Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 1944

Search for Missing WWII UDT Members in Palau

Lauren Trecosta MIA Searches, Mission - Pacific 16 Comments

Project Recover went on a mission to Palau this month to search for missing WWII UDT members and other POW/MIAs lost in Palau during World War II. We are grateful to the National Navy UDT -SEAL Museum for their support and contribution to help make this mission possible.

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Pat Scannon, M.D., Ph.D., was the mission commander. The 7-person team included Derek Abbey, Dan O’Brien, Val Thal-Slocum, Glenn Frano, Dave Bavencoff, and Joe Maldangesang.

The team had three goals during its 12-day mission. The first was to continue to assess and document previously located crash sites for possible recovery missions in the future. The second was to pore through the archives at the Belau National Museum and Palau National Archives for any revealing records or photographs that would assist in locating our missing POWs and MIAs. Third, Project Recover wanted to search for and evaluate any connection between 20 unmarked graves and our missing service members.

National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum 

Project Recover partnered with The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum for this mission. The UDT or Underwater Demolition Teams were the forerunners to the Navy SEAL. The Navy UDT-SEAL Museum preserves the legacy and history of Navy SEALs. It is located in Ft. Pierce, Florida, the training site for the first ‘frogmen’ of World War II.

“This partnership is a no-brainer and part of our core mission to preserve the history and heritage of the Navy SEALs and our predecessors,” said Rick Kaiser, retired Navy SEAL Master Chief and Executive Director of the Navy SEAL Museum. “The term ‘No man left behind’ isn’t just a tagline for the Navy SEAL Museum. It is my solemn oath and duty to do everything I can do in my power to recover the remains of these warriors.”

Missing WWII UDT Members or ‘Frogmen’

At 8 pm, on the night of August 18th, 1944, five men with faces blackened quietly slipped off the USS Burfish, a US submarine, and into an inflatable boat. They wore only their swimming trunks and two knives each. They began paddling their small boat to the coast of Gagil Tomil Island in the Yap Islands. 

The WWII UDT frogmen’s mission was to gather intelligence on the island in preparation for the upcoming American invasion there. Allied Forces were planning on taking control there during Operation Stalemate II. However, they knew little about the Palau and Yap Islands. The UDT had already taken pictures of the Palauan Islands, Angaur and Peleliu, measured currents, and monitored Japanese radar. This time they were to physically assess target beaches.

The men set off in two sets of two while the boat master stayed with the boat and waited for their return. One man returned to the boat, too exhausted from the surf to continue. Together the two waited for their three teammates to return. Their rendezvous time, 9:45 pm came and left. Their ‘must leave by’ time,11:30 pm came and went. Finally, the two gave up waiting and paddled back to the submarine at 12:15 am without their teammates. 

Within a week, the US military intercepted radio Japanese communication. It confirmed that they had captured the missing Sailors. The WWII UDT frogmen are still missing. As a result of post-war interviews and data, we know the men were transported to Palau from Yap as prisoners of war and ultimately executed. Continued research and efforts bring us ever closer to locating their remains.

“We are honored to continue to search for these men,” said Derek Abbey, Ph.D., Project Recover President.  “These brave Frogmen represent the foundation of a proud lineage of American warriors.”

Project Recover 

Project Recover is a collaborative effort to enlist 21st-century science and technology in a quest to find and repatriate Americans missing in action since World War II, in order to provide recognition and closure for families and the Nation. It is a 5013c non-profit organization, and our missions are made possible through generous sponsorship and donations from people like you.

This mission to Palau was sponsored by The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum and The Friedkin Group. The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Navy SEALs and their predecessors. The Friedkin Group is a privately held consortium of businesses and philanthropies dedicated to inspiring joy and purpose through life’s adventures.

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group photo palau jungle
Project Recover team after a hike in the mangroves, one of the toughest places to get through. Photo: Valerie Thal-Slocum

Comments 16

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this amazing mission. Enjoyed learning about this and the pictures are amazing!

      1. My father was UDT 15 in the South Pacific aboard the USS Blessman. They were at Iwo Jima and their ship was hit during the battle. His name was William Joseph Conlon. I have the original battle report declassified in 2012. I have been to the Seal Museum at Fort Pierce

      2. My husband’s uncle Melvin G Cope’s plave went down 35 miles northwest of Finschafen, New Guinea. It crashed into the sea April 16, 1944. He took off fron Saidor airfield on a low level mission against Hollandia. Due to bad weather, they had to ditch about 2 miles off shore. His service number was 37225338. The plane A-20G-30-D0 Havoc, Serial number 43-9488- Tail V assigned to 5 Air Force. 417 BG, 675 BS. That is what information I have. I do not know if you are ever in that area, but maybe this would help. Thank you , Mary Cope at mcgfcope@yahoo.com. my address is Mary Cope 4674 66th street ,Meriden, Kansas 66512 Thanks again

  2. You are doing great work. My Uncle was KIA on Peleliu. Army 81st Infantry. I hope you can bring closure to these families who have loved ones MIA in and around the islands of Palau.

  3. Thank you for not leaving these 3 men behind. My father, James L Long, was a member of the OSS Maritime Unit/UDT 10 and trained with Robert Black and John MacMahon at the RAF base in the Bahamas and then in Maui. I believe Howard Roeder joined the team in Maui. The 3 men as well as several others from the team volunteered for the missions on the USS Burrfish submarine. Before my Dad passed away in 2015, he tried to research what happened to his teammates and was encouraged to know that they were not forgotten. I will continue to follow your progress in the search for these brave men and wish you every success. Thanks again.

      1. Dan – Yes – I did read that article from the National Archives. My brother sent it to me to read and that is how I found you through the Legacy BentProp Project website – what a great article. I had previously found a lot of information about the Yap Island mission on the Missing Air Crew website. I am glad someone is still searching for these men – we owe it to them. Thanks again. Chris

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