We rationed our food to three-fourths an ounce a day per man, and we caught a fish, a shark and a bird. We tried to paddle, then rigged a shirt as a sail. The boats just drifted along. We saw what looked like land most of the time, but it always turned out to be a mirage or a low cloud bank. On our fourteenth day at sea the `land' on the horizon looked sharper. Each of the men, in turn, stood up in our pitching rubber boat and stared intently at the dark streak we hoped was solid ground. As we drifted closer, the outline grew clearer and when we could see the palm fronds against the sky we knew it really was land. The Fortress' crew jubilantly started paddling and by the next morning were approaching the beach of a low tropical island.
They landed and staggered up on the sand hardly able to walk. After two weeks on the water with the waves roller coasting under them, it was a new feeling to stand on something solid. We didn't know whether we were on a Jap island, or a friendly one. If Japs were around we didn't figure there was much chance of our getting out alive. We had no guns to put up a fight, and the Japs weren't likely to want us hanging around as prisoners.
After a few moments the castaways saw black skinned natives creeping out of the bushes toward them. "We just sat and waited," said Dorwart, and hoped they liked us. The natives came closer slowly and suspiciously. They were brawny and well built, but a little shorter than the ordinary white man. Their fuzzy hair was pulled up to a peak, their noses were broad and thick with a small bone through their nostrils. The lobes of their ears had been pierced and stretched until they hung nearly to the shoulder. They wore nothing but bright calico skirts.
We signaled to them that we were friendly. They sized us up and we tried to tell them we were Americans. They finally got the idea and then nearly fell over themselves to help us. We heard later that, although the island was in Jap waters, the Nips had bombed one of the six islands in the group and the people were sore about it. The natives fed the American castaways and gave them one of their low, round roofed, thatched huts to sleep in. The tired crew's chief interest right then was to get rested up and give their wounds a chance to heal.
"But we were anxious, too, to get back to an American base," said Dorwart. If the Japs landed on those islands, they wouldn't have any trouble fording us. There were six islands in the group and we were on the biggest one which was about three quarters of a mile long. All six of them could easily fit into Seattle's Lake Union.
The flyers were divided up among the islands because there wasn't enough food on any one of the bits of land to feed nine extra mouths even though the natives ate just bananas and cocoanuts. Besides not having much food, the heat and mosquitoes are terrific. There weren't any Dottie Lamours on that island, either. The women were all black and ugly. If I had my chance, my castaway companion for a desert island would be someone with a plane or a boat who could take me off.
One day the natives told us another white man lived on one of the smaller islands. We were all excited then. We figured he could help us get back to friendly territory. There was little chance of our being rescued, the natives weren't very helpful, and no boats had come to the island since the war started. So this fellow seemed our only hope.
The natives brought the white man from his island. "I'm sure glad to see you boys," he said to the flyers. I've been a castaway for eight months. Maybe you fellows can get me out of here. The castaway was a U. S. Navy radio operator who was the only survivor when his carrier based torpedo plane crashed 600 miles from land [ RM3c Delmar D. Wiley from TBF Avenger 00418 ]. He had drifted, wounded, on a rubber raft for fifteen food less days until he landed on the island. He agreed, hopefully, to join the Fortress crew in any escape plan they could think up.
We told the natives we wanted to buy one of their canoes. It was the only boat in the place big enough to make the long trip. It was also the worst one. It and the sail were full of holes, but we said we'd buy it if the natives would patch it up. So they went into a `Big Fella TalkTalk'.
The chief explained why the powwow was necessary. When a native makes a dugout, he devotes his whole time to it. He has to get someone else to feed his family, so the man who does that has a share in the canoe. Then he probably has to borrow some tools from someone else who in turn is entitled to a share. Then all the fellow's relatives have an automatic interest. In the end, nearly everyone on the island is part of it. The "Big Fella TalkTalk" proceeded for days with no result.
Talking is their chief vocation and they evidently didn't want to lose such an interesting subject too quickly," was the navigator's opinion. Dorwart finally helped them come to a decision. The chief had taken a fancy to Dorwart's pair of red, white and blue striped shorts that he wore swimming. Dorwart promised the chief that when he left the island in the canoe, the chief could have the shorts. After that, the natives soon finished their powwow. They repaired the canoe, and eventually got it ready.
Dorwart, the Navy man, Captain Thomas Classen and Lieutenant Balfour Gibson, decided to make the try. The natives gathered on the beach to see them off. The Americans paddled the lumbering canoe out over the coral reef and into the open water. Then it capsized. A couple of the men were so disgusted they were for abandoning the canoe, but with the help of the natives, it was brought in to land again.
The natives thought it funny that four grown men couldn't handle a canoe that any of their youngsters could sail. A couple of the natives, who had climbed up palm trees to watch us leave, had laughed so hard they fell out. If anyone ever lost face we had. The chief, they found, was already arrayed in the red, white and blue shorts. He didn't remove them during the two weeks it took to repair the canoe. The natives made a new sail by weaving huge pandanus leaves together with cocoanut fibre. When the canoe was ready again, the flyers insisted they would need a native to help manage the boat. None wanted to go.
We centered our persuasions on the best canoe man on the islands. There were several reasons, we found, why he might be induced to go. One was that the piece of calico he wore for clothes was getting threadbare. The natives used to wear nothing at all, until missionaries converted them to clothes. Now the worst thing that can happen, in their minds, is to be without that calico sarong. Our man knew that if his skirt wore out he would have to stay in the house, so we promised him a new piece of calico if he would go with us.
Besides that, he lived on one of the smaller islands with a wife and twelve women who helped with the work. Naturally, he was having domestic troubles. Along with the opportunity of getting away from thirteen women, we also promised him five pounds English money for his canoe, and ten pounds for making the trip on the cuff.
He accepted this proposition and we started out again in our outrigger dugout. We left quietly at night, our guide thus avoiding thirteen arguments at once. We sailed by day and drifted at night because we couldn't see where we were going. One morning we woke up and found our boat was headed straight into an inhabited harbor. I stared at the harbor, then roused our native and told him to get us out of therein a hurry. I recognized the place. It was a Jap base we had often bombed.
We thought certainly the Japs had seen us. We had no guns, no way of defending ourselves, or of escaping. But just then a violent wind and rain squall came up and hid us from the harbor. Our native raised the sail in the teeth of the wind, and our canoe scooted along the tops of the waves and out from under the noses of the Japs.
We sailed for days. Once a squadron of planes flew over us. We looked for their identification marks, hoping it was some of our boys. One swooped low over our boat. Then we could see the Jap pilot. We ducked, waiting for the machine gun bullets. He zoomed past without firing a shot.
Early one morning, when we were camping on the beach, we were awakened by someone talking to our guide. A strange black man was carrying on a sign and grunt conversation. We tried to tell him we were Americans.
Suddenly he signaled and out from behind every stump, tree and bush popped a native, armed with clubs and spears. There were at least twenty-five of them. They rushed down upon us. They picked up our things and took us to the shore where they had canoes hidden. We got in and they started paddling down the coast. We couldn't find out who they were or where we were going.
After four days the natives beached their canoes. They led us over jungle trails and up into the hills. At the top of a 1,500 foot mountain we found ourselves walking toward a cabin. Two white men came out to meet us. They had spotted us with their high powered glasses four days ago, before we had landed, and sent the natives to find out who we were. The puzzle to me was how they could have seen us, notified the natives, and sent them on an eight day round trip to pick us up. The timing element was impossible.
The message from the two white men must have come by jungle drums, we decided, to a group of natives who were near us at the time we landed. We had heard drums muttering and throbbing in the distance all during our trip. The two men then sent out a call for an American plane to pick us up. A battle was going on somewhere out on the ocean we could hear the explosions, and we were afraid the plane wouldn't get through but we were picked up by flying boat.
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