The following is from an article originally published in the Jax Air News, a Navel Air Station Jacksonville, FL news paper, on October 14, 1943 about being stranded on Rossel Island.
Radioman Marooned On Island Inhabited by Man-Eating Natives
Aviation Radioman First Class Clyde Horn's story of being marooned on a far away island tenanted by man-eating natives sounds like fiction, but it's the truth, so help him Hannah.
In fact, Horn's true story is related by Stanley Johnson in his book, Queen of the Flat Tops. The noted author devoted an entire chapter, entitled "Castaways Among Cannibals," to the experiences of the men aboard five Navy scouting planes which made a forced landing on the uncivilized isle of Rossel. Horn, now stationed at Lee Field, vividly recalls the adventure. It began a year and a half ago when his Navy scouting plane took off on a routine mission. "As usual, we had selected a rendezvous where we were supposed to meet our ship at a designated time," says Horn. The ship did not show up, and Horn later learned it had been forced to change its course and maintain radio silence. "We didn't have much gas left, so we decided to set down on the water and wait for morning," the Hubbard, Ohio, radioman recounts. "The sea was choppy and there was an 18-knot wind blowing so we got tossed about all night long. Believe me that was about the most uncomfortable night I ever spent."
The next morning the pilot of the plane plotted their position, figured they should be able to reach one of the small islands, and made a beeline for it. They landed in a bay and swam ashore. "It looked deserted at first, but we know there must be some life on the island for we had seen a house with a red tin roof when we circled the island," Horn says. "It was almost an hour before we saw anyone, then we saw faces peering at us from behind trees. They'd get a little nearer -- and we'd move in a little closer. We still didn't know whether they were friendly or not." "Finally a chief named Tapi came close enough to talk to us. We knew Tapi was his name for it was very crudely tattooed on his chest. Tapi spoke a sort of Pidgin English with an Australian accent. He told us, "we friends, we friends, no need guns." We gave up our guns reluctantly."
The red roofed house turned out to be an old deserted copra plantation, which had been owned by an Australian named Osborne. He had taught the primitive natives some English; and had left word with them that if any white man came; they were to help them. "If you Jap plane, we kill," Tapi told the Americans. "And I'm sure he meant it," adds Horn. "I've learned since then that those natives were descended from a long line of notorious cannibals, but I'm glad I didn't know it then," remarks Horn with a grin.
"We never saw the women," relates the radioman. "We knew they were on the island for children of all sizes were running around. We asked Tapi about the women -- he just giggled and replied, "they 'fraid -- they go bush." "Sure enough, they stayed in the bush and never came out."
Hungry and thirsty, the Americans drank dirty water caught dripping from leaves of the copra plantation and ate boiled chicken given them by the chief. "Golly, but it was tough," says Horn, just about the toughest chicken I ever saw. We also had some green fruit and coconuts." What Horn missed most of all, however, was toothpaste. "Sounds sorta trivial, but I would have given almost anything for a tube of toothpaste, he asserts.
The Americans found a swimming hole at a little inlet, but when they started to go in the natives made an awful commotion. "One of them kept yelling, "Big fish made ki-ki." "We didn't know what a ki-ki meant but we didn't go in the water. We found out the next day. We were standing by the inlet looking into the clear water when a couple of big sharks and crocodiles went swimming by. We found out that ki-ki is an Australian slang for chow. We knew then the natives were looking out for us, and their word was law from then on."
"One day the natives came running to tell us there was a plane coming," continued Horn. "We couldn't hear a thing. About 15 minutes later, sure enough, here came one of the PBY's. We signaled with smoke bombs and the plane made a landing and took six of us off the island and made arrangements for rescue of the rest of the party." As a memento of being a castaway among cannibals, Horn has a statue of a pig carved primitively out of native wood. The Chief gave it to him as a good luck token. "I wouldn't part with it for anything under the sun," declares Horn. "I think I'm pretty lucky. I'm back in the states working at Lee Field where I have an opportunity to live with my wife and six weeks old daughter."
Horn also thinks he's lucky that the Rossel Island cannibals didn't live up to their reputation while he was a star boarder there.
Jax Air News