Update Series #8

Hello Everyone!

SUCCESS IN PALAU! But you’re going to have to wade through yesterday’s report before you get to today’s. I’m working hard out here and you’re sitting their in you PJs sipping a Latte, so you can do a little work right now. Did I mention today was a great day?

Lessons Learned:

1. Lawyers are the same the world over.
2. It’s always in the last place you look.
3. Sometimes you really do have to look under your nose.
4. Construction workers the world over are the same: Southern Babelthuap dirt being hauled north for road construction while Northern Babelthuap dirt is hauled south for the same purpose.
5. Gate guards the world over are the same.
6. What you do in life really does have an impact on others.
7. MIA/POW Never Forget.

Yesterday, some of our morning plans fell through. We were going to meet with an elder on Babelthuap. They canceled. We were going to meet with someone else. They canceled. We were going to visit some sites in the town of Koror. That did not fall through. So what do you do with these circumstances: breakfast.

The team went to breakfast. We all ate casually. I renewed our internet connection so we can communicate from our rooms. We went back to the hotel and Joe met us. He heard there were some propellers in town and we should go look. We also wanted to check out the cemetery that might house the executed servicemen. Lenny, who I introduced early in the series to you joined us for the day’s hunt.

We drove to the Laundromat where Dan did his wash the other day and lo and behold, a prop was sitting in the front lawn of a house. Dan had actually walked by it 3 times while doing his laundry and did not see it.

The owner of the home behind the prop came out. Pat talked to him and he led us around the neighborhood. He lived there as a small boy and there used to be more airplane parts in the area. There are a lot more houses now so the wreckage is probably gone. But on the way back to his home, in a small vine-covered area, Joe as usual said, “What’s that?”

Okay, the 5 minute rule was in effect. Pat went in and by golly it was a piece of aviation equipment. Most likely a disposable fuel tank cradle from a B-24. And this area is where a known B-24 went in. And this B-24 had to carry disposable tanks as the mission range precluded using internal fuel only. We were told they carried half a bomb load and half extra fuel tanks. Well that starts the day off nicely.

Did I mention today was a great day in the water? Okay, back to yesterday.

We went to the old Japanese cemetery and found that the adjacent property where Lt. Kaufman was supposedly executed was surrounded by chain link fencing and razor wire on the top. Not letting that stop us, we went to one of the bordering properties to ask who owns it. They told us there was a land feud going on and some of the neighbors were not talking with one another. But they did say go to the local mini mart and maybe they know how to contact the owners.

Not letting that stop us, we went to a local mini mart and a friend of Joe’s comes out and says he’ll take us to the property. We got on it and there were some small structures there and a few mounds and depressions in the dirt. Nothing conclusive. We were just about to depart when our host was asked if anyone knew what went on here.

Well, of course. There’s the old guy around the corner who knows. So we go around the corner and meet up with an elder who lived in Koror during the war. He told us a lot. Including that the area we just visited was a pig farm for the Japanese and a ‘fertilizer’ collection facility. There never were any Americans there that he knew of.

One thing I have noticed is that the older Palauans want to share what they know with all who will listen. And they do not embellish the stories. Or so I would like to believe. But, you have to ask the questions. Pat, generally asks the questions different ways within the same interview to see if the story stays the same. Of course you can tell that I embellish my stories. But, all my embellishments are accurate.

The elders also recognize that all the eyewitnesses are dying off rapidly. 2 elders we were supposed to interview have died since we’ve been here. After that generation goes, it’s only their stories that their kids tell. And only if they tell their kids.

We were able to get a lot of good intel from this gentleman. And Lenny got a great introduction to what we do and how we do it.

On the way out from there, we found a full anti-aircraft battery in someone’s front yard. And we saw the U.S. Embassy’s Charge de Affaires walking on the street. We popped a U turn and tracked him down. We were going to stop at the Embassy for a courtesy call. We did not meet Ron Harms last year when we were here, but he was a big help with one of our Flag Ceremonies. So we chatted. Good thing too. He was out of the office as his family was in town visiting.

Out to lunch. Milkshake and a burger. I have been eating way too many of these. But they are so good.

Our next appointment was with Dennis who was going to take us right to some wreckage that everyone knows about. Except we don’t.

He was in his Zodiac boat and led us to a spot right next to Monkey Island. So named because someone’s pet monkey escaped and now resides full time on this rock island. And he swims back and forth between a couple of the islands and we watched him do it.

Dennis said right before we went over the side that he actually has never seen these items, but his wife has. RED FLAG! But down we went and his directions to the wreckage were perfect. It appears to be a flap from an Avenger. And the only Avenger down in this area of the islands is one that Pat has been looking for, for years: Lt. Richard Houle. But there is not enough of anything to make any sort of an identification. But, it is a clue.

Dennis has been diving these islands for years. But, without any knowledge or direction, all this lightweight aluminum is just junk. Dennis may now have the bug to be a thoughtful searcher.

Then he took us 30 yards to a bomb. A fairly big one. And there was a little more wreckage. Then he led us to what he called a really big wing. As he was scooting along the bay, he was heading right for our island from hell: Isle de QB Nelson. But in an area we hadn’t searched. We all looked at each other and asked, ‘what were the odds?’

As we floated in, we saw lots of metal. Heavy metal. Big heavy metal. This was a dumping ground. We found some ‘big wings’, but something about them made each of us feel they were not aviation related. Could be though. At least B-24 sized or larger. Along with trucks, landing craft, a steam shovel and much unidentified junk. Oh, and a couple of 250 pound bombs. No fuses, but bombs none the less. For those that don’t know, high explosive gets very unstable over time in salt water. So don’t be hammering away at these things. As Bill Belcher taught us “If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it. If you do know what it is, don’t touch it.”

Well, back to the dock. So, a recap. We saw some nice fishes, some interesting pieces of aircraft, and maybe aircraft, talked with some interesting folks and now it was time to get some dinner and head to movie night with the Seabees.

On the way out, the owner of Neco Marine showed us his day’s find: a really large anchor. Huge actually. He had his crew go out and get it while we were zorching around. And lo and behold, he told us there was an airplane part next to the anchor. Would we be interested in looking at it?

Well, okay. We’ll try to fit it in. It’s not like we can’t fill our schedule on our own. Did I mention we had a great day today?

Back to the room, quick change, wolf down some dinner and a drive out to the Seabee camp. We met some of the Seabees at Pat’s presentation the other night. We knew about movie night from the newspaper. They said come on over early so we could socialize.

We all got along famously. We never got to the movies but we learned so much about today’s Navy and the Seabees in particular. The Officer in Charge is a Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) who was an enlisted man, got out, put himself through college and came back in. Most JG’s have 2-4 years in service. This man has 11 due to his enlisted time. His troops are well taken care of.

The Chief Petty Officer makes sure all is done well for the Palauans and that the troops are top notch. And his troops genuinely like their mission: Civil Action Team (CAT).

This team goes around Palau showing our flag by doing public works projects and health and comfort projects. There are 14 members, if I remember right, including a Navy Corpsman (health care professional). The Seabees have built causeways, bridges, schools, and most importantly, a good relationship with the Palauans. These guys are really the ambassadors of goodwill for all of us.

Movie night was created years ago before Palau got cable/satellite TV. They still go around to the outlying states for a Friday movie night and people still flock to them. People all over the world like to watch movies.

As I said, we never got to the movies due to chatting with all who cared to chat with us. The Seabee hospitality at their club was outstanding. I can tell you that your tax dollars are well spent out here in Palau. But can someone tell me how out of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane they can lose a case of vaginal cream? They know it came in, but they can’t find it. Sounds like a tall tail to me.

Pat Swovelin came through with some pictures of Japanese airplanes. All bombers. The picture of the Betty bomber looks like a match for what we have, but nothing really matches the other two. And he sent these pictures prior to getting the data tag info I sent in the last update. He also made some not so veiled threats after I corrected my error of omission. But the way, if anyone needs a high tech guru, Pat is your man. (This was an unsolicited endorsement. How am I doing now Pat and you can send the other $20.00)

Back home and ready for the next day. Did I tell you, oh wait. I did tell you. Today was a great day.

TODAY!

Success in Palau. This is the real deal. No kidding. Years of hard work and patience have paid off. But, not until after lunch.

We got up early and Joe met us at the apartment. Hopped in the van and headed to the rental car agency to get a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It was going to be a hard riding day. Interview with the elder from yesterday, and blow some bubbles on the anchor site. Not a high priority, but we should do this area anyway.

The elder we wanted to interview agreed to meet with us. If we could, we wanted to get him to the site we were interested in, but his knees are bad, so being the considerate interlopers that we are, we got him better wheels.

Up we went to Babelthuap again. Road closed to construction. Gate guard would not let us in. Flashed my pocket photo of Rebecca and he said “but of course. Any friend of Rebecca Sharp Colmer, author of The Senior’s Guide To Easy Computing, is a friend of mine.” Did I forget the shameless marketing disclaimer?

Met with the elder and his son who was our guide last year. Interviewed for an hour or so and got a lot of great intel. Took him up to the old military police HQ and he pointed out some stuff. Again, more info that warrants some consideration by the proper authorities.

Not being in a hurry to dive the anchor spot, we had a casual lunch. Drove back to town, swapped cars and Pat finally got in contact with the local lawyer that has his office next to our island from hell: Isle de QB Nelson. Said they could meet right now.

So we split the team. Pat, Jennifer and Clem with camera in hand went to interview the lawyer. Dan, Val, Me and Joe hopped in the boat and went to get a GPS coordinate of a B-24 fuselage section. This is the Dixon crash that is talked about on the website.

It took us awhile to find the fuselage. A mangrove is taking root in it. It’s fascinating to see how a mangrove expands. You can see a definitive line of the older, mature mangrove. Then a few feet out, clumps of individual mangrove plants. Then further out, individual stalks coming up. Some as small as only one leaf showing above high water mark. Anyway, we found it. Marked it. And headed to the dock to pick up everyone else.

Pat reported that the lawyer had nothing to offer us. He basically said that there’s nothing out there that hasn’t been found and that we were wasting our time. You already know the answer to that.

Boarded the boat. One of the anchor detail crewmen showed us where to start our search. If anything was there, we had been passing by it by 50 feet for years. We took the crewman back to Neco as he still had to work. Joe took us back, dropped anchor and Dan and I were over the side.

We swam out too far into the bay. Turned around and came back and spotted some wreckage. The exact wreckage the owners of Neco described: a hard rubber wheel. Attached to a tail wheel assembly. That still had a tailhook on it. With a few pieces of aircraft aluminum on top of the coral and a lot more under the coral.

Here it is Brothers and Sisters. This is a Corsair debris field. And the only Corsair down in this area, and for miles around, is Major Q.B. Nelson, USMC.

If we were lucky, we might find some other pieces away from this cluster. We were not lucky. We won the lotto. Twice over. So far, we have 150 foot linear debris field with all three prop blades (all broken off the hub and bent nearly 90 degrees), pieces of engine, fuselage, wings, oil cooler and more. In short, we have a lot of the airplane, just in pieces scattered over a wide area.

Pat started searching for this airframe in 1996, combing official after-action reports, eyewitness accounts from American Fly-Boys and Palauan locals. We’ve scuba dived, snorkeled, towed behind a boat, hiked incredibly dense jungles, up and down jagged coral mountains. And we found it due to someone landscaping their property with an anchor. Go figure. But we’ll take it any way we can get it.

For those that have followed the QB story, his son Jim was with us last year with his wife Neel. He never met his Dad as he was born after his Father shipped out. We all rushed to the phone as I wanted to call him right now!

The adults of the group said that 3:30am was a tad early to call with any news. So, off to dinner with Shallum and Mandy, the owners of Neco Marine. We told them how they contributed to the Nelson family today. They were quite happy to have helped.

Back from dinner. Cranked up my laptop to the Telephony section to use the speakers for the call to Jim so we could all participate at the same time. My laptop is smarter than me.

Up to Pat’s room (only one with an actual telephone attached to the telephone cord), punched in the numbers and guess who was home. Jim and Neel.

We can only go by voice, but I think the Nelson family is a little stunned right now. We all are. Pat explained it this way. Last year when he was able to tell the sisters of a downed Marine Aviator from the war what happened to their brother and where his final resting spot was, their comment was “This is what closure feels like.”

We haven’t found an actual data plate yet. And we may not. But, as the Navy likes to say, there is nothing here to lead us to believe that this is anything other than Major Q.B. Nelson’s airplane and final resting spot.

Tomorrow, we’ve suspended everything that isn’t a command performance so we can concentrate on the crash site. We’ll try to find the borders of the debris field, map it, catalog what we can, photograph it and get some video. If we need more time, we have Friday.

The command performances tomorrow are a presentation for the Ministry of Justice at 10:00am and another presentation at the National Aquarium hosted by the Palau Conservation Society. We’re told that all of the Palau Senators who are on island will be there. Don’t worry Rebecca. I’ll dress in adult clothes!

Tomorrow is my last day for scuba. I leave at 2:30am Saturday morning. As a safety precaution, no diving within 24 hours of flying. Know what I say? Safety is for sissies. And I’m the biggest sissy around. If we’re still doing water work, I’ll snorkel or get towed by the boat.

And just as I sat down to start this update, Pat sent the exact photos of the two Japanese airplanes we found. If I’m not too technology challenged, here is the photo:

That's a Kugisho P1Y1-C Ginga (Milky Way) "Frances."  It was a IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) medium bomber.

An exciting day to say the least. We’re all jazzed. We would love to find the data plate that confirms all of this and that is what we’re going to do tomorrow. So until the next update, take care.

Blue SKies, Flip