Wednesday, 9 March
Okay, pay attention now. Here's why we do this:
We expected that today was going to be a big, emotional day for all of us. It didn't disappoint.
It started out with a fairly quick checkout dive for Tommy, led by Bert Yates. Tommy's first dip in salt water went fine, especially considering that he'd traveled halfway around the world the previous day, and had gotten relatively little sleep last night.
Back to Neco for a quick breather for the new diver, then off to the marina at the north end of the K-B bridge to escort the CAT team's boat to the B-24 site. Michelle Solinsky, representing the office of the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires came with them, and their boat followed us out to the site of the crash of the B-24 on which Tommy Doyle's dad, Staff Sergeant Jimmy Doyle, was a crew member when it was shot down on 1 September 1944. Shortly after we tied up, the boat of Tommy Remengesau, Jr., President of Palau, joined up with us.
The President, Ms. Solinsky, Air Force Lt. Megan Poyant of the CAT team, and two other members of the CAT team joined us on our boat for a brief but intense ceremony. The two CAT team members held a Palauan Flag and an American flag during the ceremony.
Pat opened the event with some introductions and words of background about the events that culminated in the loss of Jimmy Doyle's aircraft in this spot in 1944. President Remengesau spoke briefly but eloquently about the significance to both Palau and the U.S. of the ultimate sacrifice made by Jimmy and so many others during WWII, and about the gratitude and respect felt by the Palauan people for the path in world history that was made possible for Palau by those people. He also thanked the BentProp team for our efforts to continue the search for these fallen airmen.
Ms. Solinsky also spoke of sacrifice and the world-changing effect that such sacrifice here in Palau during WWII has had for us all.
Lt. Poyant spoke of the special sense or honor that service members have for fallen comrades. She brought the CAT team to attention and recited the third verse of the Air Force song - a seldom heard verse that salutes those who die in the defense of our country:
She then commanded the folding of the flags, beginning with the American flag. The folded flag was solemnly presented to Tommy. The Palauan flag was folded and presented to President Remengesau, who spoke a few more words in honor of Tommy's dad before presenting Tommy with the flag.
You could have heard a pin drop as Tommy said a few words of thanks and understanding...thanks for the opportunity to visit this spot so far away from home where the father he never knew found his final resting place, and at least the beginnings of understanding, at long last, of what his father's passing had entailed. Complex thoughts, there, that most of us who've never lost a loved one in wartime will never be able to fully feel or comprehend. But it was an honor to be present and to see this process finally moving toward some resolution in Tommy's heart. And it was an honor to be present as a member of this BentProp team, whose dedication over more than a decade had finally made the event possible.
Although the sequence of events had been loosely planned, the ceremony seemed to take on a life of its own and flow around us all. Everyone was visibly moved by the thoughts and sentiments both expressed and unstated. The young Air Force members on the Civic Action Team, standing at attention and listening carefully to the words being spoken, were clearly moved by the intensity of the occasion, and by the fact that they were there to represent and honor several of their own who died in this spot.
Following the ceremony Tommy made a dive on his father's crash site, accompanied by President Remengesau, Lt. Poyant, Pat, Bert Yates, Joe, and Henni Rall.
After Tommy's group had cleared the area, several of the CAT members made a dive on the site, led by BentProp team members. The President and the CAT group then departed, and Tommy made one more dive with some of the BentProp team.