Harlyn Turner
H. G. Turner
Dubuquer’s return to island provides ‘chief’ thrills
David Keck

Fais: Natives honor Turner, grandson as visiting dignitaries

Harlyn Turner returned to Fais Island after nearly 54 years away and gained a title: He’s Chief Turner now.

When the 77-year-old Air Force veteran from Dubuque returned to the site of a 1948 crash-landing in early March, island natives welcomed Turner and his grandson, Dave Keck, of Dubuque, as visiting dignitaries.

During a ceremony, the island’s paramount chief — or king — conferred honorary citizenship on Turner and named him an honorary chief. “It was very emotional for me,” Turner said. “It was quite a ceremony.”

On Nov. 12, 1948, an American B-29 with Turner on board ditched in the seas just off the island, located 500 miles southwest of Guam.

“It was just an island sitting out in the middle of nowhere,” Turner said.

Turner and the rest of the crew originally feared the natives might be cannibals. Instead, the primitive island’s residents hosted the Air Force personnel until their rescue 48 hours later.

Turner and his grandson returned to Fais after a native islander spotted the veteran’s story on a Web site Keck developed.

The pair almost didn’t make it to Fais, however.

While the two were preparing for their return on the neighboring island of Yap, a typhoon ripped off part of the roof of their hotel and threatened the gas supplies of the local charter air service.

The fuel concerns meant the pair eventually only spent about nine hours on Fais while the charter plane waited on the island’s recently developed air strip.

Turner and Keck originally planned an overnight stay.

“It was stressful up until the day we got there,” Keck said. “Then all the waiting and the worry was worth it.”

Turner and Keck presented gifts to the paramount chief, who was a young man when the B-29 crashed.

In return, islanders danced for the visitors and presented Turner with knives fashioned out of metal from the plane.

Although the plane eventually washed ashore, few parts remain — mostly tires, sheet metal and propellers.

“They made whatever use they could of the plane,” Keck said.

As he toured the island, Turner remarked at the changes since 1948.

“They had this nice school building,” he said.

“They never had anything like that before.”

Concrete structures had replaced some thatched huts. Also, some islanders wore wristwatches and could speak limited English.

“I even saw one with a pair of glasses on,” Turner said.

The ceremony with the paramount chief impressed Turner the most.

“They really welcomed me in there as one of their chiefs,” he said.


Story by: Erik Hogstrom - TH staff writer
Source: Telegraph Herald - Dubuque, IA
Date: 04/01/2002     Page: Page 3A

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