Monday, November 11, 2013

The Flying Dutchman

On Nov. 10, 1942, a C-47 called The Flying Dutchman was ferrying replacements and supplies from Port Moresby to an airstrip near Pongani, New Guinea. This may have been the day my father (Pfc. Benjamin Smith, Co. M, 128th) and his best friend were left alone to guard the runway when a sniper made a choice that gave me life.

In any event, The Flying Dutchman never made it to Pongani. Encountering a strong downdraft, it crashed into Mt. Obree while attempting to cross the treacherous Owen Stanley Range.

Seven were killed, and two groups of four shortly went for help, leaving the remaining eight seriously injured and burned survivors alone on what had come to be known as "Ghost Mountain" where even the moss-covered trees illuminated the night with a phosphorescent glow.
It was the eeriest place I ever saw. The trees were covered with moss a half a foot thick. We would walk along a hogback, straddling the trail, with a sheer drop of thousands of feet two feet on either side of us. We kept hearing water running somewhere, but we couldn’t find any. We could thrust a stick six feet down in the spongy stuff we were walking on without hitting anything real solid. It was ungodly cold. There wasn’t a sign of life. Not a bird. Not a fly. Not a sound. It was the strangest feeling I ever had. If we stopped, we froze. If we moved, we sweated (Lt. Paul R. Lutjens, Co. E, 126TH).
In 1967, the Pacific wreck of the The Flying Dutchman was found, and on one of its doors, the following inscribed, including the last recorded prayer, December Thurs-24:

Crashed 1:30 Tues - 10 of Nov. - 1942
Tues-10 17 men alive
Wed-11 16 men alive
Thurs-12 4 men started for help
Sat-14 Tried to put up balloon
Sun-15 Cracker and cheese
Mon-16 4 men started for help-due South leaves eight men left
Tues-17 Small piece cheese
Wed-18 Chocolate bar
Thurs-19 Found one chocolate bar
Fri-20 1/3 can tomato juice
Sat-21 1/3 can tomato juice
Sun-22 Drank last 1/3 can of tomato juice
Mon-23 Last cigarette-even butts
Tues-24 First day-no rain
Wed-25 2nd day-no rain
Thurs-26 Rain today-also clear in morning
Fri-27 Bucket full water this morn-still got our chin up.
Sat-28 Clearest day we have had
Sun-29 Nice clear day. Boy we're getting weak still have our hope
Mon-30 Still going strong on imaginary meals
December Tues-1 My summer is here - went to spring today
Wed-2 Just slid by but Boy it rained
Thurs-3 Kinda cold and cloudy today-still plenty hungry-Boy a cig. would do good
Fri-4 Same ole thing-clear this morn
Sat-5 Boy nothing happened-just waiting
Sun-6 Had service today. Still lots of hope
Mon-7 Year ago today the war started-Boy we didn't think of this then
Tues-8 Nice day - still living on thru this
Wed-9 Cloudy. God is looking out for our water supply
Thurs-10 Just thirty days ago. We can take it but would be nice if someone came
Fri-11 Cold rainy day. We would like to start out before Christmas
Sat-12 Fairly nice day-still plenty of water
Sun-13 Beautiful morning everyone has high hopes
Mon-14 Waiting
Tues-15 Waiting
Wed-16 New water place today
Thurs-17 Running out of imaginary meals. Boys shouldn't be long in coming now. Six more shopping days
Fri-18 Nice and warm this morning. Rained in the afternoon
Sat-19 Pretty cold last night. Cold this morning too. Water pretty low. Five more days till Xmas
Mon-21 Plenty of water
Tues-22 Rained all three days
Wed-23 Thinking about home and Christmas. Still hoping
Thurs-24 Tonite is Christmas eve. God make them happy at home
Fri-25 Christmas Day
Sun-27 Rain every day
Wed-30 Johnnie died today
Fri-1 New Year's Day

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