The Airmen and the Headhunters


I know with the nail-biting Superbowl last night, a lot of SpouseBUZZ readers and listeners missed the live version of our radio show.  It's okay.  I forgive you.  After all, we're all aware that sports are really a second religion for military folk! 

But never fear!  Our radio shows are archived!  That's always helpful, but especially so for the episode of SpouseBUZZ Radio last night, in which we interviewed former State Department FSO and author Judith Heimann about her recent book - The Airmen and the Headhunters.

The story is inspiring to everyone, but especially for military spouses.  Much like we can relate to the broader story of family in World War II in books like War and Remembrance (one of my personal favorites), The Airmen and the Headhunters is an incredible story that I, as a military spouse, found myself almost living in my head as I read it.  And, incredible as it sounds, it's all true.

The basic story is this... 

During World War II, a group of Airmen and, later, a group of Naval Aviators, were given a mission that meant flying over Japanese occupied Borneo.  The planes were shot down, and from that moment on the story took on incredible dimensions.

The surviving airmen were found by a group of Natives known as Dayaks, a group of people who live at subsistence level and had only recently given up their traditional head-hunting. 

The Dayaks made the decision to guard and try to save the Americans on their island.  Not only did this place a strain on the Dayak's subsistence level food supply, but they Dayaks also knew well that it put them in very real danger from the occupying Japanese Army.  And, finally, when the threat became too much to ignore, the Dayaks returned to their tradition of head-hunting, but this time they were hunting the heads of the Japanese occupiers.

There are several episodes that show the courage of the Dayaks in their decision to protect the American airmen.  Several of the women in this modest culture agreed to bathe nude in a stream to lure some of the Japanese who were searching for the downed airmen.  And, finally, to help the airmen escape the island (with the aid of some daredevil Aussie pilots), the Dayaks used their bare hands and woven baskets to build a runway made out of bamboo for the rescue planes to use. 

Can you imagine?  Because I could not, as I read this book, imagine how dedicated this group of native people must have been to protect our boys so well.  And, I have to tell you, over sixty years later I'm tremendously grateful to them.  And it does give me hope, this episode.  It gives me hope that should my own husband ever be in such a situation there will be somewhere around him some native people as strong and dedicated as these. 

We were also able to discuss some aspects of Ms. Heimann's career with the State Department.  She has some great stories to tell - including being an FSO's wife during some very interesting stations where there was no milk and no electricity! 

One particular thing that Ms. Heimann mentioned and that really stuck with me was this, "People who live their lives in 'tours' tend to live life more fully," she said.  And you know?  I think this is true.  We sure do look for every way we can to fully live our life every place we go, and to experience everything we can.

And I do believe that it is just a great life we live, too.

You can catch the archived SpouseBUZZ Radio show  here, and I urge you to pick up The Airmen and the Headhunters by Judith Heimann.  You will not be sorry, and you will be inspired.

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