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Sons of the 43rd

The jungle knew all along.  But for fifty years it had held its secret.  The war had moved on and left it in peace, or what passes for peace in the still uninhabitable regions of New Guinea.  Searches were conducted, families mourned, and memories faded.  Still, the jungle only hid its treasure, it did not erase it.

The story goes that a logging team was cutting a road when they discovered something man made in the depths of the New Guinea jungle.  The object was large, very large, and had been there for some time.  Among the clues to the identity of this creature was a number, still visible on the tail: 41-24552.  They had discovered the last resting place of the B-17 bomber named Listen Here Tojo.

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The B-17 bomber Listen Here Tojo disappeared into a cloud after bombing the New Guinea city of Lae September 15, 1943.  For fifty years no one knew (but the impenetrable jungle) what had happened to her.  Now in 1993, the jungle gave up her secrets to the men of the logging team cutting a road in the Black Cat Valley.

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Carrie Lee Nelson, the wife of the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, had finished eating dinner in her Baltimore home when the phone rang.  After a few questions confirming that she was born Carrie Lee Dotson of Pound, Virginia she heard the stunning words that the remains of her brother had been found after fifty years.  Carrie Lee’s brother, Delmar Dotson, had flown on the Listen Here Tojoon its final and fatal mission.

Carrie Lee and Delmar were younger brother and sister to my grandmother, Laura Dotson Spradlin.  As a child, I can remember Grandmother Spradlin telling us that her Father died and the youngest children were given away to an orphanage.  Delmar grew up at the Masonic Home of Virginia and later joined the Army Air Corp.  He went to New Guinea with the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) and disappeared that September day in 1943.

When I visited Lae, New Guinea and told the local people why I was there, they were not surprised.  They told me my family’s blood had been spilled in the mountains and that the blood called to me to come and tell its story.

Here is that story.

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