When billionaire Paul Allen announced that he had found the Musashi, a Japanese mega-battleship that had been sunk by the Americans in World War II, one of the first things I thought about were the hundreds of souls that has lost their lives there. A watery tomb had been their grave for over sixty years, and they were finally discovered so their families and loved ones could learn their fate. After so many years of not knowing, finally, they can have some peace. That was just one ship in the vast fleet of military vessels that had been lost in the South Pacific during the war. Hundreds of planes, boats, ships and many other craft were shot down or sunk, leaving hundreds of survivors to wonder what happened to their friends, their fathers, their brothers.
Fortunately, some wonderful groups exist that understand the pain of not knowing, and also understand that even after so much time has passed, the wounds are still fresh, the pain still real. These groups are filled with intrepid divers who only want to help bring closure to the families who are hurting, who are looking for answers, who are looking for their fallen soldier. One such group is the Bentprop Project.
Who Is Bentprop?
The Bentprop story begins with a small, loosely knit group of friends, historians and scuba divers who have searched for (and found) ships and planes brought down throughout Micronesia during World War II, specifically the Palau Islands between 1944 and 1945. Over the subsequent fifty years, these planes and their crews have faded into history, forgotten except by family and friends.
The Pacific Ocean is vast. So vast that just going out and searching blindly would be a massive waste of time. As a result, Bentprop members have become detectives, poring over dusty archives, interviewing the people who witnessed the war firsthand. Talking to these people, volunteers can put together a narrative about the war and the people who fought it. On rare yet successful occasions, their stories have provided priceless leads of where to look for missing aircraft or ships.
For The Record
Being able to correct the historical record is just one aspect of Bentprop’s mission. When they make a discovery, they report their findings to the veterans who were there, evoking some very emotional responses. But it is adventure that keeps the volunteers motivated. Exploring mangrove swamp for a Marine F4U Corsair. Flying low in a Cessna while trying to photograph some inaccessible wrecks. Stumbling across a mine full of money. You can find these and many other stories on their website.
Palau is an island chain full of World War Two mysteries. There’s the missing Navy wingman of a former American president, two Army Air Corps B-24 bombers still missing along with their crews, a Marine Corsair initially discovered in 1947 which has subsequently disappeared, and a Marine Corsair that vanished on the last fighting day of World War II. The list goes on and on.
If you want to learn more about the Bentprop Project, how to donate and even how to be a part of the missions, go to www.bentprop.org.