The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
On Sept. 1, 1943, a B-24 bomber disappeared over the Pacific archipelago of Palau. The 11 soldiers on the plane became part of the 73,000 the government declared missing in action following the end of World War II. For the families of the men on that plane, it seemed the mystery of what happened to their loved ones would never be resolved. That is until 1993, when an eccentric amateur explorer, on his first visit to Palau, made finding the plane and the soldiers his life’s mission. Author Wil Hylton joins Diane to discuss his new book, “Vanished: The Search for the Missing Men of World War II.”
- Wil Hylton author, "Vanished: The Sixty Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II" and New York Times Magazine features reporter.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II” by Wil Hylton. Copyright 2013 by Wil Hylton. Reprinted here by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Following the end of World War II, the U.S. government declared 73,000 soldiers missing in action. Over 75 percent of those disappeared in the Pacific. In his new book, "Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search For the Men of World War II," author Wil Hylton describes the ongoing quest by scientists, explorers and archaeologists to bring closure to the families of the missing. Wil Hylton is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMHe joins me in the studio, and you are welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to you, Wil Hylton.
MR. WIL HYLTONThank you. It's great to be here.
REHMYou know, I was stunned when I read that there were 73,000 of World War II missing in action. That seems like a huge number.
HYLTONIt's a staggering number. You know, we lost about 417,000 people in World War II total, so that's an enormous percentage of the total combat losses.
REHMAnd 53,000 in the Pacific alone.
HYLTONThat's right. And, you know, the number of missing from the Pacific war, or the Pacific theater of World War II, is about the same as the total combat casualties from Vietnam. So, the number of families who are experiencing this particular kind of loss from World War II is a number that we're familiar with, because it reflects the same kind of massive society wide agony that was created by the Vietnam War.
REHMWil, what got you started on this story?
HYLTONI was embedded as a journalist with the military unit whose job it is to recover MIA remains, usually remains, from around the world. And they took as part of a tour of their operations. The first site was this massive steel barge, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide, that was just swarming with these elite military service members from all the different services, who were all working on some sort of project. The nature of which was not, at first, immediately apparent to me.
HYLTONBut it involved Navy divers putting on these hard hat diving suits, the kinds you see in these old movies where the helmet straps on around their neck. And there's a tether that moves into a huge machine that pumps the air. And they would jump off the side of the barge in pairs and be down there for incredible amounts of time, and come up with baskets full of debris. And I just didn't understand exactly what they were doing. And I asked, more and more, what sort of site is this?
HYLTONYou know, what's down there? And it became clear that they weren't going to tell me. In fact, it became clear that a lot of the service members on this mission, Air Force historians and Marine Captains who were involved in leading the troops there to get the work done, didn't really know themselves very much about it.
REHMBut what confuses me is that you were actually embedded, but they wouldn't tell you what they were up to.
HYLTONThat's right. That confused me as well, Diane. I was frustrated, at certain points on this initial round of reporting, for that very reason. It's a very opaque world, this world of MIA recovery. And I've come, finally, over time, to appreciate why that is. They're extremely reluctant to reveal what aircraft or ship they're investigating, or who might be on board, because the terror is that they're going to cause more trauma for these families rather than less.
REHMSo, onboard, then, were scientists? There were analysts. There were, as you said, divers. Who else?
HYLTONThere was a physician who specialized in hyperbaric medicine, which involves high oxygen concentration air. His role was to tend to any injuries that might happen, but also to provide for the men there. Someone at the ready, in case there was a compression problem, a recompression problem, surfacing from the dive site. That's -- nitrogen can boil in your blood if you rise up from the bottom of the ocean too quickly. There were historians from the Air Force's equipment laboratory.
HYLTONThey have this special training, in which they can identify, from even a tiny scrap of metal, what sort of aircraft or ship, even in some cases, is being explored, so sometimes they might find just a few fragments of metal in the mud in the jungle somewhere. And they have to figure out, is this an American site or not? Might there be American remains here? And it takes a very, very trained eye to be able to tell from just a little worn piece of metal.
REHMHow deep were the divers going?
HYLTONI found out, eventually, that the deepest part of that site was only about 70 feet. You couldn't see very clearly in this water. It just was a swirl of, sort of, silt from the mangrove swamps at the nearest island washing out with the tide. Or mud and other things sort of stirred up. So, all I could really see, topside on the barge, were sort of shadows and flickering light. It was -- one of the big questions at that point was whether I would be able to get down there and see what was on the floor.
REHMSo, your focus became, for the book, "Vanished," a few of the men from one B-24. Tell us how you found that story.
HYLTONIt -- while I was on the barge, there was this atmosphere of sort of closed lip silence and reverence for the site. But, right as I was leaving the Palau Island Cluster on that trip, the lead anthropologist on the mission, a guy named Eric Emory, who had not been especially excited about having a reporter there at all, and had sort of gone along with it because the command had asked him to take me. He said to me, very quietly in the hallway of the hotel, right before I left, you can't really do this story until you've spoken to Pat Scannon.
HYLTONAnd he said, I know you don't know who that is, but if you look him up on the internet when you get home, you'll figure out his connection to this site, and you'll find out a lot more about what we're really doing here. So at that point, I still didn't know much about what was there. I'd been down briefly, holding my breath, while swimming, to see the plane. But I had only been able to stay down long enough to catch a glimpse of it. I had no idea what kind of plane it might be, how many men were aboard.
HYLTONBut Dr. Emory was right. When I returned home and looked up Pat Scannon, it quickly became clear that he was running an organization that searches for planes in Palau. And I was able to call him and start piecing more of it together.
REHMGive us a sense of Palau, and its importance. That whole region during World War II.
HYLTONYou know, the role of Palau can be very controversial in studies of the Pacific war. Because as the US marched across the Pacific toward Japan, the effort sort of pooled into two columns of advance. One in the central Pacific and one in the south Pacific. And Palau was sort of trapped between them. It's in the central Pacific, but it was sort of on the buffer zone, physically, geographically, of both approaches. And once it was decided that the southern column, led by MacArthur, was going to be the primary focus in the later stages of the war, there was some real debate, between the Army and the Navy, over whether Palau should be attacked at all.
HYLTONWhat Admiral Halsy, for example, realized in the Navy, was that this enormous garrison of Japanese soldiers, 25,000 of them, stationed on this tiny little group of islands in the middle of nowhere, were going to be very, very difficult to push out of their position. And, so this bombing campaign was launched, two weeks before the invasion of Palau, to try to quote, soften the target, in the language of the day, by taking out as much of the infrastructure, and as many of the men, as possible, before the Marines landed on the southern island of Peleliu.
REHMAnd do we know how many planes went down in that effort?
HYLTONWe do. We have an estimate, anyway. In so many of things, including the total number of men missing from World War II, the numbers change and new information is gleaned, but the estimates are that about 200 aircraft are down in the vicinity of Palau.
REHMWow. So, it remains missing -- Palau itself remains missing from lots of the accounts of the war.
HYLTONThat's a great way of putting it. It's, you know, in fact, more broadly, I would say, even that the air campaign, generally, against Japan, gets overlooked quite a bit. And I think there are a couple of reasons for that. One of which is that all of the Pacific has been overlooked, somewhat, until recently, and so the air campaign was just sort of folded along with that oversight. You know, Americans are much less familiar with the landings, the amphibious landings in places like Tarawa or Peleliu than most of us are with Normandy.
HYLTONSo these are battles as gruesome as anything you can imagine, with as much valor by our men as anything that happened in Europe, but we've just generally been less familiar with it. In particular, the air campaign is a difficult story to tell, because the experience of the airmen and the aviators, who were involved in this effort, is so fragmented. And so hard to conceive from outside. They were often stationed way back in the rear line, in places where their life seemed very comfortable.
HYLTONBut then they had to cross over into this incredible hostility of enemy skies.
REHMWil Hylton. His new book is titled, "Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search For the Missing Men of World War II." When we come back, we'll focus on one plane, one man. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Wil Hylton is with me. He's got a new book out all about the search for many, many missing men of World War II. The book is titled "Vanished." And, indeed, when these planes went down, Wil, around Palau and in the Central Pacific zone, what were their families told? Were they told where they had gone down? Were they told how they went down? What were they told?
HYLTONWithin a week or two of the incident in which the plane went down, the families were told that the service member had been declared missing in action. So the formal status was MIA. This was true not only of the Army, Air Force's airmen in the book that I've written, but also more broadly true for the sailors and naval aviators and Marines who were in the Pacific. There was very quickly a finding of MIA in an official status of MIA.
HYLTONOvertime through the sort of mechanisms of the bureaucracy, that status was automatically converted into another acronym. It's KIABNR, killed in action body never recovered. But for the purposes of the military's recovery and accounting program, KIABNR is the equivalent of missing. They're still considered missing. And so when we look at this collection of 73,000 families with a missing person, some retain for various reasons the official status MIA. Many, many have an official status of KIABNR and are still regarded as missing because there's no surety about what happened.
REHMAnd yet haven't there been some cases where people have come out of the jungles, have been found to be alive and if the Defense Department or the War Department at that time did not give families an absolute killed in action, people might continue to hope and pray that somehow their beloved might show up on the doorstep?
HYLTONThat's exactly right. You know, you go to gatherings of MIA-POW families and in almost every family you find a story of sorts that's a hopeful story. I call them survival narratives. I'm not sure that there's a better phrase out there for them. It's something that's -- it's a tale that's told within a family about what might have happened. Maybe the guy got off the plane or off the ship before it went down. Maybe he swam to safety. Maybe he got hit by shrapnel and fell unconscious.
REHM...lost his memory or something of that sort.
HYLTON...yeah, has amnesia or is in a secret prison still. And, you know, just often enough these stories turn out to be true. Into the 1970s these Japanese soldiers who are often referred to as stragglers in the literature, I find that to be a slightly pejorative term. But they were continuing to turn up and emerge from the jungle, you know, traumatized and confused and would discover for the first time that the war was over.
HYLTONIn 1994 an American soldier returned from North Korea after 30 years there. It's a slightly different scenario but for his family it's the same kind of resolution in which the greatest hope that the person was okay and might come home still some day proves true. And so for most of us, these kinds of things circulate way at the margins of news and history. But for MIA families, they're a very central and constant and sometimes corrosive threat of hope that always lingers until there's resolution.
REHMSo tell us about the men on 453 and you focus on one soldier, Jimmy Doyle.
HYLTONYes. I became very attached to Jimmy. He was the most prolific writer of the crew and he produced long letters to his wife every day, in some cases more than one a day. And my feeling is that no matter how much you love your family, nobody writes that much unless they're born to write. That he was writing those probably for himself as well. Because when you read through them, you see that he's coping with his experience of the war with the incredible just juncture between his experience on-base which was often boring and his experience in the sky which was very traumatic.
HYLTONAnd he's longing for his home. And so he expresses this beautifully in his letters to his wife, although those letters were never revealed to anyone else in the family for decades.
HYLTONWell, the story that circulates in the Doyle family is very, very complicated. And his son, Tommy, grew up with a great deal of uncertainty about whether his father was still alive. And more so than most of the survival narratives that I discuss in the book, the stories that Tommy heard were substantive.
REHMAnd they were from his uncles and led Tommy to believe that, in fact, his father deserted the family.
HYLTONThat's right, very specific details. He was living in California. He was married to an Asian woman who he presumably had met overseas. He had two daughters. He had called the uncles, his brothers, a couple times to check in and find out…
REHMThis all from the uncles to the young son.
HYLTONIt's from the uncles themselves, yeah. And so Tommy Doyle, who's now I guess about 70 and he lives in Snyder, Texas, Tommy Doyle grew up with these stories usually in whispers that were supposed to be out of his earshot, but he overheard them. And so he was always aware of these whispers even as a young child and became, you know, had more open conversations with his family members about it as he got older.
REHMDo you think that Jimmy Doyle's wife believed what the uncles were telling young Tommy Doyle?
HYLTONI think she believed them enough that she held onto hope for the rest of her life. And she kept those letters from Jimmy tucked away in a trunk at the foot of her bed, that Tommy was never allowed to know about or see because this was this last piece that she could hold onto and she didn't want to share it with anyone, not even Tommy.
REHMWhat do we know about how 453, how that bomber went down?
HYLTONYou know, over a course of about 20 years of searching for answers by Pat Scannon and his organization, we've learned a lot. We have the mission reports. They were issued both by the 424th squadron itself, of which the 453 was part, as well as the other squadrons that were in the air as part of the group formation then as a consolidated mission report from the group. Now, all these documents are near where we're sitting right now in the College Park National Archives. But they take quite a lot of effort to find. You don't just walk in and say, I'd like to find out about the 453 airplane.
HYLTONYou know, you have to look in all these different folders that are filed incorrectly sometimes. I mean, the number of documents there is so overwhelming and so many of the documents were categorized 70 years ago, that there are mistakes. And so, you know, you might find documents on Palau filed under the Philippines because it's in the general area.
REHM...in the area. But the other part is that there were eyewitnesses to the plane going down.
REHMAn amazing thing.
REHMAn amazing thing. So why couldn't that have been shared precisely with the family as opposed to designating Jimmy Doyle MIA?
HYLTONSo the families often were not clear about what the MIA status meant. They imagined that it meant nothing was known. And of course their interaction with the military command structure during the war was very, very limited. And they didn't know who to ask. And, for example, to go back to the case of Tommy Doyle, Tommy's wife Nancy became interested in Jimmy's fate and in finding out whether the stories were true. And was unable to find any information because many of the records burned up in a warehouse fire in St. Louis in the 1970s.
HYLTONSo there are also witnesses that turned out to the crash in Palau, Palauan tribal elders now, older folks who saw this happen 70 years ago, some of whom are still alive. But finding those folks took a lot of effort.
REHMAnd how long did it take you to do your reporting for this book?
HYLTONI did about four years of research and then I spent about a year just writing. Of course when you're writing you're still finding out what you don't know.
REHMOf course. Of course.
HYLTONAnd I was really, you know, sort of writing on the backs of all the people who had worked on this before me. This mystery in the Doyle family was only one of 10 families, each of whom struggled and coped in their own ways. And many had survival narratives as well. This has been going on for 70 years. People have been actively, or at least partly looking for the answer for 70 years. And for the last 25 years people have been looking aggressively for answers.
REHMAnd certainly the same was true as far as Vietnam was concerned. Were there any greater successes with those who went MIA in Vietnam?
HYLTONThere's been a wonderful organization by families of the Vietnam missing to be heard and to seek the answers. They've been more organized and more vocal and more effective than the World War II families have been. The World War II families have begun to come into their own recently.
REHMIt was a different era, wasn't it, one in which trust was there. If the government told you something, obviously it was true. And you didn't begin to question.
HYLTONYeah, I think in the aftermath of the 1960s and the revelations of Watergate and many other things that were happening in that period, there was what is probably a healthy change in the relationship between the families of missing service members and the military command where they said, wait I'd like to know more.
REHMWil Hylton. His new book is titled "Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II." Short break here. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in La Plata, Md. Harlan, you're on the air.
HARLANI have a very different perspective on what I'm going to say. First of all, we had a friend through the Second World War who was an MIA pilot. And the woman that I met as a kid, she always would come and visit us because we had two boys overseas and she was so concerned whether she'd ever see her husband again, which he was missing in action. That's just something I kept in the back of my mind.
HARLANBut years later, my cousins -- first cousin became a forensic anthropologist. And he was at the Smithsonian when we spent more time together. And then he got the job as the coordinator on Honolulu and he's still there for the MIA program for identification. He's a forensic anthropologist.
HYLTONIs it Tom Holland, is that who we're talking about?
HYLTONOh, okay. I've interviewed Bob Mann, yeah.
HARLANAnd he's a good guy.
HARLANHe married a woman from Thailand. The third part of it is, writing my novel, a memoir in 1947, one of the characters I changed. And I had the kid, Billy, write letters every night, if he could, to his father who was an MIA pilot over England. So I took the two stories, combined them and made them a third story.
REHMInteresting. Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Harlan. You must have met a number of these anthropologists.
HYLTONThey're an extraordinary group. They're based on Hickam Airfield out in Honolulu right next to Pearl Harbor. Hickam's actually a site of a lot of devastation during the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941 as well, including the destruction of one of the few B24 bombers that we had in the air fleet at that time. And when you're out there at Hickam walking through the buildings that make up the joint POW-MIA accounting command or JPAC, the organization that does this work operationally to recover missing personnel overseas, you find that every single one of them is doing the job in part out of a sense of personal duty to the missing.
REHMInteresting. All right. Let's go to Corky. He's in Key West, Fla. Hi, there, Corky, you're on the air.
CORKYThank you very much for taking my call.
CORKYMy comment today is how important this book and this information is to the public because we all know about Guadalcanal landings from movies and books. We all know about the great battles of Europe. My father was in B24s during the war and was supposed to be part of that Pacific battle, but they moved him to India. And he didn't speak much about the effect of the war or the war itself, but he did say that these long missions that they would fly to attack Burma. He said, if we go down we'll never be found. We'll never come back. He made it back wounded.
CORKYHis pictures were emotional for me. His pictures of his crew that I have, they never were found. They said they'll never find them. They were over the jungles of Burma. He refused to fly back when he was wounded. He took a hospital ship. He said, I just can't do it, I can't fly. However, many years later he got back in the air and had a great life. However, it's very important to understand how important these pilots and these crews were. They'll never be found.
CORKYAnd in Burma, I'm sure maybe someday when Burma opens up stronger, we'll be able to go over there and maybe find them. Thank you very much.
REHMCorky, thank you so much for sharing with us.
HYLTONThank you very much.
REHMWhat a moving story.
HYLTONIt's just -- it's so powerful when you speak with families who are connected somehow to this MIA issue. It just -- it sweeps you up and you feel the need to get involved.
REHMAnd when we come back, I hope you'll get involved. Join us, 800-433-8850 as we talk about a new book titled "Vanished" by Wil Hylton. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you just joined us, we are talking about the MIAs from World War II. And Wil Hylton's new book, it's titled "Vanished." His 60-year search for the missing men of World War II. Wil, why don't you read for us a little bit about some of the other event that were on that B-24.
HYLTONI'll be happy to. I'll read a passage that describes two of the men that one of them whom I've spoken about a minute ago, that's Jimmy Doyle and then his friend Johnny. "Jimmy's hands were calloused and strong, but he still had the lanky physique of a teen. His blonde hair was perpetually tossed over a boyish face of freckles. One day at gunnery school in Laredo, he was struggling with a heavy pack, the blisters bleeding on his feet when his wiry frame gave out.
HYLTONHe felt a surge under his arms as another private hoisted him up, carrying him down the field until his strength returned. After that, Jimmy and Johnny Moore were rarely apart. They bunk together, ate together and stayed up late talking. Jimmy told Johnny about life on the plains, the shade of the elm trees he longed for and a little Tommy he'd left behind with Merle, the only woman he'd ever loved.
HYLTONJohnny told Jimmy about the sultry woods of Arkansas, a place that Jimmy no longer remembered but where his mom and siblings still lived. Johnny was five years younger than Jimmy, but he was a head taller and laced with muscle. His dark brown hair scooped into a swirl and he beamed the easy sideway smile of a life-long country boy. Growing up on a Des Arc Bayou, he was the youngest of nine kids and the second son.
HYLTONBut he was named for his father. Most folks in Des Arc called him John Jr. His dad and sister called him Bud. In the service, he was Johnny."
REHMDid they go on that flight together?
HYLTONThey did. They did. And afterward, when telegrams came to notify Jimmy's wife, Merle, and Johnny's wife Katherine who lived hundreds of miles apart, letting them know that their husbands were gone and they were missing. Merle and Katherine began to communicate, at first by letter. And then Katherine came to visit Merle and Tommy.
REHMHow did they know about each other? It must have been from Jimmy Doyle's letters.
HYLTONExactly, yeah. And they had been aware of each other during the training period and the early letters that came home before the crash.
REHMHow much comfort were the two women to each other?
HYLTONA great deal of comfort because they and so many MIA families experienced this kind of grief as an isolating experience. It's hard to be aware of the other families who maybe are going through similar kinds of grief. And so the families often feel that there's something strange about them or something shameful about the hope that they hold on to. I mean, so to be around someone else who shares that specific kind of grief is very comforting.
HYLTONIn fact, at the end of that visit, Katherine decided not to go back to Arkansas and she stayed in Texas with Merle.
REHMInteresting. Now, let's talk about the search for these men and this plane. You've already mentioned the name Pat Scannon. Why does he find himself in Palau in 1993?
HYLTONHe had been working for about a dozen years as a medical researcher doing very obscure studies into monoclonal antibodies at a small biotech firm that he founded. And this was for him a 70-hour a week job. Absolutely consuming, getting the company off the ground, shortly thereafter handing it off to a team of experienced executives, so that he could focus on the research itself and lead the charge to try to develop the products that would be the backbone of the company's business.
HYLTONAfter that long period of investing himself in building the company, he took a much-needed vacation and went out to do some scuba diving in the Pacific islands, never imagining that, in a sense, he would never come home. He found himself on one of his last days there standing in shallow water in a lagoon adjacent to the Palau islands, staring at a 50-foot-long metal airplane wing, which as he drew closer revealed itself to have the lettering General Electric on it.
HYLTONAnd he suddenly became aware that it was an American plane and, therefore, an American grave. And then he described the sensation that struck him then as coldness creeping from his toes to his scalp, slowly. And he knew that he would never stop until he could find out what happened to the rest of that plane, how many men were aboard and if their families knew where they were.
REHMI find it hard to understand why those who said Jimmy Doyle was missing in action had not seen that wing previously. Why did it take all those years until Pat Scannon saw it?
HYLTONWell, for one thing, Palau is on the far side of the world and it's only in recent decades that it's been reasonably possible to get there without some extraordinary months long journey. In fact, today, it's still somewhat difficult to get there, as I found out. You know, it takes a couple of days and it's -- you have to make sure that you're going on the right days or else you wait in Yap or somewhere, Guam, for a very long time waiting for a connecting flight. There are only a couple of flights per week.
HYLTONIt's also the case that a few of the families, in their own ways, made an effort. The pilot of this plane, this particular B-24 Jack Arnett had a brother named Marvin who was flying in the Pacific Theater himself at that time and, on many occasions, took a detour to fly over Palau and come down low, including in the years after the war and see if he could spot any evidence of his brother Jack's plane.
HYLTONBut it's really not easy to see through that water. There are places in Palau that have absolutely crystalline, you know, pure, clean water. And then there are places that are tucked off...
HYLTON...into the silt of the mangrove swamps.
REHMSo once Pat Scannon saw this, what did he do next?
HYLTONHe didn't know what to do. He came home feeling torn up about it. It was hard for him to leave the airplane wing. He went back to his home in California and he started making phone calls to find out what kind of plane could it have been. You know, what multi-engine aircraft were flying in the Palau area? And he figured out that it was probably a B-24 because the wing had two engines on it, which meant it was four-engine plane.
HYLTONAnd then he found out that there were a couple different bombardment groups that were flying missions over Palau in B-24. So he contacted surviving airmen, veterans who had been in that campaign. And he started to go to their homes and interview them. And then -- and this was all within the first few weeks of returning. Then he went and flew to Alabama to the Air Force's Archival Research Center there and started looking for some of the mission reports and some of the documentation.
HYLTONAnd it just continued to balloon into this life-overwhelming process of finding more and more information in the hopes that somewhere, in someone's memory or in some document there would be a clue that would bring him closer to the missing planes.
REHMTo what extent was he able to mount a search process on his own, an investigative process?
HYLTONHe began a few months after that initial trip by going back with a very, very limited amount of information and a very, very limited amount of equipment. And then he went back again the next year and again the next year, spending weeks in jungles. And he commissioned a pilot to take the door off of a Cessna and he climbed into the door and strapped himself in with ropes and webbing and filled up a camera with infrared film that he had gotten from Eastman Kodak after making calls to their offices.
HYLTONAnd his hope was that somehow the infrared film would be able to see through the water. And so -- that he would have the pilot of the plane -- a guy named Spike Nasmyth (sp?) -- bank hard and Scannon would be leaning out of the plane, almost parallel to the surface of the water, snapping photography and doing all these amazing things in the years to come. He went back one year with side-scan sonar.
HYLTONHe went back another year with a device called a magnetometer that he could drag behind a boat and look for some kind of ping to indicate the plane's metal. And as this process went on, more and more people in his network of friends would talk to other people they knew about this guy's obsession and this small of community of dedicated people began to form up around him, entirely self-funded.
HYLTONTraveling to Palau with him on their own dime, with their own time, to walk around in the least scenic parts of the islands for weeks and sometimes more than a month, all just to see if they could track down these missing planes. This one in particular was on their mind. This was their primary focus for many years.
REHMAll right, let's go to Linda in Fern Park, FL. Hi, Linda.
LINDAHi, Diane. Hi, Wil. My name is Linda Arnett McCullough and Jack Arnett was my uncle. And I met you, Wil, at Jack's funeral in Arlington. There are so many people to thank here (unintelligible) you Wil, (unintelligible) and Pat Scannon and JPAC and all the divers particularly and the team that participated in this amazing story of recovery. There's a couple of things that I wanted to -- two points.
LINDAOne is, my grandmother who is Jack's mother, she never gave up hope. She lived her life after Jack was declared KIA that he might still always come home. Every time the doorbell rang, she jumps because she thought it might be the military or Jack, you know, walking through the door. And it impacted her so much that when she found out that he was missing in action, she was cooking a leg of lamb. She never cooked a lamb after that.
LINDAShe said it's just disdainful. So I grew up never knowing what lamb tasted like until I was an adult. The second thing that I wanted to point out is that my uncle Jack was a flawed man in many ways, but he was dedicated to his country and he also demonstrated hope. It's just really hard for me to talk about.
REHMI certainly can understand that, Linda.
LINDAHe was the pilot of the plane. And so when they found their names and when Wil describes this so beautifully in the book, everybody read this story. He talks about how he put the gears. And Wil you can talk about this better. But he put the gears in the correct position that would best enhance them to -- him to be able to recover the plane. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. But my understanding too is that when they found the plane under the water that his hands were still gripping the steering wheel of the plane.
LINDAAnd he had a unfathomable will to live. And he never gave that up. And (unintelligible)
REHMThank you so much for your calling and sharing.
HYLTONThank you, Linda.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How much of the plane were they able to recover and, somehow, dog tags?
HYLTONYeah. Amazing isn't it? After the first 10 years of searching, they found their first breakthrough under the water. And it was fragments from the nose of the aircraft. And some time, soon thereafter they found a large piece of the tail, the fuselage. And so it's the majority of the plane.
REHMHow deeply was it embedded in the floor?
HYLTONYou know, I've been back since that first trip when I was only able to hold my breath and catch a glimpse. I've been back and scuba dived extensively on it. And there are parts where it takes sometime in an area to realize that what you're looking at is part of an airplane. It's so deeply embedded and so thickly encrusted with coral that it merges into the coral (word?) in some instances, yeah.
REHMOcean floor, yeah. Exactly.
HYLTONAnd what Linda was saying about Jack's final corrections, it was really one of the most powerful things for me in reporting this. It's the moment when Pat Scannon and Jack Arnett met there under the ocean at the cockpit of the plane where the control rods that steer the plane were still apparent. And Scannon was able to see how Jack Arnett, who was described to me by everyone in the unit as having been really one of the best pilots, exceptional pilot.
HYLTONAnd he had made his final adjustments on these four steering rods to try to control what the plane was doing. And it's just kind of hard trying to think about the courage and the damage that's involved in that. But the pilot, knowing that he's going down, knowing what it will do to his family, trying everything you can and doing everything possible to save the plane with outlook.
REHMThe book is titled, "Vanished." And it is the story of a 60-year search for the missing men of World War II. Wil Hylton is the author. Wil, thank you so much. What an inspiring story.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Yahoo says information from 500 million users was stolen by hackers. This comes amid growing concern over intrusions into U.S. election systems. In an era of increasing state-sponsored cyber threats, protecting our personal data and the integrity of U.S. voting.
Charlotte police release video of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott — but questions and doubts remain. The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery brings us the latest from Charlotte, North Carolina.
A fragile truce in Syria appears to be crumbling after new airstrikes in Aleppo. More than 100 migrants are reported drowned after a boat capsizes off the Egyptian coast. And the U.S. allows Boeing to sell passenger planes to Iran. A panel of journalists joins guest host Amy Walter for analysis of the week's top international news stories.