Sunday, October 31, 2010
How It All Began For Me
It seems, as it usually does, that life's adventures always begin by some off-handed remark or some serendipitous meeting between people who all have different pieces of information in common to share. So it was, I believe, around 1985, at a barbeque on my back deck in Fairfax, VA. Invited were my old University of Kansas college roommate Tom Sherman (who was at the time working at American Watersports - a dive shop located in Oxon Hill, MD); Mike Freeman, the owner of American Watersports; Robert "Nick" Woll, a business associate that I hired from time to time for consulting on aviation matters; and a couple of others who I have since forgotten and failed to write down anywhere (sorry!). Later, sitting around the picnic table with full bellies and empty beer bottles, Mike Freeman was talking about his latest trip to North Carolina to pan for gold, a recent hobby of his. He pulled out a small baby-food jar that was nearly full of small nuggets of gold that he had been collecting from his recent trips. He passed it around for us to look at and feel the weight of such a collection and his off-the-cuff remark was that, in all his years of diving for treasure, he wished he had found one of those German U-boats that had escaped at the end of World War II stuffed full of gold bullion, jewels and paintings looted from countries overrun by the Germans. Oh yeah, wouldn't we all like to find something like that! Then came that other piece of information from Nick Woll.
He said that back in the early 1970s he and other pilots had flown cargo planes on several occasions to and from Chicago to Belize, stopping in Texas and Cozumel along the way. From Cozumel to Belize he remembered them flying over something underwater in the Caribbean, sticking up out of the white sand, that looked like the conning tower of a submarine. They had seen it enough times that they actually began calling it the Gray Ghost. By radioing those in Belize when they passed over the wreckage, anyone working on the runway had time to remove any equipment off the landing strip in preparation for their landing. They all believed it to be the remains of a U-boat. Possible one of those full of looted treasure. At the time there was no Cancun full of tourists - just swamp and jungle. But one pilot from the group took an exceptional interest in wanting to find this U-boat. That one pilot knew the exact position of the conning tower and was amassing a library full of books on U-boats and Germany in World War II. Unfortunately he later flew his plane into a mountain and killed himself; his widow eventually threw away all the research he had collected in attempting to identify the wreckage. There were no doubts for those pilots who saw the wreckage - it could only have been a U-boat, even though they had failed to identify which one. My thinking was that it could be something besides a U-boat. American, French, Italian and Japanese submarines also visited the Caribbean during World War II. My research came to discover the loss of DORADO in the Caribbean.