Man Uncovers History Lost In The Jungle

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David Tallichet always had a thirst for adventure and an instinct for serving his country. A retired World War II pilot, he’d already spent many hours crossing the globe. But little did he know that his latest trip was going to change history.

A Fateful Trip

Tallichet’s travels were not just fueled by a desire for adventure, but also by a desire to do good. His fateful trip to the jungle was going to allow him to do just that when he stumbled upon a missing piece of history.

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David’s Story

David Compton Tallichet, Jr. hailed from Dallas, Texas, where he was born on December 20, 1922. He attempted to leave his hometown to attend university, beginning with University of the South in Tennessee, before returning to Dallas to continue his studies at University of Texas Dallas. But Tallichet just couldn’t fit in with the groove of higher education. Ever restless, he transferred once more to Southern Methodist University, where he was pursuing a degree in English, but still, Tallichet didn’t quite fit in.

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A Love Of Flying

David Tallichet was the owner of a successful chain of restaurants, but he was also an avid hobbyist. His restaurant empire fueled his passion for collecting and restoring planes, but he never guessed the historical discovery his passion would lead to. Hand in hand with his passion for planes came a passion for flying. Tallichet’s love guided him towards a number of wild adventures, including that fateful trip to the jungle. He couldn’t have known that one of them would changed the course of history.

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The War Begins

When the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941, Tallichet was still a student, bouncing from university to university, struggling to find his place in the unfamiliar world of academia. Tallichet felt the call to serve his country resounding within his soul, and he quickly enlisted in the United States Army Air Force, where he received pilot’s training. The thrill of flying suited Tallichet much better than sitting in a dusty classroom, and he was itching to be of use in the country’s war effort.

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Uncertain Deployment

When Tallichet joined the military, he didn’t yet know where he would be stationed. Though the United States had been directly attacked by the Japanese, they had decided in conjunction with their European allies to focus on defeating the Germans and Italians first, as the German military capability directly threatened the capitals of both Britain and the Soviet Union. However, the Japanese weren’t just going to wait for the US to turn its attention towards them, leaving David Tallichet’s deployment up in the air.

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He Flew To Europe

In the end, Tallichet was deployed to Europe as the copilot of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, which was a heavy bomber that had been developed in the 1930s. The crew manning the bomber with him as he made the journey across the Atlantic became the 350th Bombardment Squadron, which fell under the 100th Bombardment Group. The Group was based out of a Royal Air Force base in England, from which bombing raids could be easily launched.

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His Dangerous Missions

All in all, Tallichet flew more than 20 missions over Europe at the height of the Allied offensive in Europe. The element of inherent danger thrilled Tallichet, who whose loves of planes was continuously being cultivated by his work for the Air Force. Throughout the war, he mostly flew a plane called Spirit of Pittwood. But it was that first overseas flight in the B-17 that continued to stick in Tallichet’s mind, even after the war had been won.

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Earning Distinction

The 100th Bombardment Group, also known as the Bloody Hundredth because it sustained so many losses during the course of the war. Undeterred, the soldiers who were enlisted in the group fought so fiercely, even in the face of the severe losses, sometimes losing several flying fortresses during a singular mission. Despite the losses, the group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing a German aircraft producer in 1943. But the loss of the bulk of its fleet could never be fully recovered.

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Tallichet’s Continuing Efforts

In the aftermath of the war, Tallichet couldn’t shake the itch to fly, so he continued to work in the Air Force, flying planes off the destitute continent as part of the United States’ mission to help Europe rebuild. When he finally returned to America, Tallichet was driven to join the New Mexico Air Force reserves, which allowed him the occasional opportunity to still work with his beloved airplanes. But he also knew he needed to focus on his future.

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Leaving The Air Force Behind

Despite his commitment as an active reservist until 1957, Tallichet knew he wasn’t cut out to be in the Air Force forever. After all, the young veteran was ready to marry and build a family. He needed a career better suited to supporting those goals, so he accepted a position working with Hilton Hotels. As Tallichet moved from New Mexico to California, where he would meet his wife, he still couldn’t quench his thirst for adventure.

Groundbreaking for The Proud Bird restaurant near LAX, Oct. 15, 1966. Speciaty Restaurants owner David Tallichet, far right, points at an artist's rendering as, L to R, LAX manager Francis Fox, architect Kenneth Wing and Specialty VP David Perrin look on.

Discovering A New Talent

Tallichet had a flare for innovation. As he sought to expand from the hotel industry, he managed to become a pioneer restaurant tycoon, becoming one of the first restauranteurs to open “destination” restaurants, beginning with a Polynesian themed restaurant called, Reef. The idea behind it was to provide an immersive, almost Disneyland experience to diners. Tallichet’s restaurants were inspired by ever more exotic locales, likely just a manifestation of his deep seated need to explore the world. A need that would change history.

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What Sparked It

In the 1960s, David and his wife Cecile decided to vacation in the nation’s capital. During their visit, the couple spent time viewing the collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which struck a chord in David’s heart. He knew he needed planes and flying to become a regular part of his life once more, but didn’t want to give up his lucrative career. Tallichet’s businesses had been going well, so he decided to splurge on an a P-51 Mustang bomber.

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His Collection Grew

Once Tallichet started buying vintage aircraft, he couldn’t seem to stop. From that first P-51 Mustang, he went on to purchase “B-25 Mitchell bombers, Korean-era MiG jets, P-40 Tomahawk fighters and giant B-29 bombers.” As his collection grew, he began to realize he wouldn’t be able to manage all of the planes on his own, and so he formed the Military Aircraft Restoration Corps as an offshoot of his restaurant business, in order to justify his aircraft salvaging and restoration efforts.

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Helping Out Hollywood

Tallichet’s collection was so impressive and so meticulously restored that even Hollywood came knocking to get their hands on his planes. With his extensive knowledge of aircraft, he began creating prop planes based on his real collections, which were eventually used in movies like Pearl Harbor and Collateral Damage. And it wasn’t just Hollywood itching for a slice of history, but museums too. If only they could have foreseen what David would eventually discover in his desire to acquire ever more aircraft.

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The Call Of Adventure

Tallichet wasn’t content to just let his collection come to him. The years went on, and he became ever more adventurous. His hobby became not just an effort to restore old history, but a rescue mission to recover a small portion of the planes that had been shot down in the course of the war. Tallichet embarked on adventures in areas as remote as the Canadian Rockies in order to salvage plane parts, but his next adventure would have consequences that would resonate for decades.

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Taking To The Jungle

As remote as portions of the Canadian Rockies are, there was one location even more difficult to reach, located in Papua New Guinea. Inspired by legends that had lingered since the 1940s, Tallichet and his colleagues decided to plan a trip to the nearly inaccessible stretch of jungle nestled between the highlands of the nearly untouched island nation. Tallichet put together a team of experts, both on aviation and on the jungle, and together the men embarked on a journey that would change history.

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Journey To Another Land

The journey to Papua New Guinea had been grueling, even for someone as experienced with flying as David Tallichet. Following their 14 hour international flight, crammed together as they crossed the Pacific, the men knew they would disembark on New Guinean soil, only to climb back into a smaller plane, that would drop them closer to their destination. As the hours of their journey ticked, by David Tallichet had to wonder if this final trek would even be worth it at all.

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Hidden In Plain Sight

The heat was sweltering when they disembarked, the air so thick with humidity it was as if the moisture were rising up from the earth. Tallichet had an idea of where to begin his search, though no exact location. As the thick vegetation surrounding them with every step, it’s a wonder they weren’t swallowed whole into the depths of the jungle. But as they slowly crawled their way through the thick grass, the wet ground squelching beneath their feet, Tallichet suddenly spied something odd ahead.

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Uncovering What Was Lost

Tallichet wiped the sweat off of his brow. He looked up and saw his friend, Fred Hagen, doing the same. The two men loved adventure, and had come to the swampy jungle together, but they never expected what they were about to uncover. As they cleared away the underbrush blocking their path, their eyes widened and their breath caught in their throats. Hardly daring to believe what they were seeing, Tallichet reached out his hand.

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Why Papua New Guinea?

Why of all places had Tallichet chosen Papua New Guinea? In the early days of American involvement in World War II, there was a newly built B-17 bomber, the very same kind of plane that Tallichet helped to copilot across the Atlantic, that was flown from California to Hawaii in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Immediately following the US’s declaration of war, the plane was commissioned to fly to Australia, but no one could know its days were already numbered.

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The Final Mission

February 23, 1942 was the dead of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. While Americans up north were battling the cold of winter, it was hot and sunny down under. The B-17, manned by a crew of nine men, was sent on a bombing raid on New Britain. But the flying fortress couldn’t get out of the area fast enough, and the men were quickly pursued by Japanese aircraft, who were shooting furiously at the bomber. But even the B-17 could only take so many hits.

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Down Over Rabaul

The flying fortress at the time was being piloted by Captain Frederick ‘Fred’ C. Eaton, Jr. After managing to survive hit after hit, Fred noticed that the aircraft was losing fuel rapidly. In a split second decision, he lowered the plane to crash land in a soft marsh near the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, but the landing didn’t exactly go as smoothly as expected. The bomber plummeted towards the earth as it lost altitude and crashed in the ground.

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Lost

Captain Fred breathed a sigh of relief as he climbed out the wrecked plane. He took stock of his crew crawling out from the fortress. Though the plane had gone down, every single member of his crew had managed to survive the landing. The only problem now was that they were lost in the middle of a swamp. It would be weeks before they would be rescued, leaving them at the mercy of the extreme heat and malaria. Though the men all returned, their bomber wasn’t as lucky.

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Making Contact

When the men finally managed to reestablish contact with the American army, they still had to wait for the army to plan an evacuation, which was tricky given that they had landed in such a remote swamp. While it may have been possible to land a plane where they crashed, getting it to lift off of the soggy ground was an engineering feat that had yet to be conquered. The men waited a total of six weeks in the jungle before they were finally rescued.

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Forgetting The Bomber

Though the men were thankfully rescued from the depths of the jungle, the army at the time didn’t have the time nor the resources to focus on removing the downed plane. It wouldn’t be the first or last plane to fall in the course of the war, and the cost of removing the flying fortress especially wouldn’t be worth the effort. So the B-17 sat, half submerged in the swampy grass of Papua New Guinea, until it faded into obscurity.

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Spotted Again

In 1972, a crew from the Australian Air Force spotted something bizarre in the middle of the wilderness as they flew over the area by helicopter. Feeling pulled to investigate, the men landed on one of the wings of the lost flying fortress that had been forgotten for nearly 30 years. Though the men were absolutely amazed by the sight of the plane sitting half submerged in the swamp, they quickly moved on from the sight, forgetting its existence, and leaving it behind for another team to find.

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It Took Him Years

David Tallichet had been itching for a trip to Papua New Guinea for years, ever since he caught wind of the rumors that the Australian Air Force had found a mysterious, missing World War II plane. When he finally had the chance to get to the site, decades after the bomber was discovered and lost again, he could hardly believe his eyes as he pushed the tall vegetation aside. Not only was the missing bomber there, its condition was truly astounding.

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The Swamp Ghost

The original Australian crew had nicknamed the wrecked bomber “the Swamp Ghost”. But even more amazing than finding this missing piece of history was that the flying fortress was very nearly intact and had miraculously been preserved for over 50 years as it sat abandoned in the inaccessible reaches of the New Guinean swamp. “The machine guns were in place, fully loaded, and in the cabin there was a thermos with what used to be coffee inside,” wrote John Darnton.

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Tallichet Was Determined

In 2006, Tallichet and his friend and business partner, Fred Hagen were determined to finally bring the Swamp Ghost home. They returned to its watery grave eight months after their initial discovery, armed with a barrage of equipment to transport the flying fortress back to its native land. The plane was so big, it was necessary for the men to disassemble the intact aircraft, lifting it piece by piece to a port via helicopter. But their trouble didn’t end there.

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Transportation Mishap

The men were making steady progress as they air lifted the dissembled bomber, piece by piece, to the port. But disaster was imminent, as they lifted one of the wings. Though the crew was under the impression that the wing was secure, as the helicopter lifted off, the wing began to dangle dangerously in the air. At that point, there was nothing they could do to fix, watching in horror as the wing broke off, plummeting back to the earth.

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Caught By Bureaucracy

For all the trouble Tallichet’s team went through to painstakingly transport the aircraft to a port in Papua New Guinea, they never considered that the challenges that the United States would pose to their effort to return the aircraft. But the United States and the government of New Guinea were locked in a dispute as to who could remove the aircraft from the island nation, and once again, the project was stalled. It was unclear if the Swamp Ghost would ever make it home now.

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Sidelined Again

The shipping barge that Tallichet had employed for the purpose of transporting the aircraft back to the United States was fully packed with its precious cargo, waiting to receive the ok from border control to set sail. When the ship was finally allowed to leave Papua New Guinea, it was only to be held up a second time upon its arrival in New Zealand, where the Swamp Ghost’s status as a warplane became yet another hurdle to overcome.

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Tallichet Passes

David Tallichet didn’t live to see the Swamp Ghost make it home. Though his full aircraft collection numbered over 100 at some point, as he aged, he began selling off pieces, until he only retained ownership of about 50 vintage planes. Though he had survived numerous battles during World War II, even when so many others in his group were lost, Tallichet passed away at the age of 84. But his dream of returning the Swamp Ghost to US soil didn’t die with him.

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Carrying The Legacy

Fred Hagen made it his duty to fulfill David Tallichet’s final mission, and after four arduous years of negotiations, he finally managed to receive permission to return the plane to the United States. The long lost B-17 bomber arrived in Long Beach, California in 2010, before being moved to a new home at the Pacific Aviation Museum in 2013. Fittingly, the museum is located in Pearl Harbor. More than 60 years after being shot down in the Pacific, the Swamp Ghost can rest at last.

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