Friday, June 9, 2017

Three of the air force men asked to be dropped off to search for souvenirs

From Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein.
Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
Brought to mind by an incident related in Shadows in the Jungle by Larry Alexander. In World War II, General Douglas MacArthur needed accurate and near real time information about Japanese positions, strength and conditions. From this need was born the Alamo Scouts, a small group of highly trained warriors, skilled in insertion, tracking, orienteering, survival and hand-to-hand combat.

They conducted dozens of missions, not all of them information collection. There were many rescue and humanitarian missions. On August 21-23rd, 1944 a small team was landed on Pegun Island. Page 140.
"This is not a recon mission, Lieutenant," he told Sumner. "This is a rescue mission. Three days ago, a picket boat carrying several air force enlisted personnel sailed here" — he pointed to a map — "to the Mapia Group. The Mapias consist of several small islands and three large ones, Bras, Pegun, and Fanildo. They are, as you can see, separated by narrow stretches of water. The men were sent to locate a British Beaufighter that had been forced to land on one of the small islands near Pegun and recover the two-man crew or, if possible, repair the plane so the crew could fly it home. The air corps guys in the picket boat included some mechanics."

He paused, then continued.

"As they passed near Pegun, three of the air force men asked to be dropped off to search for souvenirs and the boat skipper, for whatever the hell reason, agreed and let them go ashore."

"I take it that Pegun is occupied'?" McGowen asked.

"The little yellow bastards are like ants at a picnic basket.," Patrick replied. "Our G2 estimates between three hundred and four hundred are stationed throughout the Mapias.

"Anyway, the others found the plane and got it back into the air. On the return, the picket boat stopped at Pegun to pick up the air corps guys. As they approached the shore, one of the men ran out onto the beach, waving and yelling at them to get the hell out, that the Japs were on to them. Then he was hit by fire from the tree line and fell right there at the water's edge. The Japs also fired at the picket boat. Naturally, they hightailed it back to operational HQ to report and Woendi Ops passed it on to us."

"I gather our job is to go ashore and see if we can find the three airmen, or two now, probably," Sumner said.

"Yes," Patrick replied. "I have discussed this with General Krueger and he agrees. Go in, look around, see if you can find them, and get the hell out in one piece. Personally, I think the men are dead, but air force HQ has asked for our help." He cast a glance at the air corps officer. Then he added, "Besides, General Krueger and I both have an aversion to leaving any of our men behind if there's any chance of getting them out."
A six man team is launched that evening. They scout the island, find no evidence of the three air corps men, are spotted by the Japanese, fight a running battle to the point of extraction, and manage to get off the island with no injuries. They return and report details of the mission along with their assessment that the three Americans are no longer alive. An assessment later confirmed.
Three months later, on November 15, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 167th Infantry Regiment, Sumner's old unit, landed on Pegun Island with no enemy resistance. The Japanese were gone.

The commander, Lt. Col. Leon L. Matthews, reported that his troops had discovered the bodies of three enlisted men in a common grave. Two of them had their hands tied behind their backs with telephone wire and had been shot in the back of the head. Although none of them had dog tags, their uniforms bore markings of the army air corps.
Three lives lost, three families devastated, six lives put in mortal danger, all in pursuit of souvenirs in a war zone. "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity" indeed.

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