What was Port Moresby like when you arrived in 1967?
Port Moresby in the
late 1960s was not filled with the wreckage of war. In fact,
the only reminders was a sunken ship in the harbour [MV MacDuhi], a number
of very incomplete aircraft wrecks, gun emplacements, both concrete
and earthen, revetments at Wards [5 Mile Dome] and Jacksons [7 Mile Drome], empty Coke and
beer bottles, other trash left over and a number of concrete
foundations and floors. One had to search these out, and one
I found, obviously of high importance during the war, had the
symbol of the 5th Air Force and the USAAF professionally etched
in it. But apart from that, one had to travel out of town to
find anything reassembling a complete aircraft. One of my favourite activities of a weekend,
was to wonder around old taxiways and revetments, and listen
to my imagination of the activity that took place on that
spot 26 years previously. When I first sat in the cockpit
of a P-38 [P-38F 42-12647] about 25 miles north west of Moresby in 1967, I
wondered what became of the pilot. I never thought for one
moment that in 1978, I was to bring that aircraft back into
Port Moresby, minus its nose that was removed and shipped
to the Tallichet Air Museum in Chino. Over the years, I managed to relocate nine
B-24s and B-17s within five miles of Port Moresby, and I loved
going back to each site, and finding something new.
How did you become involved with the museum?
I became interested
after my first visit to the P-38 and a C-47 nearby in 1967.
Prior to the National Museum's involvement with matters pertaining
to WWII and all things of an aviation interest, there was another
organization in existence, The Territory War Memorial Trust.
These folk tried to interest the government with a war museum
but encountered a brick wall. They had already recovered numerous
Out of this came the birth of The Air Museum
of Papua New Guinea. There is a lot of politics but
there is no need to bore you with the details. Anyway, the
AMPNG, had as its chief / president / chairman Bill Chapman who owned two Chemist Shops in Port Moresby. Bill
had a regular advertisement in the local newspaper, South
Pacific Post later called Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. In
the issue for 29 November 1968, Bill included a small item
at the bottom of his advertisement, calling for volunteers
to join the Air Museum.
As a result of that, I attended my first
meeting on 5 December 1968, and from then on, I became totally
immersed with the aviation history of Papua New Guinea. Not
being able to travel out on excursions during the week, (unlike
most other members who were businessmen, as I was a lowly
public servant), I set about documenting the history, by contacting
relevant agencies both in Australia and the US, and in time,
became reasonably well known for this work. I wrote several
articles for the local newspaper on WWII history.
Between June 1967 and September 1978, I was
employed by the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries.
In view of the many articles I had written for the local newspaper
on WWII and aviation matters, I was asked by a member of the
Board of Trustees of the National Museum in April 1978 whether
I would be interested in moving across to the Museum and establishing
a War Museum. I readily agreed, and my department released
me following my vacation, and I commenced work on 4 September
Some of their collection was dumped, others were handed over
to the new PNG Museum. When the Territory War Memorial
Trust could not gain official recognition, they threatened
to dump all their stuff in the sea. This was to try to force
the Administration to support them. This failed, and the collection
was dispersed, with some going to a little unofficial war
museum in Kokoda where today very little remains, and the
rest going to The Air Museum.
It was as a result of this, that when the
National Museum decided in 1978 that it should have a war
collection, I was asked to establish it. I was given a desk,
chair, filing cabinet, and one file, and no brief on what
I was supposed to accomplish. I could have opted for a small
display in the main gallery with some reference books, or
I could head in the direction of a major collection that could
one day become a museum in its own right. I chose the latter.
I immediately set to work, securing funding for the next year's
operations, buying reference books and photographs, and working
towards my first display. This was to commemorate 75 years
of powered flight, and this display opened on 17 December
1978 consisting of aircraft engines, components, photographs,
On its first public day, more visitors passed through
the display than any other temporary display put on by the
museum. It was a huge success. In January 1979, I moved to
museum premises in the industrial suburb of Gordon. This large
shed had been used as a storage facility while the National
Museum's new building was being constructed. In November 1978,
our first aircraft was recovered, P-38F 42-12647. And the
rest is history!
Speak about your research methodologies for the Museum
I did not work a normal day's work. Most Saturday afternoons were spent
in my office doing unpaid work associated with maintaining contact with
veterans, cataloguing the items I had collected, looking after the display
gallery, etc. So I guess it was fanatical dedication to the task at
hand. I had so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. I was
determined that as long as I was there, I was going to leave behind
a legacy on which others could build. I often think back to the early
days with CIL, and how they treated me and the museum with contempt.
I could have quite easily imposed stiff restrictions on their activities
but I chose not to do so, instead working with them towards PNG's point
of view, and then they started working with us, although at times I
felt there were still many obstacles. Several visits to the lab in Hawaii
helped to foster and develop our close bond. All this culminated with
me being appointed an Honorary Member of that organization, and the
presentation of a plaque of appreciation in 1984.
With Missing Aircraft Reports [MACR], during my visit
to the National Archives in 1981, my wife and I went through my alphabetical
list of casualties that I had prepared over a considerable period
of time, and wrote down beside each name, the Missing Aircraft Report
number. On returning to Australia, I went through the entire list
of over 2,000 names, and put the MACRs in numerical order. I then
started ordering copies of the MACRs from the National Archives. I
had only completed about 20 files, when the Archives wrote back, requesting
that I resubmit my request, limiting it to six MACRs per request.
I figured it would take me about 15 years to complete the copying
this way, as I had to wait for each request to arrive before sending
off the next batch. Then I hit on the idea of asking my veteran friends
to each order 6 MACRs, sending them to me, following which I would
pay them for the copying and postage. This I did, and incidentally,
at my own personal expense which was never reimbursed by the National
Museum. So, having about 15 veterans and friends doing this, I was
able to considerably reduce the time taken to obtain xerox copies.
Then after about a year or more of doing this, the National Archives
then put the reports on microfilm, and at that point, I stopped obtaining
the reports direct from them, as I did not want microfilm as I did
not have adequate storage facilities. I then managed to obtain a few
from CIL but not to the extent that they should have been providing
My attendance of the 5th Air Force reunion in "Lost Wages" was
quite a highlight, particularly when I met up with Randy Forrester
who asked me to speak at a gathering of his fellow 3rd Bomb Group
men. They were enthralled with my work with CILHI. So too were those
who attended from the 345th Bomb Group.
Speak about your photographic collection
I have just started the monumental task of going through
20 years of slides, many of which have suffered from the effects of
mildew, and placing them in chronological order. I have also gone
through all the reports I have written during my many missions in
the field with CIL-HI and putting them into our computer within a
project I started last year in documenting everything on a daily basis
that has happened to me since 1944!, I am currently working my way
through the 1993 mission to B-17F "Listen
Here Tojo" 41-24542.
Tell about veterans visiting Port Moresby
One famous visitor was Colonel Brian "Shanty"
O'Neill. He and his wife visited Port Moresby, I was able to show
him all the old abandoned airstrips. While driving around the taxiway
of 17 Mile Drome, over grown with tall grass, I knew that one of the
drains that went under the taxiway had collapsed across half its length.
I asked Shanty to keep an eye out on his side of the car, but I think
he did not understand me, then kerump, I drove my near new car down
into this almighty hole! Well, you should have seen the look on their
faces! Not to mention my colourful language! Anyway, I could not get
the car out, so rather than drag them to a nearby convent, I suggested
that they stay with the car. Nope, they thought I would not come back!
Hell, I said, I've got a new car to come back to! Anyway, they accompanied
me on the walk back to the convent, which was about two miles away.
Another memorable moment was with another vet from the 19th Bomb Group.
He later went over to a Troop Carrier outfit. He described to me where
his tent was, he could see both Wards Drome and Seven Mile. I knew of only
one place where that was possible, so I drove him there. Parked the
car, and then walked to this little value from which one could have
seen both strips, and there were these little flattened areas where
tents must have been. He had a look around, walked to one flattened
area, and then another, finally deciding that this was his tent area.
You should have seen the look on his face. Well, not long afterwards
he walked down a few paces, and then had a piss. I asked him where
there, as there was a more "sheltered" location nearby.
He replied that that was where he used to piss during the war! Now
that was cute!
How did you become interested in MIA Cases?
Until I was drawn into MIAs, I guess my work was
rather mundane, but once I developed the MIA "passion",
I would have to say that that was the highlight of my career. When
I think how badly we started our relationship, and what was ultimately
achieved when it could have gone in the opposite direction, and one
can only speculate what that could have meant. One individual assigned
to CILHI for which I am indebted as he recognized that I had something
to offer, and that was Captain Benny Woodard. He had a passion equal
to mine, and I guess it was he who kept pushing that resulted in my
first contract being issued. He is one fellow with whom I would like
to make contact again. On his departure, his replacement, although
a fine young fellow, did not have the same mental capacity. And then
his replacement would have to rate as the most ignorant, arrogant
and self-opinionated person I have ever met. I had to do so much behind
the scene to smooth what he had ruffled. And then the jerk had the
audacity to crucify me on his return to save his thin skin. The report
I made was simply dismissed by CIL - although I often wonder what
the outcome would have been had my report been dropped off at the
local newspaper. Although it might have done nothing, as money speaks
all languages, and heaven help us, CIL has plenty of that to throw
My first contact with U. S. Army CILHI was in 1979, when I
temporarily lifted an embargo on WWII crash sites to cater for them.
It was not a very auspicious occasion. This was on 20 April 1979,
in the Melanesian Hotel, in Lae. I had flown across to meet with them,
and when I introduced myself, both Webb and Smith were polite, but
that was all. I was wanting to accompany them on the trip to Kassam
Pass and a B-24 site [B-24J 42-109981]. When I detected that there were not very fussed
with my presence, I excused myself and returned to my room. I called
my boss, who insisted that I accompany them, no matter what their
objections may have been, otherwise they can pack their bags and go
back to Hawaii. I thought about that, but decided against following
his wishes, so I simply returned to Moresby the next day. I felt that
there was something that we could all gain by holding our cool.
following year, CILHI had a new C. O., Rosenberg, and he initiated contact
with me, and that was the start of an excellent relationship between
CIL, the National Museum, and the Government of Papua New Guinea.
One can only speculate what the outcome would have been had I complied
with my director's wishes! Maybe Webb owes me a favour - who knows! Anyhow, Webb has always struck me as a very efficient, methodical
and cool character, but one who really did not like messing with civilians,
and more so those from another country's bureaucracy. He seemed to
take readily to those who could further his aims and aspirations,
although we did have a friendly and amicable relationship over the
years. I do not know if he ever bothered to defend me when CIL were
denigrating me in 1994, after he returned to CIL in a civilian capacity.
We tried to get the Japanese to work through us,
but they were a law unto themselves, and always used the excuse that
they did not understand. Actually, after the Japanese had finished
retrieving the remains, I then entered the fuselage, and managed to
find a stack more which I handed to them. Shades of the "efficiency"
Tell about 'A Missing Plane' by Susan Sheehan
The tail off B-24D "Weezie" 42-41081 was one of the highlight
displays - quite a job bringing it off the mountain in
the last helicopter lift. It was the slowest chopper flight
I have experienced, as even though we had weighted the
net with rucksacks and a 50 calibre gun, it was still
really too light. But we did make it, and I guess the
museum owes CILHI a vote of thanks, as that flight would
have cost them treble what it should have. She saw an item in the Washington Post
on the discovery of the B-24 which also mentioned my name,
she tracked down my telephone number, called me, and we
talked what seemed like two to three hours.
She came to
Australia in late June 1983 at a time when my wife was
giving birth in Australia to our youngest daughter, but
I still managed to get back to Moresby to see her (and
feel her tongue for not being there when she arrived,
even though I had friends meet her!) and we flew to Mt
Thumb and over-nighted on the mountain. We then corresponded
for the next few years, as well as receiving numerous
telephone calls. I did not really mind the interruptions
while she was researching her book, as I was being paid
to be a museum curator and answering queries was a part
of my job.
What are your feelings on restoration, recovery
These WW2 aircraft belong to the people of PNG, not
to anyone who thinks that they deserve to be taken out of the country.
At least some of these should remain in PNG, restored by some sympathetic
organization, and appropriately displayed in a secure environment,
with the rest going to deserving government museums.
I do not agree with commercial recoveries, as I have
seen many of these, and the vast sums of money that these exchanges
bring as well as untold profits. The US and Australia divested all
interest in these relics years ago, Australia in 1952. I feel that
too many foreign nationals still think that they can walk in to PNG,
do whatever they like, and then walk out. And this includes CILHI.
They do not understand or appreciate that PNG is a sovereign nation.
I witnessed so much arrogance while living there,
it is unbelievable! I was accused by members of the RAAF A-20 recovery
team and those from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) of not looking after
their interests when at the end of the day, I was being paid by the
Papua New Guinea Government and naturally my loyalty lay with PNG,
even though that could and no doubt did jeopardize my relationship
with both these organization in the years ahead. I was even asked
how long I had been a PNG citizen, and on being told that I was an
Australian, could not believe it, and then I was indirectly accused
of being a "traitor"! That was the sort of ignorance with
which I had to contend while with the museum.
I think there were many folk out there who were jealous of the
position I occupied in Papua New Guinea, and could not see or understand
why I was so defensive of the Papua New Guinean point of view. I feel
certain that these people wanted me to look after their own, perhaps
selfish interests and not the government (PNG) with whom I was employed.
PNG was my employer, and naturally my loyalty was directed to that
government. Many could not understand or appreciate that point of
PNG Museum Acquisitions 1978-1988
PNG Museum Acquisitions 1978-1988
List of Bruce Hoy published articles
List of Bruce Hoy published articles
Thank you for the interview, Mr. Hoy