Along with another pilot, two mechanics and an observer, he went all over the area that connects Rabaul with Kokopo, where they were able to witness the devastation caused by the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea
In late December, when the tuna boat unloaded in Rabaul tons of tuna that have filled the ship’s cellar, my brother Alfonso Vega, along with another pilot, two mechanics and one observer took the opportunity of being on shore to go to some sort of “shops”. Then they got into a 9 seats van with 21 people to drive through a mud road the 40 kilometres that connect Rabaul and Kokopo. Once in Kokopo they ate a good burger with French fries at 11 am.
Rabaul was the last Japanese base conquered by the Americans
After that pleasant breakfast, they went for a walk along a road surrounded by stunning jungle scenery, on which banks still are dozens of Japanese and American tanks, oxidized and covered with vegetation. The town of Rabaul was the last place the Americans could conquer during the Pacific War that took place between 1937 and 1945. Although the warring sides were basically the U.S. and Japan, many parts of East Asia and the Pacific Islands were affected by the conflict.
After a series of successful offensives conducted by Japan, the Americans advanced across the Pacific and won a naval battle known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where the Japanese Navy suffered irreparable losses. Ever since the U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific was indisputable. In 1943 American forces launched the Operation Cartwheel, which aimed to take the main Japanese base at Rabaul. It was so complex the process of occupation that in 1944 they changed the strategy of the operation and included, among the Australian forces already there, the Sixth Army of the United States (known as Alamo Force), in order to take the Rabaul’s base and let the Japanese army besieged there.
According to my brother, “Rabaul was the last and the most difficult location for the Americans to conquer during the Pacific War.” Once back at the base, Alfonso asked the Iceman (responsible for the ship’s freezer) to cut his hair. Being from Philippines and not speaking English, that man almost left my brother almost hairless, but as my brother said, “I am not going to go now to a model’s casting”. Later they went to the pilot’s cabin in the Ocean Ace boat and continued telling stories and laughing.
The following morning, on 30th of December, he returned to Rabaul by boat and once there he ate along with seven Salvadorans pilots. Under the burning sun they walked to the Rabaul Hotel, a former Japanese base restored by a Scottish over thirty years ago. Although it is not very well kept, the place is like an oasis of calm compared to what you can see on Rabaul. Again they enjoyed incredible burgers and visited the Japanese bunker which still remains within the hotel, completely intact, including the machine guns. After these exciting adventures, he returned to the cabin of the Ocean Ace , and between stories and laughter, they remained there until very late at night.