The Airmen and the Headhunters


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A true story of downed B-24s in Japanese-occupied Borneo and a native tribe that “makes us—like the airmen—rethink our definitions of civilized and savage” (Entertainment Weekly).

November 1944: Their B-24 bomber shot down on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast, a scattered crew of Army airmen cut themselves loose from their parachutes—only to be met by loincloth-wearing natives silently materializing out of the mountainous jungle. Would these Dayak tribesmen turn the starving airmen over to the hostile Japanese occupiers? Or would the Dayaks risk vicious reprisals to get the airmen safely home in a desperate game of hide-and-seek? A cinematic survival story featuring a bamboo airstrip built on a rice paddy, a mad British major, and a blowpipe-wielding army that helped destroy one of the last Japanese strongholds, The Airmen and the Headhunters is also a gripping tale of wartime heroism unlike any other you have read.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 janvier 2009
Nombre de visites sur la page 1
EAN13 9780547416069
Langue English

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Title Page Contents Copyright Dedication Maps Preface A B-24 Over Borneo Into the Jungle The D.O.’s Dilemma “Good-bye, Mister” Another Part of the Forest Becoming Lun Dayeh A Letter from the Japanese Polecat Gulch The Pangeran Forces the Pace The D.O. Declares War The Navy Crashes In Help from on High SEMUT Finds Work for the Yanks A Way Out The Allies Arrive Acknowledgments Glossary A Note on Sources Index About the Author Footnotes
Copyright © 2007 by Judith M. Heimann All rights reserved. For information about permissi on to reproduce selections from this book, write totrade.permissions@hmhco.comor to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016. Maps by Helen Phillips The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edi tion as follows: Heimann, Judith M. The airmen and the headhunters: a true story of los t soldiers, heroic tribesmen and the unlikeliest rescue of World War II/ Judith M. Heimann.—1st ed. p. cm. Includes index. 1. World War, 1939–1945—Search and rescue operation s—Borneo. 2. World War, 1939–1945—Aerial operations, American. 3. United States. Army Air Forces. Bomb Group, 5th Squadron, 23rd—History. 4. Airmen—United States—Biography. 5. Dayak (Indonesian people) I. Title. D810.S45B65 2007 940.54’25983—dc22 2007009587 ISBN 978-0-15-101434-7 eISBN 978-0-547-41606-9 v2.1017
To my son Paul, a pilot
We like to think of war stories from the twentieth century and earlier as straightforward accounts of derring-do, with a familiar cast of heroes and villains. There is even a subcategory of stories about how our brave soldiers managed—or died trying—to make their way home from behind enemy lines. But the circumstances of war can be more comlicated. This story haened during World War II—which was truly aworldwar, drawing into its orbit even such normally isolated eole as the headhunting Dayaks (as the tribeseole of Borneo’s interior were then called), eole whose mountainous troical jungles had yet to be maed. I first traveled to Borneo more than twenty years a fter the events described here and sent two years there as the wife of an American dilomat. Already seaking Indonesian/Malay, and with rivileged access throug h my husband’s work, I was able to visit much of northern Borneo and make a number of local friends—Dayak, Chinese and Malay. I have ket some of those friendshis ev er since and have also drawn uon scholarly friends and ublications to feed my enduring interest in all things Bornean. This morsel of Borneo’s World War II history has ne ver before been told in its entirety. No single erson knew more than a fragmen t or two of it. I came across snatches of the story of American airmen stranded i n headhunter country in the last year of the war while I was researching another boo k about an Englishman, Tom Harrisson, who also figures in this book. But it wa s only when I sat in the Australia War Memorial Library in Canberra in 1992 and held in my hand a letter to Major Harrisson written in rounded Palmer Method cursive by a certa in Phili Corrin, 2nd Lt., U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), that I knew there was a story there thathadto be searched out and told. I tried to fit it into my book about Harrisson, but it ket growing bigger as I learned more. I eventually decided to give it a book of its own. It took me ten years and three continents to collect the facts resented here and fit them together. My narrative draws on what various direct articia nts said or wrote in 1944–1945 and later. I interviewed the airmen and/or their fa milies reeatedly and collected documents and ictures from them. An Indonesian wom an who was connected to the events by childhood memories and family ties and I searately interviewed more than a dozen Dayaks who had either taken art in these eve nts or were the souses or children of those who had. My account necessarily h as gas. Some informants were more forthcoming than others, and some eole I wou ld have wanted to interview were already dead. So I made some educated guesses about what eole at the time may have thought and the gestures they may have made, b ut when the narrative quotes someone, there is solid evidence that the erson sa id or wrote it. Probably the most crucial written account used in this book is an unublished manuscrit dictated in 1981 by a man who was neithe r an American airman nor a Dayak headhunter, a man with a difficult name—Makah ana—and a comlicated character. But that is getting ahead of the story. . . .
CHAPTER ONE A B-24 Over Borneo
About twelve thirty midday on November 16, 1944, Dis trict Officer William Makahanap looked up from his draft report on the expected ric e production in his East Borneo district of Mentarang and realized that for the pas t few minutes he had been hearing a whining noise. The overhead fan in his old office b ack in the Celebes used to sound like that, but here in the little settlement of Lon g Berang there was no electricity to run a fan. The whine could have been from mosquitoes, but it was the wrong time of day for their assault. Such a loud noise was unusual in the quiet midday period, when able-bodied Dayaks (the general term for the various tribes of inland Borneo) were away in the rice fields or the jungle, and nearly everybody else was dozing. Even the schoolchildren, curled up on mats in the schoolroom down the road, would be taking a nap while the day was hottest. The whine grew louder and Makahanap finally recogni zed what it was: the engines of a big airplane. Then, above the engine noise, he he ard people yelling out in the fields. What could be disturbing the Dayaks? He stepped outside and heard them shouting that “the big thing in the sky” was “breaking apart” and “going to fall to the ground.” Standing on his office steps, he squinted up into the shimmering sky above the jungle at the edge of the little settlement. He cou ld see that the plane, flashing in and out of the cloud cover, had four engines and big wi ngs, but he did not know enough about aircraft to recognize a B-24. Nor could he te ll whose plane it was, Allied or Japanese. What he did realize was that the Dayaks w ere right. It was about to break apart and fall out of the sky. Standing there on his front step, blinking at the b right sky, Makahanap’s first reaction was probably annoyance at being interrupted. But hi s next would have been anxiety. In his experience of the past three years, the arrival of something new was rarely a blessing for himself, his family or his district. He could see, though, that the Dayaks were filled with wonder. None of them had ever seen anything like this thing in the sky. He c ould no longer see or hear it. Had it gone down somewhere behind the mountains to the northeast? What had happened to it? Where was it now? Above all, was it Japanese or Allied? November 16, 1944, had begun as a routine Thursday for pilot 2nd Lt. Tom Coberly, USAAF, and the ten men of the crew of his B-24 (a four-engine bomber also known as a “Liberator”). They had been awakened shortly afte r two in the morning and given breakfast: a choice of hot or cold cereal, along with powdered eggs scrambled and Spam fried and liberally doused with tomato ketchup . They washed it down with tall glasses of milk and orange juice and enough coffee to wake them up. It was the coolest, best time of day at their air b ase on Moronic, a small island of the Moluccas in the Netherlands East Indies. Just south of the Philippines and hundreds of miles due east of Borneo, Morotai was built on a fo undation of coral and was relatively bare. Much of its scrub plant life had been cleared away to make the coconut plantation that was now an airfield. There was nothing to do there but wait to fly out. Lieutenant Coberly’s crew, simply called Coberly’s, had been on Morotai less than a month. Their Twenty-third Squadron belonged to the Bomber Barons, the Fifth Bomb Group that was an arm of the tiny Thirteenth Air Fo rce (sometimes called the Jungle Air