On Thursday just a few days ago I wrote about the beauty of a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean called Palau. Well, maybe they are beautiful because there are the souls of at least 200 American soldiers listed as Missing In Action since World War II where there were heavy fighting there in the Air Force whose planes were gunned down. Part of celebrating Memorial Day is to never forget the soldiers that never came back from war and another part of Memorial Day is to thank the people at their own expense that take the time and effort to find the remains of our fallen heroes
It is amazing that the one place on earth where there is a lake that is full of jelly fish that don’t sting because they have never had to protect themselves from predators that their stinging just stopped, is one of the areas during World War II that America lost at least 200 fighter planes and the brave men who flew them have all gone MIA, Missing in Action. These now peaceful beautiful islands were the place of extreme violence. More than 400 thousand died fighting the Second World War. Adding to that staggering number, nearly 1 in 5 were considered missing in action. To this day some 73 thousand unaccounted for service men have lived with the mystery of how they died and have been deprived the comfort that comes with a burial.
At the end of the war the technology we have now did not exist to find many of the missing. There are volunteers that spend their own time and money to look for these servicemen. A few days ago I called the Islands of Palau a rare paradise but 70 years ago during the war it was known as “A Forgotten Corner of Hell to the Air Force. Now the terrain looks like a paradise but look closely and you can find the remnants of military warfare metal. In the ocean the aircraft have become barrier reefs covered in coral till you see a propeller or two sticking out. It is in these things they are finding bones and bodies of our fallen soldiers still in their planes. You will find Hellcats, B24s and Avenger planes. The B24 could hold a crew of ten men. Dr. Pat Scanlon leads crews of volunteers to find these planes and bring home remains and closure to American families.
The government of Palau gives the crew permission each year to look for wreckage with whatever equipment they want to search the sea and land. When they do in fact find the remains of Americans they inform the military who then confirms the identity of the remains and informs the families even 70 years after the war. We should remember these hero’s everyday not just today once a year. Scanlon decided to do these fact finding missions after while vacationing saw a wreckage of a plane in the water at low tide. Since then 20 years ago he has devoted his life to finding dead airmen. To me that makes him our Memorial Day hero too. Looking at old records and talking to local fishermen are their best clues to finding a particular number on a plane that never returned.
B24’s are big planes and at times they might find them down a mile away from where it was originally thought of where it had fallen. Often relatives of their dead descendants are invited to dive and see the wreckage. Some family members choose to believe that their relatives somehow survived the war and started a new life somewhere else but that is not the case here. The team can only find soldiers on the barrier reef. Outside it the ocean drops to 2,000 feet deep. The University of Delaware has been providing the team with high tech machines to help in the hunt for Veterans. There is a poem that was written during World l War I that he says every time he identifies a veteran. It says, “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. They shall not worry or ever be condemned. As the sun goes down in the morning we will remember them.”