gathered here today in a celebration of life, a celebration of service
in a cause larger than life and a celebration of the lives sacrificed for
that cause. We gather together, not just for drinks and conversation,
the beauty of youth, the excitement of living through dangerous times
and to remember those comrades who have fallen victim to the ravages
and time. We are here to remember a group of bright and courageous young
men who left the comfort and security of their homes to fly as airmen
greatest War that mankind has ever experienced. Many did not return
from that war. A few returned after the passage of over 50 years as a
my search for missing aircraft in the mountains of Papua New Guinea.
It has been a great privilege for me to bring several of these men home
As I brought them back to their hometowns, back to Arlington, I realized
that their World has changed. Their hometowns have changed. Their families
and their friends have grown old without them. But those young men
changed and they never will. They died in the fullest flower of youth.
They will never know age. They died for their country. Much has changed
the central item of faith that they died for. That all men were created
equal in the eyes of God. They died high on lonely mountaintops,
shrouded by storm clouds and obscured
by the towering tiers of a primeval rain forest.
B-25C Mitchell 41-12485
went to New Guinea in search of the wreck site of a plane in which my
Great Uncle Major Bill Benn was
killed [B-25C 41-12485].
An Australian had been led to the site by natives in 1957 but the crash
location had been misstated. I hope to locate
and analyze the wreckage stream in an effort to ascertain the reasons
for the crash.
I succeeded in [re]locating the Benn B-25 in June of 1998.
been caused by an engine failure. Severe thunderstorms were reported
in the area on
the date of Benn’s death and I surmised that he was trying to
fly up a headwater valley in an attempt to sneak through an uncharted
and then perform a one-engine power glide back to Port Moresby. He
almost made it. Five hundred feet from the top of the divide, his B-25
side of the mountain and his voice was stilled forever. While visiting
the site, I
recovered the partial remains and dog tags of his co-pilot and flight
Discovery of Two P-47 Thunderbolts
While searching for the Benn crash site, I had the incredible
good fortune to assist in locating and identifying four other WWII aircraft
remains of 15 long lost airmen. They were men such as Wilfrid Desilets,
a young [P-47D
42-8059] pilot from Worcester,
beneath a headstone that has borne his name for almost 50 years. His
mortal remains now reside there with his parents.
Men like George Gaffney
whose daughter Pattie
asked me to help her find her Father’s plane [P-47D
George was buried in Arlington in June, 1999 with full military
story was treated briefly in Brokaw’s second book “The
Greatest Generation Speaks” and
was featured on a cable show called Beyond Chance.
of Liaison Plane
the Gaffney site, natives from the village of Yaut led me to a
wreck site [L-4A 43-29071].
The small L-5 was an observation plane for directing artillery fire
and it held the remains
of a Major Kindig. In an extraordinary twist to the story, Major
son Mike recently married George Gaffney’s daughter Pattie.
I also financed and led an expedition that located
the remains of
nine men in the Finisterre
Range. Several of those crewmen will
be buried in Arlington in May of 2004.
Although I never knew any of
stories are forever intertwined with my own. The experience of
discovering their remains and returning them to their families will always
as one of the defining
moments of my life. I have been asked occasionally why I care so
passionately about a bunch of dead guys that died far away in a place most
of. My work
been morbid and it has not been about dead men. I have celebrated
life. I have celebrated the lives of a wonderful generation of
has been enriched immeasurably by the experience. We are gathered
here today in a celebration of life, a celebration of service
in a cause
life and a celebration of the lives sacrificed for that cause.
We gather together,
not just for drinks and conversation, but to remember the beauty
of youth, the excitement of living through dangerous times and
have fallen victim to the ravages of war and time. We are here
to remember a group of bright and courageous young men who left the
their homes to fly as airmen in the greatest War that mankind
has ever experienced. Many did not return from that war. A few returned
the passage of over
50 years as a result of my search for missing aircraft in the
mountains of Papua
New Guinea. It has been a great privilege for me to bring several
of these men home for burial. As I brought them back to their
hometowns, back to
Arlington, I realized that their World has changed. Their hometowns
have changed. Their
families and their friends have grown old without them. But those
not changed and they never will. They died in the fullest flower
of youth. They will never know age. They died for their country.
but not the
central item of faith that they died for. That all men were created
equal in the eyes of God. They died high on lonely mountaintops,
and obscured by the towering tiers of a primeval rainforest.
May 1999, I attended the burial of Wilfrid Desilets in Worcester
Mass. I stood by his grave in a steady rain and I spoke to the
crowd. Wilfrid’s six surviving
sisters stood before me with tears in each of their eyes. I’ll
never forget the way they looked on that day, grieving for their
only brother who had died
many years before. They were young women when Wilfrid departed
but they were old women when he returned. Six older women, reacquainted
with their need, remembering
and grieving for Youth and Beauty and a Brother who remained more
precious than time to them. As I spoke, they wept openly and I’ll
not forget the way their tears ran together with the rain on
NOTE - A documentary B-25
Down: Hunt For A Hero aired on the History Channel in 2003.
After locating the Benn plane, I turned my attention to salvaging
several other aircraft that I believed were worthy of restoration and preservation.
projects ranged from two F4U
Corsairs that I located in Lake Sebago Maine (that still held the remains
of British pilots) [Corsair JT160 and Corsair JT132], a B-24 ["Lady
Be Good" 41-24301] in Libya and a number
historic warplanes in Papua New Guinea.
of P-47 Piloted by Missing In Action pilot Marion C. Lutes
[NOTE - In October 2004, Hagen funded the recovery
of P-47D 42-22687 by Robert Greinert. We asked Hagen for his comments
about the fact that the pilot of the aircraft is still listed as an MIA and
that the US military had yet to visit the site for a recovery operation.]
Alfred Hagen stated in a email message on October 21, 2004:
"JPAC & the [U. S.] ambassador
[to Papua New Guinea] were the victims of misinformation and bullshit in
an attempt to sabotage our operation. They were told that the site was
MIA (technically correct) and that the pilots remains could still be in
or around the wreckage (grossly incorrect). The pilot opened an escape
hatch in the canopy from inside and climber out. He ate his emergency rations
30 feet from the plane [No photographic evidence
of these relics have been submitted to Pacific Wrecks or any other website or source.] he vanished
into the jungle, never to be seen again. He was probably injured. The instrument
panel is completely intact and frozen in time. He hit a tree on approach
at 105mph, sheared off the tail and pancaked to earth. He couldn't open
his canopy because it was jambed by the left wing which broke off and flipped
over the fuselage. [After the salvage] Robert Greinert has met with JPAC
and they are fine with what we did. They frankly admit that they were victims
of BS. An earlier CILHI team inspected the site. The American Ambassador
was also misinformed. He was straightened out by Australians who knew better.
The rest of the US government couldn't give two fucks."
In another email, Alfred Hagen stated in a email message on October 25, 2004:
"Kindly allow to clarify that I went to PNG to assist my associate Rob
Greinert recover the P-38 and the P-47. They are his projects, not mine.
I am happy to assist him in any way possible because his help in resolving
the Swamp Ghost salvage has been indispensable. I did help fund the
project and I am working with Rob but the plane is his project, not mine.
That is why it went to Sydney and not to the USA."
Salvaging 'Swamp Ghost'
The most important of these planes
[B-17E 41-2446] in
the Agaimbo Swamp on the north coast of New Guinea that has come to be
known as the “Swamp Ghost”. I
purchased the salvage rights [from MARC
/ David Tallichet] to the Swamp
Ghost several years ago but experienced a number of delays in the salvage
It is critical to restore this
B-17 because the ravages of both man and corrosion are steadily eroding and
destroying the plane. Most warplane relics in New
Guinea have been destroyed by locals that scrap the metal for a few kina
but the Swamp Ghost is so inaccessible that it has so far escaped this
has been repeatedly vandalized by visitors, most of whom have been westerners
They have been mutilating and stripping the planes for
the last three decades. It is ludicrous to argue that the plane be left
swamp because it is too remote to constitute a tourist destination
and it is being steadily destroyed by the ravages of both time and man.
people have been critical of my attempt to salvage this important historical
relic, claiming that it should be left in the swamp.
I have no
sympathy for this view and I can only say that the men who flew it
on its last mission should have the final say. After the passage of over
60 years, their mission will finally
The B-17 crashed on February 23rd, 1942 after flying to Rabaul in the
first long range American bombing mission of the Second World War. The
Ghost was attacked over Rabaul by 12 Japanese aircraft and shot down
escaping into a tropical storm. Having sustained considerable damage
and low on fuel, Eaton decided to belly the plane into a field on the
The field turned out to be a horrid swamp filled with
malarial mosquitoes, huge spiders, water snakes and crocodiles. Elephant
grass soared 20 feet above the water, blocking the skyline and making navigation
At the limits of human endurance, the crewmen finally
stumbled into a native village where they were fed and cared for. They
were eventually taken to
an Australian coast watcher named Allan Champion [ there
were no coastwatchers in New Guinea, actually he was Resident Magistrate ]. By this time, the
entire crew had come down with acute malaria and the men could barely walk.
After several weeks, a sailing schooner picked up the crew and delivered
them to Port
Moresby where the men shortly returned to flying and fighting the war.
salvage will be accomplished by removing the four engines and both wings
in the swamp. The fuselage will be lifted out of the water with
and the structure pressure washed and rigged. A CH-47 hevi-lift helicopter
will lift the airframe from the swamp and fly it to the nearest port.
The plane will be dismantled and loaded into sea containers for the
to the United States. It should be an extraordinary adventure and the
airlift will render magnificent visual images from one of the most picturesque,
places on earth.
[NOTE: In late April / early May 2006 Alfred Hagen / Aero Archeology controversially salvaged B-17E 41-2446 (aka "Swamp Ghost). The wreck became highly controversial and its export was halted at Lae. The PAC Report on the Swamp Ghost by the PNG Government concluded Hagen and his company had broken the law. During June 2006, Mr. Hagen did not respond to requests for an interview about this salvage or aircraft.