P-MAN IX Update #08
21-22 Feb 2007

Hello Everyone!

21 February

First off, an apology. It was late when I got to the last update and I inadvertently left off appropriate photo credits for the last four photographs. The person pictured at the right, who thrust the video camera into my hands, took the last four photos that were on update 7. My apologies to Dan O’Brien for not giving timely credit. Now on to lessons learned.

1. You really get pinged on for not giving photo credits, after you talk to everyone about giving appropriate photo credits.

2. If you’re up to your hips in mangrove mud, it’s time to crawl. Happens faster for Bob Holler.

3. Just when you think you have a plan, it changes.

4. A plan is just something to deviate from.

5. Bem Ermii milkshakes are still the best.

6. There are various degrees of getting stuck in the mud. It seems to be similar to “that depends on what the definition of is, is.”

7. BentProp surf and turf is a delicacy.

8. Losing track of the days means you miss all you can eat spaghetti night.

9. Palau is a lot better than Iraq.

We started out at a reasonable hour today. Hopped in the van (yes the originally assigned one, transmission and all) and drove out to do interviews again. The more intel we can get, the better off we are in the jungle. It’s not that we mind going through the woods in a random fashion. A hike in the jungle is a wonderful thing. However, since we want to find stuff that will lead us to an MIA, having some intel makes sense. The “work smarter, not harder” theorem.

We got some names of people to interview yesterday while we were heading around the islands. Our first stop was to a Chief on Koror. He wasn’t in and we were told to stop by again around 7 p.m. We thought that might make picking up Derek at the airport a little problematic. We decided to think about it over the course of the day. We then went to see the son of an elder. He’s a retired government worker.

Photo by Bob Holler, DOB interviewing.

Now when I speak of an elder, I’m really referring to someone who lived during the war. Many of them have died out. However, we have found that some of their older children remember their parents’ stories from the war.

As an aside, when did World War II start? Okay, I’ll give you a minute.

Did you say December 7th, 1941? That would be our entry date. Some of you thought about September 1939. That was when the Europeans started shooting at each other. However, for the Palauans, the war started in March 1944 as that was when the first Fast Carrier Attacks happened. It’s just an interesting perspective.

This man hunted the area we were looking at yesterday. We talked about his time hunting the area and talked about his memories as a child of being there. He was nice to chat with, but no real intel for us.

We headed up to Babelthuap and stopped pretty close to the K-B Bridge. Here we chatted with Simeon, a brother of Joshua. Joshua is a hunter who took us to an island a few missions ago where he said there was an untouched airplane. We couldn’t find it even with his help but I do remember him saying he would talk with one of his bothers about it. Simeon is this brother.

Photo by Bob Holler again, with Flip interviewing.

We first asked about our green area target and at first, he did not have any info for us. However, he started talking about the island Joshua took us too. He said we looked in the wrong area and that he would take us to the correct area. A date was set. We’re going to be hiking our first coral island tomorrow.

That wasn’t what we thought we’d do. Derek Abbey was joining us tonight and we thought we’d give him an easy first day. However, our informant is leaving for Yap on Saturday and we had to have him take us to this new find. So, Derek gets to hike with us an island that is almost as hard as Hell Island. (If you don’t know which is Hell Island, you need to go back to the beginning of my involvement with BentProp and read my field reports.)

Then Simeon started talking about seeing some metal in our green area. He told us to hike along the edge of the mangrove on dry land and we should see some things. We’ll fit that in day after tomorrow since we are taking Derek on his first nature hike with us tomorrow.

When we got done with Simeon, it was time to move further north.

We went back to the area where I got us stuck in the mud,
near the Taiwanese Agricultural Demonstration Station.

We thought we should have some lunch before we pressed on. Bob, being the smart man he is, did not go down the road I went down. He found a spot to park in a grove of trees that provided a little shade along with a little breeze. We had a true taste sensation for lunch: BentProp surf and turf. That would be tuna fish with mayo, along with Spam, lettuce and tomato. I believe we’ve coined this dishes’ new name: Spuna.

After lunch, we realized that Bob had parked in an area of mud. No problem. We did not load up the van and Bob pulled forward. But only a bit. Then for only about 5 minutes, we pushed from the back, we pushed from the front, Bob got the van turned toward a dry spot and we were free.

Being the mature adult I am, I only mentioned it three times that my mud was deeper and that he got stuck in really shallow mud. Everyone else pointed out that I needed a short yellow school bus to pull me out while Bob got us out with only the four of us pushing. It’s back to that definition of is. However, I digress.

We did a couple of more interviews and although they were fun, they did not really provide any actionable intel. We did get a couple of names of folks who might know something, but we’ll have to do some more interviews in order to find out.

Photo by Dan O'Brien

We headed back to Koror and got cleaned up. Over to Sam’s for sunset, sashimi and a couple of cold ones. We chatted with Sam himself, Dermot his general manager, the helicopter pilot from Americopter (who by the way is going to fly us on a recon mission in the next few days) as well as the usual suspects who hang at Sam’s Tours, which is a great dive and touring center. Palau is a long way from the U.S. However, if you want a really exotic location for diving and touring that is also very cost effective, Palau is the place for you.

Out to the airport and we only waited a few minutes
until Derek Abbey showed up. Photo by Bob Holler

The traditional Corona welcome drink and a trip to the Bem Ermii started Derek’s Palau adventure. Derek is a Marine Corps F/A18 WSO (pronounced 'whizzo,' the guy in the back seat who runs the weapon and sensor systems and lets the pilots think they’re in charge) who just came back from Iraq. I think from listening to Derek talk, he may have the most air combat time of any Marine around. I’m sure as the trip goes on, we’ll get some great stories about his part in defending the nation.

I was typing most of this after Derek arrived and finished close to midnight. We had an early get up on the 23rd so I had to sleep fast.

22 February

And now it’s the 22nd. Thursday more specifically. And we realized that we had missed by two nights Kraemer’s all you can eat spaghetti night. Kraemer’s is an expat hangout, especially on Tuesday nights. I guess we’ll get there next Tuesday. That is unless we forget again.

Up at the crack of dawn. Breakfast by DOB. Lunch by committee. Briefed, packed and out the door just before 8 a.m. We are meeting Simeon at Neco Marine. He’s going to call us this morning to confirm the time but we know it’s going to be early. He’s going to take his boat and we’re going to take ours and he’s going to lead us to what we think is a new crash site. Everyone else says he’s just taking us to a known Japanese crash site, one that everyone has been to. However, Simeon says no, this one is further south.

At 0830, we finally get the call that 0930 is the push off time. Patience, no a strong suit of the team was being put into practice. We will need it later. So we hang out. DOB makes some phone calls, we all look at the Neco store offerings and then we all seem to meet up at the outdoor restaurant the dive center has.

One of Dan’s phone calls was to Mr. Yoji Kurata and his daughter Emiko. Kurata-san is a World War II Japanese soldier who lives in Palau. The team met him last year and he went into the jungles with us. He still likes hiking the jungles and can put a younger man to shame with his stamina. He was very helpful to The BentProp Project.

And 10 minutes later, he and his daughter show up. We want to get together with them to ask more questions and we will do so later in the mission when his out of town guests depart. His daughter interprets for him. Of course if he thinks she doesn’t do a good enough job, he tells her so. So if he needs an interpreter, how does he know how well the job is being performed? Hmmmmm.

We left Neco and stopped once again over Quintus B. Nelson’s crash site. I repeated the story about how we found this Corsair. I also repeated the part of about my sunglasses flying off my head the year before and ending up in the crash wreckage. A few missions ago, I passed out used sunglasses so anyone could have a karmic experience of losing glasses and finding a wreck. I brought along two more pair and gave them to the new guys so that maybe we can have another fortuitous loss of glasses.

Out to our island in question. Simeon tells us where to tie up. We get off and find it’s pretty easy to get on the island: it’s high tide. If you remember the Rock Islands of Palau, they are coral upheavals.

Due to the passage of time and the effects of wind and waves,
all the island are undercut at the water line so the islands look
like ice cream cones. At high tide, it’s pretty easy to get
onto them. At low tide, it can be a bit difficult.

We hiked straight up the island. And I mean straight up as these island are all very steep. And it’s all loose coral and slick vegetation. It can be tricky walking in this environment. Simeon led the way up and stopped us at a saddle in the climb. It was a fairly broad flat area. He said to make this easy, he and his brother Richard would find the airplane and then lead us directly to it. We were to stay here and wait.

On an island with streams and different looking terrain, it’s easy to find something you once found before. However, on a Rock Island, it’s more difficult as the terrain is all the same. He did not want us to waste our energies looking so he would find it first.

But first, time to hunt. He began making pigeon sounds and his brother circled to the left. After about 15 minutes, the brother took one shot with his pellet gun. (Palau outlawed civilians owning guns a number of years ago. Hunters now can only use pellet guns. Simeon’s was a 22 caliber pellet rifle.) One shot, one bird. And this bird was pretty high up in the trees. We’re told black pigeon goes for $15 a bird in town. The brothers were happy.

However, Simeon knew he was on a mission so he left his rifle with us so he would not hunt and he and his brother went off. For an hour. Then two. Three. Four and some change. Patience was practiced today by a group of type A’s. But as Derek says, Palau is better than Iraq.

We chatted up a storm. We talked about Man movies. We talked about our military experiences. We shot some photos. We wondered why you say ‘a pair of scissors’ or ‘a pair of sunglasses’. We slept, drank water, and ate Bob’s and Pat’s power bars. We griped that the only way to get Simeon back was for someone to go down the hill and bring back lunch. We never did that.

Joe waiting in the jungle.

Bob waiting.

Taking a photo twice of DOB, with one hand,
lying on your back, isn’t the best technique.

This worked a little better for Pat. Still waiting.

Here’s the money shot. My boot. Waiting.

Here’s what we’re waiting in.

Simeon returned without being able to find the wreck. The problem is that we entered the island on the west side and he was unfamiliar with the path to get to the wreck. He encountered two large cliffs that made his task very hard and next to impossible.

Even though he’s leaving for Yap on Saturday, his brothers are not. So he’s going to have them go back in on the route that they know and find it. Then they’ll show us early next week how to get there.

The good news is Simeon showed up, led us to an area to search and went on the search for us. These are all good signs. Some folks in the past have just pointed and were unwilling to lend a hand and break a sweat. And Simeon has a great reputation with other Palauans. So, we believe that he has something for us. It will just take a couple of days to re-find it.

We went to the base of the cliffs and they were not scalable to unequipped hikers. But, we did get to sweat some more and that’s always a good thing.

Back down the island. This is the harder part. Going downhill, with the loose coral and slick detritus. We took our time and all worked out well. No scrapes on anyone.

Got to the shoreline and it was now low tide. What was an easy climb out of the boat and onto the island was now an 8 foot drop from a tree limb hanging out over the edge of the island. And I hate heights.

However, since I am typing this, I must have made it. We found a nice area to swim in a wash the sweat off of us.

This is better than Iraq too. Photo by Dan O’Brien

Then back to Neco. A little sashimi at the pub, clean up, more sashimi at Sam’s then out to dinner at a Filipino restaurant.

Bob Holler’s Mom is Filipina and I asked him to order for me. I think he ordered for most everyone. All his selections were top notch. And there was too much food for us to eat. Amazing after such an arduous day in the jungle.

Frank the owner came by. He’s a Palauan who as a child was on Peleliu when the war came to the islands. He may have some information for us so we’re going to put him on our list of interviews to do. He then invited us to join him at his Auntie’s birthday part next door. He had just bought us ice cream and we all wanted to get home to do our ‘homework’. However, Pat and Derek went across the street to run an errand. That left DOB, Bob and I to our own devices. DOB (I think) suggested we go in and sing happy birthday to the birthday girl. So we did.

Our singing was a hit. Auntie loved it. And we can see why Frank invited us: 25 people. All women save Frank. He wanted some male bonding time. But we’ll save that for another day.

I think this catches you up. I now have to add some pictures to the words and I can launch this tonight. That is if I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard.

So there you go. I hope everyone is having a great February.

Blue SKies, Flip