Taylan's Battle to Protect War Relics

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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)

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READ Australia Network Focus Balalai (Dec 9, 07)

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Diary of captivity in the Solomons [UPDATED]

Life in captivity

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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December 13, 2007 @ 3:36 am GMT-0500

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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