P-MAN VIII Update #29
14 March 2006

Today's plan to visit the mangroves in southern Aimeliik was foiled by the death last night of the grandmother of our guide. We're sorry to hear of her passing; whatever's there in the mangroves will most likely still be there next year. We've added it to the list.

Over the past couple of days we've been packing some boxes of stuff to mail back home. We dropped them at the post office this morning.

We also received Pat Colin's collection of aerial photos of Koror and Arakabesan. Thanks again, Pat!

As we were going over the list of things for next year (since our trip for today got cancelled), we noted that we hadn't been able to make contact with Dr. Ueki, whose aunt, it was said, might know about Japanese bridge names on Babeldaob. Joe and Pat had the simultaneous realization that she had been at the JPAC repatriation ceremony here in Palau last spring, and that Joe might be able to contact her through the HPO office. He started making phone calls, and within about 5 minutes he had tracked down her home phone in Aimeliik through the office; learned that she's spending the day in Koror; found a number for her there; tracked her down; talked to her; and arranged to meet with her within the following half hour! We all jumped into the van and headed over. We spent over an hour talking about her recollections of the lower part of Babeldaob from Airai to Police Hill. She remembers additional Japanese names for some of the bridges, but couldn't quite place the two names that we're trying to identify. She and her family had to go off and do some business, but they agreed to let us come back later in the afternoon and bring a couple more maps and the 1944 photo of Police Hill, to see if that would help her recollection of such things as the location of the Palauan school that's mentioned in some of the execution reports.

Dr. Ueki's auntie discusses bridge names on Babeldaob
with Pat and Joe. © Reid Joyce 2006

We went back later in the afternoon and spent perhaps another hour with her. We're beginning to get a coherent picture of the Police Hill area from a variety of sources. It seems likely at this point that the two bridges we're trying to identify were the two MAJOR bridges along the west road from Airai up to a point beyond Police Hill; there were many other minor bridges along the way that were less substantial and which the map-makers probably simply elected not to try to depict.

For an afternoon that started out with nothing to do, we wound up having to hustle to make our dinner date at Kramer's with Yoji and Emiko Kurata. They have been very gracious and helpful, and it was a treat to get to have dinner with them. Emiko's sense of humor had all of us rolling on the floor. She's the one with the pet crocodile; she has some crocodile stories that make that hyperactive Aussie on the Discovery Channel look like a wimp. How do you examine the stomach contents of a croc? Stick a hose in his mouth and shake him up and down. Then there was the time she and her dad caught a 17-footer...

As we were entering Kramer's, we ran into Abby, the former owner of the restaurant (it was called the Pirate's Cove back then) - he's the guy who stood us up for a breakfast meeting a couple of weeks ago. He says he's discovered an aircraft wreck in the water WAY up north. We suspect that it may be a Mariner (PBM) that Sam Scott and friends first spotted a couple of years ago. But it's on the list to check out next year. Just based on the location, there's a pretty good chance that this is not an MIA site.

Pat is putting the finishing touches on a preliminary report for the Historical Preservation Office and other officials here. We sent a proposal to these people before we came, and this report basically compares what we did with what we had planned to do, at a fairly cursory level. He has also finished a pretty detailed report on the new Avenger site on Peleliu; that report will go to the Governor of Peleliu and also to most of our other official contacts, including JPAC.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon Dan leaves. He has a long stop in Taipei, then on to San Francisco. Tomorrow night (really 2:30 Thursday morning) Mike and I leave. We'll travel as far as Honolulu on the same planes. From there he goes on to Los Angeles and I go to Pittsburgh via Houston. Pat stays in Palau another day - he'll be off to San Francisco Thursday night (Friday morning).

If I run out of Internet time on this blasted dial-up connection and can't post an update tomorrow, bear with me for a couple of days until I can get home. I'll wrap it up then.

In the meantime, here are a few miscellaneous thoughts:

'Fessing up

On 5 March I posted pictures of a couple of tightly boarded-up businesses, and told you that all of Koror was really hunkering down in anticipation of a tropical storm. Although the residents of Koror really did take seriously the threat of the storm that passed us by that night, I'm told that those were the ONLY two businesses in town that completely boarded up their storefronts like that. Lesson learned: don't believe all the hype you read on amateur Web sites.

Best new addition to our glossary

Did you know that the Inuit have specific names for a bunch of different kinds of snow? Well, the Palauans have several specific names for different kinds of rain. By far the coolest one we've heard so far is their name for a fine, misty, not-quite-drizzle type of rain that falls in the jungle: "Bat-piss rain."

New friends

Jon Vogt. He's an environmental consultant to the Corps of Engineers. Knows a lot about the geology and natural history of the country. Lent us a bunch of stuff - so much, in fact, that it'll probably take most of the coming year to review it. Just happens to be the brother-in-law of the President.

Jolie Liston. She's an archaeologist who has also spent several years working on the Compact Road project. She also shared a ton of information with us, and has volunteered to spot check sites in our absence if we need such help. Imagine the daughter of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.

Yoji Kurata and Emiko Kurata. Through his daughter Emiko, Kurata-san has shared stories of his many years of experience as a biologist here in Palau, and his recollections of his brief conscription into the Imperial Japanese Army as a teenager - only a month or so before the invasion of Peleliu. He also shared some maps and books with us, some of which we expect to help materially in our search for POW sites on Babeldaob. Emiko, who is also a biologist, is actually the one who taught a local Palauan how to grab big salt-water crocs and take blood samples to be used in a genome-mapping project. Imagining a cute, cuddly baby, we asked how big her pet crocodile is. "About two meters." She acknowledged that she won't be able to maintain the croc as a pet forever, since they get REALLY big. But she's not all misty-eyed about it. What will happen to the croc when she can no longer keep it? "Steak."

Vernice Stefano. She's the new Program Manager at the PALARIS office. When we first met Vernice, she had just returned from the Library of Congress in DC. She showed us a 1944 Japanese map of Babeldaob. We got so excited to FINALLY have a Japanese map created during wartime that we danced around her office, waving our arms and standing on her chair to take pictures of her photocopy mosaic of the big map. She was very tolerant of our weirdness. We expect to be able to share more information with her that we gather at NARA and LOC: our interests seem to overlap quite a bit in the mapping area.

Leaving Palau

Pacing is the key with these trips, but the problem is training yourself to think of pacing in terms of years, not just hours or days. As the time remaining in a trip grows short, we go into a mode of writing reports to satisfy various official people here and in the States, and sharing the photos that everybody took, and swapping the tons of other information that we'll all be analyzing over the coming year. And we start to display little signs of separation anxiety, keying on both team and Palau.

This year we've had some successes, and we've made a bunch of unexpected new friends.

The major success (we think) was the discovery of a TBM Avenger on Peleliu, exactly where a couple of years' worth of research said it should be. We believe that it's an aircraft whose crew of three are all still missing, and most likely died in this crash. It's deeply satisfying to have some smart research pay off, but believe me, we're not getting cocky about it. We know that statistically, the greatest number of our finds have come as a result of developing personal connections and earning the trust of the Palauan people. From the President of the country down to the fishermen and fruit-bat hunters, people are coming to understand and admire what we do, and they want to help in any way they can. We've said it before, but it bears repeating: the concept of family - and I mean family across many generations - really resonates with the Palauans. They understand in their hearts how deeply important it is to be committed to making connections between long-lost people and their families, and their homeland.

And we're all coming to better understand the breadth of our respect for this need to bring fallen sons home, whether those sons are American, or Palauan, or Japanese. We're hopeful that we can establish a productive dialog with the Japanese that can result in location, identification, and repatriation of Japanese MIAs, whose families have wondered about their fate in parallel with American families for these past 60 years. If we can share such information with the Japanese, all will benefit. Wish us luck.

Monday night Joe and Esther joined us for dinner. We've long felt that the relationship between Joe and Esther and our team goes beyond friendship, but Esther told a short story about Joe that provides a measure of how special the relationship has become. Remember how in the past I've occasionally referred to the complex, fluid, and often not-genetic set of definitions of family that the Palauans have? Well, at a local baseball game one evening last week, one of Joe's friends asked him who those guys are that he's been hanging around with for the last month. Joe said it was his uncle Pat, his uncle Dan, his uncle Reid, and his brother Mike. And tonight Joe told of how he has a (genetic) brother who lives in the U.S., whom he doesn't see very often. When brothers who live far away come back to Palau to visit, they have a big family dinner to get together and talk and laugh and renew family ties. He said that when we all had dinner at Joe and Esther's house a couple of weeks ago, Don and Jane and Sarah were guests, but Pat and Mike and Dan and I were family members coming back home to visit. Couldn't wish for better family.

- Reid