P-MAN VII Update
Thursday, 10 March
Today was going to be a down day, but wound up including a mix of a bunch of things.
Flip and Mike went with a Sam's Tours group down to Peleliu and did a drift dive along the dropoff. They saw tons of pretty fish of kinds that Pat normally won't let us look at.
In the morning, Pat and Joe interviewed Tangie's dad.
About noon, Pat and Joe and I picked up Tommy and Nancy Doyle and headed off for some lunch, then to do some more interviews. The first interview stop was with Kokichi, who was recommended to us by the folks at the fish and game commission a couple of weeks ago. Turns out that he was a young lad living on Peleliu when the war started. His family was temporarily relocated to Carp island just north of Peleliu, then to Ngaraard in northern Babelthuap when hostilities began in earnest down south. He suggested that we interview his uncle, Ichiro, who lives nearby in Meyuns. He called Ichiro, who jumped in his car and came over right away.
Ichiro was a teenage student in the Japanese school in Koror. He graduated in March 1944 (exactly 61 years ago today!), only a couple of weeks before the bombing began during Desecrate 1. After graduation, he became a member of the Japanese army, working first in a repair facility on Arakabesan, then later on southern Babelthuap when the repair facility moved there. Although he didn't see the avenger crash beside the A-K causeway, he was very familiar with it. Ichiro solved a bit of a mystery associated with the reports that one airman who apparently died in that crash and was removed from the wreck and buried at M Dock. He said that the Japanese displayed the body of the dead American from the A-K site at the Court House (now the location of the Supreme Court) for a few days before burying him at M Dock, which, it turns out, is just around the corner from the court house. So: simple convenience appears to be the reason why he was buried at M Dock. The Army's Graves Registration Unit (GRU) recovered the body from that burial site after the war, but records that we've been able to locate do not indicate either positive ID of the body, or where it was ultimately laid to rest.
Ichiro had a suggestion about another elder whom we should interview. We went to his house, but he was unavailable. We may try to visit him tomorrow.
We then paid our respects to Senator Surangel Whipps, currently President of the Palauan Senate. Surangel is an old friend of Pat's, dating back to Pat's first visit to Palau and the effort to locate the armed trawler that was sunk by George H. W, Bush. We had a long, informative chat with him about current affairs in Palau. He then took us into the Senate Chamber for a photo-op with him and us and especially the Doyles.
On the way out, he took us all over to where a bunch of Palauans were hanging around outside, and introduced us. Turns out they were the core high rollers in the House and Senate. They had all heard Wednesday's radio address and subsequent publicity about Tommy and Nancy, and immediately began welcoming them to Palau and thanking them for Tommy's dad's sacrifice. All very heartfelt, and graciously received by the Doyles.
Senator Whipps invited us to have dinner with him on Saturday evening. The Doyles will return to Texas early Sunday morning.
This evening we were treated to something that most Americans could never even imagine. We were invited over to Joe and Esther's for a true Palauan dinner - an invitation rarely extended to non-Palauans. They had elaborately decorated a large room next to the summer house with exotic flowers and greens. The floral centerpiece on the table was breathtaking (Esther works at a florist shop, where her skills must be legendary). I'm sure I'll leave something out, but I'll take a rough shot at the menu. It started with drinks, including fresh coconuts, the husks trimmed with a machete and the tops cut off, with a straw to drink the milk. There was parrotfish sashimi, beautifully arranged on a big serving platter. The notion of "beautifully arranged" applies to EVERYTHNG served, so I won't repeat it, but please understand that each presentation was a work of art.
Then there was some of the best soup I've ever encountered, and some of you know that I'm a real soup nut: it was made of taro leaves (a little like the consistency of kale or spinach) and coconut milk. It was a struggle to keep from asking for seconds and thirds.
There was tapioca, mashed and extruded and molded into small green blocks. Slightly sweet, dense, and a little sticky - but in a way I've never encountered before. There was a hint of some other flavor that seemed different for each person - coffee, maybe, or possibly chocolate. But it was just tapioca.
There was clam soup, accompanied by two kinds of taro. One was mashed, formed into a log and sliced into discs a little over 2 inches in diameter and less than 1/2-inch thick. The other was just the fresh root by itself, also sliced into disks less than 1/2-inch thick. The mashed and raw taro were obviously related, but each had a light, unique flavor. As for the clam soup, imagine the best oyster stew you ever had, but imagine it made with tender clam meat and coconut milk instead, and then give it a 12 on a 10-point scale, and you'll be close.
There was deep-fried fish, with some salad, and grilled "crocodile fish," which had very cool-looking teeth.
There was a dessert combination that included more of the little green extruded-tapioca blocks with a special condensed-coconut-milk sauce; some nuts that were roasted and then covered with honey; some small chips that were made of fried tapioca, also covered with honey; and finally a small sliced banana.
Every bit of the food that was served was grown by or caught by Joe's family.
When the meal was complete, Esther removed one of the spectacular floral decorations from the wall - a tall stalk with many large, firm bright-red and yellow bud-like structures, each of which looked like the head of a parrot. Esther said, "This flower is our family." She produced scissors and began to cut off one bud at a time, giving one to each of the guests.
Comparing notes afterward, we all had to agree that we'd never felt more honored as guests anywhere in the world, and we also agreed that we'd never had a more delightful meal. Joe and Esther are special friends, and they truly made us feel that we're all part of the same family.