Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II
Wil S. Hylton
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From a mesmerizing storyteller, the gripping search for a missing World War II crew, their bomber plane, and their legacy.
In the fall of 1944, a massive American bomber carrying eleven men vanished over the Pacific islands of Palau, leaving a trail of mysteries. According to mission reports from the Army Air Forces, the plane crashed in shallow water—but when investigators went to find it, the wreckage wasn’t there. Witnesses saw the crew parachute to safety, yet the airmen were never seen again. Some of their relatives whispered that they had returned to the United States in secret and lived in hiding. But they never explained why.
For sixty years, the U.S. government, the children of the missing airmen, and a maverick team of scientists and scuba divers searched the islands for clues. With every clue they found, the mystery only deepened.
Now, in a spellbinding narrative, Wil S. Hylton weaves together the true story of the missing men, their final mission, the families they left behind, and the real reason their disappearance remained shrouded in secrecy for so long. This is a story of love, loss, sacrifice, and faith—of the undying hope among the families of the missing, and the relentless determination of scientists, explorers, archaeologists, and deep-sea divers to solve one of the enduring mysteries of World War II.
in San Diego, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Tulsa—but none would symbolize the rise of the Liberator like the facility near Detroit known as Willow Run. Managed by the Ford Motor Company, Willow Run was in some respects a greater engineering feat than the planes it produced. It was the largest factory in the world, spread across 3.5 million square feet, with 28,855 windows and 152,000 fluorescent lights. The assembly line traveled so far that, when it reached the edge of the county, designers built
to navigate glacial ice—each member arriving in civilian clothing to spend the coming weeks and months serving an archaeological team. Meanwhile, Johnie Webb spoke for them all. Most of the family members who contacted JPAC wound up on Johnie’s line, and he would take the call in an office stuffed with memorabilia from around the world, leaning back in his chair to offer information, or just to listen. He kept a small, plain box on the corner of his desk to remind him of why he was there.
Once in a while, he would lift the lid and remove a silver bracelet, twirling it gently between his fingers. “This was for a young NCO in the Special Forces during Vietnam who was lost in a helicopter crash,” he explained one afternoon. “Over the years, I got to know his family very well. We became, I would say, friends. A very patriotic family. But I watched over the years as we searched for their son, and they began to lose some of their patriotism. I can remember the father telling me
while others praised him for having lasted there so long. Parents named their children for him. The Blackfeet Indians called him Chief Wise Eagle. Roosevelt’s view of MacArthur was mixed. They had been friends early in their careers, but by the summer of 1944, the relationship was thorny at best. Just three months before their meeting in Hawaii, MacArthur had finally put to rest a long-standing rumor, circulated by his friend William Randolph Hearst, that the general planned to challenge the
another lead. Speis had mentioned a fisherman who knew the area well, and Maldangesang wanted to ask if he’d ever seen anything strange in the water. To his surprise, the fisherman was tight-lipped. He didn’t want to get involved, he said, or spend hours motoring around the coral on a boat filled with Americans. But when Maldangesang promised to keep his identity secret, the fisherman said yes: he’d seen a huge jumble of metal embedded in one of the coral heads. Using a verbal shorthand, he