Saturday, July 6, 2019

Skeletons with dog tags

We had dinner with a couple we've been close to since soon after we arrived here in Bali and a couple which we didn't know that well. They were married 45 years ago and came here the next year. I love to ask people who were here that long ago what it was like. The furthest back for a foreigner was a woman who came as a little girl with her father on a military plane in 1962 - they had to shoo the water buffalo off the field of the airport before they landed and needed a parachute to open behind the plane to the runway was so short. But the couple tonight were here in 1975. The crowded party capital of Kuta was a little village.

They'd been all over the South Pacific Islands. He was doing projects for the World Bank. In the early seventies he was in New Guinea helping get cocoa and coffee plantations going. He said that was really primitive and a lot of it still is. He talked about being on other islands, some further north toward Guam where there was fighting in WWII. He mentioned one island with a few thousand people that was filled with trash because they had nowhere to put it, and left over from both Japanese and American forces so that the beaches had half buried landing craft and artillery shells and helmets and plastic from later times. He talked about one island that where the bay and nearby ocean was  filled with sunken American ships - big ones like destroyers. A place in New Guinea where the Japanese and Americans were both entrenched in different parts waiting to fight each other with all sorts of equipment, vehicles, tanks, ships - and then the war ended so they dumped endless tons of it in the bay so full ships couldn't get in.

He told a excavation by the beach for a building he was involved with on a South Pacific Island in 1992. They had to stop because they were hitting skeletons. Carefully they uncovered a mass grave of soldiers skeletons with what what left of their clothing. They had dog on. They were Americans. He' contacted the US Defense Department. The official word was that no, the remains of all soldiers who died in WWII were repatriated. No. That's impossible. They gave up, created a new mass grave, reburied the skeletons of the US soldiers, and put up a marker stating that soldiers from WWI are buried here.

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