KCRA – Searching For WWII MIA’s
A month or so ago we got an e-mail at KCRA about two local people who were putting together a coffee table book about searching for lost servicemen from World War Two. This e-mail led me to Jennifer Powers in Grass Valley and Dan O’Brien in Woodland, who are volunteers in the Bent Prop Project.
Once a year they travel across the Pacific, at their own expense, to the tiny islands of Palau to search for and identify downed aircraft from World War Two. This is where the Battle of Peleliu took place in September, 1944, where 2,000 Americans and over 10,000 Japanese were killed. Over 300 American and Japanese aircraft were shot down over Peleliu and, because of the momentum of the war, almost none of them were identified.
While vacationing there in the 1990s, Pat Scannon became fascinated by all of the aircraft wreckage that are everywhere on the islands and in the Pacific waters around the islands and has made it his mission to identify the planes, both Japanese and American, and the crewmen who were in them.
Jennifer and Dan, two friends from skydiving clubs, became fascinated as well and have been a part in the Bent Prop search teams for several years now. All of the sites are documented with photographs and video, which resulted in the documentary, Last Flight Home, which Jennifer and Dan produced. (Click on this link to learn more and purchase a DVD.)
I interviewed Jennifer and Dan a few weeks ago, before going to Pennsylvania, at his home in Woodland. He gave me the DVD that you see in the news story. Many people have given me DVDs of their documentaries and films over the years and I must tell you that most of them can be a struggle to get through. I was astounded, however, at how really terrific their documentary Last Flight Home is. Excellently produced, extremely compelling and deeply moving. Their footage was so good that I relied heavily on it for the story that I put together on them.
Their story aired on KCRA‘s once-a-month magazine show Common Ground on Saturday, October 15, 2011. It ran over 5 minutes and took up the entire second segment of the show, a new record for a photographer-reporter news piece.
A final note: America has 88,000 servicemen listed as MIA, Missing In Action, from all its wars dating back to the Revolutionary War. Of that number 78,000 MIAs are from World War II alone. An astounding number considering that the U.S. lost just over 300,000 men in fighting the war. That number means that almost 25% of all the men listed as killed in the war were never found. Considering the remote places where the war was fought and the horrific conditions, it’s amazing that so many American bodies were recovered and identified.
It’s also worth noting that for the Japanese, they lost over 2 million men in combat throughout Asia and the Pacific and virtually none of the the remains of their war dead was ever located, identified and accounted for. They were sent to an island, told to defend it to the last man, and were mostly never seen or heard from again. My father told me many stories about how they regarded and treated the Japanese dead that he and his fellow Marines were responsible for and let me just say that it wasn’t pretty. Generally they were left to decay in the jungle where they died or, if in a large enough number around a field of combat, they would be dragged into bull-dozed mass graves, covered over and left unmarked. It can only be assumed that American dead in enemy hands weren’t treated any differently.
The Bent Prop Project teams are doing some very noble work. I wish I could afford to join them. They identify both Japanese and American sites. If Japanese remains are discovered they contact the Japanese Embassy on Palau. For a crash site where it has been identified as an American MIA location, the JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii) is notified and will send a team to investigate. This has directly lead to the remains of individual U.S. servicemen that have lain on the islands and even off-shore in the waters of the Pacific to be identified, returned to the U.S., and removed from the lists of missing in action.
Heartfelt thanks to Jennifer Powers and Dan O’Brien for being so generous about their story with me. Please visit their website lastflighthome.org for more information and to purchase a copy of their outstanding DVD and to follow up on developments on the book. For more information on the Bent Prop Project and the search for MIAs on Palau please visit bentprop.org.