P-MAN VI Update #34
Sunday, February 22 and Monday, February 23, 2004

Sunday the 22nd

Today was pretty quiet. We made a few courtesy visits to thank people who've helped us. We spent some time at the Internet cafe (Cafe@Palau). And in the afternoon, we spent a little time at low tide, walking out and examining pieces of the aircraft wreck by the A-K causeway. It's obviously Avenger wreckage (we positively identified the tail wheel in 2000). There's also part of a landing gear, and part of a wing-fold mechanism that is also clearly from an Avenger. The mystery of the disappearance of most of the plane shortly after it crashed there certainly could be explained by salvage, since the location is only feet from the causeway, and most of the debris field is completely exposed at low tide.

Bill Belcher accompanied us to the causeway. Bill, who hardly needs a multiple-personality repertoire to justify speaking his mind on ANY subject, has decided to adopt the name "Leeboy," for times when he chooses to refer to himself in the third person. Having watched Leeboy in action for the past few days, I have to tell you that he's remarkably like the old Bill.

As Bill watched Dan's handling of some of the debris near the causeway, he felt obliged to lecture us on the importance of returning picked-up-and-examined objects to the exact locations and orientations where they were found. Bill has coined a new expression to describe an archaeological site where someone has picked objects up and just tossed them aside rather than replacing them. He's going to say that such a site has been "O'Brien-ized."

Pat and I headed for the airport at about 11 p.m. When we tried to turn the rental van in, we discovered that no one from the rental company had showed up to man their booth at the terminal. No one answered any of the several phone numbers we had for them. And no one in the terminal seemed to have any idea when or if they might show up. So Pat wound up leaving the keys with one of the other rental agencies, and planned to drop Dan an e-mail message from Tokyo, asking him to contact the agency and pay the bill on Monday.

We left for Guam at 2:30 a.m. Slept most of the way. We both had fairly short connections in Guam - me for Honolulu-Houston-Pittsburgh, and Pat for Narita-San Francisco. Shortly before we said goodbye, we ran into Palauan President Remengesau, who had evidently also been on the plane from Guam and who was heading for meetings in Washington, DC. We thanked him again for his support of the BentProp mission.

Monday the 23rd

I'm now at the airport in Houston, cooling my heels until the Pittsburgh flight leaves.

I'm afraid I've got a mild case of culture shock. Everybody here tawks like Dubya. Guy next to me is talking on his cell phone, and just said the phrase, "Hey, they're havin' a crawfish festival down at the ranch...."

People with cowboy boots and big hats are rushin' around. Lots are wearing suits. Business suits look as bizarre to me as space suits, after 6 weeks in Palau. I feel like crap after 22 hours in transit (so far), and I'm sleepy, but already I miss the early wake-up harangue by the Union Rooster behind Lehns Motel.

I'll be home in snowy Pennsylvania in a few hours, but there'll be no boats. No Joe. No sticky vines and poison trees. No Cafe@Palau. No little gray van with snap-crackle-and-pop CV joints and mud-caked dashboard. Nobody opening a car door as they tool along, to lean out and spit a big, orange betel-nut-juice goober onto the street. No laughing kids, all dressed alike, heading up to the school on the hill. No dogs lying in groups, fast asleep in the middle of the road. Nobody strolling down the block drinking out of a coconut with a straw. Nobody strolling down the block crooning a quiet tune to a pet rooster tucked under his arm. No $25 plate of yellowfin sashimi for $5. No Bem Ermii roach-coach burgers-and-shakes joint where they know what everybody always orders and always notice if one of the group is missing. No gut-wrenching B-24 wreck with eight souls still aboard, after 60 years.

Don't get me wrong: I like my real life back in Pennsylvania, but I'm guessing that it's going to be hard to make the transition back. As always, we've spent the entire expedition period thinking, talking, and doing almost nothing that's not related to the BentProp mission. And that doesn't take any conscious effort, even in a tropical paradise like Palau - because this is a mission that can grab you right at the core of what you believe in, and not let go. Even after I start to feel like I'm home, it won't let go - it'll just move to a slightly different place, and start to apply not-so-subtle pressure to switch into research and planning-for-next-year mode.

Joe Maldangesang has a pretty big list of things to do while we're gone, in addition to getting back to his own real life, as a master guide and boat captain for folks whose mission is just to have fun. Thanks again, Joe, for being such an important and dedicated team member.

Thanks, Pat, for holding this weird group together and making it so effective. Thanks, Jennifer, Flip, Dan, and Pete, for making P-MAN VI so productive and satisfying. Thanks, Kate and Val, for encouraging us despite your troubles in Thailand. But dammit, Val, we're all nutritional wrecks because of your absence and the resulting absence of any kind of food-related discipline. Sun Chips and peanut butter may have good juju, but as a steady diet (when we're lucky), I don't think they promote strong bones and healthy teeth.

Thanks to President Remengesau, and the Ibedul, and the Governor of Ngatpang State, and the people in the Historical Preservation Office, and the people in the PALARIS office, and Tangie Hesus (the curator and historian of practically everything on Peleliu), and the people at Neco Marine and Sam's Tours, and all the fishermen and elders who have provided valuable information and guidance to us. And thanks to the men and women of JPAC, whose mission is the perfect complement to ours. We find sites and identify them. They recover and identify remains. And close the circle.

Onward and Upward! Strength through Joy!

- Reid