Mission # 1, the hunt in retrospect:
Pictured Above: The Western Union telegram dated April 11, 1945, addressed to Billy’s wife, Patricia, informing her of her husband’s MIA status.
Pictured Above: Group Chaplain Earl Raitt addresses Patricia, Billy’s wife, to inform her Billy has been declared missing in action.
As a seven-year-old, Ken understood the hurt his mother felt as she would reminisce on his memory and too often, cry while holding the only thing she had left of her youngest brother: a prized black and white photograph of Billy with a shy, boyish smile. It was then that Ken swore to his mother he would solve the mystery of what happened to his uncle. It turned out that this was not the boast of a naïve young boy, but rather, a sacred promise that would one day be fulfilled by a uniquely talented and unrelenting bold, family man. The “hunt” for Billy Weber gained traction when Ken was researching for an academic report at Georgetown, “The History of U.S. Economic Involvement in Southeast Asia.” He came across a photograph of a man wearing the same patch his mother pinned onto his t-shirt as a young boy, an extra that belonged to Uncle Billy. The caption of the photograph indicated that the man had flown during WWII in the CBI…the China Burma, India theater. Inspired by this revelation, Ken took to Maxwell Air Force Base to further his research on Billy, eventually finding the MACR, or Missing Air Crew Report, dated March 25, 1945 for The Life of Riley.
In the decades that followed, Ken uncovered additional reports, search and rescue missions for The Life of Riley, audio from both ground based and aerial radio contacts, maps, and perhaps most daunting of all: he interviewed hundreds of men who served in the Mariana Campaign, including two of Billy’s former crewmembers, the two men who were left behind on that fate-filled day.
Pictured Above: Crew #33, The Life of Riley photographed while still in the States. Top Row Left to Right: Lt. William G. Weber, Maj. Jack Riley, Lt. Jon Kelly, Cap. Walter Homer, Lt. Ralph Worthington. Bottom Row Left to Right: Cpl. Alfred English Jr., SSgt. William R. Bass, Cpl. Jim Dannaher, Pfc. James B. Doyle, SSgt. Carl Truelove, Cpl. George Ellis.
Through his research, he walked back the government’s five failed attempts to find The Life of Riley, reconnoitered and decoded three additional radio messages from Billy’s plane before they “vanished,” and interviewed former pilots to determine where on earth their B-29 could have ended up. By 1998, Ken came up with a timeline of what happened that day, and more importantly, a clearer idea of what the actual mission of The Life of Riley really was that late afternoon of March 24th, 1945.
It was only four years earlier when Ken was met with near death after being catapulted across eight lanes of traffic when his car was rear-ended by a delivery van traveling in excess of 75 miles per hour in 1994. For four years, Ken rehabilitated himself through yard work and gardening in the Arizona heat at his Scottsdale home, for mere moments at first, to entire eight-hour days in the unforgiving heat. His injuries included a massive cranial hematoma with 11 puncture wounds to the brain that left him without hearing or vision for six months and with diminished motor skills for nearly twelve months. Over the next few years, Ken underwent eight major surgeries to reconstruct his neck, lower back, knees, shoulder, and pelvis. The mental injuries were just as debilitating as the physical ones. The injuries to his brain left him with severe claustrophobia and panic attacks. Ken recalls, “As I felt stronger physically, I began to consider my future. I wanted to expand my perception of life, push the limits of my physical ability, and ultimately give back to my mom something for all the love and support she’d given me. Moreover, I wanted to be true to my vow. I had no idea where that desire would lead.” (See: the book section’s, Prosperity Magazine, “Ken Moore’s Passion: Searching the South Pacific for Lost Heroes.”)
By June of 1998, Ken was on a “26- hour flight” to Saipan, joined by Emet Suares, assistant to the congressional representative for the Mariana Islands ( The flight was 22 hours direct, with four additional hours, the result of being detained in Guam by machine-gun bearing DEA Agents looking for two German drug smugglers. Boarding the next available aircraft it had engine problems and was forced to turn back to Guam). Their final destination was Tinian Island, North Field Runway Alpha, where Ken determined after decades of research, his uncle’s B-29 very heavy long-range bomber, “The Life of Riley” last took flight in March of 1945. Emet, being one of Ken’s most important allies, vowed to help him throughout the duration of the trip. He would guide him through the backroads of the islands and lead him through the thick jungle.
Once the pair deplaned in Saipan, they were met with Glen Palacios, dive master, and Ben Santos, a local public defender. Next, they were joined by Glen’s brother Jesse, former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. Following Jesse’s arrival was that of Ben’s stenographer, Anna.
Ken, Emet, Glen, Jesse, Ben, and Ben’s assistant crammed into a tiny, overly-used, Mitsubishi sedan and made their way into the neighborhoods Emet would frequent as a child. Emet was instilled with a sense of mission, going door to door to friends and family who might have any information regarding the missing B-29. As they spoke to the countless islanders, one man’s name kept coming up, “Vicente Santos.” According to those Ken spoke to, he was a former teacher turned fisherman and a “purveyor of insight into things beyond this world.” Although Ken was reluctant to accept anything but hard evidence, still he had learned long ago that even the most outlandish of myths have at their base, a kernel of truth.
A Purveyor of Insight Into Things Beyond This World
As they approached Vicente’s shack, it was quite clear that the village elder lived a humble life with very little to his name. Even so, he was insistent on feeding his guests and offering them beer to drink. As cordialities exchanged in two different languages finally passed, Vicente sat everyone down. Glen and Emet acted as translators. As the interview was being recorded, Ben Santos informed their host who Ken was and why he was there. With that the previously slow moving Vincente Santos became instantly animated. As it was later determined, it was the thought of being able to finally tell the story of what he saw all those years ago living on Alamagon island as a young boy with a handful of elders, that sprang the lean and weather-beaten, sixty-seven year old, to life.
At first Ken was impatient. The old man’s dancing and prancing, walking back and forth talking rapidly in a language laced with colloquialisms that took both Glen and Emet a few moments to decipher, was near mind-numbing to the man who just got off of a prolonged flight from Western civilization. But as translations flowed, the village elder gained Ken’s attention as he recounted the events during the Easter season of ‘45 when the then 14-year-old heard an ear-splitting sound and saw a “giant silver bird” with four churning propellers plummet into a sheltered, Pacific Ocean cove off Alamagon island. Vincente Santos, a man so far removed from thoughts of historical events that shaped the modern world, then said something that shook Ken to his core. The old seafarer offered a piece of obscure evidence that had taken Ken an astute researcher, more than 20 years of scouring first generation documentation to discover…something that only someone who had undergone the same investigatory exercise or actually saw Uncle Billy’s plane, “The Life of Riley” go down. Vincente said ...
(The novel, “The Hunt For The Life Of Riley” is nearing completion. It will be available for publication, summer of 2019)
Pictured Above: A map of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Much of Ken, Glen, and Emet’s time in 1998, was spent on Saipan and Tinian and in the waters surrounding each. The goal was to head north, making it to at least Alamagan island, one of three distant isles that corresponded to Ken’s timeline on which The Life Of Riley may possibly, be found. The distance alone was a barrier. There were no aircraft in the Mariana Isles capable of making the 422 mile, round-trip even to Alamagon. On the off chance one could be found, a bush pilot would have been hard pressed to locate a strip of land to use as a make-shift runway on that long-abandoned, lush tropical atoll. Ancestral canoes along with a native crew schooled in the ancient ways of navigating by the stars, were offered. Ken kindly said, “No thanks.” A full size, ocean-going vessel was the only feasible option. Governor Tenorio graciously offered Ken the EMO’s (the Emergency Management Office’s) 112 foot, former US Coast Guard cutter aptly named “The Challenger.” It was that and more. Always under extreme budgetary restrictions, Governor Tenorio did not know that the engines in the government’s handsome duel decker had seized. Parts had to be flown in from Germany. Ken’s ever-supportive wife Pattat home in Scottsdale, offered to make the financial arrangements. Months would go by before “The Challenger” would be sea worthy.
In The Meantime…
Rather than sit around and remain frustrated that he couldn’t get to where he wanted to go, Ken opted to follow a saying hammered into his psyche by his father from a young age, “Finish what you start, son. Geez Dad, I’m trying to, okay?”
With that, Ken dup deep into his body of research then set out walking in the footsteps of his uncle Billy and the rest of the American servicemen who were stationed on Saipan and Tinian. Ken went wherever America’s armed forces went from 1944-1945. This was what he had spent the last four years building himself up to, tirelessly working toward recovery. Ken was fully rehabilitated, healthier now than he had been when he was straight out of college.
There was no doubt that Billy’s last duty station was on Runway Alpha, North Field, Tinian Island. After a short three-mile boat ride from Saipan to Tinian, Ken soon found himself walking virtually every square inch of what was once -- before Chicago’s O’Hare -- the largest airport in the world, North Field, Tinian Island.
Ken wanted to get a sense of where Billy ate, slept and trained. Additionally, Ken wanted to retrace the footsteps of as many of the men he had previously interviewed who served as part of the taking of Saipan and Tinian. Each piece of Ken’s extraordinary volume of research was validated by local historian Don Farrell. Ken’s goal was to keep every expedition as accurate and authentic as possible. At first, this was a lighthearted reenactment of history, but it soon took unique importance among all of the men involved.
Pictured Above: Imperial Navy’s First Air Fleet command headquarters on Tinian. Glen, Emet,and Ken flew into Tinian from Saipan using a rented Bell helicopter. The wide strip of the runway was American built. Pictured is runway number two of the 20th Air Force’s North Field. The original Japanese airstrip called “Ushi Field” was initially adjacent to the headquarters building, but paved over by US Navy Seabees, the 107th US Naval Construction Battalion.
Pictured Above: An extremely rare, color photograph of Ushi Field in December ’44, after the headquarter building was bombed and the construction by the Seabees was underway.
Pictured Above: The two-story building pictured was the World War II headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s First Air Fleet commanded by Admiral Kakuji Kakuta before the US battleships New Jersey, South Dakota, and others in Task Group 58 under Admiral Mitscher bombarded it in July of ’44.
“When you walk a battlefield that few, if any, have walked before, whether you’re a historian or not, you can’t deny a certain connection with something still very much alive, yet beyond anything you can see and touch. Less eerie than exhilarating, you know you’re connected as if an on-site observer, to an intricate part of a far greater whole. The guys with me were grateful for yet another distinction between ourselves and those whose 1944 “shoes” we were trying to fill….nobody was shooting at us.”
Pictured Above: Ken and Glen scuba-diving on Saipan.
Saipan’s Western Red Beach
On Saipan’s western Red Beach in 1944, frogman Fred Parkinson swam onto the beach by taking a deep breath, diving off the side of his boat and swimming through the coral reef. He dodged enemy fire and headed to shore wearing nothing more than light clothing and tennis shoes. When he reported back to his superiors, pointing out the safest route through the reef, the Second Marine Division followed. Ken and his men swam those same coral reefs and even though they were equipped with state-of-the-art diving gear and safety equipment, the rip tides, sharks and unforgivable currents made them swim for their lives.
Pictured Below: A pre-war, Japanese jail on Saipan.
Forbidden Beach And Susupe Swamp
On “Forbidden Beach,” the men who would soon be dubbed, “Moore’s Marauders” by the inept director of the local historical society, climbed the same 900-foot canyon wall that a platoon from the Marine’s Fourth Division did fifty-four years earlier in a surprise attack on a Japanese machine gun nest. Ken and his men hiked Death Valley and the Purple Heart Ridge, where the Army’s 27th Division from a National Guard unit based in New York was led into a barrage of enemy crossfire. After, Moore led his men into the Susupe Swamp to locate an underwater hangar for a World War Two, Imperial Japanese, Kawanishi flying boat. Enveloped in the stench-riddled, inky darkness of the tropical night, there they laid on a speck of dry earth in the exact spot where Bill Carr, a Marine Corps Corporal, had laid before losing his leg to a sniper round. Ken recalls:
“In 1941, at the outbreak of World War Two Bill Carr, a young man who then had a football scholarship to his state university in his hip pocket, visited me in 1996 at my home in Scottsdale as part of a research effort I had underway, two years before I ventured off to Saipan. In the ‘40’s, given his physical appearance, Bill was assigned the heavy BAR, automatic rifle to carry into combat. Given Bill’s physical appearance as he crossed my threshold fifty-one years later, I understood why. There was virtually no body fat on the man. Animated and no doubt grateful to have lived through his combat years, Bill Carr and I became fast friends. Upon his passing, his daughter and I remained close for several years. To know the man, to have studied his character and recognized his fears and then lie at the exact spot where his life was irrevocably changed is as close to stepping through the space-time-continuum that any mere mortal today can experience. “
Mt. Tapochau Part 1
The wartime hike up Saipan’s Mt. Tapochau was a particularly threatening undertaking. In 1944, Lt. Walter E. Rimmer and two dozen of his men climbed the perilous cliff, extending 1,500 feet upward. The last fifty feet to the summit were climbed on their stomachs. Having captured the Japanese stronghold by surprise, they saved the lives of three battalions of Marines at the base of the mountain from enemy fire.
In 1998, Emet had found a way into the volcano, avoiding more than a third of its sheer eastern side. What Ken, Glen and Emit were using as a path was thick with overgrowth, dark and foreboding. The men continued traveling first up then down some 400 yards into the volcano. With every few steps, the surrounding jungle appeared to close in on the men, becoming further entangled in the walls of slippery leaves. The thick, blanket of humidity was nearly suffocating as they were trying to catch their breath after exerting such physical force.
Pictured Below: Ken in 1998 in the jungles of Saipan
Ken’s main concern was avoiding something he just recently came into contact with, razor grass. It appears as if it were any other type of jungle grass, but one soon finds out otherwise once they pass through it. The blades have a red trim to it. That feature isn’t naturally occurring, either. The red trim is blood from the slivers of flesh it catches onto from ears, faces, necks, and arms that were neglected to be covered by durable clothing. He begins to think of the other things he’d encountered in the jungle and what our Marines must have thought when they first encountered the same type of creatures. Unlike Ken, they weren’t warned about the flying termites that form a black mass “cyclone,” conjuring up images of Revelation’s tormenting locusts. They weren’t expecting giant black coconut crabs, whose legs can span up to three feet and nearly weigh as much as a medium-sized dog. They didn’t expect the temperamental wild pigs, lurking from under the darkness of the tangled vines.
Pictured Above: The dense jungle of Saipan
While on Tinian, Moore’s crew located the island’s B-29 jungle graveyard and the underwater B-29 graveyard, the latter of which they all dove straight into. At full speed in a rented Mitsubishi, the team races down the coral crushed Runway Alpha, simulating Billy’s last takeoff. Finally, Ken felt as if he was closer than ever to his beloved uncle. They explored the underground bunkers and caves the Japanese had used as hideouts before the U.S. Military found them. One area of the long-abandoned bunkers was fenced off with a sign reading “Unexploded Ordinance, DO NOT ENTER.” Although Ken was cautious, Glen had a way of pushing him to his limits. He talked Ken into scaling the fence and exploring an area that could very likely explode at any moment. Buried into the ground along with grenades and other explosives were porcelain china, teacups, and Korean branded jars. All throughout Tinian’s bunkers and caves, the team found napalm-altered glass bottles, old Japanese military equipment, and pieces of American aircraft.
Pictured Above: Japanese soldiers pulled the pins on hand grenades much like this one. These were found along the crashed B-29 site, indicating that these were thrown into the downed American bomber. This particular grenade still has its pin in, either because it was no longer needed or unwittingly dropped amidst the chaos and confusion.
Pictured Above: Ken standing outside Lori Lynn’s hotel, bar, and restaurant located on Tinian island.
Pictured Above: A cache of items found in a cave on Tinian used to hide wounded Japanese soldiers. Note the U.S. Navy water pitcher. It’s presence at this locale is but one of a million such stories left untold in the Mariana Islands, alone.
The Return To Mt. Tapochau
Ken rallies his “Marauders” to another run-up Mt. Tapochau. This time, they had a plan to search deeper inside the inactive volcano.
Pictured Above: On Tinian Island, the Mariana archipelago. Ken is pictured on a Bell Helicopter, four-seater. On one of the trips to Mt. Tapochau, Ken and his men repelled down onto the mountain from the top. Along the way, Ken had the idea of simply taking the helicopter to Alamagon instead of waiting for the Challenger to be operable. It was a thought that quickly passed as he realized that extra gas cans together with compressed air (divers tanks) on board any aerial platform was a stunningly bad idea and against virtually every air safety regulation on the planet.
Ken reflects on his time, pushing the envelope in one of the world’s most challenging terrains: “The journey is its own reward. There is something deep within the human psyche that from birth, continually challenges each of us to reach a bit further than our eyes can see -- to find out for ourselves what lies at the end of that darkened alleyway. It is an innate measuring stick with a cattle prod at one end, ever testing and taunting us, standing ready to take our true measure at a moment’s notice, particularly when one of those real-life survival moments is staring one in the face. How far will my body go? What are the furthest reaches that my mind will allow me to take?”
Glen calls Ken over to what he believes to be an uprooted tree, something he could stand upon to separate the jungle canopy to verify the sun’s position and thereby, the time of day. Due to the heat and humidity, a watch is completely useless and the best way to get disoriented in a jungle volcano brimming with iron ore, is to rely on a campus. At this point, Glen was a mere 10 yards away from a life-taking gorge inside the mouth of Mt. Tapochau. Ken approaches what looks like the uprooted trunk of one of the largest trees he had ever seen. It was as thick as the largest Redwoods and some 40 feet long. As the pair stare at the “tree trunk,” they begin to make out the image of something unexpected, causing the two to burst into cheers as Emet runs over. The men began hacking away 50 years of jungle growth with their machetes: They happened across a crash site of a nearly intact, B-29.
Uncovered below rests a Curtis Wright R-3350-23 engine. Ken, Glen, and Emet began searching for the engine’s serial number. After about twenty minutes or so, he had spotted a mound of earth that could only be the left wing, intact. The remnants of the B-29 they had found was determined to have flipped onto its back during the crash and partially bury itself into the ground upon impact. The right wing had fallen down the gorge some years before, still visible yet buried under mounds of earth and 50 years of jungle growth. Wires and rubber were completely intact. The uncovering of the right side would require an entire team of excavation personnel with the appropriate equipment. The story of this war bird and its demise shortly upon arrival from Stateside in December of 1944,
is a tale of treachery and deceit unparalleled in the annals of American military history.
Pictured Below: These photos depict the first Marauder mission taking place inside of Saipan’s 1,500 foot, Mount Tapochau at approximately 900 feet. Ken had no idea there was jungle goo on his body nor did Glen tell him. When the temperature is well over 100 degrees and the humidity is a step or two behind, “jungle goo” provides cooling comfort, not unlike a cold compress. However, if you do not remove it within a few minutes, a burning sensation takes the place of the once cooling slime. Photographed by Glenn Palacios.
Although this B-29 didn’t belong to his uncle Billy, the discovery was instrumental in their preparation for what was to come: diving off the Western shore of Alamagon island to determine if the story described by Vicente Santos was, in fact, The Life of Riley’s resting place.
Pictured Above: Wreckage from the discovered B-29 site on Mt. Tapochau. Pictured is the B-29’s second engine.
Pictured Above: Kenneth Moore and Glen Palacios, known lovingly as “the first Marauder.” Ken reflects on his friendship with Glen, “I have only a handful of people I call a friend. Glen Palacios is a fixture in this select circle. I know Glen is my friend because following a night of excessive libations, we went scuba diving together the next morning off the coast of Saipan. At which time I learned the hard way not to drink and dive. While I tried to shoot to the ocean's top from a depth of 80 feet, the result of nitrogen fixation, Glen held me down. Had he not, my lungs would have exploded and I would not be writing this message today. Glen was the first Team Leader in the organization I headed known as Moore's Marauders. He and I walked side by side through many a demanding challenge. Along with hundreds of others who would soon join us, Glen and I lived together on the edge, soaking up every hair-raising moment. Of my select circle, this is the only guy who can convert me back to the dumb 20-something kid I once was just by showing up. Love ya, dude!”
The photographs below are taken from the Mt. Tapochau site of the B-29 crash discovered by Ken, Glen, and Emet.
Pictured Above: Glen is pictured with the wreckage of the discovered B-29 crash site on Mt. Tapochau. He was tasked with locating the serial numbers on site. This would prove helpful next year, when the men dove for Ken’s Uncle Billy’s B-29 in Alamagon island’s lagoon.
Pictured Above: Japanese beer bottles from the era, long abandoned, but the jungle has a way of preserving items. These were found around the B-29 crash site on Mt. Tapochau.
Pictured Above: The wheels of the discovered B-29 on Mt. Tapochau locked down for landing. Tapochau’s calderas plain is a wandering flat valley with sudden and steep drop-offs. Whoever this pilot was, he had nerves of steel and utter confidence in his flying abilities. He held onto his rudder with all his might, putting his badly wounded aircraft down on the nearest flat surface, only to perish along with his crew at the hands of the enemy as his aircraft came to a halt.
Pictured Above: Ken clearing jungle debris. Ken found this particular sight due to the bright yellow tip.
Pictured Above: Glen with the propeller from engine number one.
Pictured Above: Metal leg from Mt. Tapochau’s B-29 front landing gear. The wheels and tires broke off but with within inches.
Pictured Above: The men returned to Mt. Tapochau on the 4th day, still refusing to use a compass. When they got there, the first thing Ken did was crawl into the B-29’s fuselage. A portion of the side aircraft had been blown out. It was just wide enough to squeeze in. I crawled in on my back and entered into what was the crew’s sleeping quarters.
Pictured Above: Here’s the inside of the fuselage on the interior wall of the B-29 discovered. The wiring and electric motor look like they just came off the Boeing assembly line in Wichita, Kansas.
Pictured Above: The crew was unable to identify the metal fragment found, but there was no denying its manufacturer.
Pictured Above: More shots of the artifacts found. It was apparent that the Japanese used this as their encampment for some time.
Pictured Above: Unexploded ordinances were everywhere along the sites ventured in by Ken, Glen, and Emet.
Pictured Above: A clothing iron used to press a Kempeitai, officer’s uniform. Note the carved cover over the water entry. It is a depiction of the Japanese war god Jimmu. Clearly, this belonged not only to an officer but one with great wealth to afford such extravagant gifts. It became clear that the Japanese here took semi-permanent residence and were here for a considerable amount of time before, and perhaps after, the B-29 crash landing.
Pictured Above: The iron referenced in the previous photo.