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Dr. Patrick J. Scannon
Palau Explorer & Founder of Bent Prop

Pat Scannon has been involved with WWII history, wrecks, exploration on the islands of Palau. He is also the creator of the BentProp.org website, and four self funded "PMAN" (Palau-Marines+Army Air Force+Navy) expeditions to the Palau area in search of history. His work and discoveries since 1993 include: locating the Japanese ship that was sunk by George H. W. Bush, plus many other significant ship and aircraft wrecks and MIA cases in the Palau area.

Tell a little about yourself and your background
Born in Fort Knox KY and as an army brat of an officer, traveled a lot courtesy of the US Army. Lived in many states and Germany - graduated from the University of Georgia with a BSChem degree ('69), then a PhD from UC Berkeley ('72), then an MD from the Medical College of Georgia ('76), then board certified in Internal Medicine ('79).

After spending two years at the Letterman Army Institute of Research in San Francisco (as a major in the Army Medical Corps, '79-'80), instead of joining a private practice, I started a biotech company specializing in therapeutics in '80 (XOMA, Ltd) (xoma.com) and am its Chief Scientific and Medical Officer. I am married (Susan) and have one daughter (Nell). Susan and I live in San Francisco, CA and my daughter has graduated from college and works in Sacramento, CA.

Speak about your interest in the Pacific
I have always had an interest concerning WWII, probably through both my mother and father, but mostly in Europe. As well, I have had a life long interest in aviation. In 1993, my wife, Susan and I were invited by Dan Bailey (Author, WWII Wrecks of Palau) and Chip Lambert (located USS Mississinewa wreck) to become part of a dive team in Palau to search for a Japanese trawler sunk by George H. W. Bush in July 1944. The government of Palau was interested in finding this site as part of their 50-year remembrance of the Peleliu invasion, planned for September 1994.

We did find this ship wreck and documented it. The President of Palau recognized our work and authorized a press release upon our discovery. In addition, our underwater video footage, much to our amazement, appeared on Nightline nationwide as proof that then-Ensign Bush had in fact sunk an armed trawler, as opposed to an unarmed one (which had become a brief controversy in 1994 during and after the US Presidential election).

My wife and I stayed on in Palau after the dive team left and we hired a guide to take us to "other wrecks". Instead of taking us to well-known ship wrecks, he took us to a 65 foot aircraft wing with two engine mounts. He did not know anything about it. But he did know there were other airplane wrecks "all over the place". I determined that the wing was American and became captivated with wanting to know what happened to the crew of this plane as well as all the others that might be around this area. I started doing research as soon as I got back to the US and quickly learned that many US aircraft remain missing within the scuba-divable Palauan barrier reef system (an important delineation as the ocean depths exceed 5000 feet outside).

My research of records (USN, USMC, USAF, National Archives, and more) to date (which involves nine years of discovery) indicates that within (or very nearby) the Palau barrier reef, at least 79 US aircraft crashed as a result of combat (most to very intense AAA fire), of which 58 have not yet been found (of which 31 aircraft are known to contain/be associated with at least 55 MIA's).

Of the 21 US aircraft found to date, 5 were found by others over the years and 16 have been found by our efforts. 10 of these 16 found aircraft are associated with known OR possible MIA's ( we are still investigating ALL of them).

The remaining 6 of the 16 are wreck sites from which remains were recovered after the war or from which the airmen survived. This does not include several Japanese aircraft also found by us and others over the years.

I came back to Palau alone in '94 and '95 and, working with local guides, found a number of additional crash sites. So much exploration is involved that I started bringing teams with me in '96.

Chip and Pam Lambert have traveled with me on expeditions in '96, '99, and '00 (not including my participation in Chip's expedition to Ulithi in '01 to find the sunken USS Mississinewa - this adventure can be separately found on BentProp.org. Dan Bailey, who has located so many ship wrecks in Palau, Truk and Kwaj, also traveled with me at least once ('99).

Starting in '01, a video team headed by Dan O'Brien and Jennifer Powers (PostStar Productions) has accompanied me on my last two expeditions in Palau ('01, '02) to create a documentary about these efforts (Last Flight Home).

Starting in '99, as a member of the Explorers Club, I also have had the honor of being selected to carry an Explorers Club flag with me to document these later expeditions ('99, '00, '01, '02).

Explain the mission of Bentprop.org
The BentProp Project is a formalization that I felt was needed to further the earlier efforts. The purposes for creating the BentProp Project, started in '00, include:

1) Dissemination of our expeditionary findings (since '99, each expedition has been given a PMAN numerical designation - for Palau-Marines+Army Air Force+Navy) through our website, BentProp.org (many thanks to our web master, Reid Joyce).

2) Creation of a record which will add to the known history in Palau of the sacrifices made by Americans in defense of our country during WWII (I write up and share each expediton's findings, as appropriate, with the Navy Historical Center, the Air Force Historical Research Center, the Marine Corps Historical Center, the US Army Central identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI / JPAC) and the Palau Historical Presrvation Office, as well as others.

3) Education for interested people in the air campaigns fought over Palau from MAR 1944 to war's.

4) Education about the aircraft involved in these campaigns. (NOTE: our latest effort on the web site is the addition of a "can you identify this airplane?" section where we show parts we have found but not yet identified. Now website visitors can get involved without going to Palau!).

Since 1996, I have gone to Palau with select teams, with each member having one or more specialties, according to the mission. For example, we have used underwater magnetometry, with the help of a Stanford University professor, Dr. Greg Kovacs and his computer expert father-in-law, Reid Joyce to try to find aircraft in the ocean. On our last expedition, we had aviation experts along, like Val Thal-Slocum and Flip Colmer to help as we discover new sites. One of our plans on the drawing board is a formal mapping project for all crash sites we have found in Palau and, for that, we have identified a mapping expert to assist in cataloging all the sites (which we always try to document where possible with GPS).

One amazing footnote: throughout the entire nine years to date, all of this exploration has been self-funded by the individual team members. Everyone has paid their own expenses without the help of outside sources. While this has given us enormous flexibility - a major benefit thus far, it is also worth saying that every member's involvement has been a true labor of love: once in Palau, we work very hard from dawn into the night regardless of weather,in the jungles or in the water - and almost never have time for anything else, including the incredible recreational diving available in Palau.

Please share about your work with MIA Cases
There are three types of crash sites within Palau:
1) those associated with airmen who were rescued,
2) those associated with airmen who were KIA and their remains were recovered and
3) those associated with MIA's. It turns out that of the MIA's still missing, we have discovered relatively recently that some of these airmen were captured and most probably executed - I am still working on figuring out just how many. So in addition to searching for crash sites, I am also working on trying to determine what happened to certain MIA's who we now suspect may have been captured and executed.

B-24M "Brief" 44-42058 navigator, Lt Wallace Kaufman, is known to have been captured and beheaded in May 1945 (in '01, working with Professor Donald Shuster and his wife at the University of Guam, we located his executioner in Japan and I was able to interview him there - quite an experience). Due to the relentless work of my friend and colleague, Professor Shuster, we know at least three other US airmen (and 10 missionaries) were also captured and executed. This has stimulated me to review yet other records - I now am convinced that other Americans were executed in Palau as well. None of these executed airmen's remains, except for LT Kaufman, have yet been found.

Through my contact with Professor Shuster, in '00 I started working with US Army's CILHI, a truly incredible organization dedicated to finding and identifying our military MIA's. CILHI has sent two expedition teams to Palau in association with our efforts ('00,'01) and one of their senior forensic anthropologists, Dr. William Belcher, has accompanied us on our last expedition in '02. Because the scope of CILHI's efforts are so vast (searching for ~90,000 remaining MIA's - of which ~ 80,000 are from WWII), they cannot be everywhere. CILHI and I have been working together closely and they have graciously helped, where they could, to provide information to me, as well as to educate us so that that our methods of discovery are compatible with accepted archeological practice (and since these sites are all over 50 years old, by definition, they are all archelogical sites). In turn, I keep CIHI informed through formal reports of all our findings. This type of cooperation I understand is somewhat unique but has worked very well. I like to think we are helping to extend CILHI's search for MIA's.

Speak about a few sites that are memorable to you
Several of the searches have been very special for me. As examples only, I found a Corsair deep in a mangrove swamp in '94 and after a good dose of luck and elbow grease was able to locate four years later the aviator who flew it. Walter Brown, and his wonderful wife Frances, have become dear friends. As a result, I also met his former squadron commander, Walter Meyer, whom I also consider a close friend.

Another Corsair that I have not yet found was flown by MAJ Quintus B. Nelson, squadron commander of VMF-122 - but in the process, too long to describe here, I have met his only child, his son, Jim, who has gone to Palau with me in search of his still missing father. Our trip together last April is something our entire team will never forget (see PMANIV report on web site).

I have gotten to know the reunion group historians, people like Bill Cantrell (VMF-114) and Jim Kendall (307th BG(H)) - each of whom can go on for hours about their unit's involvement in WWI (and happily they have done so with me).

Then there is the TBM Avenger we found on PMANIII ('01) piloted by MAJ Harry Scullin. Since '00, I have carried American flags with me to include in ceremonies as we find aircraft. After the ceremony, I deliver the flags to family members, along with photos and videos, as we locate the family members. For MAJ Scullin's ceremony I had two such flags, one for each of his surviving sisters, who had never been able to find out anything about their brother's death. Members of the PMAN team delivered the flags, along with me, to the two sisters, this past September in St Louis - again something very, very special. There are simple too many of these stories.

What part do veterans play in your research?
Four sources of information have proven invaluable thus far in our searches: 1) the official records (which provide aircraft and personnel details but typically, due to the "fog of war", lack substance as to location), 2) Palauan elders and chiefs who actually witnessed some of the aircraft crash, 3) regional Palauan hunter/fisher guides who find crash sites as part of their livelihood - I have established a network of such guides throughout Palau, and 4) veterans who flew these missions.

In addition to the three fast carrier attacks in Palau, involving many Navy squadrons, seven other units played important roles in the air campaigns over Palau: VMF (Marine Fighter Squadron)-114, VMF-122, VMF-121, VMTB (Marine Torpedo Squadron)-134, 307th BG of the 13th AF, 494th BG of the 7th AAF and the 90th BG of the 5th AF. I have spoken with many veterans from every one of these groups and have had the privilege of presenting our findings to reunion groups associated with most of these groups.

I have found their recollections very useful in the searches and particularly of value for relating stories about their lost comrades over Palau. They have allowed me to copy literally many hundreds of photographs from Palau taken during WWII, otherwise unobtainable. This group of men, as well as their families, provide not just information - they are a profound reminder of what it has taken (and will continue to take) to protect our country and its freedoms.

What do you think should be done with wreck sites?
Actually, the decision as to what happens to these sites is out of my hands - these are all archeological sites, protected by US and Palauan law. Further, all Navy/Marine sites by US Navy policy remain the property of the US Navy. Scavenging or salvaging these historical sites is forbidden and I absolutely agree with these policies. In certain rare instances, credible museums may make a case for preservation but they will need to persuade multiple US and Palauan agencies, as well as local chiefs, to be able to do so. In fact, I have been asked by both US and Palauan officials NOT to publish GPS coordinates of any site we find. We continue to honor those requests.

Thank you for the interview, Dr. Scannon

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Pat Scannon, 2002

 

 

 

 

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Ens George H W Bush in TBF

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Pat Scannon and Pam Lambert on Japanese armed trawler sunk by George H. Bush in Palau

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307th BG B-24 over Koror

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B-24J 44-40603 wing
lost over Koror

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Mission Photograph showing both the port wing and fuselage of B-24 ‘603 in terminal flight

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PMANI Team on Dive Boat near southern Babeldaob searching for B-24J ‘453, 1999

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Prep magnetometer into water near southern Babeldaob looking for B-24J ‘453

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TBM Avenger, 45946 November 2001

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B-24M “Brief" 44-42058
lost over Koror

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Dr. Bill Belcher with identifying panel from F4U 57807, lost 10MAR45, Babeldaob, 2002

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Professor Donald Shuster

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Pat Scannon on F4U 14257 in mangrove swamp in northern Koror, from which LT W. Brown bailed and survived, 04MAR45

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Pam Lambert and Pat Scannon with Ngatpang chiefs in search of Japanese jungle HQ in Palau

 

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Pat Scannon and Bill Cantrell, LTC (ret), USMC on Peleliu

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Members of PMANIV team with American flags at crash site of TBF Avenger 45946

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Delivering American flags from Scullin's TBF Avenger 45946 crash site to his two sisters, November 2001

Last Updated
May 22, 2017

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