From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

I’ve read this story in one of the Museum’s scrapbooks several times and decided it was too good not to share. It’s a story involving  !st Lieutenant Charles L. “Bucky” Cobb of Front St. in Marion. In WW II he served in the Pacific Theater flying P38 fighter planes. Cobb was stationed in New Guinea and part of a group of flyers known as “Head Hunter Squadron”. He was also a member of “Club 80” and over the door was sign that read, “Through these portals pass the hottest flyers in the world”.

            While Lt. Cobb is definitely a hero with many medals including a Distinguished Flying Cross for Extraordinary Achievement, he is not the hero of this particular story. Flying out of their base, Cobb and  the men of his squadron would attack Japanese airdromes and would often encounter Japanese fighters. The first time Cobb was shot down, his plane nearly disintegrated around him but he was near his own airdrome and was able to belly land his plane and quickly jump out safely and return to base.

            On August 31, 1942 over Lae, New Guinea, he was not as lucky. Strafed, swarmed and chased by enemy planes, he was forced to bail out. Without any time to grab his medical kit, he jumped, losing his boots, and landed in a tree. Other fliers drove off the Japanese planes, but he was left alone in the jungle and eventually he was put on the War Dept. list of those missing in action.

            Deep in the jungle, Cobb was unable to find a trail that would take him back to his airdrome ( a lucky break as he was apt to have been ambushed on that trail ). He saw the sun rise and fall 5 times as he plunged through the jungle seeking a route to his squadron. Eventually overcome with exhaustion, he fell asleep against a log until he was awakened by a burning pain in his legs which were covered in leeches. It was then that he noticed a small man wearing many charms around his neck and with a painted chest. He was standing nearby and pointing a spear at him.

            Cobb yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hi, you” and as the frightened man retreated he also yelled, ” taubada (whiteman), kai-kai (water) and ranu (food). He waited and watched until seeing the little man ( who he realized was one of New Guinea’s natives known as Pigmies) return, he threw down his gun. The man came forward and began to care for him. He made a bed of broad leaves for Cobb to lie upon and then using a sharp stick, scraped the leeches from his legs. He then fetched water in a bamboo stick and both sugar cane  and a few tiny strawberry tomatoes. Then he led him to a village of thatched huts where he saw about 25 people. However his rescuer gave a loud whistle and within a few minutes 200 men arrived.

            Seeing that the Lieutenant was having difficulty walking and was without boots, a plan was made to carry him back to his base. As the newspaper headline for this story proclaimed “Pigmies carried him 26 days in jungle, saved life, returned Marion flyer says”. For 26 days, they carried him over 150 miles before putting him down on a grassy area from which he was able to walk into his camp.

            His rescuers were rewarded with some supplies from the squad’s meager food and medicine stores and also with shiny brass medals that hung on red, white and blue cords and which read “For Services Rendered the United States of America. Then the heroes of this story melted back into the jungle to return to their village deep in the interior.

By Connie Eshbach

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