The amateur archeologists gathered around Tom Godwin and listened carefully for his instructions.
They were looking for metal – in no particular shape or size, but with the telltale red rust that comes with age and Florida’s damp weather.
Godwin knew that most of what was found that day would not be what the group was looking for, as pieces of old fencing and barbed wire had been pushed around the cleared lot for years. But he hoped to find some remnants of an airplane – physical evidence of one of the most unusual true stories of Wewahitchka’s past.
“The bad news is we’re going to dig up a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with what we’re trying to do,” Godwin said. “But we only have to find that one piece. We’d like to get something off of the dash.”
The group, armed with shovels and metal detectors, was searching for airplane parts on a lot that had recently been cleared for development in Wewa’s Whispering Pines neighborhood. Until this point, the woods in the area had been thick and difficult to navigate, making for less than ideal conditions to search for artifacts.
In 1942, Wu Kang, a Chinese military pilot training with American technology out of Tallahassee as an ally during World War II, crash landed in those woods.
The cause of the crash is unknown, though many speculate the pilot simply ran out of gas.
The story is recorded in several official military databases, but despite its true nature, it has become something of an urban legend in Wewahitchka. The assembled diggers swapped stories of neighbors long passed who had mistaken the crash for a German invasion and hid in the woods.
Godwin has long found the story fascinating, and through years of research, he pieced together many of the details of the historic event, even locating Kang’s grave in Fort Bend.
Most of what survived of the plane, Godwin said, was carried off by military personnel in the months that followed, but not all of it. Over time, Godwin and his friend, Stuart Resmundo, sourced several pieces of metal they believe came off the plane.
When his neighbor began clearing lots near where the plane was reported to have crashed, Godwin asked for permission to search the area more thoroughly, turning to the Wewahitchka Historical Group for help.
“We’re not going to find any great big pieces, because those got hauled off,” Godwin said to the gathered volunteers. “There was an explosion, and of course, the airplane burned, and when they got out here, they just picked up the big pieces and left.”
The group, who ranged in age from 5 to 98, came equipped with buckets and shovels, and, after listening to the instructions, they began to dig shallow holes near flag markers that Godwin had put up with his metal detector prior to their arrival.
Ann Johnson, the Wewahitchka Historical Group’s president, said that the group has been growing in recent months ahead of their annual membership drive, and she was glad to see the group’s activities attracting such a wide age range.
As the crew wrapped up for the day, exhausted and covered in dirt, Godwin said he felt many of the day’s finds were promising. In the coming weeks, he said, he will compare the parts the group found to pictures from planes of the same model as the one that crashed.
“The little send-in unit that we got, it could be any one of five parts associated with that aircraft,” Godwin said. “It had a pressurized gear lock and a pressure signal… it would have had some way to monitor the temperature in front of the pilot in the cockpit.”
After the parts have been identified and cataloged, Godwin and Resmundo will turn them over to the Charles Whitehead Public Library for use in a display about the event.
Godwin then said he plans to have a historical marker placed to mark the significance of the sight.
“Even if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket, there’s a historical marker going up here. And I’m going to contact the Chinese liaison up in Washington to see if they can help us get some information about the family.”