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Army Unit Volunteers for Daring Mission

Near the end of World War II, a plane carrying 24 members of the U.S. military, crashed into the New Guinea jungle during a sightseeing excursion. The three survivors, suffering from gangrene and hunger, were stranded deep in a jungle valley notorious for its cannibalistic tribes. The army tapped a special battalion of 66 jump-qualified members of "1st Recon" led by C. Earl Walter Jr. This battalion's daring motto was Bahala na!, a phrase from the Philippines that can be translated as "Come what may." There was only one way to rescue the survivors: recruit ten volunteers, including two medics, to parachute into the dense jungle and extract the survivors.

It was a dangerous plan. Walter stood before his men as he gave the potential volunteers four warnings. First, Walter told them, the area they'd be jumping into was marked "unknown" on maps, so they'd have nothing but their wits and their compasses to guide them. Second, the jungle was so thick it would be what Walter called "the worst possible drop zone." Third, if they survived the jumps, their band of men would confront "a very good possibility that the natives would prove hostile."

But Walter saved the worst for last. No one had a plan, even a rough one, to get them out of the valley. They might have to hike some 150 miles to either the north or south coast of New Guinea, through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, with crash survivors who might be hurt and unable to walk on their own. Complicating matters, if they hiked north they'd go through an area "known to be the domain of headhunters and cannibals." If they hiked south, they'd pass through jungles and swamps occupied by perhaps ten thousand Japanese troops. Death seemed a strong possibility either way.

When Walter finished his litany of warnings, he waited a beat, then asked for volunteers. Every member of the parachute unit raised his hand. Then each one took a step forward, as several of the men yelled Bahala na. "Come what may."

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