Execution of WWII POWs and Innocents in Palau - Project Recover is committed to bringing the MIA home. Photos by Harry Parker Photography.com

The Search For MIAs: Execution of WWII POWs and Innocents in Palau


December 18, 2018


July 2018

Project Recover spent three weeks searching for the remains from the execution of WWII POWs and innocents in Palau in July 2018. It was a land-based mission with two points of focus: Police Hill and Aimeliik.

Pat Scannon, M.D., Ph.D., and founder of The BentProp Project, led the mission. Dan O’Brien, a 20 year veteran of BentProp, co-led the mission. The rest of the volunteer team was Jolie Liston, Ph.D. (archaeologist), Dave Bavencoff (police officer), Sarah Johnson (college sophomore), Glenn Frano (geospatial technician), and Joe Maldangesang, a State Conservation Officer and 20+ year veteran of BentProp, who served the mission as jungle guide and skipper

We had key support from within Palau: Richard Madrekevet, an unexploded ordnance specialist, from Cleared Ground Demining.

Travel to Palau is a mission unto itself, roughly 8,500 miles from the U.S. east coast. Initially, we spent a couple days getting permits, setting up our ‘home’ office, and laying the groundwork for our mission. Next, Jolie provided some detailed insight and information on the Palauan culture as well as rules for guidelines for working on private and government property. Respecting the people and cultures of our host country is a high priority for us. Finally, we got to work.

Execution of WWII POWs at Police Hill

Police Hill got its name from the Kempeitai, Japanese Military Police, and the role in the execution of WWII POWs and innocents. The team conducted archival research and extensive interviews with Palauan elders and determined that 21 people were executed in the area, including 10 U.S. military and 11 civilians were executed here. BentProp has sectioned out areas of Police Hill in the past which we update and re-evaluate over the years. We spent about ten days there evaluating, assessing, and re-evaluating.

The team searched for artifacts and evidence that matched with our interpretations of the war crimes document statements and maps. We found trenches, mounds, metal debris, and an old Japanese road — but no eureka.

Execution of WWII POWs in Aimeliik

After ten days focused on Police Hill, we spent several days focused on Aimeliik searching for artifacts related to the execution of WWII POWs in Aimeliik. In 2014, Project Recover located a TBM Avenger that crashed there in 1944. The DPAA recovered and identified the remains of two crew members. Remains of the third crew member have not yet been located.

In 1944, the still missing crew member parachuted from the damaged plane and made it to shore in Aimeliik State. The Japanese police immediately captured and beheaded him. They placed his body in a nearby ditch. A young Palauan witnessed this event and passed the story along to his daughter, Fuana. BentProp interviewed Fuana several times in years past, and we interviewed her again on this trip. She recounted details of her father’s stories to us again and pointed to areas in our photographs where we should look.

The People

Our story would be incomplete if we didn’t mention a few of the remarkable people we spent time with along the way.

Caterina and Rubak Palauan elders, each shared their memories of WWII with us in separate interviews. We thank them for sharing their memories with us.

Damon Stout joined us for a few gatherings. He’s making a movie about his cousin, Cowboy Stout. Cowboy Stout was shot down in his Corsair and died in the crash in Palau. His remains were found in 1947.

We ran into ‘Spike’ Nasmyth who was a Vietnam POW for 2,355 days. He and Rose joined us for a few meals where he told many stories about his time as a POW, flying, and meeting Clint Eastwood.

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As always, we are honored to serve those who served and their families in pursuit of our mission to bring home MIAs.

Glenn Frano, Project Recover Team Member

Glenn Frano

This post about Project Recover’s 2018 mission in Palau is based on the journal of Glenn Frano. Glenn is a retired US Army Corps of Engineers’ Physical Scientist with over 39 years of experience in mapping, GIS and remote sensing. He has been a BentProp volunteer since August 2015. He has gone on two missions with the team

Read other posts related to Project Recover’s MIA Search in Palau

Read posts related to Project Recover’s MIA Search in the Solomon Islands:

Leave a Reply

  1. My name is Joseph W. Carroll, named after my uncle Lt Joseph W. Carroll Jr who was a navigator in a B-25 Michell (Impatient Virgin) shot down with a crew of 6 near Boram/Wewak in Papua New Guinea (Nov 27, 1943). All survived the crash in Murik Lagoon, none were ever recovered. USAAF declared all KIA on Jan 22, 1946. Are you interested in pursuing?

    1. Is this the same person who grew up in the Dallas area?

      I am part of our alumni association and we have a Joseph W. Carroll listed on our WWII memorial. Would like to have more info.

  2. My Uncle was a B-24 pilot shot down over Elbasan, Albania trying to return to Italy. His entire crew survived and became POWs. Since he was a single crash and no one saw him actually crash we are not sure where he crashed. Either on land between Elbasan and the Adriatic Sea or in the sea. There was a wonderful person working at the Embassy who would spend his spare time hiking looking for crash sites. He did find a British site. The Embassy did post an article on Facebook seeking information. Any suggestions that you could suggest I would be glad to follow up.

    Thanks you

  3. My family and I will never find the words to express how much your Team and searches mean to us. We wait with patience and hope that one day (soon), our POW/MIA Uncle will be identified, along with his two crewmates and the others believed to be together in a mass grave, and brought home at long last.
    The tireless dedication of everyone involved in these searches for our missing family members is truly incredulous. Someone once said “it takes a village—this mission is that village, everyone coming together to bring our missing veterans home.
    Thank you all from the well of my heart.

  4. Every story and account that I read of your Project Recover Team reminds me and takes me back to December 7, 2017 when your team brought home the remains of MIA WWII Airman Albert “Bud” Rybarczyk to his family for his final resting place here in Berrien County, Michigan.
    Many thanks and regards for the legacies your search team organization created for the families and loved ones of the many missing and unaccounted for missing heroes! You provided the completion of each’s final chapter of their heroic book of life…and closure to families and loved ones….and most of all, the full honor that each of our heroes deserved!
    May God bless your future ventures and your undying sacrifices.

  5. Really appreciate all the effort and time that has been put into these missions. My uncle, John Moore, is still missing from the Palau area. Looking forward to any news from the search missions for POW/MIA soldiers.

  6. My Father in law was a pilot and shot down in April 44 in Truk Island. He is considered KIA Are you spending any time there? His name was Theodore A Rauh. He had one son named after him. His wife Josephine is still alive 98 and awaits his return.

  7. Luck Patterson here, brother of Navy Lt. James Kelly Patterson, A-6 Intruder Bombardier/Navigstor, shot down in North Vietnam on 19 May 1967, on the ground and evading, in radio contact, for three days until he was abandoned late 21 May, Missing In Action since 22 May, 1967. Missing now for 52 years since last known to be alive.
    In 1994, I gave Defence Intelligence Agency the coordinates of a crash site near Kelly’s incident. DIA then located the crash site of an unknown American plane at my provided coordinates, and interviewed locals who saw two crew members successfully eject from the plane before the crash. To this day, that site has not been excavated to determine the identification of the plane, thus the I.D. of its two crew members, whose fates are still unknown.
    Please visit http://www.prisoner-of-war.com, and http://www.usna63.org. In the latter site, go to “Last Call” and click on Kelly’s name. Then read my account of the mystery crash site titled “How the crash site was found,” and the story of Kelly’s abandonment titled “Jim a Craig and the rescue attempt.”
    Luck Patterson
    (949) 510-1198. luck.patterson@yahoo.com

  8. Thank you Daniel for responding.
    Yes, I have been attending the DPAA briefings, talking with my brother Kelly’s investigator/analysts, pushing for closure for years. Some of these analysts have been helpful, some have been totally clueless. I have come away with the conviction that one general rule at DPAA, and its predecessor DPMO, is “Avoid dealing with live-sighting reports.”
    I say this because in 1994, in the course of my investigation into my brother’s loss, I gave DPMO the ground coordinates of a crash site in [formerly North] Vietnam that DoD was totally unaware of. Very reluctantly, JTF-FA eventually visited the site, and about 100 meters from my coordinates found an unknown American plane, and from the villagers in the area learned that two crewmen from the plane had successfully ejected and deployed in chutes. I have been pushing since 1996 to get the site thoroughly investigated so to learn the plane’s I.D. and thus the crewmens’ I.D. whose fate and status is still unknown.
    To the public, DPAA bills itself as the go-to accounting agency. I, and many family members, have serious doubts.
    So I give this a shot: Would Project Recover be interested?
    The site is on the military crest of a grass hillside–no jungle to clear, no hole to fill with water, nearby villagers eager to supply labor–a dream site to excavate. And, since the plane’s I.D. is unknown, there may yet be remains to be recovered inside. My investigation has led me to believe the plane was an off-the-scope USAF loss, one of many yet to be found.
    I have felt, these 23 years, like I represent at least two families still in the dark about their loved-ones’ fates.
    Can you help them?
    Luck Patterson

  9. Hey there! How do you volunteer for something like this? I’m a former DOD NavFac planner, was stationed on Guam for a couple years. Semi-retired now. This sounds really interesting…

  10. My uncle 2LT Robert Scott Murphy o-831249 Pilot of B-24 tail # 44-49918, MACR10708 or 10842 with a crew of 9 disappeared on a ferrying mission 1/04/45. Departed Atkinson A/F British Guyana destination Belem, Brazil. Area believed to have went down from 48 deg 34 min w. To 52 deg 45 min w. Never found wreckage or bodies. Has always been a unsolved mystery for family. As far as I know I am only living relative left and my son named after him. Would love to put it to rest while still here. GySgt James Murphy
    USMC Ret

      1. Hello KC, On behalf of all Project Recover members, we wish to express our sympathies and gratitude as Americans for the ongoing loss of your Uncle Milo. We gratefully acknowledge his sacrifice in defense of our country, as well as the consequent sacrifices made by you and your family to this day.
        Our MIA Family Outreach team will contact you via email shortly.
        Blue Skies,

  11. Are there lists of the crewmen assigned to these missions in the Pacific you are still looking for? Unfortunately I don’t have much information, other than my uncle’s name – Kenneth Dirkes, from Spokane, Washington, and that he was lost on a mission in the Pacific. I only know that much, and that his name is on a plaque in Punchbowl (although I haven’t seen it and that’s just what my mother told me, before she passed away). Do you have suggestions about where I might look further?
    -Claudia Spencer

  12. Hello all – I recently left a question regarding Kenneth Dirkes from Spokane, Washington. At the time, I said I didn’t have any info other than his name and hometown, and that he was lost on a mission in the Pacific. However, my sister-in-law simply googled his name (why I didn’t think of that, I’ll never know!) and found the following on findagrave.com:

    2Lt. Kenneth Charles Dirkes
    Birth: 20 April 1922, Spokane, Spokane County, Washington
    Death: 3 Dec 1944 (age 22) At Sea
    Monument: Honolulu Memorial, honolulu, Hawaii
    Plot: Courts of the Missing – Court 7
    Memorial ID: 56128856

    Having actually gone “Missing” on the above date, Kenneth was not officially declared by the military as being dead until December 4, 1945, 1 year and 1 day after he went missing as was the custom.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Kenneth served as a Second Lieutenant on B-29 #42-24735, 873rd Bomber Squadron, 498th Bomber Group, Very Heavy, U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
    He resided in Washington prior to the war.
    Kenneth was declared “Missing In Action” when his B-29, which was making a bombing run on Tokyo, was rammed by a Japanese plane and crashed into the sea during the war. He was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.
    Service # 0-698271

    He was apparently on B-29 #42-24735

    More info than I knew was available! Unfortunately, his medals were not among my grandmother’s things. That said, and there are apparently some records available on Ancestry, I am still wondering if by any chance any of your projects involve recovery operations near where this plance went down.

    Thanks again for your help,
    -Claudia (Kenneth Dirkes’ neice, daughter of his sister Elizabeth Dirkes Peterson)