MAREELEE II, Lockheed Lightning P-38H-5-LO # 42-66851

39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group, 20th September 1943

Still located near Braham Mission, Ramu Valley, Papua New Guinea



IN the year 2001 the unmistakable twin‑boom wreckage of a Lockheed Lightning fighter still lies near-complete in the jungle of a section of the Markham Valley. Between the booms and through the lwft-hand wing grow sago trees. Why is it there, and how has it laid so remote for all these years ?


Captain Charles P. O'Sullivan’s fighter, like nearly all others in the 39th Fighter Squadron, was decorated with garish red and white shark’s teeth markings. Like most of its squadron contemporaries, it also had a name – MAREELEE II, named after Sullivan’s wife. Unlike some, it sported four Japanese ‘kill’ markings. Sullivan was one victory short of becoming an ace. It was 20th September 1943. Sullivan would not become an ace today, an eventful day which instead marked this particular fighter’s last flight. After force‑landing the aircraft would remain intact and undiscovered for nearly fifty years to the day, mainly as the jungle had grown around and over it. When informed of its loss, the US military thought they had discovered an MIA case, but our President told them otherwise, and in fact offered to put them in direct contact with the still-living pilot !


How it came to be there is best told in the exact words of the pilot who put it there, in a compilation made from his log‑book, his own diary, official records and his memory. It is a remarkable story.  Charlie’s account is a long one, but we have chosen not to cut one word from it. This account is worth printing off and taking away for bedtime reading.


“The image in the rearview mirror of my Lightning was unmistakable. It was a Japanese fighter plane in firing position, so close I did not bother to look over my shoulder. I had no time to be afraid. Instinctively, I shoved the plane into a violent dive, dropping my auxiliary wing tanks. It was then that I felt the shudder of bullets hitting my plane. He had hit the left engine, and the spraying oil caused the engine to catch fire and smoke. I raced for the clouds below, reaching speeds of 500 miles per hour, with the plane shuddering and shaking at the strain. I looked back and saw that I was pulling away from him in my dive, but he was still stalking me. Oil began to spray on my windshield. It began to obscure my vision, and I thought about parachuting right then. I cut off the damaged engine and feathered the propeller, stopping it and turning the blades so they cut through the air. The fire went out on my left engine, and my windshield cleared, but the stalker was still with me. At about 3,000 feet, I entered fleecy clouds, only the clouds were not continuous. I sailed through the first then entered the clear. The stalker was still with me. I sailed through a second cloud, the stalker on my tail. I was beginning to lose my precious dive speed, now that I was on one engine. As the third cloud loomed, I decided to vary my program, or he would nail me. In the third cloud, I put my plane in a spiral, came out under the cloud, and flew beneath it for some time. When I came into the clear, my pursuer was nowhere in sight. I had eluded him. Perhaps he was low on gas. While I was in the third cloud, I thought how clever it would be if I circled behind him and shot him down. Wisdom intervened. I thought to myself, what if you miscalculate and come out in front of him? I quickly dismissed the idea. I radioed my squadron to report that I was hit and on fire in the left engine, but the fire had gone out, and I was still at 3,000 feet, bound on a course for Port Moresby.


Complications! Since my left engine was no longer functioning, I had lost my generator from that side. Gradually the batteries gave out, and I lost radio contact. I berated Lockheed and the Air Force for not having spent a little more and putting a generator in the right engine too – ‘For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, etc’. Having eluded the enemy, I began thinking of the long flight home, at least two more hours, and the necessity of climbing to at least 7,000 feet to get through a pass in the mountains. But it was not to be! The right engine began heating up; it was trailing white smoke - likely a coolant leak in the radiator. I decided to try the left engine again. Somehow I got it cranked up and running. Meanwhile, I feathered the right engine and shut it down. I flew this way for about five minutes. The left engine began to smoke again. So, with black smoke coming out of the left engine, and white smoke from the right, I decided either to make a forced‑landing or to bail out. Both engines were dead, their props feathered, and I was sinking rapidly. I jettisoned the canopy and pulled down my goggles. As dust flew in the cockpit, I rode the plane in at about 130 miles per hour, cutting off small trees and kunai grass like a giant lawn mower. Finally, the plane came to a screeching and sizzling halt. It just smelled and sounded like it was going to burn.


In the crash, I left behind both props, both oil coolers, and half of one wing and about a third of the other. I had torn up most of the tail. I also had hit something in the cockpit and had split my helmet. Blood poured from my head. It was running down all over my face, and I thought I was mortally wounded. That shock spared me severe pain. Fortunately, it was only a scalp wound, which I bound up quickly. My right elbow was also hurt, but not seriously. I grabbed my parachute, and with the one-man raft in the seat and wearing my Mae West inflatable life preserver, I took off with hardly a backward glance. First, I feared the Japanese might have seen me coming down, and second, the engines were so hot I feared they might explode or start a fire. I went down at high noon. The air was stifling and the silence oppressive in the ten-foot tall kunai grass. I was only about five degrees south of the Equator. I had been flying along at 180‑200 miles per hour. Suddenly, I was on the ground with a feeling of loneliness and of being thrust backward five hundred years in time. The harsh reality of the situation was that I had to find my way home. To my right, or west, were the mountains, which I had hoped to cross to an outpost mission and airstrip called Bena Bena. It took three or four hours to slice my way through the tall swaying grass to the shelter of some trees, a distance of probably not more than about seven hundred yards. I tried cutting the kunai with my machete, but it was futile. So I high-stepped, fell forward, and went on, time and again. When I reached the trees and shade, I was exhausted. Remembering some of my little survival training, I cut up the parachute to make a tent and hammock of silk - such luxury! The first night in the jungle was terrifying with all the strange noises and shrieks of birds and small animals. It rained nearly every night, starting at about 0400 hours. I was spared the rain on the first night, possibly the only rainless night. The next day I stayed among the trees, peering out frequently toward my plane. But I could not see it. I was hoping that someone would come to look for me. But no one came. In those days, our air/sea rescue system was meager indeed, especially in the interior. Rescue efforts can be described something like this: ‘Instructions to all pilots - look for Sully somewhere in the jungle’. So, they looked the next day from about 25,000 feet, came back, and reported, ‘No sign of Sully’. The following day the instructions were: ‘Don't forget about Sully, he's out there someplace’. From about 25,000 feet they did not see me again. On the third day their reaction was: ‘Too bad about Sully’. And that was the way it was. I watched for rescue planes all day from below my canopy of trees. The water that I needed so badly I found hardly yards from where I had slept. It was so welcome. I filled my little, one-pint emergency drinking can and ate some of my chocolate bar, conserving as much as possible. I slept rather well, but fitfully, checking noises often. I wasn't really frightened, but the jungle was a new experience so I couldn't take chances. It was past full moon, the moon was on the wane and came out late at night. I was lonely but full of hope, and I wanted to get somewhere before my head injury gave me trouble. I treated my wound with Sulfanilamide powder and bandaged my head with a field dressing. On the third day I decided that nothing was to be gained by staying put. I thought of venturing out and concluded I could be home in four or five days. Little did I know of the difficulties that lay ahead of me in the jungle.


I hid the remains of my parachute at the edge of the kunai grass and covered or obliterated most of my camp markings. I did not spread my chute above the grass tops, reasoning that the Japanese as well as my friends could spot it, and that the wrong people might find me first. I felt that I was on my own. I gathered my possessions - the tent, hammock, and raft, and set off for Port Moresby.


At about 0900 hours I heard a radial‑engined plane and thought it might be a Japanese Zero fighter. It turned out to be a single‑engined Douglas A-24 Dauntless bomber,[1] flying at about 1,000 feet. The plane was so close that I could see the pilot and observer (the canopy was rolled forward). I tried to start a fire and nervously searched for matches in my waterproof kit. I found a match and struck it, but the grass was too wet. Frantically, I reached for tracer ammunition for my Colt .45 pistol. But, by then, the plane was gone. It was disappointing, but not overwhelming. After all, this was only my third day down. So I struggled on.


The path led to an abandoned grass hut and some discarded fish bones; it was an exciting discovery. Suddenly, my thoughts raced. Was this just a way station for a native hunting party? When had people been here last? I continued, crossing another stream and following the path on the other side. I saw large crocodile tracks, but lost the trail where wild pigs had rooted it up. I returned to the stream at another point. I set up my hammock, cleared an area, and retired for the night. I always retired at darkness because the dangers of wandering about in the jungle at night seemed apparent to me. At about midnight it began to rain, and it continued all night. I was drenched and arose frequently to exercise, simulating skipping rope and shadowboxing until I got warm and could go back to sleep. It was a most uncomfortable night. I arose on 23rd September 1943, my fourth day out. Suspecting that a river was located nearby, I set off to find it. I left my hammock, life preserver, and a box of .45 caliber ammunition at the camp, thinking I would come back and retrieve them once I had found the river. As I went out, I blazed a trail, breaking off small branches and cutting into the bark of trees to leave marks. I found the river and then tried to retrace my steps to the camp. I became lost, confused, and bewildered. I could not recognise my trailblazing. The jungle closed in on me oppressively. I panicked and just wanted to run away anywhere, blindly - to run and run. It was a terrible, fearsome feeling that I had never experienced before nor since. Somehow, faith and reason prevailed. I knelt down and prayed earnestly, “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.  Never was it known that anyone who sought your help or intercession was left unaided”. Mary heard me. I stood up, much calmer and confident. I resolved to take a compass course, which I believed would take me back to the river. I did not deviate from the course. In about twenty minutes I was back at the riverbank, although at a spot different from where I had been originally.


The jungle had won. I would not find my equipment. The problem now was how to cross the river. Undaunted, I looked for trees with which to build a raft. I began to flail at some small trees with my twelve-inch machete. The trees were tough and the job arduous. Soon, I dismissed this idea and began collecting logs and tree limbs from the riverbank. I tied about eight logs together with parachute cord and confidently floated down river. But, it was not to be ! The logs were water-soaked and the raft would not support me. I had to lie on the raft, half in and half out of the water. I drifted with the current, kicking my feet for extra stability. Somehow I managed to stay afloat. Rounding a bend in the river, where the current quickened, I was swept against a muddy bank that rose about four feet above water level. As the current swung the raft around, it hit me in the back. I lost the raft and, like the proverbial drowning man, grasped frantically for anything to hold. All the time I was flailing, I kept my gun in my right hand, above water. Once more, Providence provided. I grabbed a vine hanging down from the side of the bank and steadied myself. The makeshift raft floated on, never to be seen by me again. I surveyed my somewhat precarious position. I was in deep water in the current, but the swift part of the current was narrow. I realised that if I shoved off from the bank, I would cross the current and be in shallow water. I did just that, and it worked. After reaching the shallow, pebbly shore, I decided to wash my wet clothes. Since I had had enough for one day, I prepared for the night. Under a huge tree a few feet from the river, I fashioned a little shelter. I used sticks to support some banana leaves, to serve as my roof. Then, I booby-trapped my area, using parachute cord as a cordon, hoping that any intruder would trip over my alarm system and wake me. Branching into the river was a beautiful mountain stream, so I planned to explore it the next day. Also, across the river I spotted a fallen tree that I believed was used as a bridge by the natives. Of course, it rained for most of the night, but my tree and banana-roof shelter served me quite well. I was tired and slept soundly. In the morning I awoke and ate the last square of my chocolate bar. I looked to the east and prepared to start my journey up the mountain stream. To the left of the waterway was a sandbank that extended for a short distance and appeared to lend itself to easy walking.


As I approached the bank I was startled to see a solitary human footprint in the sand. Only one footprint! I looked on every side for another, but none could be found. I was baffled. I thought of Robinson Crusoe when he discovered Friday's footprint in the sand. The solitary footprint was pointed upstream. In the distance, I could see a clearing on the side of the mountain. We had been told that the natives girdled the trees near their base. This process would eventually kill the tree, causing it to fall over. It was in clearings so produced that the natives planted their gardens. The stream seemed to lead in the direction of such a clearing. I hoped that the clearing contained a garden tended by friendly natives. I knew of lucky encounters with coastal natives in the Port Moresby area. Several of my comrades in the 39th - Tommy Lynch, Harvey Rehrer, Carl Rauch Jr, Frank Angier, Wilmot Marlatt, Jim Foster, and Joe Greene - had been helped back to friendly territory after being shot down in the New Guinea campaign from May to July 1942


[The details of these losses have been assembled from Aerothentic’s s records].








16 June 1942 

2/Lt Harvey E. Rehrer bailed out. Aircraft crashed near Rigo.



16 June 1942

Thomas Lynch bailed out between Rigo and Port Moresby

BW 169


18 June 1942

Carl T. Rauch bailed out North of Port Moresby

AC 361


18 June 1942

Joe Greene bailed out near 14-Mile Drome



4 July 1942

2/Lt James R. Foster bailed out Brown River area, NW of Port Moresby



4 July 1942

2/LT Frank Angier bailed out  Borea, Cape Nelson Area



4 July 1942

2/Lt Wilmott R. Marlott bailed out in combat north of  Rogers Field.


I proceeded up the middle of this sparkling stream. The streambed was rocky and uneven. The water level varied from knee to waist-high, but I never fell. After about half an hour I began to shout periodically, hoping to attract the attention of the friendlies. At about 9:00 am some movement on the right bank attracted my attention. I stopped dead in my tracks. Gradually, a man emerged from behind a tree. He carried a weapon, either a spear or bow & arrow, which he lowered. I felt that he had drawn a bead on me from behind his cover. I raised my hand and waved, smiled, and tried to look friendly. At the same time, I slid my right hand close to my right hip and the .45 pistol in its holster.


The scene was a bit like Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’, but instead of a dusty street, I had a riverbed. I advanced very cautiously, gun hand at the ready, all the while smiling and trying constantly to appear relaxed and friendly. As I reached the bank, which rose three or four feet above the stream, the native extended his hand and helped me climb up. We went back into the trees a few feet. There on the ground lay a freshly killed wild pig, and nearby was a young native woman. My host indicated I should sit down, which I did. He proceeded to dress the pig. He lay it on its back and chopped it open through the chest cavity, using a type of stone axe.  I noticed that the woman had a bunch of ripe bananas in a fibre bag. I indicated by my munching actions that I was hungry and pointed to her bananas. She was very shy and giggled a little. My host, stern and businesslike, continued with his task. I was fascinated by an action whereby he sopped up the pig's blood from the chest, using spongy leaves. He then squeezed the blood into a bamboo tube that was three or four inches in diameter. I would see more of the bamboo tube later. Soon the pig dressing was completed, and we were all ready to depart the area. My host (whose name I later learned was Tootaroo) gathered his weapons and, in the fashion of New Guinea chivalry, loaded the pig on his wife's shoulders. We got down into the stream and walked on for about fifteen minutes. We came to a path on the left side, where the bank was almost level with the water. Tootaroo and the woman started up the path, and I tagged along behind them. Suddenly, Tootaroo turned and pointed for me to go back down the stream. I motioned to say that I wanted to go with them. We argued in sign language -  "I go with you - No, you don't ! - Yes, I do" ! After a couple of exchanges, he turned away and continued up the path. I hesitated, then followed behind them. It was obvious that he did not wish me to come along. For the next half hour we plodded on together quietly. Then, he stopped and shouted, as if to warn someone ahead that he was bringing home a stranger. My heart sank. What should I do? I considered my options: I could leave them and return to my loneliness in the jungle, or I could continue to an unknown situation, but at least one offering human company. I reasoned that if I left them, they would still know that I was close by - The thought of food and hopefully friendly natives won the debate.


Apprehensively, I followed. Shortly, we arrived at a small, level clearing. I observed the remains of an old campfire and a strange-looking stick lying in the fork of another shorter stick, stuck upright into the ground. Tootaroo started a fire and cooked some pig meat in a cylindrical earthen vessel. Later, he also placed some whole bananas in the ashes and baked them. In half an hour the feast was ready. Bananas never tasted so good. Meanwhile, I was aware of several faces appearing from behind the bushes and foliage. Soon the faces materialised into the bodies of men, women, and children. The newcomers approached me cautiously. I remained on my best behaviour and did nothing to excite them. Curious about my possessions, the natives poked in my pockets. I carried two compass, parachute cord, ammunition, and a small can which had contained my field bandage. I had on my cloth helmet, split in the crash landing, perched on my head, with my flying goggles attached and intact. I must have been a bedraggled looking curiosity. More and more natives appeared and disappeared, seeming to bring a new audience each time. Twice, obvious chiefs appeared and, from a comfortable distance, looked me over. The chiefs wore beaded bands around their foreheads, and all of the men appeared to have little sticks in their noses and ears. Their head‑dress differed from the bushy type worn by the natives in the Port Moresby area. These natives wore their hair twisted in many small, tight braids. Each time a chief or newcomer appeared, I was frightened that he might return with Japanese soldiers. During the afternoon, I tried to determine the meaning of the strange sticks, the campfire, and a small shelter open on all sides. Pointing to these items, I questioned the natives in sign language. One man held up three fingers and pointed to me, as if to say that three men like me had been there. I made signs asking, "Did they go this way (toward Japanese-held areas), or that way (Allied territory)?" The native pointed down toward the ground. The three men who were like me had not left at all; they had died or been killed ! As twilight approached, the audience, which had never exceeded ten at a time, had dwindled to five. By implicit invitation I accompanied Tootaroo, his mate, and several others to two nearby huts. Apparently, they did not consider me a threat and so were taking me in for the night. It was an interesting family affair. I believe these were two families, consisting of three men (including one chief, Tootaroo, and a new acquaintance named Sego), two or three women (including Tootaroo's and Sego's mates), and the latter's young son. The women prepared dinner - more pig, yams baked in ashes, and lima-type beans cooked in blood. The women also got out the bamboo tube containing the blood from the pig hunt, added some herbs and leaves into the tube, and held it over the open fire. Presently, the mixture was bubbling nicely. Then they proceeded to shake out the contents into their hands and eat it with great gusto. We had formed a cosy circle around the fire to eat and talk. By signs, we had arrived at names for the major players. I explained that I was Charlie, which they thought was funny. I already mentioned the young men, Tootaroo and Sego. The chief was the Headman. I tried to explain my presence among them. I simulated an aircraft flying in the sky, with engine sputtering, and then crashing to the ground, accompanied by signs of me crashing forward in my cockpit and injuring my head. Enough of my story got through, but to my dismay they all laughed when I pointed to my head. Then, one native took over and retold my story in his native tongue, accompanied by appropriate gestures. Again, they all laughed at the crashed landing and at my injured head. Perhaps they laughed in relief that the mighty‑flying machine was indeed vulnerable. It was a pleasant, light‑hearted, jovial evening. Sitting around the campfire circle, they served me food on a large banana leaf. Occasionally, a dog tried to run through the circle to grab a morsel of food. They also had a pet cassowary. He was cute, but a pest. The bird circled the group around the fire, came up behind me, and began pecking at my back. I tolerantly pushed him away a couple of times, but he persisted. So I backhanded him with my right hand, knocking him back a bit. My hosts loved that and laughed merrily. Everything seemed congenial and friendly. Then, all the women and children retired to the huts, while we men stayed outside. They gave me a hollowed‑out log to sleep in. It was about four feet long and wide enough for even a heavyset person. I lay near the fire in my log, with my right hand comfortingly near my bolstered gun. I was alert to any strange behaviour or action. It became apparent that I had nothing to fear.


Occasionally throughout the night one of the men stirred and replenished the fire. It was obvious that they had to keep the fire burning. The night passed without incident, and the village began to stir at sunrise. It appeared that Sego, his mate, their son, and the chief were planning to go someplace. I made various signs about leaving, hoping to convey the idea that I wished to find a route to go home. Eventually they got the idea and mentioned the names of several places or people. I copied these names on the back of my map. I wrote down the names phonetically and repeated them to Sego. I had heard of Bena Bena somewhere across the mountain range from my suspected location. It evolved that a relay system might be arranged to get me home, and the names I had been given would be locations or contacts along the way. We exchanged signs and ideas for each: “We go, we go, we stop, we go, we go," and so on. Not wanting to waste any more time I said, “We go". Strangely enough, they were ready also. I suspect that Sego, his family, and the chief were returning to their village. Before we left I gave Tootaroo the small field dressing can as a farewell gift. He received it stoically and did not seem impressed. Soon we began an arduous climb. I thought that I was in fair shape, but before long I began to tire. At one point the chief signalled that he wanted my big machete knife. I thought that he intended to leave us for good and replied, "No”. He then disappeared but returned about twenty minutes later with freshly cut stalks of sugar cane. It was delicious and refreshing, and I felt a bit of remorse at not having given him the knife to cut the cane. We went on, and an hour later stopped as Sego pointed out a small pitfall on our path. The pit, covered with light branches and leaves, apparently was intended as a safety measure for the village nearby. We detoured around it and stopped. Again, as on the previous day, the native accompanying me shouted a warning that they were bringing a stranger into the village. In a few minutes we came to the top of a ridge. It was forested, but not as heavily as the lower levels, where I had spent the night at Tootaroo's village. It was about noon and sunny; the temperature was most pleasant. A few natives came out to look me over, and overall the atmosphere was relaxed. Sego cooked some food, unremarkable compared with the feast of the previous night. I ate very little. I thought I would stay with them that afternoon, get another meal, and then leave the first thing in the morning. Except for Sego's little son, the villagers left me alone. The boy, about six, was alert and happy. I tried to amuse him. I took off my shirt to enjoy the sun. Then I cleaned my pistol, using some fibre threads impregnated with lard. I had obtained the greasy fibres at Tootaroo's village by using sign language. Suddenly, my idyllic afternoon came to an abrupt end when Sego came over and led me to meet two new natives.


I felt an impending sense of danger and caution. I tried to act confident and cheerful and indicated by sign language how I hoped to be relayed over the mountains. The obvious leader of the two was called Aidee, and I called the other one Grinny. Apparently, Grinny had ‘cut cards’ earlier in the day to see who got my knife. He must have won, because he grinned all afternoon. Later that afternoon, Sego and Aidee stood toe-to-toe and had a violent verbal argument. Finally, Aidee grabbed two spears and thrust them into the ground. Obviously losing the argument, Sego acquiesced. Standing nearby, I felt compelled to say something. In what I hoped was a light-hearted manner, I asked, “what’s the matter, Sego, did you take his spears" ? But Sego looked crestfallen and turned away. I later concluded that Sego had tried to defend me and lost. As twilight approached, the villagers began to prepare food for dinner. However, the hospitality and friendliness of the previous village was gone. I wandered about, and no one invited me to eat with them, not even Sego. I walked up to one campfire and made signs of eating. Actually, I was no longer hungry, but I wanted to see if they would give me any food. They handed me some, but did not ask me to sit down with them. I went off and sat down alone. Soon, Aidee and Grinny came over and started a fire. Nearby was a thatched roof hut with a small doorway, but no door. I sat down near the fire, facing the moon. Aidee and Grinny took up positions on the other side of the fire, across from me. They stared at me without any emotion and made me feel as though I was being stalked. To show nonchalance, I started to sing every popular and college song that I could think of. I was determined not to show any fear or concern. Earlier that day, Aidee had conveyed the idea that he had been to the coast and was a more worldly person than the rest. As we sat around the fire, he pointed to the moon, perhaps to indicate that I had arrived at the wrong time. Next, the two men arose and approached me slowly. They sat down on either side of me, brushing my sides. This was too close and threatening, so I stood up immediately. I believed that they wanted to subdue me. Looking around for some way to lessen the tension and give them a reason to leave, I headed for a nearby hut and crawled through the doorway. I crouched inside the hut, hoping they would go away, but they didn't. Aidee and Grinny approached the hut, reached inside and tugged at my shoulders, indicating they wanted me to come out. I thought that perhaps these natives were envious of my attentions to Sego and his little boy, so I stepped outside. Immediately, several natives, including Aidee and Grinny, closed in around me. They all carried spears or bows and arrows. Without actually jabbing at me with a spear, they prodded me up a path that led to a small incline. Soon, we reached a circular hut. In the dim light I could make out a small stick device fastened above the doorway. Resembling the strange sticks I had seen at the first village, it presented a disturbing sign. My escorts gestured for me to go inside. Having little choice in the matter, I bent down and entered the hut. Four natives followed me, bringing along a firebrand with which to start a fire and the ominous bamboo blood tube. My heart sank lower as all of the signs were most foreboding. Someone started a small fire in the middle of the hut; another gave me a grass mat, suggesting I lie down and sleep. "I always sleep sitting up," I said, knowing that they couldn't understand me. Talking aloud gave me confidence. Sitting on my mat, six feet away from the doorway, with my back against the wall, I realised that I was in a most vulnerable position. Even if a melee ensued and I shot some of them, those remaining could block the door and prevent my escape. I pressed my hands against the bamboo wall and concluded that I couldn't break through. After a while the hut filled with smoke, as the roof had no opening. Seizing on the situation, I began to cough and wave my arms to indicate to them that the smoke was too dense. One native stood up and tore a hole in the roof, to allow the smoke to escape. This created the diversion I needed, and from my crouching position, I bolted for the opening and emerged just in front of the door.


As I came out, I drew my pistol and charged it, putting a bullet in the chamber. The hammer was now back, ready to fire. I then slipped the safety switch on and dropped the gun back into its holster. More natives appeared outside, so I elected not to make a run at that time. Those inside the hut came out, bringing the fire and the bamboo tube with them. Again, by mutual consent it seemed, we moved down the path away from the execution chamber to another hut. This one was rectangular, with a porch‑like extension, and open on three sides. We stopped, and I was escorted inside the covered hut, given a grass mat, and told to lie down. Taking the mat, I sat facing the interior of the enclosure, with my back vulnerable to the outside darkness. The natives then stacked their weapons against a post, still playing it pretty cosy. They started up the fire again, and once more we sat eyeing each other. Some of the men decided to smoke or chew some betel nut. They made some square motions with their arms, as if to say, "See, I have nothing to harm you with”. They wanted me to see that they weren't making any overt moves. So, I let them smoke and chew. Most of the men who chewed took betel nut with some lime from a small gourd. They would put a little lime on some leaves, chew up a bit of betel nut, and then spit it out in their hand. Every once in a while, they would put the betel nut combination back in their mouth, after looking at it. The headman chewed with great dignity. He had a little fibre bag which contained a broken mirror. After chewing for a while, he would reach into his bag and pull out the mirror. Then he lay out the mess on his tongue and looked at it to see if it was the right consistency. Because he had the mirror, he did not have to spit out the betel nut into his hand. That made him kingpin. While we sat in the hut, I did not like having my back to the outside. Sego and his little boy were inside too. The boy's job was to keep the fire going. It might have been a sort of initiation ritual for him. The boy was only about six years old, and he was there against his will. He kept crying. Suddenly, Aidee took a brand from the fire and stuck it right in the child's face. After that the little boy stopped crying and kept up the fire real well. That didn't make me like Aidee any better. The contingent inside the hut included Sego, his son, Grinny, Aidee, the headman, and a lookout who sat in the back. I could hear more natives rustling around outside the hut. I was afraid that if we sat there long enough, someone might stick me with a spear from the outside. If I could just get in the doorway of the hut, they would all be in front of me. I got up slowly, moseyed toward the entrance, and sort of stooped over sideways by the doorway. I then took a firebrand and sort of flashed it behind me to make sure that there was no one in back of the hut. That put them all in front of me, so I was sort of temporarily in command. We sat there from about 8:00 until 10:00 pm. I threatened them with the Fifth Air Force, saying, "Aeroplanes will come and boom‑boom the hell out of your village". That didn't seem to bother them, although they did shrink down a little and repeated, "Boom-boom" !


Then I thought Id try a little religion, thinking the missionaries might have touched them. Since I was convinced they were going to kill me, I didn't see any reason not to be frank about it. So I said, "God wouldn't want you to kill me”. Apparently, Aidee had been out to the coast and muttered something that sounded like "Lord”. But, after I had gotten all through, Aidee said, "No savvy talk”. I answered, "You savvy this gun don't you?" and shook it right in his face. By this time, I had taken out the gun and spotted it down across my right thigh. I sat there for over an hour with my gun trained on Aidee. I snapped the safety on and off-click, click-for an hour. But this guy was as cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, his team-mates were getting a little anxious. The headman got up and sort of stretched, as if to show that he was tired. Then, he started walking toward me, indicating that he wanted to go behind me into the room. It was pretty obvious that if he went back there, I would have two fronts to cover. He got real close to me, and motioned that he wanted to go there. I swung the gun and I shouted, "Sit down!" Well, he withered right down beside me, frightened. This had gone on for almost two hours. I was thinking, "I'm in command. If I could just get them in close, in sort of a semicircle, they won't shoot through their own people”. I didn't know how I was going to get out of the hut, but I didn't want them to shoot me before I did. The headman played right into my hand. He crouched down beside me, which made Grinny unhappy. I thought that Grinny was showing some fear, so I reached out with my left hand and motioned for him to come in a little closer to shield me on the right. But, before he did, he looked at Aidee. Aidee, who was sitting right in the middle, sort of head on, blinked his eyes. I think that meant, "Yeah, go ahead and humour him, move”. Grinny moved a little closer, but he kept looking over his shoulder. He was sort of a sassy little guy. I didn't like the way he grinned. So, with the gun in my right hand, I grabbed him by the shoulder with my left. I sort of yanked him, and the poor guy probably thought I was going to shoot him in the back, because he was really scared. In my discussion with the natives, I had established a sort of priority list of how I was going to take care of them. They all understood "number one”. I said, "Aidee, I get you number one. Grinny, I get you number two. Head man, I get you number three”. I didn't go to number four because I didn't think it would last that long, really. Then I waved the gun and described what the .45 would do to them. It all sounded rather grim, but I had to keep talking to try to make the point. Aidee was the only one who had not shown a bit of fear, but his team had not shown much initiative. So, I motioned for Aidee to squat down in front of me. He came close enough for me to touch him with my left hand. I said, "Come in a little closer”. He sort of jumped up and came down in the same spot. "No, closer," I said. When I reached out a little farther and leaned out, he must have thought that I was off balance.


Suddenly, Aidee came out of his crouching position and lunged at me, like a tiger. He threw me against the wall, but I came to my feet naturally. I had the gun in my right hand, but he grabbed both my wrists and pinned me back briefly. Somehow I forced the gun down and shot him from a distance of about six inches right through the chest. The shot blasted him clear across the room. Next, the headman came in at me from the left and went after both of my wrists. He got my left wrist and grappled for my right. But I pulled my gun back and shot him from my left side-wham! It was practically over. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. I can picture the dull glow from the fire, my gun smoking, and me standing in a crouched position, like in Custer's Last Stand. Now, I thought they would come at me in waves. But they didn't. Instead, they ran off like a bunch of scalded dogs and left me alone. The headman staggered outside and fell to the ground. Realising that I was the only one in the hut, I ran out to the left as fast as I could. I cut back and made an end run, like in football. I ran full tilt, to the left and then back to the center, and then I tripped in the tall grass. This probably saved my life, because if I had not fallen, I would have still been running. I went down into a little depression where the land dropped off. Back at the village, the natives had lit torches and started screaming and shouting. I could hear them from all of the neighbouring villages. I seemed to be surrounded by these voices, or war whooping. Now the torches were lit, and they started to come up the hill. After they had found the two men I had shot, they beat on the ground and wailed, sobbed, and shouted for about an hour. It was terrible to just lie there. I lay on one arm, with my right hand on the gun; in my left hand I had a clip of six bullets. Although I am usually optimistic, I couldn't see how I would possibly get out of there alive. As I had when the panic struck me, I prayed again, saying the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary, which ends, "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”. Suddenly, it hit me that the phrase had become one and the same for me! What could I do? Should I save the last bullet for myselt'7 A permanent solution to a temporary problem. I agonised over the decision.


My faith and upbringing taught me that suicide was wrong and a cowardly way out. I dreaded torture. Then I remembered that somewhere in scripture it was said that God would not permit a person to be tempted beyond his will or capability to resist, and that even Christ was tempted. So, I decided to continue to fight to the end or escape. It was comforting that I had weathered that temptation trial. After about an hour, the ceremony stopped, and the natives went down into the lower end of the camp. Everything got really quiet-no fires, no voices, nothing - it was still as death. A little hope trickled through my veins, but at about 2 am the natives came alive again. Up the hill they came with torches. This time the light seemed to penetrate my little hideout, and I thought surely they would see me. But they did not. They went through their ceremony again, beating sticks on the ground, and all of that. From the shadows, I spotted the figure of a woman coming toward me. It seemed as if she had guessed where I was. She walked straight at me, closer and closer. I could not bring myself to shoot her, so I thought I would shoot at the ground, get up, and run. She was now about two or three feet from me. I could have reached out, stretched, and touched her toes. She stood right over the top of me, sobbing and wailing her heart out. After what seemed an eternity, she turned and walked back to the camp. By 4:00 a.m. everything became very quiet again. It was totally dark, no fires, no moon. Dawn was coming, and I had to get out before light.


With a great deal of fear and trepidation I stood up, fully expecting to become a human pincushion. But nothing happened. So, I took a couple of steps yet still nothing happened. Then I really began to feel that I might get out of there after all. I tiptoed across an open area and climbed over a couple of little stone walls. I made up my mind to head for Port Moresby. I had two compasses (one with a luminous dial, readable at night). Having two compasses was a great consolation, because a person in my predicament can get to a position where he doesn't even trust a compass. I ran the gauntlet past two open huts, but nothing happened. After I got by those, I then went down a path. It was beginning to get light, and as I looked down the valley I saw a couple of natives hunting. I immediately withdrew from the path, but as I did, I stepped on a twig, and it snapped and reverberated like a shot across the valley. The two hunters just froze in their tracks, like a couple of hunting dogs on point. They just stared on the spot where they had heard the noise. They could not see me, but they had the place pinpointed. When one of them dropped out of sight, I knew I had to get out of there quickly because they were going to either circle around to investigate or go back to the village and get help. I pulled off the path and took off my shoes. I hung them around my neck and started crawling. I crawled all morning. By now I was in a desperate frame of mind. I hid the shoes under some bushes because they were making a clumping sound. I put them in there neatly, like someone would place them in a closet or under a bed, figuring I would come back for them later.


I was determined to make it difficult for the natives to follow me. I would crawl for three minutes and listen for two minutes. I did this for about two hours, and I figured that if they were getting close, I would hear them during my rest interval. I found a mountain stream that had several waterfalls and which was clogged with bushes and fallen trees. Remembering my Boy Scout training and lore, I walked in the water to cover my tracks. About midway in my trek, I reached a rushing mountain stream. It took me about a half hour to decide where to cross it so as not to leave any footprints for the natives to pick up. When I crossed the stream, I began to nearly run to get away from the area. My feet felt like they were cut to ribbons, and I put some Sulphanilamide powder on them. After my escape, I stopped, built a shelter, and rested for a couple of days. I couldn't afford the time required to build too good a shelter because I might still be in the jungle building shelters. This went on for about three weeks, and I was getting pretty weary. One time I built a big fire, hoping that someone from our squadron was still looking for me. I gathered a huge pile of logs and started a fire. It burned all night, like a prairie fire, and it must have burned off about half of New Guinea. In fact, I had to get down into a ditch to get away from the fire. The next day I had to walk through the burned stubble. One day I saw a shadow and then a figure coming down a path. It was a native woman, and as soon as she spotted me, she started running like a deer. I took off after her, figuring that if I got to the camp first, I could explain as well as she did. But she left me in the dust. Then I spent a very uncomfortable night in an abandoned hut. I'm sure the natives also were uncomfortable that night, knowing that I was out there. This went on for about three days. One of my few possessions was my toothbrush, which was a great consolation. I’d brush my teeth, but I didn't have anything to eat. I also had a pamphlet that they gave us about native foods. But it had gotten wet and the ink had run, so I couldn't read it. I did eat some papaya fruit, bananas, and even grass. One of my favourite respites each day was to climb a hill and try to figure out where I was. I wanted to get up into the mountains, but every time I got to the top, there was just another mountain, another valley, and another mountain. Finally, I left the mountains and went back down into the plains again. On my way down, while contemplating the panorama and the beauties of New Guinea, I saw a glimmer of light a few miles away. It turned out to be a reflection from a small, conical hill. I walked toward it, and later that afternoon I could see some figures. I did not think they were natives, but I could not tell if they were Japanese, Americans, or Aussies. I was so desperate by this time that I thought even if they were Japanese, I might steal food from their camp at night.


The next day I went on and homed in on this camp. I had been barefooted for three weeks now. I would put on my socks at night because the insects drove me wild. Without my head net, gloves, and socks, I would have been in terrible shape. Then I saw someone wearing an Aussie hat. But even that didn't convince me-maybe it was one of those tricky Japanese wearing an Aussie hat. I sneaked up closer and closer until I was about thirty feet from the campers. It was like playing hide and seek, when you come out from hiding and jump up to scare the seeker. I was so close to them that it was almost embarrassing to jump out and say, "Here I am”. Finally, I came out from behind a tree and saw that they were Aussies who had come down from their fortification for lunch. I just stood there and tried to think of something clever to say, like "Lafayette, we are here," or "Dr. Livingston, I presume”. But the only thing I could think to say was, "Well, here's another one of those bloody Yanks”.


The Aussies didn't say anything. They just looked at me in disbelief. It was kind of awkward. Later I learned that two weeks earlier, in a skirmish with the Japanese, they had lost a second lieutenant, about my size, and had similarly coloured hair. That was why they were so surprised to see me. Also, because I was all bandaged up and looked so much like him, they thought I was the lieutenant who had come back from the dead. They gave me some food, but warned me not to eat too much or I would get sick. Well, I did eat too much, and I did get real sick. After three weeks of not eating, you can't really eat too much. I wanted to let my squadron and the Fifth Air Force know that I was safe. The Aussies had a radio and asked if I wanted to send a message. Of course I did, and I composed a very concise message: "Captain Sullivan, 39th Fighter Squadron, arrived at this point, injury slight, please advise”. I thought that was a pretty good message. Well, the next morning I got a reply: "Captain Sullivan will proceed on when able!" I thought, "To hell with them; I'll stay here for the rest of the war, I'll never go back!" Then, on second thought, I decided that I had better return. (Some callous, headquarters type individual must have composed that thoughtless message, because no 39th Fighter Squadron person would have been so inconsiderate).


The Aussies offered to send a native back with me across the mountains. I thought it over and quickly decided against that plan. They also suggested I might go with one of their patrols that was going to cross the river, although some danger existed of running into the Japanese. I decided that I had had enough of the natives and would go with the Aussies instead. For the next two days I went with the Aussie patrol. I was feeling guilty about eating their food because everything they had had come in on their backs. They had no airdrops whatsoever, having lugged in all of their food and supplies over the mountains. The first night out we saw a big fire. The Aussies thought it might be the Japanese, who would sometimes advance behind the cover of a big fire. As the fire came toward us I was afraid I had gone "from the frying pan into the fire”. But, it was better to be with twenty other guys than to be out there alone.


The threat did not materialise, and I never learned who started the fire. Eventually we got across the big river. The Aussies were awfully nice to me. They even carried my gun. They realised I was very weak; I had lost nearly forty pounds as a result of my meagre diet. A couple of big Aussies on either side of me helped me along. Although they had said we wouldn't go too far, we walked about fifteen or twenty miles a day. Finally, we arrived at a camp where there was a small airplane. It was a type of Cub observation plane. A Lt Frederick, who wore glider wings said to me, “Captain, I will save you a bog walk if you’ll get into my little airplane”. I agreed and got in. Soon after takeoff I saw that even though the throttle was advancing, the engine wasn't reacting. Then the pilot announced, "I think we have to turn back”. But as he turned it back in a big chandelle, the plane began to lose power completely. We had been flying over some real tall trees for a long time, and I knew firsthand what tall trees could do if you had to crash land. Fortunately, the trees cleared out and the pilot made a pretty good crash landing. But the plane had non‑retractable gear, and when it hit the grass, we flipped over on our back. I was hanging upside down by my seat belt, and so I just pulled the buckle and fell about four feet to the ground. The pilot was very solicitous, "Are you all right? Thank God, I am glad it wasn't the general”. (He had been flying an Aussie general around.) Then I remembered the international emergency signal and fired off three shots. I waited, and then fired another three shots. I waited again, but nothing happened. So we walked back to the airstrip. Meanwhile, the 39th had sent a C-47 to Dumpu, and from there I was taken to Nadzab.


The next day I was back with my friends, who were all glad to see me. One said, "I knew you'd make it," and in the next breath, "I'll bring your shaver back in the morning”. Needless to say, I was very happy to see them. I sent out expensive cablegrams, like first-class letters. I sent one wire to my friend Tommy Lynch, "Bring back my boots, you vulture!" It seems that he had taken home my favourite pair of brown boots. He never did return the boots. I found out later that he was killed, and his wife didn't know anything about my boots. I also sent my wife a telegram, advising her to give back the life insurance money. Fortunately, she had thrown out the insurance agent.


Sullivan returned to duty on 20th October 1943. He had been in the New Guinea jungle for exactly one month. He later got his final enemy kill, making him an ace. In 1956 he served at air attaché to Portugal, and later became the first commander of Strategic Air Command’s 308th Strategic Missile Wing which fielded Titan II ICBMs. Charlie was as surprised as anyone when he was told by our President in 1996 of the fact that his Lightning was still there !


It still is.

[1] There were no A‑24s in the forward theatre at this stage. Given Sullivan’s description the aircraft was most likely a RAAF Wirraway which were used often for search flights.