P-MAN VII Update
Tuesday, 15 March
Today's the last day in Palau for P-MAN VII.
The list for today started at 0930 with a meeting with Temmy Shmull, Palau's Minister of State. Shallum Etpison was kind enough to set up the meeting, which was held in Shallum's office above Neco Marine. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss appropriate channels through which the BentProp team can share with the Japanese several years' worth of our accumulated information about Japanese crash sites and abandoned cemeteries in Palau. The reason for going through the Palauans is that this information involves sites in Palau, which are protected under Palauan law. The Palauans want to ensure that their authority isn't somehow inadvertently subverted by having unofficial American and Japanese organizations working directly with each other. Mr. Shmull recognizes that our information may be of interest to the Japanese, and has agreed to serve as an intermediary in conveying our willingness to share to the Japanese. It's possible that they have their own information resources regarding the war in Palau, which they may be willing to in turn share with us.
Joe was able to contact Fuana, with whom we talked yesterday. She agreed to meet us at T-Dock and to come along to the area that her family has owned in southern Aimeliik, to point out the area where her father (now deceased) told the family of having seen a U.S. aircraft shot down. As soon as the meeting with the Minister of State was over, Pat, Mike, and I jumped on Joe's boat for the trip to T-Dock. Fuana was just driving up as we arrived. She and her husband came aboard and we headed off to southern Aimeliik.
It soon became apparent that we were heading to exactly the location where we'd located the new Avenger wing a few days ago.
As we approached the area, Fuana began to tell the story that she'd heard many times from her father.
Her father had been hunting for clams in an adjacent cove when he heard an aircraft approaching from the south being shot at by a Japanese gun emplacement on a ridge above the cove. He watched as the aircraft was hit, and began to spiral - or perhaps spin - almost straight down toward the water. As the aircraft descended, he saw a single crew member exit the plane and come down under parachute into the water near the shore. The plane crashed into the water nearby.
The airman, who was apparently uninjured, swam toward a clear hillside near the cove where we found the wing, and climbed out of the water. He was almost immediately approached and captured by three Japanese soldiers. It became apparent that they intended to execute the airman. Fuana's father was angry at the Japanese, who had taken over family land for their gun emplacement - and he wanted to save the American airman. He wanted desperately to run over and join the airman to fight the Japanese soldiers, but he realized that success would be unlikely and that doing so would put his own life in jeopardy. As he hid and tried to decide what to do, he began to think of his wife and children and his obligation to them, and he wept with rage as he watched the airman plead unsuccessfully for his life. The Japanese soldiers used a "long knife" to behead the airman there on the hillside. Fuana's father believed that they buried his body on the hill near the site of his execution.
Fuana has volunteered to come back with us next year to this spot to help us locate possible additional wreckage in the water, and to possibly help direct our explorations on the hillside that her father pointed out as the execution and burial site.
Two things were scheduled to happen next today: the arrival of the JPAC land team, and a final interview with the 103-year-old grandfather of one of the boat drivers at Sam's Tours. We decided to divide up. Pat and I went out to the airport to meet JPAC, and Mike took the video camera to interview the elder gentleman.
Mike's interview went well. The old man had been a farmer in Ngaraard State, up north, during the war and had had relatively little contact with the Japanese. He did report, however, that there were a few Japanese soldiers who appeared to have gone AWOL to hide out up north. He further stated that there's a former Japanese officer who still lives up there, whom we should try to interview. Turns out that we did interview him, a couple of years ago.
Pat and I arrived at the airport a few minutes after JPAC's C-130 arrived, but before any of the team had left the ramp area beside the plane and come in to clear customs. We waited around until the team began to emerge from the customs area, and introduced ourselves to the team's leaders, Captain Grover Harms, the military team leader, and Greg Berg, the team's forensic anthropologist and technical lead. We answered a few questions and then left them to the task of getting their gear squared away (four pallets of stuff on two of Mason Whipps' flatbed trucks), and getting established in their quarters in Koror.
During the late afternoon we more-or-less finished packing for our return to the States.
Tuesday night is all-you-can-eat spaghetti night at Krämer's, so that seemed like a good place for a relaxing team-to-team dinner with BentProp and JPAC. Joe and Esther joined us. The BentProp team tried to do a brain dump, sharing as much as we could remember about the sites on Peleliu and in Ngeremlengui for which JPAC plans recovery missions over the next 45 days or so. [The other JPAC team, which will include something like 16 Navy divers, will arrive in mid-April to tackle the B-24 site.] After dinner, Capt. Harms came back to our hotel to grab electronic copies of a bunch of documents that we'd previously sent to JPAC about the sites in Palau but which hadn't quite made it into the hands of this team, which was tasked to investigate those sites.
We finally headed out to the airport. We were all on the 0150 flight to Guam. Pat continued from Guam to SFO via Narita. Mike and I went on to Honolulu. Mike continued HNL-LAX. I continued HNL-IAH-PIT.
Plans for next year are already under way.