Cristina E. Arias Matos

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Capitan Luis A. Arias

A PYRRHIC VICTORY –

Written and translated from an account written by her grandfather, Luis A. Arias

When I found the photocopies of the Ecuadorian newspaper “El Comercio” with my grandpa’s picture in it, I remembered the story. I knew part of it from what my dad told me when I was little. Each time he retold it, my eyes opened wide, like big shining stars trying to freeze the scenes so that I would never forget a single detail. It gave me goose bumps every time I tried to imagine how it happened.

I carefully opened the dusty box that had belonged to my grandfather as if it were a secret treasure, I thought as I handled each item with special care. Inside were my grandfather’s writings and photographs. In a sense they represented a real secret since my grandfather was on a classified mission for the military when it happened.

I felt a mixture of excitement and sadness reading his very own handwriting. With the pages in my hands, an indescribable emotion hit me. My heart beat very fast. I was finally able to read my grandfather’s story from his own point of view. I had thousands of questions about the accident.

“It happened in June 5, 1941.  I was Second Lieutenant, Luis A. Arias. I was on a secret mission with the North American, Colonel Walter Burgess, and the Ecuadorian Second Lieutenant, Fernando Dávalos. I was never allowed to talk about it, but since it is past now, it is no longer a secret. The mission had to do with the imminent participation of the United States Army in the World War II conflict. We were supposed to find a place near Esmeraldas, in the north of Ecuador, for the army to establish there, to help the Panama Canal where the Naval Flotilla harbored. Colonel Burgess asked me to accompany him. I really admired that man. He was an experienced captain and pilot. I was more than honored to go on a mission with him.

While our plane, a North American O-47A of the USA Air Force, was being prepared for the mission, I had to accomplish another short mission there in Guayaquil. When I returned, our plane was ready. Then, Second Lieutenant Dávalos asked me if he could go with us. He really wanted to fly in a plane. I asked Colonel Burgess if we could let him come, since Dávalos was a good friend of mine. Finally, Colonel Burgess accepted and we departed from Guayaquil to Esmeraldas.  He piloted very well. Dávalos really enjoyed all the flight and was very amazed of everything. We flew very near the ground and reached Esmeraldas, finishing our secret mission.”

I had to stop reading to take a breath. I knew the story but I felt the suspense and mystery in his writings. I was eager to know how everything had happened. I wanted to know when they started having problems with the plane. I wondered about the crash. I wondered if they could have prevented the event. With all of these thoughts in mind I quietly let my grandfather continue his story, through his handwritten pages.

Luis Arias' handwritten account of his experience.

I put down the pages once again and asked my grandfather questions, as if he were in the room with me.  “But then, do you think he was negligent or too confident? Was there anything else you could’ve done?”

Then, I reflected for a minute or two and decided to let him tell me the story at his pace, as he wrote it. It was very slow reading, and I had to constantly stop and try to figure out a letter, word, or sentence that he had written in his Spanish. But the desire to know was so overwhelming; deciphering was no problem at all.  Nothing could stop me from reading.

“He was an admirable man. He was really sure we could make it. Then a storm caught us and dark clouds covered us. It was there in that situation that the turbine stopped. We connected the first auxiliary tank and nothing came out of it. Then we tried the second and last auxiliary tank, but again nothing came out. I was really worried since the dark clouds diminished our visibility. The turbine started to stall and with fear I realized, there was no gasoline! Colonel Burgess asked me, through the auricular, ‘What do you think, Luis?’ and I responded that we should go west. According to my calculations, if we went west the chances of avoiding a catastrophic crash were greater and we would have an easier landing at sea. We were already thinking about our final destination, death.

Luis Arias' handwritten account

Suddenly, I saw something I couldn’t believe I was seeing. I kept silence trying not to scare my friends and keep them calm. Then I saw that shadow again and I was more than sure. It was a huge bloodthirsty monstrous shark! Without any provocation, the horrible shark attacked Colonel Burgess and dragged him into the depths of the sea. We saw him no more. Dávalos and I expected the same fate. We were able to see the silent assassins because they emitted some kind of light that revealed to us their presence.  It was probably 10:00 p.m. when all of that happened. When the sharks were no longer visible I started to think of my family. How I had survived other events and why my chances of becoming a pilot were narrowed when my parents died when I was a kid. I had to work hard to feed my brothers. I am the oldest of six children. With time, I achieved my dream and I became a pilot and a soldier. I was on a mission, a secret one, helping my country. Then I wondered why it all had to end there, with such a cruel destiny. Why did a man, as Colonel Burgess, had to die under such circumstances?

Having so many thoughts in mind, I was cold and I asked Dávalos if he was cold too, but I received no response. The sea was very agitated so I spoke louder. Dávalos was still unresponsive. I touched his hands; they were cold and very rigid. I moved him and told him that he shouldn’t fall asleep. Then I realized what was going on, he was dead! How could that happen to me? I clung onto him and cried desperately. No one could hear me scream. I pleaded God to give me the same fate, to die before being devoured by evil beasts. Then I wondered why I was still alive, how can a human being hold on to that much life. I was alone, with the company of my dead friend. No one can imagine how useful the company of a human being is, even if he was a corpse. I meditated in how defenseless we are when we have no weapons, when we are out of our environment. I was there in those dark waters, without a knife, a gun. I was alone, holding my dead friend, and surrounded by monstrous sharks. Time passed and I was losing my strength. I was surrounded by water and still thirsty. I was expecting to go insane at one moment or another. Every now and then, those monstrous beasts appeared, silently, again to show me their big snouts just to remind me that another mortal attack was coming soon. The only thing I could do was to move my legs quickly, trying to keep them as high as I could.”

“What! Is that the end of it? I know you survived, but how? How was Dávalos attacked by a shark and when? How did it feel being twelve hours in the sun the following day, being sunburned without shelter? How was the second night, alone? Were there sharks around again or any other threats? I want to know more, I want to know more directly from you,” I implored my grandfather’s ghost. I continued to read the newspapers and decipher my grandfather’s writings. I wished he had finished his book. I wished to know more details. I wished to be able to hear him narrating his story. I wished I had met and known him.

Luis A. Arias

“Then, after endless hours of being escorted by those sharks, with white chests and huge mouths, they attacked again. This time I felt a strong tug. The shark was pulling down my friend and I, helplessly, let him go. The scene terrified me. I was neither sick, nor dying, but both conscious and perfectly sane. I didn’t want to die this way. I prayed to God again for my life. I thought about my family and how much they needed me. I begged God that He would not let me perish if I could still serve Him. I thought of my mother, of my brothers, of my father, and I turned to that which gives strength to a man: faith.

Morning came, then night. I was horribly burned by the sun, hungry, thirsty, weak, and so alone. Finally, I saw a coast. I swam for what seemed to be six hours, trying to reach that coast. I was so weak I couldn’t get there. Then a big wave carried me towards the beach. I felt a rock under my feet and I clung to it. I lost consciousness. Morning came and a splash of water woke me. I was desperate and tired. I looked around and saw a fisherman not far away. I shouted to him, but my throat was so dry that no sound came out of it. The man looked at me with a suspicious face. I was naked and burned by the sun and I probably looked like a lunatic. He came closer and realized that I needed help. I will never forget that man, José Carpite from Machalilla, who helped me that day. I will never know how I survived or why…”

En Homenaje al Capitan Luis Arias

I finally put all the pictures and documents back in the box with a big smile on my face. My eyes were filled with tiny tears because of this huge adventure with my grandfather and for finding all of these amazing pieces of his past that will now remain in my memory.

En Homenaje al Capitan Luis Arias Ex Senador y Precursor de la Provincializacion de Pastaz -Mayo 12 - 1991

 


7 Comments

  1. Luis A. Arias was my uncle. I remember him as kind and loving when I was just a little girl. I heard this story as a child and am amazed to hear it again in such a beautiful fashion. My father was Pedro Arias Guerra.

    Maria E. Arias
    Durham, North Carolina

    • Hi María Elena my name is Michelle Arias I am Pedro’s granddaughter. I would like to talk to you. Can you give me your e-mail ? Thank you

    • Maria Elena Arias.
      I glad you found this story and this blog entry. It would
      Be lovely to be able to email with you.
      Write me at arias.af@gmail.com

  2. Fernando Davalos is my uncle my dad is Eduardo Davalos when I was young he used to tell me this story

    • Dear James Davalos.
      I would love to communicate with you. I Am Cristina’s brother and grandson of Capt. Arias.
      If you see this, please write to me at arias.af@gmail.com
      Thanks,
      A.

  3. “Es pues, la fe la certeza de lo que se espera, la convicción de lo que no se ve” Hebreos 11:1

    Mi papá le pidió a Dios que lo salve estando en medio de las aguas del Pacífico. y Dios lo salvó.

  4. Al leer el testimonio de Luis Antonio Arias Guerra desde la narrativa de su nieta quedo inmensamente conmovido y esas pequeñas lágrimas también brotan de mis ojos y corazón, no pude haberla contado mejor y con tan precisa evidencia de los hechos como lo ha hecho Cristina. Y doy gracias a Dios al ver otra vez que mi padre era un hombre de fe, que en el incomprensible momento que le tocó vivir miró arriba a Dios y su historia fue providencial.

    Diego Fernando Arias Villalba

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