Editor’s Note:  This is the second part of a three part series describing how the BentProp Project has undertaken one of the most noble tasks–Returning MIA’s to their families and country. You can read Part I here.

FighterSweep.com was lucky enough to sit down with former USMC F/A-18 WSO and BentProp project member Derek “Cosmo” Abbey.  Cosmo is on the Board of Directors at BentProp and has been through several dives searching for MIA’s in Palau.

We talked with him about what it is like to make a discovery that may have taken years of painstaking  research and dives. We wanted to find out the sense of emotion that one feels when you see an MIA site that has been undisturbed for more than 70 years.

These are the thoughts of a Marine helping to find and return missing Marines.

His own words follow below:

It is difficult to put into words the emotions that are felt when you are looking for a site associated with an MIA or MIAs.   During the searching we are in the jungle or underwater, so the seclusion allows you to spend a lot of time with your thoughts.

I find myself thinking a lot about the people we are searching for.  Who they were.  What their loved ones went through. What their friends thought of them. What their last moments must have been like.  How people connected to them have no idea there are others putting forth efforts to find them.

I think we all have conversations with the people we are looking for where we just express, internally or externally that we are looking for them and we are going to keep trying until we find them.  The seclusion also provides moments of extreme focus on what you are trying to do and allows you to become very present.

Beginning the dive. Credit: Derek Abbey
Beginning the dive. Credit: Derek Abbey

When we find a sight, there is a flood of emotions.  From excitement and joy to a renewed sadness of what the site represents.  We then have to refocus ourselves because the work is not over.  There is always a desire to connect with a sight when we find them.

There are certain elements on each site that bring that home.  The propeller of the plane is something that each of us reaches out to touch at some point.  In the jungle most of the paint is bleached or worn off of the aluminum, so whenever I see blue paint it drives home a connection that this is an American aircraft.

There was a crash site on Peleliu of a Navy Avenger associated with three MIAs.  There is an image from that site that always drives home a connection for me and is often present in my mind.  In the debris of that site there was a spoon with “USN” etched in the handle.  To me, this is something that is very human, real, and personal.

Touching the Prop, Photo credit: Derek Abbey
Touching the Prop, Photo credit: Derek Abbey

I can think of many times as a Marine when I would keep a spoon in my pocket so that it was readily available when I had a chance to eat during times when I was deployed or in the field.  I picture in my head the Sailor that had this spoon had visited the galley just prior to the mission or was looking forward to midrats upon his return from the mission.  Those human connections create and enhance a sense of community missing in our society today.

Much like the bond that is built within military units, I have discovered an amazing bond between those that are a part of the BentProp Project.  This is driven home and made more visible when a site is discovered and ultimately when families are notified.  The bonds of trust and respect that are brought about through the commitment and success from our mission are unmatched.

If that does not stir your soul, nothing will!

Stay with us for Part III tomorrow, when we talk about what happens after a discovery is made.

Top Photo Credit:  Derek Abbey