60 Minutes: A Forgotten Corner of Hell
Anderson Cooper said on 60 Minutes that more than 400,000 Americans died during World War II, and 20% of them were declared Missing in Action (MIA). Still, decades later, 73,000 servicemen have not been accounted for, and families have lived with questions instead of closure. Thanks to technological advances since the end of that war, volunteers are now spending time and money trying to bring peace to as many of these loved ones as they can.
The Pacific islands of Palau saw serious fighting decades ago during the war, and the area was referred to by pilots as “a forgotten corner of hell.” There are 586 islands and reefs in Palau, which today looks less like a war zone than a paradise, at least from the air. On the ground, you might find artifacts from combat. In 1944, B-24 #453 embarked on a bombing mission, never to return. It disappeared in the sea, as did more than 200 other American planes during the war. Dr. Pat Scannon, leads volunteers looking for wreckage and signs of the missing service members, in what is called the BentProp Project.
60 Minutes: BentProp Project
Some members of this volunteer organization have ties to the military. They get permission from the local government to do their own searches each year, attempting to recover and identify those who have been missing for decades. Scannon’s inspiration struck 20 years ago on a visit to Palau, where he spotted a B-24 propeller at low tide.
What he found in 1993 remains undisturbed in its place. But it changed Dr. Scannon’s life forever, inspiring him to learn more and help answer some questions asked many years ago. The team spent a decade searching for #453, which they finally located in 2004, thanks to a tip from a fisherman.
The search had been focused about one mile away from where the wreckage was eventually discovered. As you may remember from the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, searching underwater can be a difficult task. 60 Minutes accompanied Dr. Scannon and his team on a dive to revisit #453.
60 Minutes: Jimmy Doyle MIA
Anderson Cooper said that it’s easy to see the plane once you get underwater. It split into sections upon impact with the water, and at this site, the remains of eight crew members were recovered. They were later identified by the U.S. military, and one of them was 25-year-old Jimmy Doyle.
Doyle’s grandson, Casey Doyle, is an active duty Marine who also volunteers with the BentProp Project. Doyle said that he feels a special connection to the place where his grandfather spent his final moments in battle. Getting closure on his grandfather’s story has had a major effect on Casey’s family.
“There’s a whole generation of people in my family that just did not speak of this because of the unknown,” Casey Doyle said.
60 Minutes: #453 B-24 Recovery
Dr. Scannon told 60 Minutes that he has heard many rose-colored tales from families who have held out hope for years, in spite of the grim circumstances and status of their family members who were involved. “I think it comes with the hope that someone missing may show up,” he said.
Jimmy Doyle and seven of his fellow crew did make it back in 2010, 65 years after being shot down. They were memorialized at Arlington National Cemetery, and Dr. Scannon was invited to attend. “It was extremely emotional,” he recalled.
However, three crew members from #453 parachuted out, only to be immediately captured by the Japanese and executed. Dr. Scannon’s mission continued on land, as he did interviews as far away as Japan and explored Palau to determine the potential location of grave sites on land.
60 Minutes: Art Schumacher
Jo Schumacher, whose uncle Art Schumacher was one of the three believed to be executed, joined the BentProp Project’s land search at what is believed to be the burial site. She was optimistic that “we could bring him home to family, and we can do a proper burial.”
Debris from at least 30 planes has been discovered during 20 years of searching. Other discoveries during the process may result in the return of a total of 24 MIAs from the Palau area. However, recovery missions for other crashes in more difficult parts of the ocean and the jungle would be much more difficult to mount.
Dr. Scannon said that it’s estimated that 70 to 80 American airmen went down in the general area inside the barrier reef, but it is 2,000 feet deep. A 2005 discovery was the wing from a TBM Avenger. The rest of the plane could be nearby, and it has been the subject of an ongoing nine-year search.
60 Minutes: TBM Avenger Recovery & “For the Fallen” Poem
In the mission to uncover the TBM Avenger’s fuselage, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware have joined the effort, using the REMUS research torpedo to scan a wider area using sonar.
Eric Terrill demonstrated the process for 60 Minutes, communicating with Dr. Scannon about potential findings. They did find a propeller underwater, and there are Americans down there who will hopefully soon be identified with help from the U.S. military, though that process could take years.
This plane was shot down on May 4, 1945. The BentProp Project team holds a ceremony each time they find plane wreckage and missing airmen, videotaping it to share with families later, once the remains are identified. In addition to honoring the men individually, Dr. Scannon reads a poem that was written during World War I.
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”