Fais Island 1 Fais Island 2
WWII Vet Returns to Fais Nearly 54 Years Later

B-29 ditched It’s been nearly 54 years since the historic ditching of my B-29 Superfortress just off the coast of Fais Island. For about 30 years I’ve often wondered what happened to the plane, and have had many questions about that little atoll in the south pacific. Well, after all these years, I was finally going back to Fais Island to fulfill my fantasy of one day returning.

My grandson, David Keck, and I left for Yap, another island in the western Caroline Islands on Feb 26, 2002. From Yap we would charter a plane to complete the final 150 miles to Fais Island. We had a few extra days to spend on Yap before our flight, so we observed some of the local culture by participating in Yap Days. However, what started as fun and leisure soon turned to doom and gloom as a typhoon with 100 mile an hour winds made its’ way to Yap, just one day before our scheduled departure to Fais Island.

Typhoon “Mitag” hit Yap hard with tremendous winds and flooding! In fact, while at our hotel, my grandson and I were having a beer with a gentleman from Moscow, when the roof was torn off the building only 1 floor above us. We instantly became more concerned with our safety and took shelter. However, also in our thoughts were worries about the storm’s impact on Fais Island and our planned visit. My stomach churned with nerves as my mind played out every possible scenario about how the trip to Fais might be scrapped. It was a typhoon that got me into a mess nearly 54 years ago, and once again, another typhoon was creating havoc. I thought to myself, only 150 miles to go to complete my mission, and I’m not going to make it! Would we make it? That was the newest of my many questions!

The typhoon moved through the area by day’s end, however, our planned departure for the following day was cancelled because of unknown conditions of Fais Island and other factors beyond our control. Again, my gut did flip-flops wondering if we were destined to a failed mission. After talking with the charter pilot however, he assured my grandson and I they’d get us to Fais one way or another. Once again, God must have been looking out for me. I’ve often said, God was my co-pilot in 1948, and he was with us again on this trip.

The night before our flight, sound sleep was hard to come due to anticipation of our upcoming adventure. Finally, morning arrived, March 5, 2002, and the dream was about to become a reality. Shortly after our take-off, memories immediately rushed back of my past experiences of November 12, 1948. The blue sea below stretched as far as the eye could see and rekindled images of the sea-search operation, which started this episode in my life almost 54 years ago. A knot developed in my stomach as I thought of the crew lost during our sea search on that fateful mission. It wasn’t long before my nervousness turned to happiness as in the distance ahead I could see a land mass known as Fais Island.

There was a haze surrounding the island that kept me from getting a clear look at the onset. However, with each passing moment, the haze surrounding the island seemed to dissipate as the sun casts spectacular morning rays upon the island and surrounding sea. The sea sparkled like small diamonds around the island as we inched closer. I immediately recognized the spot where we beached our B-29 Superfortress as I gazed at the coral reefs covered by the crashing waves from the sea. I saw glimpses of the village interspersed in the jungle below reminding me where I spent two days in the company of both strangers and old friends. I shed a tear as memories of the past overwhelmed me and couldn’t believe I was actually back! The island however, wasn’t without its’ changes as I gazed from above. A 3000-foot runway now split the island in two, which would have been a welcomed site years ago. However, with the exception of this and a few new structures on the island, the basic appearance from the air was still very much the same. As we came in for our landing I recall thinking how much better this landing would be from our splashdown in the sea on my last visit.

When we arrived, four Chiefs of the island and other residents of Fais, consisting mainly of children and teens, greeted us. There was a small pavilion nearby with a sign hanging from a pole which read “Welcome back to Fais Island- Mr. Turner”. What a wonderful welcome to a trip long anticipated. One of my biggest concerns at the onset was the language barrier, however, after some initial awkwardness, the communication issue was not a factor. I shook everyone’s hand and had conversations with a couple of Chiefs.

We walked from the runway for about ½ mile on a small path to the village. As we approached the village, we first entered a school area consisting of about 3 structures, which were not on the island during my last visit. We then walked into and through the main section of the village as residents looked at us with curiosity. Suddenly, we were in front of Paramount Chief Carlos Haruei. He sat in front of his home, proudly seated in the new wheel chair we had brought for him as a gift. The wheel chair had been taken from the aircraft and immediately taken to the village for the Paramount Chief before we arrived.

gift presentation A mat was placed before the Paramount Chief where my grandson and I took our place in a kneeling position. Standing to the Paramount Chief’s right was, Chief Phillip, and to his left, our guide, Sophiano Limol, who flew to Fais with us. We extended greetings to the King, and then presented the Paramount Chief with some gifts we had brought from our homeland. Paramount Chief Carlos, now in his mid to late 80’s, was on the island in 1948 and assisted our crew in getting to the Navy PBM rescue plane. The Paramount Chief could understand some English, but mainly spoke the outer island language. Chief Phillip and Sophiano translated for us, the Paramount Chief, and other onlookers from the village. One of our gifts for the Paramount chief was a photo album containing photographs from 1948, which were taken by the navy men who rescued us. Paramount Chief Carlos smiled and appeared quite pleased as he looked at the photographs making comments periodically. He remarked about one of the photos, stating he thought he was seated in the front of one of the outrigger canoes taking the crewman to the rescue plane. He also mentioned that coconuts were given to the navy men when we were rescued and wondered if we received them. I recalled receiving a stalk of bananas and coconuts and thanked him for them. For me, this was a special moment as we both remembered our past on that historic day.

Paramount Chief & Turner After our presentation of gifts, Sophiano, acting as one spokesman for the Paramount Chief, read a statement on behalf of the Paramount Chief. The opening remarks consisted of a welcome and greeting back to Fais Island. Then came a huge surprise in what I believe is the greatest honor of my entire life. The Paramount Chief honored me by conferring Fais citizenship upon me by naming me an honorary citizen, consul, and Chief of Fais Island. He referred to me as “Malatal” meaning “Well to do man”. I had to hold back my tears as the ceremony touched me in a way I didn’t expect. It was the ultimate honor! It was an emotional ceremony for both myself, and my grandson. The Paramount Chief then signed the doctrine making it official, and presented an orange and yellow fabric to me called a lava lavas cloth woven by the women of Fais. He then placed his right hand upon my shoulder anointing me Chief and consul.

The rest of the Chiefs in the village then shook my hand and welcomed me as “Chief Turner”. I was truly touched and honored by the chain of events that had just transpired.

After thanking the Paramount Chief for his kindness and the honor bestowed upon me, Chief Phillip then escorted my grandson and I around the village to view remaining artifacts of the old B-29 let behind from 1948. Our first stop was on the beach looking into the sea where the B-29 first landed. We were told it had landed just beyond the breakers in front of the women’s bathing area. Those breakers were all too familiar as I recalled the islanders paddling us through them in outrigger canoes.

Plane artifacts One the beach in a shallow sand pit, not far from the men’s house, was a propeller from the B-29. The ends were twisted and bent which resulted from the plane hitting the water during our landing. It looked as though it had been covered by sand and dug out for my benefit. Our next stop was an engine from the plane buried in the sand on the beach. The vents on the block could still be seen as well as a couple of pipes protruding out from its’ sandy grave.

We then proceeded from the beach into the village area again where we were shown an old rubber tire from the aircraft. It was now being used as a planter which had a small tree growing from its’ center. There was a small piece missing from the side of the tire, probably used at one time to make sandals. Overall, the tire was in still pretty good condition as a great deal of tread was still visible.

Next, not far from the tire, was a small wooden platform, which held a number of large pieces of sheet metal from the plane, probably from the wings or hull of the aircraft. These sheets were laid out flat next to one another and are now used for drying copra, which is used as an island export. In effect, they were using these parts of the plane almost like an oven. Many of the rivets once embedded in the metal have now been removed. Chief Phillip stated that it is very difficult work to hammer out the rivets. He also showed us where some of the metal had been cut, where the metal was probably used for making knives, spoons, or other tools. We were also told that throughout the island some of the metal panels are used for siding on homes.

Memorial Location We then moved on to another part of the plane, a second propeller, which was positioned against a tree. The people of Fais Island had positioned it as a landmark for identifying where fellow crewman and myself had stayed in 1948. Back then, a small wooden shack used as a dispensary stood in this spot, which contained medical supplies and cots. It had been set up by the U.S. troops during WWII. Now, instead of the shack, a memorial was made with the outline made from rocks in the shape of the island. In the center of the memorial was the bent prop from our plane decorated with a variety of local flowers. The children even made a mini runway in the center of the island map to further authenticate the island’s appearance. Above the propeller fastened to the tree was another sign with read “Welcome Back to Fais Island – Mr. Turner”. At the base of the prop on the ground was a shinny stainless-steel knife, which had been made from the plane. Chief Phillip handed it to me to keep as a souvenir. I held the knife up with great pride.

After viewing this final piece of the plane, we then made our way back to the school area, which was built in 1972. This was where a celebration in our honor was to take place. There were a number of cement buildings all operated on solar power. In one of the buildings there were 9 Macintosh computers. The solar panels located behind the building are currently the only source of power on the island with the exception of a gas generator.

We were now given an opportunity to rest and sip on coconut milk. During this period I reflected briefly on what I’d seen thus far, and the changes that have taken place on the Island since 1948. My memory recalls many of the paths throughout the village in 1948 being lined with beer bottles with the necks driven down into the ground. These were placed along the paths during the Japanese occupation. These have all been removed now due to breakage of the glass.

Also, in regards to the housing, I noticed corrugated steel and cement housing in present times. In 1948, all housing was made of traditional thatch if my memory serves me correctly. Some homes in the village still had this style, although many now had the walls and roofs made of corrugated steel. I recalled a man who had very broken English on my first trip to the island, talking about the islanders telling time by counting moon phases. Now, many men wore wristwatches and a radio station was on the island for communication to the outside world. Things had indeed become more modernized.

I also noticed different species of animals this time. On my first visit in 1948, I recall only seeing some lizards which scarred the hell out of me. I was told those lizards were brought to the island by the Japanese and at one time were taking over the island. They have since been controlled. On this trip, I witnessed pigs, roosters, chickens, and some dogs.

One of the elders of the island showed me an old photocopy of an image of Paramount Chief Mahol. King Mahol as I called him in 1948 was the Paramount Chief during my first visit to the Island. The moment I laid eyes upon the picture I knew it was him. It was nice to see a photograph of the Paramount Chief, rest his sole. I was told the school on Fais is named after the former King and is called Mahol School.

After the short break, a wonderful lunch was prepared for us consisting of crab, pork, fish, yams, potatoes, and bananas. You’ll have to forgive me, as I’m sure each dish had a more specific name, but I was unable to catch the authentic names to the dishes. However, I can tell you this – it was an excellent meal.

After lunch, we had a short ceremony where I told the village my story about the events that took place in 1948. I gave the history of how we came to be stranded on Fais for two days and how the people of Fais Island assisted us in our rescue. The people of Fais Island have a great deal to be proud of for their role in our rescue and I will always hold them dear to my heart.

Women Dance Men Dance

Next came some traditional dancing, which was led off by the women. The women danced a variety of traditional stick dances. Their costumes consisted of beautifully woven lava-lavas, grass skirts, and colorful flowered lays around their necks and on their heads. After the women danced, some of the men also in traditional dress performed for us.

Unfortunately, after the men finished dancing, we were required to return to our plane. Circumstances beyond our control required us to cut our trip short. We were having a wonderful time and felt terrible to have to leave early. Many more festivities had been planed and we had so much more we would have liked to have seen and done. Never-the-less, we said our farewells and began our ½ mile jaunt back to our awaiting plane. As our day had started, we were escorted to the plane by a number of small children. The children of the island were like our own personal entourage. Upon our arrival, the children greeted us. As we toured the island reviewing the parts of the plane, many children followed and joined in the expedition, and like-wise, when we left, they escorted us to the plane. I tried to shake as many of their little hands as possible. Perhaps one day, they can tell their children, they shook the hand of a man who once splashed into the sea by their island in a B-29 Bomber.

While on the island I did learn some things from some who were children when the plane came down. In 1948, I was ordered to drop a flare from the plane to determine wind direction so our pilot knew which way to go in for a landing. From one account of the event, when the plane was first seen, and the flare was dropped it resulted in a small explosion with smoke. The children ran to the village worried the war was starting again. Happily they later learned that was not the case.

Over the years the hull of the aircraft eventually washed ashore about ½ mile down from the village. I guess it served as a great source of entertainment as a playground for the children. We also learned that some of the fabric within the aircraft hull was used for fishing line, and the convex glass blisters from the plane were used as serving bowls.

My return to Fais Island in 2002, is an experience I will never forget, and brings with it a miraculous ending to a dream I have long had to one-day return to the island that rescued me nearly 54 years ago. I owe my life to these people and consider them my friends. In all of my travels, I have never found friendlier people than those on Fais Island. I have been their guest now on two occasions and both times they have been most gracious hosts. I thank them for everything they have done for me, welcome my new friendships, and look forward to our continuing friendships.

Until we meet again…

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