PORT MORESBY – As somebody called “The white men are going to steal us and take us to Australia,” every trooper fled from the helicopter in every direction into the thick jungle.
Although barefoot, we did not care about rattan spikes or any other mishap that may be in our way.
We had to flee as fast as we could to get away from the helicopter.
It was a case of every man for himself. It was chaos and nobody knew where the others were as we disappeared into the thick jungle.
The radioman was left behind, still calling Igam army barracks as the civilian helicopter landed on the riverbed.
For us, this had turned into a terrifying experience. The thought of white man catching us and taking us to Australia drove our adrenaline levels so high that running through thick jungle was a cinch.
Then there was a call. Somebody was calling for the troopers to come together.
Maybe one of our commanders. I was not sure, but reluctantly made my way to where the call was coming from.
As I made my way through the jungle, I came upon other troopers and we cautiously headed to the source of the call.
“Come all troopers, we need to make a head count. Come quickly, this is an emergency call.”
We came upon a new garden and there was Uyac’, one of the two subordinates to the platoon commander. He was with some troopers and making a head count. Geding, the other subordinate, was not present.
As the troopers arrived one by one or in groups, we sat in circles in the garden and chatted and laughed about what had happened.
As we waited and laughed and told our stories, Geding and the platoon commander, Namun, arrived.
“Do a thorough head count for us to see if anybody is missing in action,” Namun directed. “Uyac’, Geding, line all troopers and do a head count.”
After a thorough count the two subordinates informed the commander that everybody was present except radioman. Wayakwa. He was missing and nobody knew about his whereabouts.
“He was still on the radio as we fled into the jungle,” somebody said.
Another trooper solemnly pronounced that maybe the helicopter and the white men had taken him away. Poor guy, maybe he is now on his way to Australia. We may never see our radioman again. What will we say to his mother when we get back to the village?
There was silence. Our little minds endeavoured to understand our predicament.
Somebody suggested we should call out again to attract our radioman’s attention. Maybe he is still in the jungle but is scared and does not want to come out.
Everybody started calling. “Wayakwa, come back. We are here in the garden. The helicopter is gone. There is nothing to fear. Come out, we have to go home now. Come quickly, we are waiting for you.”
We called for quite a while, but there was no Wayakwa. We could hear the birds singing, but we could not hear any human.
Maybe Wayakwa has gone home or maybe he is on his way to Australia. If he is on his way to Australia, he would never return to our village. He may become like the white men and speak English like them and live like them.
He may have a better life in Australia and forget all about Busoo River and our little village.
Then we heard somebody coming noisily through the bushes and breathing heavily.
It was Wayakwa. He had heard our calls.
We were mightily relieved that Wayakwa had found us. We were happy he had not been taken away to Australia by the white men.
It was a joyous moment. We were all present and no soldier was missing in action.
As Wayaka sat in the garden, every trooper in turn hugged him.
It was as if Wayakwa had come back from a faraway place after being away for many years.
As soon as Wayakwa regained his composure, everybody wanted to know what had happened after the helicopter landed on the river bed.
Wayakwa burst out in laughter and all of us joined in.
Then there was silence and Wayakwa began his account.
“I was still on the radio calling Igam army barracks when the helicopter landed on the riverbed. My eyes were fixed on the helicopter and I was not you had fled into the jungle.
“After realising I was the only one left, I ran into the jungle with the wireless radio still on my back.
“I ran only 30 meters or so, not thinking that the wireless radio was still on my back.
“But it got stuck in between two trees as I tried to squeeze myself through so I just dumped it and ran on.”
The troopers and commanders were lying on the ground holding their stomachs with laughter.
Wayakwa completed his story and every time it hit a funny part there was laughter.
Wayakwa was commended by the commanders and troopers for being a good radioman he successfully carried out his mission.
This story was played out in the jungles beside the Busoo River many years ago. But we always remembered that our radioman’s call for a helicopter from Igam army barracks in Lae landed a real life helicopter right beside us as we had anticipated.
It was a day like no other and an army patrol like no other. It was an experience we all cherish and will for the rest of our lives.
Where are they now
Nalau Bingeding, a trooper and the author of this story, is a former public servant and now a private citizen living in Port Moresby.
Wayakwa Aimak, the radioman, is living in Wagangluhu village where he is chairman of the Law and Order Committee.
Namun Awaka, the platoon commander, is now a villager living in Wagangluhu.
Geding Tiaga, one of the subordinates, is the Peace Officer for Wagangluhu.
Uyac’ Dhao, one of the subordinates, is the deacon of the local Pentecostal Church in Wagangluhu.