A couple notes before we dive into what was going on to the Fliers sixty-six years ago today.
First, I updated the Memorial page to include photos of the service. My brother Ben did a fabulous job and if you want better copies than what is posted here (I had to shrink a number of them) just email me and let me know. If you are a family member of a Flier crewman and weren’t able to make it to the ceremony, know that your loved one was not forgotten, he was adopted by a family member of another Flier crewman, a family member of a survivor, or a museum staff person. No one was left out and no one was represented by more than one person. It really was beautiful.
Secondly, there is an issue about where the Fliers are right now, so I thought I’d clear that up.
When Captain Crowley was debriefed after his rescue and asked to tell them where they had gone, he thought they had landed on Mantangule Island, rafted to Byan and Gabung Islands before skipping over APO and landing directly on Bugsuk Island.
Al Jacobson, on the other hand, after studying the charts, decided that they had to land on Byan, and rafted to Gabung and APO before ultimately landing on Bugsuk.
Personally, I’m inclined to believe Jacobson if only because, to my knowledge, he is the only one of the Fliers to return to the Philippines and see the islands again, though at over fifty years removed. That doesn’t mean Crowley was wrong, merely that he was asked to make an educated guess, and for all of us who have to do that, it’s sometimes an incorrect guess. Jacobson said that when he saw Byan Island, he knew that was where they landed, and that he almost expected to see the shells he laid out in 1944 lined up on the beach.
But there is the map of where they would be. The men in 1944 didn’t know the names of the islands at the time, so they called it Island #2. If Crowley’s idea is right, they are on Byan heading to Gabung today. If Jacobson is right, they are on Gabung heading to APO today. So there they are.
So again, the guys are on their second island, shivering their way through the night. Most record that they burrowed into the still-warm sand and tried to sleep, though they shivered a lot of it off. Liddell and Jacobson woke up and paced the beach at the same time that night and tried ot bury themselves together to conserve body heat, but they seemed to shake it off even more quickly than before.
Baumgart fared even worse. He burrowed in the sand too close to the shore, and got bitten by sand crabs all night!
Once the sun rose and they stopped feeling cold and tense, they staggered out into the sun and walked along the south beach of the island, taking turns dragging the raft behind them in the surf. Jacobson said that it was difficult, because the seaweed grew close to the beach here, so walking in the water on the soft seaweed was very comfortable, though the sun was brutal. Walking in the shade was comfortable on the skin, but walking on the dry beach forced the tiny grains of sand into their slashed feet.
They reached the end of the island just after the afternoon patrol, and launched for the third island, once again landing just at sunset, with just enough time to burrow down for the night.