It’s Never Too Late… Ever.
A Memorial Day Story
“For love of country they accepted death.” James Garfield
Holding our lost heroes as sacred is part of of our national identity. It’s the soldier’s creed, “Leave no man behind.” Memorial Day honors those who died in conflict or remain missing in action (MIA). The BentProp Project, a special not-for-profit, works year-round to fulfill that creed by locating MIAs and helping to repatriate our soldiers’ remains.
More than 70,000 Americans are MIA from WWII. Their remains literally span the globe, so finding them is no small task. The BentProp Project, founded and led by Dr. Pat Scannon, is dedicated to locating those lost in the fiercest battle of the Western Pacific: Peleliu (known today as Palau).
video courtesy GoPro
Finding the Needle in the Haystack
The BentProp volunteers search for aircraft wreckage that’s now been engulfed in dense jungle or on the Pacific sea bed for 70+ years. That’s looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. To make the most of the annual field searches, the volunteer team spends the year conducting local interviews and studying archived battlefield after-action reports. This data determines the most likely search areas.
FedEx Pilot Joins the Search
This year’s search centered on Palau and included the students and scientists from University of Delaware and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. One of the volunteers was Val Thal-Slocum, a career FedEx pilot and adventurer. “The team worked hard to make the best use of their time in the field,” Val said.
The team’s preparation paid off. With the help of Palauan guides, their selected search areas were successful right away. Hiking rugged jungle terrain, clearing a path a single foot at a time, the team discovered some badly weathered aircraft pieces from an apparent crash. A few days later, in the quiet crystal blue lagoon, they discovered a bomb bay in 60-feet of water.
Dr. Scannon strongly believed that the pieces were all from the same plane, but they needed more evidence. Each discovery narrowed the search field. Soon, the dispersion pattern was becoming a clear track – one that closely matched that of an Avenger lost in 1944. The team was excited, but remained cautiously optimistic.
The Bent Prop, Engine and the Landing Gear
Sonar indicated an area of interest further out to sea. It really looked like there was an engine and a propeller. It was going to be a tough dive. Unlike the lagoon, this was in 110-feet of water with poor visibility. Because of the depth, they only had minutes on station for each dive.
The dive team collected photographic evidence and were able to confirm that it was an aircraft. They found the prop, which was bent and backwards. The engine and what was left of the cockpit rested at the bottom of the ocean. But it was a lone landing gear that confirmed that it was indeed the Avenger, in its final resting place.
Closure after 71 Years
At last, after 71 years, the aircrew could be properly memorialized. “It is never too late… ever,” Val said. The whole team held a memorial ceremony on the deck of the dive boat, floating directly over the cockpit location. The team notified the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the location so that the aircraft and remains can be properly excavated.
Once any crew is positively identified, the BentProp Project volunteers are available to share their findings with any living family members. With previous discoveries, the volunteers have held a second memorial service with family members and presented a memorial flag. They report receiving emotional thanks from loved ones grateful for final closure more than 70 years after the war.
As the BentProp Project volunteers say, it is an honor to help the MIAs with their “last flight home.” On this Memorial Day, all of us at FedEx honor those heroes who fought and died for their country. And we are proud of our pilot Val Thal-Slocum and all of the BentProp Project volunteers dedicated to bringing home our lost soldiers.