Update #7

Hello Everyone!

It’s early on the 13th. Same rooster, same time. I ate at the local breakfast stand here at the hotel while the rest of the group went to the Internet Café. Sitting on the back porch, looking out at the jungle between some of the local houses, listening to the birds cry, feeling the dampness of the humidity: it’s a great day for a hike.

Just finished a book titled It’s Tomorrow Out Here. It’s a short book written by a Navy Lieutenant Commander and photographed by another one. It was published after the close of the European Theater of WWII, but before the war in the Pacific ended. Very interesting to read the descriptions of what happens on an island, after it is secured. He really describes what the Seabees do, and all the logistics behind our march across the Pacific. There is also a picture of a B-24 and Corsair on an unidentified island in the Western Carolines. Could that be Peleliu or Anguar?

He also talked about the tempo of carrier operations, and how some things changed over the course of the conflict. In the beginning, when the Japanese still had fleets roaming the ocean, our carriers would have to dash into an area, and then back out. Sometimes there was no chance taken in recovering downed aviators. By the end of the war, when our fleets ruled the waves, time could be taken to look for the fallen pilots. This helps explain why in July, 1944, no real search was conducted for LT. Richard Houle, an Avenger pilot who was the lead for then Ensign George H.W. Bush. LT. Houle was shot down on the last day of an operation and that evening, the Task Force steamed away.

One of our targets this year is LT. Houle. In the Archives, we found a photo of an airplane next to a causeway. It was there in August, 1944, but gone by November, 1944. Today, there is Avenger wreckage there. A number of years ago, Pat’s wife Susan pointed out into the water and said those famous words, “What’s that?”

This year, Pat looked a bit more at the area and found lots of small bits of debris. This is definitely an Avenger. Now the questions are, how did it get there and whose is it?

As it turns out, two locals can recount the story of how a single engine airplane came to end up by the A-K Causeway. And their description of what they saw looks very similar to LT. Houle’s flight path as described by his wingmen from that mission. But, we cannot declare that this wreckage is a particular Avenger. There are a few more that are known to be down in the area, one of which we will be diving on in the next few days. Dennis, who last year led us to some wreckage around ‘Monkey Island’, has found a wing in the same area and wants us to check it out. Dennis has been contracted by JPAC to do some commercial diving work on the Marine Corsair site we found last year. (On a sad note, in the past year, someone killed the monkey with a spear gun. This monkey inhabited two of the islands near Malakal Harbor. Although we were told the monkey never swam, we watched him swim between two islands.)

Today, we were to meet Asa and he was going to lead us to a plane behind his home. He was supposed to meet us last week, but no showed us. As we were driving to the appointed meeting spot, we saw him. He said he had to go to the store and would be right back. He vanished. As Scotty from Star Trek once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But one of his neighbors said, “I know where that one is.”

So he led us down the slope, around a taro patch and down an old coral boat ramp that lead into a mangrove. He said the airplane was only 50 feet away. But it was high tide. We wouldn’t see much. We had just decided to visit at low tide when Dan and Pat waded into the water and into the mangrove.

There is some sort of a Japanese airplane there. Maybe a float plane, maybe something else. Pat doesn’t know of a float plane base in this area, but stranger things could occur. Although not a high priority for us, we will probably come back to see exactly what kind of aircraft it is. This is a nice way to start the day.

Our next stop was to a local insurance agency. Seems someone who works there listened to Pat’s presentation last night and said he knew of an airplane behind the family property. It was on Babelthuap, up behind the airport and the Seabee compound. Someone would be waiting up there to show us the way.

Off we go in our van and as we get closer, the road ruts become progressively worse. Thank goodness the driver is the one on the insurance form.

We find our guide, and along with Joe, he leads us down a slope that is covered with tall grass and shrubs. And he leads us to a wing that is sticking out of the ground. It towers over us by 6 feet and feels like it is embedded in concrete. We look across the wet, marshy low spot and we see some metal sticking up out of the weeds. Looks like a landing gear.

We walk over to it and there is an engine there. With a propeller. As we look around, we find more bits and pieces. Then we find some bigger bits and pieces. We find some switches from the cockpit, instrument panel, tail wheel assembly and more. We decide we need a shovel to more accurately define the debris field.

Off we go to the Seabees. We ask to borrow a shovel and they loan us shovels, picks and the people to operate them. The Officer in Charge and his Chief come along. They are fully supportive of The BentProp Project. They get it, and what it means to find these aircraft and the men who flew them.

We just want to dig minimally. Just enough to discover what it is. But, the more we find of this aircraft the more it looks like a Wildcat. That’s nice except for one thing. In theory, there weren’t any Wildcats here. We have a real mystery. Of course we don’t have a Wildcat book with us. So we will have to go to the web and see if we can get some close ups of landing gear, tailhooks, engine exhaust stacks and the turtleback (the area behind the cockpit to the tail). Bill Painter, can you help us out here?

Since we know nothing about this crash site, we are treating it as if someone lost their life here. Until we know otherwise, would you want us to act any differently?

We got pretty muddy doing all this and by 4 o’clock, we called it a day. And a great one at that. Two walks in the jungle. Two aircraft found.

Back at the hotel, getting cleaned up. Dan and Pete went to rent another underwater camera. We’re heading back to the B-24 with Bill Belcher who is the H.M.F.I.C. of the JPAC mission. Seems that his General wants him to take another look at the site. Although Bill is a civilian working for the military, he always does what his Boss wants him to do. That’s my story and Bill promised to pay me handsomely for this endorsement.

It’s now after dinner. And a fine one we had at The Reef, which is located at the Etpison Palau Museum.

A change of plans for tomorrow and a clarification of our find.

First, Bill Belcher won’t be diving tomorrow so we won’t be going to the B-24. We’ll try to do that next weekend. So instead, since we already have a boat, we’re going to dive on the wing that Dennis found and see what it belongs too. Maybe we’re going to find another lost American aircraft. Then we’ll head out to the western reef and see if anything remains of the aircraft we saw in the 1945/46 photos. If we have time, we’ll do another dive on the wing. Then back up to the airport to give Bill Belcher a chance to see our Wildcat. Then the last duty of the day is to join the Seabees for a fish fry. Seems like they have a ton of fish to eat and they’ve invited us and JPAC out to their camp.

As to our mystery airplane, it is, and it isn’t a Wildcat. This aircraft is a more advanced version of the F4F and was known as an FM2. Still a Wildcat. And after a little research, 5 were shot down in September of 1944. Four went down in Peleliu, and one was lost, but no details were given. We know what squadron it was from, what carrier it launched from and when it was lost. If we are very lucky, we can find a serial number from somewhere on the airplane. If we do, we can be certain of which airplane of the 5 it is. Then we just have to find out who did fly it and what happened to him. As of now, we haven’t a clue.

The reason why the Wildcats are a mystery to us is that they were not part of the Fast Carrier Task Group. The Wildcats were based on Jeep Carriers and they were a little more independent and were assigned, and reassigned rapidly as the fleet needed them. In the order of battle for this strike, they were not listed as they were not attached to the Task Force at the beginning of the action. Interestingly, none of the Jeep carriers were ever listed in the order of battle, and they sustained their first losses of this battle on the last day of the strikes. Probably when they first showed up. We’ll have to do some research at the Archives again. They should have the unit histories for us to pour through for 3 more carriers, their embarked airwings and the associated squadrons.

Bill Painter, does the museum have any info on the Jeep Carrier war?

That’s it for February 13th. Everyone, please remember to remember your honey on Valentines Day. And just to make sure my honey knows how much I love her, Rebecca, I love you and miss you. I can’t wait to get home. And I’ll have a little something in a bag for you!

Until next time.

Happy Valentines Day!

It’s Valentines Day!

We had a very good day today.

The wing that Dennis led us to seems to be an Avenger wing. That’s good news. We seem to have a linear pattern among some parts that might be related to each other. And we have an after action report that would lead one to believe that an Avenger went down quite close to where we were looking. So another day, another find. We still haven’t found the fuselage yet. Or the cockpit. Or the motor. Or anything to tell us which aircraft this is. Well, I guess that’s why we’re here. To solve these mysteries.

Dennis has been such a good trooper for us that Pat awarded him a token of appreciation that he only hands out to those that contribute materially to the BentProp mission. Goodonya Dennis.

We made a quick change, picked up Bill Belcher, Blake and The Chief from JPAC and took them out to the Wildcat site. They were quite taken with our find. And we got to get muddy again. Twice in two days. I’m liking this.

Then to the Seabee camp. It was fish fry night. Fish fry is not really an apt description of what we got though.

When we arrived, we were a little muddy. Not like the day before when we came asking for implements. But not an appropriate state of cleanliness for a party. So we begged for the use of towels and the showers. There’s nothing like free government hot water and towels to take the cares of the day away.

Out on the front porch at their club. Sharing stories. Watching the sun go down. Finding out about Seabee life in Palau. Then some fried fish arrived. It was the lightest and tastiest fried fish I’ve ever had.

It appears that one of the Seabees loves to cook and since they had guests for the night, he’d been prepping since 0800. Chief Grant had been out since then fishing. He came back with a bunch of fresh fish. And we were the beneficiaries of this.

Then came the sashimi and sushi. Yum!

Then came the wahu etouffee. I’m sure I spelled that wrong, but it doesn’t matter. It tasted better than I can spell it. This man could cook for any restaurant in the nation. I’m told he plans to open his own place when he gets out of the Navy. I can’t wait!

Back at the hotel. We’re probably hiking an island tomorrow, trying to connect the dots for all the Avenger parts we’re finding. What this means is incredibly hard climbing, but for only a short distance. Yeah right. That’s what we said last year before we started hiking our Island From Hell. I guess Pat wants us to work off some calories in anticipation of a fish fry next weekend! (g)

That’s all for today. I hope you are having a wonderful Valentines Day. Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll report we’ve found something exciting! Until then.

Blue Skies, Flip