had sent her of the crash site we had explored. I showed her some of the digital stills I had in my laptop. She introduced me to Marilyn Haggerty, a friend of hers who writes for the local paper. Seems Pat Scannon is a local celebrity with his work in Palau. Marilyn has written three separate articles about the search for QB, who was a local boy before he went off to war.

Eleanore today and yesteryear.

Quintus and Eleanore were high school sweethearts, but went to different colleges. He went off to flight school with the Marines in Jacksonville, FL and she got her pilot’s license through the CPT Program.: Civilian Pilot Training. She actually got her license before QB received his wings. She visited him in JAX, they realized they were a couple and got married. The rest as they say, is history.

As much as she is glad to really know what happened to Quintus, she feels so much more at peace that Jim was able to find out about his Dad. Once again I am struck by how much closure means for people, families and individuals. It really does mean something. It really isn’t too late to find out what happened to these heroes, or any heroes from any conflict.

Yes, I passed my annual check ride and I’m still flying around the country. In fact, I’m in Rochester, NY right now.

Last year, Pat and I threatened to go to Washington, DC, BEFORE our trip to Palau, to do a little research in the National Archives. We never made it. However, we made a pact to go this year before too much time elapsed.

Our goal was to see if any photo images taken either on the ground, or in the air, could help us with our searches. This is the work smarter, not harder theorem. We actually had two spots to go to: National Archives (NA) and the Navy Historical Center (NHC).

In June, we made it. I got there a day early, made sure all was set up at the Archives for our search and went to the NHC. Wendy Coble has been instrumental in helping Pat with his searches. They share information as her organization believes in Pat’s work. But they had never met. And they weren’t going to as Wendy was not going to be in the office when Pat was there. So, I made the social calls. However, we couldn’t look through their photo archives. Another trip will be needed for that.

Pat and Flip interpreting what they see.

We went to the NA and through the use of the still and movie sections of the archives, found some interesting clues for our future expeditions. Enough info there that we will return for another search. About three more days worth of viewing and we will have some very good info to help us.

Carrier takeoff.

Bombing mission.

It’s very easy to get around Washington, DC. The metro train system criss-crosses the entire city and I found I was only minutes away from anywhere I wanted to go. I even found two brewpubs to check out within walking distance from metro stops.

We met up with Tripp Wiles and his wife Lindsay. He has also been very helpful with Pat’s searches and we chatted about future missions.

I have been really amazed by the age group of those who are in the forefront of searching for missing servicemen and women. From Bill Belcher who works at CILHI, to Wendy Coble at NHC and Tripp Wiles, they are all younger than you would suspect to have such insight into the technicalities of searching, but also the emotion of what this means to people around the country, and to the country itself.

And that brings you up to speed. Pretty neat stuff from my viewpoint. We’re heading back to DCA for another search of the Archives and the Naval Historical Center in August. All of this is leading to the next expedition that most likely will take place next February.

So, unless some more coincidences pop up, and we know that WILL happen, this is the last update concerning the P-MAN V expedition of 2003. The next email you get will be about P-MAN VI!

However, everyone’s favorite section: Lessons Learned!

  1. There is no such thing as a coincidence.
  2. Presidential families are families none the less.
  3. I get nervous even when the ‘cat is let out of the bag’.
  4. Bill Cantrell’s book title, “Friends, Dear Friends and Heroes” has real meaning for all BentProppers.
  5. One never forgets those loved ones lost in battle, and no one ever should.
  6. The meaning may be in the journey, but the cool events along the way make it sweeter.
  7. There are people from all age groups who understand what it means to search for MIAs from 59 years ago.
  8. And of course, What Ever!

Blue SKies, Flip