The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter

Holiday Season Party! Last E.C. meeting of 1997

Patrick Scannon, MD, FN-96




Palau Islands

DINNER MEETING - Friday, December 6, 1997, Alameda Officers' Club, Alameda (see map)

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  • 6:00 PM, Business meeting
  • 6:30 PM, Cocktails
  • 7:30 PM, Dinner
  • 8:30 PM, Speaker
  • $35.00 each
    Patrick J. Scannon, FN-96, has had an abiding interest in the islands of western Micronesia, how they fared during World War II, and the fates of the many ships and aircraft lost to Japanese fire in the three major Palau battles. He will recount how he and his small group of scuba-diver-historians went looking for ships and planes lost in this part of Micronesia during World War II, and along the way not only found ships and planes aplenty but also discovered a mine full of money, the Japanese trawler which was sent to the bottom at the hand of young ensign George Bush, and the secrets given up by that trawler to vindicate the bravery of the man who would later become the President of the United States. Read on.

    Regional setting, Palau and surrounding islands


    Palau is a group of 243 atoll islands lying in the far western Pacific Ocean just north of Papua New Guinea, and about 500 miles south and east of the Philippines. The islands are sparsely populated, by about 15,000 people. Most live on the largest island, Babelthuap. The most militarily strategic island was little Peleliu, at the southernmost part of the chain, and because of this Peleliu was caught in the crossfire of three pitched battles as the Japanese tried to withstand the steady westward push of General McArthur and the great naval forces of the Western Pacific. Though Peleliu was generally a backwater, this area was raked by gunfire again and again during the months from March to September, 1944. It is estimated that in one battle alone 7000 to 8000 U.S. soldiers were lost, and at least twice that number of Japanese defenders perished. When the war was over and the U.S. troops returned they left a scene of almost total devastation.

    What has happened in the subsequent 50 years? Patrick Scannon, MN-96, will tell us, with the help of his own photographs portraying the debris which is the aftermath of war. It is known that over 60 Japanese vessels were lost, and a few U.S ships. The minesweeper U.S.S. Perry has never been located, though others have been found and salvaged for scrap. Hundreds of Japanese and American planes, from torpedo planes to bombers to fighters, were lost, with their crews, many of them never recovered. Yet the great battles of Palau have been almost totally ignored by history, eclipsed by the more famous Iwo Jima, Kwajelein and Okinawa. Though there is historical evidence of numerous U.S. planes crashing or crash-landing in the islands of Palau, almost nothing is known of survivors, or of the fates of the crews who may have survived. Japanese military records tell of one pilot executed, and only two prisoners who lived long enough to be put on ships bound for Japan, but there is no record that either of them arrived. Probably their ships were the victims of bombings or torpedoes.

    Scannon's story begins when he arrived with a group of divers, photographers and historians, in August 1993, with the goal of locating and photographing the trawler which had been sunk by Ensign George Bush on 25 July, 1944, as part of a battle known as Operation SNAPSHOT.

    A story unto itself, we found the ship where others had failed, actually with little problem. It turned out that the after-action report written in 1944 to summarize that flight named the wrong island. Once we had the right place, within a couple of hours we had a strong magnetometry reading and, minutes later, located the wreck in 40 feet of water. What we did not know was that, at the same time, a reporter, writing an article for Harper's magazine (Sept. 1993, pp 44-45), was claiming that George Bush might be a war criminal for strafing an unarmed vessel. We quickly ended the controversy because we found mounds of small arms munitions lying on the deck (see first photo below), as well as a large gun mount laying on its side with a munitions box nearby that contained 75 mm anti-aircraft shells (see second photo below). Unknowingly, we had solved two mysteries: the ship's location and that it had been armed. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Peleliu invasion one year away, the Government of Palau was very pleased and, at the request of President Nakamura, issued a press release of our finding. "Night Line," coincidentally about to interview George Bush's accuser, heard about our discovery and requested our video footage. The rest is history. The "war criminal" story turned out to be a tempest in a teapot and rapidly disappeared.

    Small arms munitions on deck of "Bush" wreck

    Diver holding 75mm shell on "Bush" wreck

    After the rest of the team departed, Scannon and his wife, Susan, found a guide and searched for more World War II sites and debris. They did indeed find a 65 foot section of aircraft wing and a propeller embedded in a coral head, about which the natives knew no history. Subsequently the Scannons have been back to Palau, as well as to various military and national archival centers, and have been able to identify some of the aircraft parts they have found, though no evidence of human remains has turned up. By careful, dogged and painstaking study, interviews and work, Pat has been able to tentatively identify most of the aircraft parts he has discovered, at least as to plane type, if not to specific craft.

    B-24J wing (Dixon) south of Korar

    But about the money. During Pat's last visit to Peleliu in 1996, the Scannons came upon something unexpected while hacking through the jungle in the middle of one of the islands. There before them, propped upright but overgrown with weeds, was a seven foot wheel, carved from pure crystalline limestone. It had obviously been abandoned for a long time. The next day they found the "mine" where the wheel had originated nearby, with another, partially carved wheel still easily identifiable. Apparently the operation had been abandoned hurriedly. In a nearby cave now inhabited only by bats were the bones of a child and some shell jewelry. Their research has subsequently determined that this was a "money" mine site, not before discovered, and a true archeological find. Such "money" had once been highly prized by the Yapese people. Lacking crystalline limestone in their home islands, in times past they risked their lives traveling hundreds of miles by canoe to mine this money, despite the risk of injury or death if they were caught by the Palauans.

    Corsair propeller on coral head off Babelthaup

    Currently Scannon is continuing his search for American planes known to have gone down over Palau, in hopes of finding evidence of the airmen who had been aboard. Though Palau is now known as a scuba diving Mecca, much remains to be done in the search for the final stories of many of the pilots and crews who vanished in this region. "Not everyone who dies in combat does it on the biggest and most famous battlefields. But they die no less valiantly and deserve the same respect and remembrance as the others," says Scannon. "Perhaps filling in a little part of history here will help remind us all of this. And along the way, who knows? We may find a ton of money!"

    Remains of nose of B-24J (Dixon) north of Koror


    Edwin Bernbaum, Ph.D. , senior scientist with the Mountain Institute, was present to tell us about his involvement with the Badrinath, India, tree-planting project. Badrinath, formerly in the forest of Badrivan, in northwestern India, lies at the foot of the Himalayas, and is the most revered, and the most visited, shrine in all of northern India. It is now estimated that approximately 400,00 pilgrims visit this area annually. Though this area has long been a holy place, sited as it is in the shadow of the Himalayas, it was not heavily visited up to about 30 years ago, because of its remoteness. During the border war with China, several roads were built in the lower Himalaya areas, and one of them now passes near to Badrinath. The increase in accessibility has resulted in a great influx of visitors. Pilgrims arrive without places to stay and means of sustaining themselves during their sojourns. Because of this, the entire forest of Badrivan has been decimated over the past 30 years, by cutting for firewood and for shelter.

    Though his undergraduate degree from Harvard was as a mathematician, Bernbaum received his Ph.D. in Asian History at U.C. Berkeley. He soon learned that culture has a great influence on how peoples handle problems, and the problem of the forests in India was no surprise. Bernbaum conceived of and developed the concept that sacred sites are the best places to promote preservation, because in India the people have a very strong stake in the preservation of their holy places. On a trip to northern India in 1993, Dr. Bernbaum witnessed the devastation of the surroundings of Badrinath and, with the support of the G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, proposed to the chief priest of the Shrine that a tree-planting custom be instituted. Seedlings were available from the Pant Institute. The chief priest was quite supportive of the concept. After careful planning the priest preached before a large gathering that planting a small seedling tree on the hillside of Badrivan would be a holy thing to do, a method of praying to the people's gods and an example of taking part in the concept of reincarnation. This idea was received with enthusiasm, and the tree-planting project was begun.

    The first seedlings chosen had not been acclimated to the altitudes around Badrinath, and many perished in the first winter. Subsequently, a high altitude laboratory and nursery have been established nearby, and high-altitude junipers and birches are being developed and grown with success. In 1996, the plantings successfully resisted the winter vicissitudes, and the tree-planting custom is a reality. Better yet, the pilgrims who come are interested in preserving the trees they plant, and so far there has been no loss due to cutting or burning. Visitors are beginning to come from as far away as southern India, where similar depredations have occurred, in order to learn from this example.

    Photos Bernbaum took during. his stay in. Badrinath in 1996 were dramatic, of Badrinath and the Himalaya escarpment, and of the people, who were quite willing to be photographed. Of particular interest were photographs taken of a naked swami, or holy man, resident of the area, who lives there year-round, has kept his right arm extended above his head since youth, and has been found "hibernating" in a snow-cave in midwinter- still naked. The arm is useless and atrophied, but the fingernails, which at one point curled down around the forearm and became a hazard, have been cut back to about six to eight inches. An open automobile had to be found to transport him to Badrinath for the ceremony because his permanently upstretched arm precludes him from sitting in a closed car. The swami is also approving of the Badrinath tree-planting project.

    Dr. Bernbaum's illustrated talk was received with quiet awe and rapt attention,. and he was given a rousing ovation at its finish. Numerous copies of his book, published by Sierra Club Books,. entitled "Sacred Mountains of the World" were purchased from him, because of their combination of fascinating photographs and captivating prose.

    B-24M shot down over southern Koror, May, 1945 (from Air Force Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB)


    On October 17 and 18, the Northern California Chapter held its Interplanetary Getaway and Confocal Assembly. The festivities began on Friday Evening, with an Exotics Encounter held at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, and exotic site in itself. On Saturday morning, October 18,. Forays were made to various sites in the Bay Area, including the San Jose Museum of Technology, the Lick Observatory, the Berkeley Heavy Ion Accelerators, Chiron, a Biotechnology giant in Emeryville, and the San Francisco Bay Model in Sausalito.

    Saturday evening, October 18, capped off the events with the Confocal Cusp of Explorers, or Assembly,. held at the Fort Mason Officers Club. This event, attended, by over 60 members and guests, was a semi-formal banquet with world-class speakers and other entertainment. Exotic dress was evident this evening as well.

    Entertainment included comic skits presented by "friends of the Explorers Club." Richard and Amanda Payett and Paul Lee, a pre-Halloween visit by an alien ghoul, and an attempt to contact the constellation Vega, made by Chairman Bob Schmieder, FN-86, on his long-range radio, set up at the front of the elegant dinner room (with antenna wire strung over a considerable area of the front of the room.). Though there was no answer in English to Bob's requests to "Come in, Vega, Come in, Vega," there were answering sounds which were interpreted as either a form of code coming from the constellation or "static."

    The serious portion of the evening began with tributes by Frank Drake, Ph.D., FN-77, to both the late Carl Sagan, as the world's best-known scientist, and the late Eugene Shoemaker, Ph.D.,. killed in an auto accident in Australia earlier this year. Dr. Shoemaker was the co-discoverer of the Shoemaker-Levy comet, as well as many smaller comets within our solar system. Featured speakers for the evening were Carol Stoker, Ph.D., co-director of the Mars Explorer project, and Geoff Marcy, Ph.D., discoverer of the first planet known to be orbiting a distant "sun," or star, in the constellation Pegasus. Both speakers were fascinating in their presentations. Dr. Stoker showed her remarkable photos from the surface of Mars. and Dr. Marcy showed his photos of the constellation he is studying and his easily understandable diagrams detailing the method he used to determine that the body he was studying is an orbiting planet.

    The evening was capped off. with a presentation of exotic creatures by Owen Maercks of the East Bay Vivarium. His "guests" ranged from a South American giant scorpion to a giant monitor lizard, the largest member of the lizard species, and a feather boa, all docile and harmless creatures. At a point in the evening when some guests had. begun to wilt, everyone became acutely awake and aware of the insects, arachnids and animals as they were. passed and shown about the room.

    The admiration, awe and thanks of all those who attended was, and is, expressed to Bob and Martha Schmieder, who almost double-handedly prepared and presented this evening of entertainment. This was yet another event which set a tone for assemblies which it will be difficult to emulate in the future. Chairman Schmieder is hoping to mount a similar, and more glittering, evening in one year. You will receive updates on the Chapter's plans for its next Gate-a-Way through the coming next several months.

    B-24M wink lying in jungle


    The Newsletter continues its long tradition of chronicling, although belatedly,. the activities of its peripatetic members during the long western summers. The following are a few of this summer's items. If you don't find your name there, and if you would like the membership to know of what you have been doing, write, phone, fax, or e-mail to the Secretary, and we will include your story in the next Newsletter.

    Alan Hutchison (MN-67) spent much of the summer checking the health of the reefs in Micronesia, from Truk lagoon on east. He is pleased to report that the general sea-life health in these areas is excellent, with large numbers of sea life in and around all the reefs he visited.

    Olaf Malver (FN-92) spent much of his summer in Greenland. We may hear about this in more detail later.

    Les DeWitt (MN-96), whose guest for the September meeting was his son Patrick, reported, with great satisfaction, that this summer he reached the summits of both Aconcagua, in Peru, and Mt. Sill, in the California Sierra.

    Peter Overmire (FN-84) and his wife, Rozell, undertook a Buddhist pilgrimage this summer, in Japan, where they found the July-August heat to be unbearable. Their recommendation was to avoid Japan at that time of year, if possible.

    Ron Reuther (FN-74) and Margi Cellucci trekked into Tijuana, in the northernmost reaches of Mexico along its very border, at about the same time. Their intensive search for the exotic was unsuccessful. Their recommendation, similar to the Overmires', but more simple, was to avoid Tijuana at any time, if possible.

    Ed Bernbaum, September's speaker, reported that this summer he had visited the St. Elias range, in the Yukon. What made this trip special was that it was made to retrace the route taken by Bradford Washburn when he first explored this range in the 1930's. What made it even more special was that Brad Washburn was the leader of this trip, 60 years later. What made it easier than the first trip was that, though the route and many of the landmarks were all revisited, this time it was done by helicopter, a considerably easier passage than the first, and much less time-consuming.

    Corsair fuselage in mangrove swamp of Koror


    Tom Larson (E-52) writes from Klamath Falls that he has had another small (42 pages) booklet published, this one entitled Bora Bora: History and GIs in Paradise. Beginning with Tahitian history from about 500 BC, emphasizing its mythology, the Tahitian is carried forward to the time of World War II. Comprised of only four chapters, the book describes the advent of the American GIs into Bora Bora, about 100 miles from the capital of French Oceania, Papeete, and the idyllic life that was handed to them there. French Polynesia was little touched by the War, and night bombings, enemy incursions, malaria and other diseases, were almost non-existent. Blazing days, warm tropical night breezes, a well-stocked PX, plentiful chow, light-skinned Polynesian girls, all conspired to make the U.S. military's stay in the Society Islands a true paradise. As a result, numerous mixed Anglo-Polynesian children were fathered, many with common American first-names, such as Dennis, Ernestine, Fred, Caroline, Joe, Elaine and Jimmie.

    A number of beautiful photos are scattered through the four chapters, either from the National Archives or from private collections., and the entire booklet can be read in a short time. This booklet is recommended reading for any W.W.II veteran who spent some of his time on Bora Bora, and can be purchased by sending $10.00 to PACIFIC PROMOTIONS TAHITI, PO Box 625, Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. Send your order by airmail, as overseas mail to Tahiti is extremely slow.

    Stone "Money"


    Date: January 23, 1998.
    Place: The University Club (Powell and California Sts., San Francisco)
    Speaker: Pamela Logan, Ph.D., FN-96
    Subject: Tibet and the China Silk Road

    NOTE! This is a slight adjustment of the date in order to accommodate our speaker and better space out the meetings for 1998.



    I want to thank all who helped make the 1997 Planetary GetAway a very successful, and very enjoyable event. We had a fine time at the Friday evening Exotics Encounter, then spread out for a variety of Forays, and an extraordinary fun evening at the Confocal Convergence of Explorers Saturday evening. Following the theme of planetary exploration, we were treated to fascinating presentations, entertaining skits, and some of the most exotic (extraterrestrial?) animals this side of Vega.

    The December meeting is the traditional renewal of officers for the coming year. I would like to continue serving as your Chairman, probably for only one more year. I hope you will give me this opportunity.

    My primary goal for 1998 will be to carry off the 1998 Golden GateAway. My wife Martha has reiterated her commitment to help make this an even more successful event than 1996, and I know we will be able to count on many of you to help make it happen. We will hold the Saturday dinner at the Fairmont Hotel, Oct. 17, 1997. We expect 500 people, and we expect it to sell out. Please mark you calendar now, and be ready to get your reservation in early for best seating.

    January is the "New Member" month. Please give some thought to anyone you might like to invite to join the Explorers Club, and if feasible, invite them to that meeting. We'll have applications and other special materials to help make them feel welcome.

    Thank you all again for a great year, and we're looking forward to another in 1998. If we miss you in December, Happy Holidays!

    -Robert W. Schmieder, Chapter Chairman



    ...And remember to keep October 16 and 17, 1998, open on your calendar for the great Second Biannual Golden Gate-a-Way. This spot will carry information on this event as soon as it is available.



    Carl Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe announced by SETI Institute

    This endowed position has been newly established at the SETI Institute, of Mountain View, California. Named in honor of the late Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute, this Chair has been established in recognition of the increasing scientific interest and activity in the studies of the origin, evolution, nature, and distribution of life in the universe, especially viewed in the context of extraterrestrial biology. The individual selected for this Chair will be a distinguished scientist who is widely recognized as a major contributor in this field. It is generally expected that this position will be a long-term appointment, but the Institute is open to discussion of this and other considerations around this appointment. If anyone reading this notice is interested, please contact the Sagan Chair Committee

    SETI Institute
    2035 Landings Drive
    Mountain View, California, 94043-1818, USA
    Tel: 1-650-961-6633

    Applications should include a current curriculum vitae and list of publications, and a brief statement of current research interests. Letters of reference will be solicited later. Review of applications will commence on Dec. 1, 1997. An Equal Opportunity Employer.



    Enter Alameda through the Posey Tube. Once in Alameda, stay on Webster St. (it veers to the right), At Atlantic Ave. (1st traffic light) turn right. Go through three traffic lights on Atlantic. At the 4th traffic light (Main St.) turn right. Continue about O.5 mile to the Officers' Club (Building 60) Parking Lot. The Officers' Club is on the left side of the street, as is the parking. There is also street parking available in front of the Club.
    Reservations: MAIL BY Tuesday, November 25, 1997

    Please Return To:

    William F. Isherwood
    The Explorers Club
    Northern California Chapter.
    37 La Encinal
    Orinda, CA 94563
    Bill's Phone: (510) 254-0739

    Please reserve spaces for the Patrick Scannon talk, at the Alameda Officers' Club on Friday, December 5, 1997.

    $40/person... $45 if postmarked after November. 28. Cocktails, 6:30 PM, Dinner, 7:30 PM, Speaker, 8:30 PM.

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    Date created: 11/12/1997
    Last modified: 06/21/2015
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