P-MAN XII Progress
Report #16 - President Toribiong tours police hill; Flip leaves for home
Today was Presidential Pancake Sunday in Palau. Our guests couldn’t make it as we originally planned, but that just meant more pancakes and bacon for us. And real maple syrup of course. And then the fun began.
The President of Palau wanted to see where we believe several American POWs and Jesuit priests were executed and buried. The President’s family has ties to the Jesuit community, so this is more than just a casual interest. The President also expressed appreciation for revealing some of the Palauan history that we’ve uncovered that they did not know about.
I originally thought it would just be us BentProppers, Cleared Ground, The CAT team and the President. A small intimate group. It turned out that joining the President were grandsons, legislators, the President's security detail, friends, ministers of the national government, other family members, the press, diplomats and some folks I was never introduced to. We led the President and his entourage through a 2-hour walking tour of the area we call Police HIll.
We first met at the K-B Shell station. This is on the B side of the K-B bridge, which crosses the channel (Toachel Mid) that separates Koror from Babelthuap. This is where we all realized how big a deal today would be. Pat let everyone know where we were going, why we were going there, and the significance of the area.
Pat rode with the President and I assume gave running commentary when we passed the starting point of Mark Swank’s trail that led us to the execution area. We were quite a procession coming up the Compact Road.
We turned off the road at the base of Police Hill. Some of us drove up the hill until the road got washed out and we parked in the grass. Some walked up from the main road. A few Ngatpang officials drove over the ruts with their big honkin' four-wheel-drive vehicles. Lucky them.
Now the history lesson started. Pat talked about the overall story and how this was a plantation prior to the war, a kempetai headquarters during the war and how nothing really remains but a few foundations from that time frame. Then we started our hike.
I think it was about a 20 minute walk to the first spot on our tour. From war crime trial testimony, we believe this area is where the executions of the POWs and Jesuit priests took place. Just outside the woods, we’ve found a burned out area where we think they were all cremated. Both Pat and the President said some moving words, then the President read the names of all the missionaries, Pat read the names of the executed airmen, and Steve from Cleared Ground reminded us that a British National was executed here as well: Charley Smith.
Two photos back, you can see The President leading his flock down an old road. Although the grass may be high in places, the old road, ruts and all, is still there. However, there is only a patch of tall elephant ferns between area A and area B. So the CAT team provided a public service and created a new nature trail for everyone to follow. (As an aside, I asked 1Lt Gensler to put in the passdown log to the next CAT team to maintain the nature trail. There’s no reason to. I just want to see if 20 years down the road it is still maintained and nobody really knows why. But I digress.)
Area B is where the war crime trials said the ashes were buried after the cremation. Although ashes are next to impossible to find, it's reported that the Japanese put them in a wooden box and that, even if rotted away, is findable. Also, the final resting spot is drawn as an L shaped grave. We have found such a depression in the ground.
We spent a few minutes in area B, listening to Pat and The President tell us more about the history here. A number of people had questions and a recurrent theme was when would someone dig here to see if what we think is really true.
Joe told us that by this time next year, if nothing is done, the ferns will all grow back. To their full height.
We all returned to our starting point on top of Police Hill, The President thanked us for our efforts and invited us all to a BBQ later in the afternoon.
It was an amazing walk through history. Both learning and teaching as we went because we learn more about Palau as the Palauans learn more about what happened during World War Two. One little-known fact is that at the end of the war, there were only 4000 Palauans left on the islands. How fragile are a people and their culture when their population gets that low?
We left Police Hill with the intention of meeting Steve and Cassandra of Cleared Ground at our hotel. Well, we had to stop for a milkshake, didn’t we? And then we had to go shopping for take home gifts, didn’t we? Then we had to stop at Neco Marine to deal with Neco Marine Stuff, didn’t we? When we finally saw Steve and Cassandra, Mike convinced them he needed to take them to the island where he heard his strange ‘howler pig’ sound the other day. Seems as if Steve’s professional duties are needed on the island and since Mike knows where to go, he needed to go back in. It’s very possible the Mike may have found a klauwach. Don’t know what that is? Well, I will give a BentProp shirt to anyone who can tell me what a klauwach is. If you are a P-MAN XII member, you cannot play in this game. Just like Publisher's Clearing House employees. [Please send your entries to Flip, not BentProp. - Reid]
We had a date with The President at 1530 at The Riptide, a local restaurant near the hotel. Back in the U.S. a few months ago, the big news was the party crashers at the White House affair. Seems pretty easy to get an invite to a state dinner and meet the President here. Maybe the party crashers should take off the party duds and put on their jungle clothes and make something happen. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
We met up with Steve and Cassandra after the BBQ, traded photos and made plans to meet for some libations at 1900. I packed my stuff up, transferred all my photos to Pat and he gave me everybody else’s. We had a jolly good time with Steve and his bride at the Drop Off. The CAT team showed up and offered to give me a ride to the airport. Outstanding - and I took them up on it. I returned to the hotel, finished everything I had to do and once again, did not get a nap in. So at 2300, I called Rebecca, at 2315 the alarm went off just in case I was sleeping, and promptly at 2330, the Army picked me up and dropped me off at the airport.
And now I am sitting in Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. I left Palau at 0235 on the 8th, wasn’t displaced by dead fish (although they did put on 60 boxes of frozen tuna), arrived in Guam at 0515, cleared immigration and security by 0530 and got on the 0600 Delta flight to Tokyo. So far, it looks good for getting home on the 8th.
Since I have everybody’s photos, I’ll put together an update, with a different point of view, while I’m on the flight home. The team still has four working days in Palau. The lads plan to work the new aircraft site we found this year, and also put in another day on the water.
The rest of the team leaves on the 12th. At least they don’t have to worry about dead fish bumping them from the flight.
Other team members will assume field-reporting duties for the remainder of the mission. For me, the trip is over. Another great year in the jungles and waters of Palau. I can’t wait to start planning P-MAN XII.V and P-MAN XIII. They’re both gonna be great.