Taylan’s Battle to Protect War Relics

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Recent Taylan Interviews

LISTEN to ABC Radio International Battle For Ballale interview (Nov 19, 08)

LISTEN to ABC Radio International Lost planes, Lost Men (Feb 3, 08)

LISTEN to NPR interview: A Travel Nightmare (Dec 14, 07)

WATCH 7 Australia News coverage (Dec 16, 07)

READ Australia Network Focus Balalai (Dec 9, 07)

READ Air&Space Wisdom on Solomon (May 08)

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Diary of captivity in the Solomons [UPDATED]

Life in captivity

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About Justin Taylan

Taylan searches out World War II plane wrecks, safeguards human remains, and returns dog tags to surprised veterans.
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Blog Archive

December 17, 2007 @ 3:21 am PST

December 17 (The Verdict)

No one ate anything the night before or for breakfast. We had exhausted our food supplies except for plain rice, and anyway we were too preoccupied.

We arrived at court at 9:30 a.m. After a 20-minute delay we were granted entry. Our friends were there in support.

The magistrate read the charges and summarized the prosecution and defense cases. He reviewed the facts of the case. His verdict: “Guilty on all counts.”

The prosecutor sought the maximum penalty allowed by law as a deterrent to other would-be tourists-turned-immigration-violators. Our defense attorney stressed that none of us had criminal records in the Solomon Islands or any other country. She reminded the court of our full compliance with the authorities and that we had already been detained for many weeks at great financial and personal expense. The magistrate said only, “The court will recess until 3:30 p.m. for sentencing.”

It happened so fast; we were stunned. The four of us did not talk, each lost in his or her own thoughts as we left the courthouse and walked back “home” — to our boat.

Was I about to spend the next three years of my life in a Solomon Islands prison? Had the court rejected the fact we arrived at a listed port of entry? Was this all happening over World War Two plane wrecks?

Gizo’s mobile phone network has been down for 30 hours. There would be no last call home.

Time crawled until 3:30 p.m. We returned to the court and again waited outside. Our friends tried to lighten the mood with funny jokes about jail. We were not laughing.

It was finally time. The magistrate ruled that a fine be imposed on all of us. For the offense of “unlawfully enter[ing] or [being] unlawfully present within Solomon Islands,” we were each fined SI$800 — roughly US$108. When paid, our passports would be returned.

He closed the proceedings with “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.”

An American friend pulled out his guitar and sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” It sure sounded sweet. Our Shortland Island friends said simply, “This is a victory, you are free!”

There are so many stories to share. This has been a whirlwind of a life experience. We are exhausted.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the tremendous and unexpected outpouring of support for me, Rod, Yoji, and Daisy. We did our best to stand up for something we believe in. It sure would have been easier to pay the fine on day one and walk away. But that didn’t feel right.

We have fourteen days to appeal to the High Court if we wish to pursue this case. I’m not sure this matter is settled.

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December 15, 2007 @ 7:01 pm PST

December 16 (The Waiting Game)

41st Day in Captivity

Today is Sunday, and nothing is happening — just more of the waiting game. Nothing is open in town anyway, as most Gizo residents go to church service for the entire day, and spend the rest of the day with family.

After the week in court, we are all exhausted. Since this experience has made us used to waiting, having just one more day to wait should be a breeze, Of course, it feels like time is moving very slowly. As Rod jokes, “I am sure I just saw the minute hand turn backwards.”

None of us are talking about what might happen tomorrow, although it is certainly on all of our minds. At this point, we have been delayed and held for so long that there is no point in speculating on the odds of various scenarios. Instead, we are just occupying ourselves with smaller chores to pass the time.

Rod turned on the engine today to make freshwater from seawater. This means that we can run all the boat’s electrical systems while the engine is running. Of course, Daisy uses this as an excuse for a hot shower, as opposed to the “rainwater cold” we are all used to. It’s also a chance to do laundry. She really gets aggravated with us, asking, “How can you wear the same shorts day after day?” Rod and I claim, “We are saving water.”

Since we each have only one good set of clothes, we had to wash and dry them immediately after each session in court, so they would be ready for the next day. Even our lawyer admitted that she only brought two outfits and had worn both twice.

Yoji said his wife told him, “If you are not back by Christmas, I am coming down there with the kids.” Talk about devotion! But, he warned, “If she comes, it will be like Godzilla on Gizo if she is angry!” We all laughed at this idea.

Speaking of Godzilla, in the original movie, it begins with natives dancing around a fire and observing the creature, Godzilla, emerging from the sea. The caption reads, “Fauro Island.” This is the large island to the east of Ballale and the Shortland Islands. So, it is possible that the creator of Godzilla was in the Japanese military in the Shortlands!

Reportedly this area was also James A. Michener’s inspiration for the tropical paradise island in his book Tales of the South Pacific — one of my favorites. Better known is its musical adaptation, South Pacific.

In his book, the name Ballale became Bali’Hai. The island that actually inspired him is in present day Vanuatu (formally the New Hebrides), but according to Michener that island’s name did not sound pretty, so he renamed it in his book. He knew that Ballale would be known as an American target, so he adapted that name to Bali’Hai. So, there are some popular culture references to these remote islands behind all of this.

By the way, there are at least three common spellings for the real island: Ballale (the Allied spelling during WWII), Ballalae (the local spelling), and Ballali (an alternate spelling).

No matter how tough we feel we might have it, our hardships pale in comparison to what the young men of America, Japan, and the Solomon Islands experienced here in 1943. If you know someone from the Greatest Generation, ask them if they know names like New Georgia, Kolombangara, Kula Gulf, Vella Lavella, or maybe even Gizo.

To the east of where our boat is moored in detainment is a small, circular island known as “Plum Pudding Island”. I can see it from the back deck of the boat, and probably take a photo of it everyday. The island is hardly spectacular, but it is forever tied to American history and politics.

This is the island to which Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John F. Kennedy swam after his ship, PT-109 was rammed and sunk, and then swam back and forth repeatedly to rescue his shipmates. Alone, he searched for friendly locals, and found three. He carved a message into a coconut and asked them to get it to the Allies.

Since JFK became president, the island has become better known as Kennedy Island. One of the three Solomon Islanders he found is still alive today. Imagine the what-ifs: What if those men had decided to report him to the Japanese, who offered rewards for prisoners.

Behind us is a large, dormant volcanic island, Kolombangara. This massive island is beautiful, but it is not hard to imagine that, when this cone was active, the area would have been hell on earth. Now long dormant, the magma chamber has collapsed, leaving a jagged crater at the top of the otherwise round, cone-shaped island. The summit is usually obscured by low clouds, and only occasionally is the peak fully visible.

Anyone who has seen a real volcano, active or dormant, knows that there is a real, primal sense of awe felt in its presence. During WWII, Kolombangara was the site of many battles, including the Naval Battle of Kula Gulf and countless Japanese resupply missions, dubbed the “Tokyo Express,” landing reinforcements there. An abandoned Japanese airfield is on the south coast, and many guns and tunnels from the war remain to this day.

In the sky above us, a furious dogfight took place on January 31, 1943. On that mission, USMC Wildcat fighters escorted dive bombers to an attack on a Japanese ship, the Toa Maru II. Japanese seaplanes and Ki-43 Oscar fighters escorted the ship.

One of the pilots in the air was a young Marine, Jefferson Deblanc. Against great odds, he fought a furious battle with a damaged fighter. After claiming several enemy aircraft, he bailed out and made a lucky escape back to friendly lines. For this action, he later earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award.

Sadly, Mr. Deblanc passed away recently. I never got a chance to meet him, but have stared into the open sky where he fought not so long ago. The Toa Maru II was indeed sunk in that attack, and its wreck is a popular dive for scuba divers to this day.

No matter what else is on my mind, I still find myself day dreaming about history and the Americans who were once here. Around here, you do not need much imagination, as the skyline and terrain — and in some cases relics — remain untouched by the passage of time.

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December 15, 2007 @ 5:51 pm PST

December 15 (Court, Day 4)

<p style=”font-size: 120%; font-weight: bold”>40th Day in Captivity, Fourth Day in Court</p>

We were scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., but upon arrival at the courthouse, another case was being heard. When it finished, we entered the court.

Today, our defense case continued. Rod, Yoji, and Daisy were all called as witnesses. Although I was already finished, I felt just as tense knowing that my friends were in the witness box today.

Rod was the first witness called to the stand. Behind the witness box, he was confident and accurate. I knew the day was off to a good start.

Next was Yoji. Before he was sworn in, our lawyer requested that he take an oath of affirmation, instead of swearing on the Bible, since he is a Buddhist. The magistrate agreed, but recessed for five minutes while the court searched for the proper wording of the oath. I think it is safe to say that Yoji is the first person to take an oath of affirmation in that Solomon Islands courthouse.

After his oath, we all worried how he would handle the questions, all delivered in English. I imagined what it would be like if I had to testify on my own behalf in a Japanese court, and considered how he must feel. He asked for a few questions to be repeated, but otherwise did an outstanding job. Even the magistrate and prosecutor assisted him as best they could with his English answers.

Finally, it was Daisy’s turn. She is the youngest in the group and the most worried about the trial. Like the others, she defended herself perfectly and spoke very well. At the conclusion of her questions, the defense rested our case.

The magistrate requested that the final arguments for the prosecution and defense be submitted to him by the afternoon, in writing. The court recessed until Monday morning, when the magistrate would decide the case. The trial was finally over! Now, and until Monday morning, just the waiting game.

No matter what happens, I am proud of my friends, and myself. We completed the trial, and defended ourself to the best of our abilities. Whatever the future holds for us, I respect and admire each of them. It is a proud feeling to know that we have fought to defend ourselves and that we did it together.

Back on the boat, it was time to celebrate because our part in the trial was done. During the afternoon, we got a surprise phone call. Our friend, the author Henry Sakaida, called from Los Angeles to wish us well. Daisy answered the phone, and afterwards we showed her Los Angeles on the map and showed her his book, <i>The Siege of Rabaul</i>, which she began reading. What a treat to hear a friend’s voice from far away!

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December 13, 2007 @ 11:11 pm PST

December 14 (Court, Day 3)

39th Day in Captivity, Third Day in Court

The day actually started early, at 1:00 a.m., when I got a call from NPR (National Public Radio) in New York’s morning show, the Bryant Park Project. They had read the news, and requested an interview, which would take place at around 12:45 p.m. local time, 9:45 a.m. Eastern. It sure is a surreal “technological” moment to have our Solomon Islands cell phone ring and, on the other side, to hear New York.

They patched me into the show, and as I waited I could hear the tail end of the previous story, about Oscar picks and the he-said-she-said of Hollywood gossip relating to the nominations. Then the hosts, Alison and Luke, queue me up, introduce the story, and I was on! I was only able to answer one question before the line went dead. Back in contact, they recorded a 5- or 6-minute interview to tape, which they’ll play on the Friday show. They wished me luck. I asked them to eat a slice of New York pizza for me. That is one thing from home that I am missing right now!

Court resumed at 9:00 a.m. Today, the audience had grown by a few people, and both observers’ benches were full. The prosecution finished its case within the first hour and a half, and the magistrate called a short 15-minute recess.

Returning, it was time to begin our defense. I was the first witness called to speak and be cross-examined. The witness box looked like a shipping crate on its side, with a single, well-worn Bible on top of it. Taking the stand, I was sworn in. Unlike American courts, where the witness places a hand on the Bible, witnesses in Solomon Islands court hold the Bible up in the air while taking an oath to tell the truth. Many pages were loose and sticking out. I was worried that a page would fall out when I picked it up and took my oath. Luckily, the binding held firm.

I have seen plenty of courtroom dramas and TV court, but this was the first time I have ever been to court myself, let alone on trial. I learned quickly to shorten my answers to the most concise statement possible, as both the magistrate and the prosecutor had to write them out by hand. There was no typist, no microphone, nor any other modern technology in this court room, aside from an electric fan.

Once my part was finished, at 1:00 p.m, court was adjourned. Another case was to be heard in the afternoon, and it was back to “the waiting game” for us until tomorrow morning at 9:30.

We ate only ramen noodles last night and had nothing this morning, so all of us were thirsty and hungry throughout the trial. We were thankful that the trial ended at 1:00, as it is a hot day here. For the men, there is also laundry to be done. Since we each have only one presentable shirt for court, we must wash it in the afternoon so that it is dry before sunset.

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December 13, 2007 @ 3:36 am PST

December 13 (Court, Day 2)

38th Day in Captivity, Second Day in Court

The case was recessed until 1:30 p.m. today. But we met with our lawyer at 8:00 a.m. to check in. She suggested we arrive at the court earlier, to see if there were any overnight developments.

At 9:00 a.m. the prosecution lawyer arrived, and said he was ready to start the case. He and our lawyer met with the magistrate, who declined to start the case in the morning, as we hoped, due to another lands case being heard. So, we were on pins and needles until 1:30 p.m. as originally planned. At least we tried to get an earlier start. The tense part about all this is that nothing happened yesterday (aside from Rod getting that new charge), so we just want things to start.

1:30 p.m. finally arrived, and this time, the trial’s audience had grown. No only were the same folks as yesterday present, but a few new faces were on our side, as well. One is a former U.S. Peace Corps worker who had been stationed in the Solomons. So, today I had a fellow American on the bench behind me. That sure felt good!

The magistrate entered, and the case began. He started by informing the prosecution that the charges they had sanctioned against all of us were wrong. Therefore, the case could not be heard until the Department of Public Prosecution corrected the error. And, in fact, Rod’s charge yesterday (filed at the 11th hour) was cited against code related to incest! That’s right, incest! Rod did a double take and turned toward me — are they charging me with incest?! It was unbelievable.

The magistrate was firm, nothing more could happen until the proper sanctions and paperwork were filed. Our lawyer then took her first crack, suggesting that since the prosecution did not have their case prepared today, maybe the court should consider dropping all charges.

The magistrate considered this, writing down everything. Note that there is no recorder, no typist, not even a computer in the courthouse. The magistrate must write down everything said by hand, thereby forming the court’s transcript. After a long pause — and you could hear a pin drop — he announced, “the case will be recessed until 3:00 p.m., for the prosecution to get the proper sanctions in order.”

It was 1:50 at that point. We started our watches. Only an hour and ten minutes. We wondered, will their phone lines work? (They often go down in Gizo.) Will the fax machine at the police station work? All we could do was wait.

Outside the courthouse, someone handed me the Solomon Star, the local newspaper. Included on page 9, the “Nation” section, was an article with the headline, “Ballalae Battle Now Going International,” and the story of our plight. And there was a photo of me eating rice and a photo of the boat. We had made headlines.

The same paper had the cover story on the vote of no confidence against the current prime minister, now going on in the capital, Honiara. The headline read, “Guns Guard MPs,” as they cast their votes. Plenty of headlines in today’s news.

I tell you, that hour and ten minutes passed slowly. Naturally, Rod and I shared plenty of jokes about his being mistakenly charged for incest, but he said, “I really thought they were charging me with that!” and was certainly not laughing about it at the time.

Two officers waiting for the trial chatted with me about dog tags, the history of the Ballale and Munda Airfields, how they had been built by the Japanese, and other interesting facts. When nervous, at least I can still talk about history. 3 o’clock. came and went, with no sign of the prosecutor — Were we saved?

Finally, at 3:14, he arrived holding fax paper: The charges had been re-sanctioned. But, alas, the fax was illegible. The police station’s fax machine was either out of toner, or about to run out. Even he acknowledged this, promised to get a better copy, and raced off to the Gizo Hotel to ask if he could have a fax sent to them.

The magistrate returned at 3:31, but the prosecution was still not back. Finally, at 3:44, he was there with the faxes. The prosecution had been re-sanctioned with the correct charges. It was obvious someone had just reused a form, replacing the applicable slots with our names, thus causing the unfortunate and frustrating error. The case, delayed so long already, was on.

The prosecution began, calling its first and second witnesses, who were then cross-examined by our lawyer. This was the first chance to see her at work, and we were very pleased with her performance. There were even a few laughs in the court room. Usually, court ends at 4:00 o’clock, but it ran instead until 5:30, completing testimony by these first two witnesses.

Court was then adjourned until tomorrow. We were all exhausted from another day of waiting. Just like soldiers’ accounts of combat that I have read, court is certainly the same way. It’s mostly sitting around, waiting and being bored, punctuated with moments of sheer terror and anticipation.

One other funny thing happened. The police officer who testified came up to us. He sheepishly asked Yoji and I, “Did I do all right?” He looked very upset so, naturally, we assured him that he did great, and that we were still friendly with him. He then asked us, “May I go with you on your boat back home to Shortlands when you leave? They flew me down, but I have no way to go home.”

I could not feel as sympathetic on this point, and joked, “No, no. Maybe we will be going to jail for three Christmas (three years), so you better not count on us for a ride home. Sori trumas. (Sorry.)”

As we walked back from court the reaction on the streets of Gizo was different than it had been. Everyone was waving to us and shouting. Music was playing. People were dancing! Were we the toast of the town?

For a moment, we thought so. Then we heard what had happened: The vote of no confidence had gone against the prime minister, and there was now a new government in the Solomon Islands. Despite our not being the real center of attention, we returned all the waves and marched back to the boat proudly. Today the fight had begun, and we were off to a good start.

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December 12, 2007 @ 5:47 pm PST

December 12 (Court Date)

37th Day of Captivity, Court Date

Today is the big day — our trial in Gizo Court! It was a dark and stormy morning, and we all awoke early, wondering if the flight would arrive.

We met our lawyer for the first time last night. We had previously hired a local Solomon Islander to represent us — there is only one in the town! He met with us for an hour, but failed to appear at our plea hearing or to return our calls. We tried other private lawyers in Honiara (the nation’s capital), but none were interested in a case taking place in the distant Western Province. Plus, it being close to Christmas, most people are preoccupied with going home for the holidays. As a last resort, we called the public defender’s office in Honiara, requesting that they assign us a lawyer. One was finally available, but would only be able to arrive the day before our trial, when the next “Twin Otter” light aircraft would fly to Gizo.

We worried that, due to the bad weather, the flight would be delayed and our lawyer would not arrive. Luckily, the plane landed safely at 7:00 p.m. on the nearby island of Nusatupe, and a small boat brought the passengers ashore. She was only assigned to our case yesterday, and our defense files (reportedly mailed last Saturday) were never delivered to their office, so she did not have them. Luckily, I had typed up all the handwritten pages, and we gave her our backup copies. As the meeting that evening was our first interaction with her, and as she alone will represent all four of us when we face the charge, there was a lot of talking to do.

Since our plea hearing had occurred on December 4th (after being postponed twice), we had to return to the boat at 10 p.m., in accordance with our bail terms. This ended our first meeting. The following morning, we all put on our “jungle dress” clothes — a short-sleeved, collared shirt for the men and, as none of us had long pants or even shoes, we wore shorts and sandals. Of course, no better shirt or suit is available in town, even if we wanted to dress better! Daisy seems to have more clothes than the three of us combined, so her problem was simply which ones to wear.

The courthouse is a single room with chicken wire over open-air windows. Inside are four benches for witnesses and observers. There are two desks for the defense and prosecution lawyers, and a larger table for the magistrate (judge). The witness box looks like a crate on its side, with a weathered Bible resting on top. Otherwise, the interior is completely empty. The walls are a coral color, and moldy. There is a single overhead fan positioned above the magistrate’s table that rotates crookedly and not very fast — just enough to ease the hot and humid air into slight motion, which was imperceptible on our side of the courtroom. The only decoration is an ancient, framed photo of the Queen of England.

The Solomon Islands are a former British Colony and member of the Commonwealth — since gaining independence the nation has retained UK legal standards. The photograph looks quite old. I asked Rod, who was certain it was a photo from her coronation in 1952. Nonetheless, there she was, looking down on the humble courtroom in Gizo.

The prosecution lawyer was there, along with a few observers. Luckily, we were not without allies either: A representative from the Australian High Commission (Embassy) was present. The Japanese Embassy declined to send anyone, as they were on “Christmas Holiday.” The U.S. Consulate consists of only one person and her assistant, so I did not expect their attendance, although she had previously been very helpful. Also, two of our friends from the Shortlands were present. Not only were they sitting at our side, but both volunteered to speak on our behalf as character witnesses.

Moments before the hearing, there was a flurry of activity. The police were filing a new charge against Rod. Talk about the 11th hour! Rod had no idea what was going on, but we quickly learned that this was because the police had filed his charges in error, citing the wrong points of the law, and now had to refile the charge. Rod was thus marched off to the station to sign the new charge. In fact, all of our charges were incorrect: a ‘1′ was actually supposed to be an ‘i’!

When the trial finally started, it began with a motion to have the case recessed until tomorrow, as the new charge now had to be sanctioned — a step required of any prosecution of foreigners. The prosecutor then told the court that, “[he] was handed this case moments before catching the plane to Gizo,” and requested a half day to familiarize himself with the file. We were frustrated — more delay! Still, our lawyer assured us, these were circumstances beyond our control, and having the correct charges would actually clarify everything. Nonetheless, we would have to wait. Court had lasted only 18 minutes. We had been all keyed up for things to get underway, so as soon as the new recess was called, we all hit a wall. Dumbfounded, we made our way back to the boat to catch up on sleep from yesterday’s late night.

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December 11, 2007 @ 2:01 am PST

December 11 (Night Before Trial)

35th day of captivity, T minus 1 day until court

Someone asked me if “war relics” were worth all this fuss. In response, I reflected about what “war wrecks” mean to me, and how I came to be interested in them and their future.

My first experience with a World War II wreck was with my grandfather. In 1993, he took a trip to revisit some of the places where he had served in the Pacific, and took me along. He was 75 at the time, and I was 15. Aside from being my first trip overseas, I was aware that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

New Guinea was the highlight. Despite all the travel warnings we had heard and our worries about safety, the place was incredible! The people, the sights and sounds, the wildlife! The highlight for me was the day we visited the remains of a Japanese bomber at a former Japanese airfield. It was wrecked, but all the pieces were still there — the wings, the tail, the cockpit. The guns were missing, but there were plenty of bullet holes and bomb damage. Even the Rising Sun markings were still visible on the wings and fuselage. I immediately thought, what is this doing here? Why isn’t it in a museum?! Someone should take this away from this place — it is valuable! It was exposed; anyone could walk around it, even touch it. I began to photograph and explore the wreck.

My grandfather, on the other hand, kept his distance. I had crawled into the cockpit at one point, and remember saying: “Grandpa, this is amazing! Can you believe this is still here! This is so cool!” But he was lost in the past. After a long pause, he replied: “The last time I saw one of these, it was not ‘cool.’ Two of them were bombing the beach where we landed. They hit an ammunition dump, creating a large fire. I spent that night sleeping in a bomb crater. At the bottom was a dead and rotting Japanese corpse. That was my first night in combat — there was nothing cool about it.”

I realized then that this was a relic — something important, something ghostly, and something different from the fully restored planes I had seen at air shows and museums. This was a Pacific Ghost. This was history. This was a monument.

A little later, as we prepared to leave the area, I picked up a small scrap of metal to take home as a souvenir. Grandpa spoke up again: “Leave it in the jungle, if this ghost haunts you, come back to see it again.”

This experience ignited my interest in the relics of war, and a deep respect for these undisturbed monuments of the past. Who flew this bomber? How did it crash? Why did it remain undisturbed today? Also, what type of bomber was it? It was certainly Japanese; I could see that it had two engines and a single tail. That, at least, I was sure about. I bought a reference book, Japanese Aircraft by Rene Francillon (a $50 book — all my lawn-mowing earnings from that summer). Pouring through the book’s 500+ pages, containing schematics for each type, I finally identified it as a Nakajima Ki-49 “Helen,” a Japanese Army medium bomber.

I also found a copy of Charles Darby’s Pacific Aircraft Wrecks and Where to Find Them. With this discovery I realized that others, too, were interested in these wrecks. Darby’s photos and research were amazing — this book is the bible of what’s out there, and Darby is the forefather of Pacific aircraft wreck research.

Since then, I have personally visited over 250 wrecks ‘in situ’ from the Pacific War. Some are nothing more than a propeller or bits of hardware that don’t even look like an airplane. Others are so intact they take your breath away, and little imagination is needed to see into their 60-plus-year past. Like the wrecks of Ballale, many stand on their gear, some with instrument panels intact, seemingly ready to fly away. I remember the wing of one Zero I discovered with its Rising Sun (Hinomaru) still brilliantly red. And finally, the best of them all, the B-17 “Swamp Ghost.”

Certainly, and many agree, there is something captivating about wrecks. Each has a story to tell, and I want to make them talk. When removed and brought to a restoration shop or clean museum setting, something about them changes. The “ghostly” part is gone. They become just parts, images, easy to dissociate from the men who flew them, maybe even died aboard them. Since World War Two, we have had new wars, which also deposit wreckage. But post-WWII crashes generally occur at higher speeds and involve jet fuel, so they leave behind far less wreckage, or are followed by top-secret cleanup operations conceived to protect sensitive aircraft design information. In fact, I can think of only a few post-WWII aviation crashes that left memorable wreckage: The B-29 “Key Bird,” the B-52 in the Lake at Hanoi, and the Black Hawk Helicopter crash in Mogadishu. Any civilian aircraft or Space Shuttle crash is meticulously parceled and collected by authorities. The advent of “black box” and GPS tracking technologies means that a plane rarely utterly disappears the way it so often did in WWII. This means that the future will add few, if any, new aircraft wrecks that have the same quality of history intact.

And what of the Japanese wrecks of Ballale? Arguably, Ballale is the last location in the Pacific, and possibly on earth, with so many intact wrecks in one location. Time has left the island untouched, and the relics remain where the war left them. For over 500 British POWs, an unknown number of Japanese, and at least three American aviators that died there, it is a war grave. We had hoped to attend a memorial service there on November 11 and visit the rebuilt British Memorial.

Ballale is a natural museum, if nothing else; all it needs are paths to be cleared and placards installed at a few key locations. Locals already know the sites, and can easily collect donations for the community fund, as they do at other wrecks, including “Yamamoto’s Betty” (a Mitsubishi G4M bomber, carrying the commander-in-chief of Japan’s combined fleet, which had been scheduled to land at Ballale for an inspection, but was instead shot down by P-38s).

The decision of what is to be done with Ballale’s wrecks now rests with the Solomon Islands Government, Museum, Chiefs, and Citizens. If they sell them, I hope it is according to the terms of their legislation, and for the nation’s greatest possible financial benefit. If they want tourism, we will be back to study this historic island. If the aircraft are exported overseas, the world will be watching to see where they end up. The story is unfolding now.

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December 8, 2007 @ 2:57 pm PST

December 8

32nd day of captivity, T minus 4 days until court.

Storm clouds in the sky overnight, but we had no rain. This disappointed all of us. We are obsessed with rain — with making sure the hoses into the ship’s 3,000-liter freshwater tank are in place when it rains. Rainwater is free water! If our freshwater tank runs dry, we have to turn on the generator, using an even more precious liquid: fuel! A storm provides some excitement as it means running around to “dog the portholes” and make sure everything is inside — a welcome chore in our otherwise boring daily routine, “Watching barnacles grow on the hull,” as Rod put it.

So today, we remain on tight water procedure: showering with only soap to a wet body and a quick rinse, dishwashing with soapy water in one sink and rinse water in the other. Rod and I joke with Daisy: “I won’t shower today, so you’ll have enough water for dishes!” She insists, “No! Please wash!” Luckily, everyone’s sense of humor is still intact, and sense of smell, too, I guess.

Breakfast was the leftover rice from last night’s dinner. We ate it cold. I put some butter on it for extra fattening value, but everyone else thinks buttered rice is revolting. We also have another morning tradition — everyone steps on the scale and weighs himself. So far, I have lost six kilograms. Yoji has lost eight, and Rod five. Daisy does not participate in this ritual, saying, “Mi less! Muski lo force. Less you kisim mi!” (I don’t want to! Stop trying to convince me! Stop asking me!) The last time I pressed her, she took the scale away and threatened to throw it overboard. Rod laments, “She is always throwing things overboard when she is mad. I buy it, she makes it swim.” Later, she returned, laughing. “Did you hear the splash?” When we don’t bite at the joke, she says, “Well, I hid it instead.” We have until tomorrow to find it, and the weight-tracking game will go on.

Over the weekend, the “town” of Gizo is very quiet. Most of the stores are closed, as is the bank and telephone exchange. There is a wireless network, but it is sporadic at best, and has been down all week. Our only hope for sending messages it to go to Dive Gizo, which has its own internet connection. The same routines usually play out during the day. Yoji and I type on laptops. Daisy will comment on our typing speed, saying, “There go those fast hands!” When there is something to be done, usually Rod will pass by and ask, “You boys want to stop playing with your computers and help me?” but plays several dozen games of Spider Solitaire himself, every afternoon. Solitaire is an appropriate game, we all agree.

Every time someone asks for a favor, something like “Grab me a glass of water please,” someone else, usually Daisy, has to jest, “and when did your last slave die?” The joking rarely goes further than that. Yesterday, Rod joked with Daisy in response, saying, “You are our mother, wife, and girlfriend — you’re always nagging, woman!”

We got the silent treatment from her for the rest of the day.

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