DINNER MEETING - Friday, December 6, 1997, Alameda Officers' Club, Alameda (see map)
Click for Calendar of future events
Regional setting, Palau and surrounding islands
What has happened in the subsequent 50 years? Patrick Scannon, MN-96, will tell us, with the help of his own photographs portraying the debris which is the aftermath of war. It is known that over 60 Japanese vessels were lost, and a few U.S ships. The minesweeper U.S.S. Perry has never been located, though others have been found and salvaged for scrap. Hundreds of Japanese and American planes, from torpedo planes to bombers to fighters, were lost, with their crews, many of them never recovered. Yet the great battles of Palau have been almost totally ignored by history, eclipsed by the more famous Iwo Jima, Kwajelein and Okinawa. Though there is historical evidence of numerous U.S. planes crashing or crash-landing in the islands of Palau, almost nothing is known of survivors, or of the fates of the crews who may have survived. Japanese military records tell of one pilot executed, and only two prisoners who lived long enough to be put on ships bound for Japan, but there is no record that either of them arrived. Probably their ships were the victims of bombings or torpedoes.
Scannon's story begins when he arrived with a group of divers, photographers and historians, in August 1993, with the goal of locating and photographing the trawler which had been sunk by Ensign George Bush on 25 July, 1944, as part of a battle known as Operation SNAPSHOT.
A story unto itself, we found the ship where others had failed, actually with little problem. It turned out that the after-action report written in 1944 to summarize that flight named the wrong island. Once we had the right place, within a couple of hours we had a strong magnetometry reading and, minutes later, located the wreck in 40 feet of water. What we did not know was that, at the same time, a reporter, writing an article for Harper's magazine (Sept. 1993, pp 44-45), was claiming that George Bush might be a war criminal for strafing an unarmed vessel. We quickly ended the controversy because we found mounds of small arms munitions lying on the deck (see first photo below), as well as a large gun mount laying on its side with a munitions box nearby that contained 75 mm anti-aircraft shells (see second photo below). Unknowingly, we had solved two mysteries: the ship's location and that it had been armed. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Peleliu invasion one year away, the Government of Palau was very pleased and, at the request of President Nakamura, issued a press release of our finding. "Night Line," coincidentally about to interview George Bush's accuser, heard about our discovery and requested our video footage. The rest is history. The "war criminal" story turned out to be a tempest in a teapot and rapidly disappeared.
Small arms munitions on deck of "Bush" wreck
Diver holding 75mm shell on "Bush" wreck
After the rest of the team departed, Scannon and his wife, Susan, found a guide and searched for more World War II sites and debris. They did indeed find a 65 foot section of aircraft wing and a propeller embedded in a coral head, about which the natives knew no history. Subsequently the Scannons have been back to Palau, as well as to various military and national archival centers, and have been able to identify some of the aircraft parts they have found, though no evidence of human remains has turned up. By careful, dogged and painstaking study, interviews and work, Pat has been able to tentatively identify most of the aircraft parts he has discovered, at least as to plane type, if not to specific craft.
B-24J wing (Dixon) south of Korar
But about the money. During Pat's last visit to Peleliu in 1996, the Scannons came upon something unexpected while hacking through the jungle in the middle of one of the islands. There before them, propped upright but overgrown with weeds, was a seven foot wheel, carved from pure crystalline limestone. It had obviously been abandoned for a long time. The next day they found the "mine" where the wheel had originated nearby, with another, partially carved wheel still easily identifiable. Apparently the operation had been abandoned hurriedly. In a nearby cave now inhabited only by bats were the bones of a child and some shell jewelry. Their research has subsequently determined that this was a "money" mine site, not before discovered, and a true archeological find. Such "money" had once been highly prized by the Yapese people. Lacking crystalline limestone in their home islands, in times past they risked their lives traveling hundreds of miles by canoe to mine this money, despite the risk of injury or death if they were caught by the Palauans.
Corsair propeller on coral head off Babelthaup
Currently Scannon is continuing his search for American planes known to have gone down over Palau, in hopes of finding evidence of the airmen who had been aboard. Though Palau is now known as a scuba diving Mecca, much remains to be done in the search for the final stories of many of the pilots and crews who vanished in this region. "Not everyone who dies in combat does it on the biggest and most famous battlefields. But they die no less valiantly and deserve the same respect and remembrance as the others," says Scannon. "Perhaps filling in a little part of history here will help remind us all of this. And along the way, who knows? We may find a ton of money!"
Remains of nose of B-24J (Dixon) north of Koror
Though his undergraduate degree from Harvard was as a mathematician, Bernbaum received his Ph.D. in Asian History at U.C. Berkeley. He soon learned that culture has a great influence on how peoples handle problems, and the problem of the forests in India was no surprise. Bernbaum conceived of and developed the concept that sacred sites are the best places to promote preservation, because in India the people have a very strong stake in the preservation of their holy places. On a trip to northern India in 1993, Dr. Bernbaum witnessed the devastation of the surroundings of Badrinath and, with the support of the G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, proposed to the chief priest of the Shrine that a tree-planting custom be instituted. Seedlings were available from the Pant Institute. The chief priest was quite supportive of the concept. After careful planning the priest preached before a large gathering that planting a small seedling tree on the hillside of Badrivan would be a holy thing to do, a method of praying to the people's gods and an example of taking part in the concept of reincarnation. This idea was received with enthusiasm, and the tree-planting project was begun.
The first seedlings chosen had not been acclimated to the altitudes around Badrinath, and many perished in the first winter. Subsequently, a high altitude laboratory and nursery have been established nearby, and high-altitude junipers and birches are being developed and grown with success. In 1996, the plantings successfully resisted the winter vicissitudes, and the tree-planting custom is a reality. Better yet, the pilgrims who come are interested in preserving the trees they plant, and so far there has been no loss due to cutting or burning. Visitors are beginning to come from as far away as southern India, where similar depredations have occurred, in order to learn from this example.
Photos Bernbaum took during. his stay in. Badrinath in 1996 were dramatic, of Badrinath and the Himalaya escarpment, and of the people, who were quite willing to be photographed. Of particular interest were photographs taken of a naked swami, or holy man, resident of the area, who lives there year-round, has kept his right arm extended above his head since youth, and has been found "hibernating" in a snow-cave in midwinter- still naked. The arm is useless and atrophied, but the fingernails, which at one point curled down around the forearm and became a hazard, have been cut back to about six to eight inches. An open automobile had to be found to transport him to Badrinath for the ceremony because his permanently upstretched arm precludes him from sitting in a closed car. The swami is also approving of the Badrinath tree-planting project.
Dr. Bernbaum's illustrated talk was received with quiet awe and rapt attention,. and he was given a rousing ovation at its finish. Numerous copies of his book, published by Sierra Club Books,. entitled "Sacred Mountains of the World" were purchased from him, because of their combination of fascinating photographs and captivating prose.
B-24M shot down over southern Koror, May, 1945 (from Air Force Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB)
Saturday evening, October 18, capped off the events with the Confocal Cusp of Explorers, or Assembly,. held at the Fort Mason Officers Club. This event, attended, by over 60 members and guests, was a semi-formal banquet with world-class speakers and other entertainment. Exotic dress was evident this evening as well.
Entertainment included comic skits presented by "friends of the Explorers Club." Richard and Amanda Payett and Paul Lee, a pre-Halloween visit by an alien ghoul, and an attempt to contact the constellation Vega, made by Chairman Bob Schmieder, FN-86, on his long-range radio, set up at the front of the elegant dinner room (with antenna wire strung over a considerable area of the front of the room.). Though there was no answer in English to Bob's requests to "Come in, Vega, Come in, Vega," there were answering sounds which were interpreted as either a form of code coming from the constellation or "static."
The serious portion of the evening began with tributes by Frank Drake, Ph.D., FN-77, to both the late Carl Sagan, as the world's best-known scientist, and the late Eugene Shoemaker, Ph.D.,. killed in an auto accident in Australia earlier this year. Dr. Shoemaker was the co-discoverer of the Shoemaker-Levy comet, as well as many smaller comets within our solar system. Featured speakers for the evening were Carol Stoker, Ph.D., co-director of the Mars Explorer project, and Geoff Marcy, Ph.D., discoverer of the first planet known to be orbiting a distant "sun," or star, in the constellation Pegasus. Both speakers were fascinating in their presentations. Dr. Stoker showed her remarkable photos from the surface of Mars. and Dr. Marcy showed his photos of the constellation he is studying and his easily understandable diagrams detailing the method he used to determine that the body he was studying is an orbiting planet.
The evening was capped off. with a presentation of exotic creatures by Owen Maercks of the East Bay Vivarium. His "guests" ranged from a South American giant scorpion to a giant monitor lizard, the largest member of the lizard species, and a feather boa, all docile and harmless creatures. At a point in the evening when some guests had. begun to wilt, everyone became acutely awake and aware of the insects, arachnids and animals as they were. passed and shown about the room.
The admiration, awe and thanks of all those who attended was, and is, expressed to Bob and Martha Schmieder, who almost double-handedly prepared and presented this evening of entertainment. This was yet another event which set a tone for assemblies which it will be difficult to emulate in the future. Chairman Schmieder is hoping to mount a similar, and more glittering, evening in one year. You will receive updates on the Chapter's plans for its next Gate-a-Way through the coming next several months.
B-24M wink lying in jungle
Alan Hutchison (MN-67) spent much of the summer checking the health of the reefs in Micronesia, from Truk lagoon on east. He is pleased to report that the general sea-life health in these areas is excellent, with large numbers of sea life in and around all the reefs he visited.
Olaf Malver (FN-92) spent much of his summer in Greenland. We may hear about this in more detail later.
Les DeWitt (MN-96), whose guest for the September meeting was his son Patrick, reported, with great satisfaction, that this summer he reached the summits of both Aconcagua, in Peru, and Mt. Sill, in the California Sierra.
Peter Overmire (FN-84) and his wife, Rozell, undertook a Buddhist pilgrimage this summer, in Japan, where they found the July-August heat to be unbearable. Their recommendation was to avoid Japan at that time of year, if possible.
Ron Reuther (FN-74) and Margi Cellucci trekked into Tijuana, in the northernmost reaches of Mexico along its very border, at about the same time. Their intensive search for the exotic was unsuccessful. Their recommendation, similar to the Overmires', but more simple, was to avoid Tijuana at any time, if possible.
Ed Bernbaum, September's speaker, reported that this summer he had visited the St. Elias range, in the Yukon. What made this trip special was that it was made to retrace the route taken by Bradford Washburn when he first explored this range in the 1930's. What made it even more special was that Brad Washburn was the leader of this trip, 60 years later. What made it easier than the first trip was that, though the route and many of the landmarks were all revisited, this time it was done by helicopter, a considerably easier passage than the first, and much less time-consuming.
Corsair fuselage in mangrove swamp of Koror
A number of beautiful photos are scattered through the four chapters, either from the National Archives or from private collections., and the entire booklet can be read in a short time. This booklet is recommended reading for any W.W.II veteran who spent some of his time on Bora Bora, and can be purchased by sending $10.00 to PACIFIC PROMOTIONS TAHITI, PO Box 625, Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. Send your order by airmail, as overseas mail to Tahiti is extremely slow.
NOTE! This is a slight adjustment of the date in order to accommodate our speaker and better space out the meetings for 1998.
The December meeting is the traditional renewal of officers for the coming year. I would like to continue serving as your Chairman, probably for only one more year. I hope you will give me this opportunity.
My primary goal for 1998 will be to carry off the 1998 Golden GateAway. My wife Martha has reiterated her commitment to help make this an even more successful event than 1996, and I know we will be able to count on many of you to help make it happen. We will hold the Saturday dinner at the Fairmont Hotel, Oct. 17, 1997. We expect 500 people, and we expect it to sell out. Please mark you calendar now, and be ready to get your reservation in early for best seating.
January is the "New Member" month. Please give some thought to anyone you might like to invite to join the Explorers Club, and if feasible, invite them to that meeting. We'll have applications and other special materials to help make them feel welcome.
Thank you all again for a great year, and we're looking forward to another in 1998. If we miss you in December, Happy Holidays!
-Robert W. Schmieder, Chapter Chairman
This endowed position has been newly established at the SETI Institute, of Mountain View, California. Named in honor of the late Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute, this Chair has been established in recognition of the increasing scientific interest and activity in the studies of the origin, evolution, nature, and distribution of life in the universe, especially viewed in the context of extraterrestrial biology. The individual selected for this Chair will be a distinguished scientist who is widely recognized as a major contributor in this field. It is generally expected that this position will be a long-term appointment, but the Institute is open to discussion of this and other considerations around this appointment. If anyone reading this notice is interested, please contact the Sagan Chair Committee
2035 Landings Drive
Mountain View, California, 94043-1818, USA
Applications should include a current curriculum vitae and list of publications, and a brief statement of current research interests. Letters of reference will be solicited later. Review of applications will commence on Dec. 1, 1997. An Equal Opportunity Employer.
Please Return To:
William F. Isherwood
The Explorers Club
Northern California Chapter.
37 La Encinal
Orinda, CA 94563
Bill's Phone: (510) 254-0739
Please reserve spaces for the Patrick Scannon talk, at the Alameda Officers' Club on Friday, December 5, 1997.
$40/person... $45 if postmarked after November. 28. Cocktails, 6:30 PM, Dinner, 7:30 PM, Speaker, 8:30 PM.
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