During the Second World War, more than 400,000 American soldier perished while in battle. There are still thousands that have never been found. Thousands of families do not have graves to visit, they have no real closure for their loved one. Some of these thousands died in prison camps and others died behind enemy lines. Even still, many were lost while flying over the vast Pacific Ocean.
September 1, 1944, a B-24 bomber plane was flying over the South Pacific. The plane was shot down by enemy forces, and the fate of the 11 crew members that were on board still remains a mystery. The wreck had never been found.
American scientist, Dr. Pat Scannon, soon became all consumed with the missing soldiers.
A new book written by Wil Hylton called Vanished: The 60-Year Search for the Missing Men of WWII; details the stories of the men who crashed in that plane. Hylton sits with Rachel Martin from NPR to discuss the “Big Stoop Crew,” the difficulties of stories that compete with one another, and the discovery when one of the airmen’s children when he dove down to the sunken plane.
How did Pat Scannon Get Sucked into the Mystery
Pat Scannon decided to take a vacation to the cluster islands of Palau, located in the South Pacific. While he was there, he was fond of scuba diving. On one particular excursion, he found a massive airplane wing. When he got closer to the wing, he discovered that it was an American bomber plane. He was recalls that at that moment he experienced a cold chill surging through his body. He knew that he could not forget about this discovery, he needed to find out what happened to the rest of the plane. He needed to know what happened to the crew members and whether those families had any closure.
The Men Known as the “Big Stoop Crew”
Men from all over the United States came together and filled the different duties on the B-24 bomber plane. The men only had a short period to get to know each other. They were all deployed to fly over the Pacific Islands to engage in an air campaign against the Japanese. Unfortunately, the battles with Japan are often times glossed over or completely over looked in history.
The Methods Scannon Used to Discover the Truth About What Happened to The B-24 Bomber
He began his journey at the Air Force’s historical record agency in Alabama. From there, the search carried him to the National Archives. Then it went to interviews with airmen who survived from the unit and continued to annual trips to Palau. He used complex technology to locate the plane; these include magnetometers and infrared film. He believed that these could be used to see through the water. He would create a connection between himself and the opened doorway of the Cessna. He would fly over the channels in the Pacific Islands, half hanging out of the plane, using the equipment to to look for the plane.
Scannon had a problem. Every story he had about what had happened to the plane was different. Each story that was told was different from the next, all of which were different from the tribe elders who lived on Palau and saw the B-24 bomber wreckage.
After A Decade of Searching, Scannon Made a Discovery
Scannon and the people who were helping him were over come with emotion once they discovered the rest of the aircraft. The group had a moment of sheer horror when they realized that this was a part of the wreckage they were searching for. There was also an air of clarity when they had found the B-24 bomber, and what that meant–there were men on this plane. How many perished here?
Why Did the Son of One of the Airmen Go to Palau to See the Plane
When Scannon dove down to the B-24 bomber, he wasn’t certain if his father had perished on it. Like many other families, he wondered what happened to his father and secretly hoped that he was able to get off the plane and survive. When he went to the dive site and made the dive, he saw a waist-gun door. The opening is where .50-caliber machine guns stick out. He reached out to touch the plane. He held onto it and spoke to his father, not really certain if his father was there or not.