Pacific Wrecks

Discovery of World War II fighter plane sets path for first U.S.–Papua New Guinea Sister City

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, June 2, 2024 -- A team from Pacific Wrecks discovered one of the most famous World War II aircraft in Papua New Guinea. Two weeks later, Papua New Guinea officials signed a Letter of Intent with Poplar, Wisconsin to become Sister Cities.

The twin announcements were made on May 31, 2024 during a live event broadcast from Papua New Guinea.

The famous P-38 Lightning fighter plane was assigned to America’s top Ace, Richard I. Bong. Bong is credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft. He named his plane “Marge” after his girlfriend.

The aircraft was found in the jungles of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Pacific Wrecks confirmed the plane’s unique serial number.

The expedition was mounted in conjunction with the 80th anniversary of the crash. Pacific Wrecks led the effort in partnership with the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin.

Bong was bestowed the Medal of Honor by General Douglas MacArthur. Upon returning home, he married Marjorie “Marge” Vattendahl. Soon after, Bong died testing a new jet in California.

The discovery of “Marge” led to the signing of Papua New Guinea’s first Letter of Intent under the Sister Cities program. Poplar, Wisconsin is Bong’s hometown, and Madang, Papua New Guinea is the crash site location. 

“Pacific Wrecks was honored to be entrusted with this important mission and proudly announces the identification of ‘Marge’. We’re thrilled our shared World War II history bridged two towns on opposite sides of the world,” said Justin Taylan, Director of Pacific Wrecks.

“I want to congratulate you and your team on finding this amazing site and identifying it for the world, for aviation historians and enthusiasts and the public,” said Russell Lee, Chair of the Aeronautics Department, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

“Our countries have deep heritage around World War II, and for both our nations this remains as a source of pride,” said Madang’s Governor Ramsey Pariwa.

Sister Cities International was created in 1956 under President Eisenhower to foster citizen diplomacy. Today there are more than 2,000 partnerships across 145 countries.

Damian Wampler, Head of Public Affairs for the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, thanked Taylan for rallying partners and expressed gratitude to Governor Pariwa for “being the first to engage in this incredible act of citizen diplomacy.” “7 for 70” is a Sister Cities International, State Department and White House National Security Council initiative. Wampler added, “I am thrilled to kick off  ‘7 for 70’ with Madang and Poplar.”

“We are so proud of the Pacific Wrecks team for their efforts in finding and identifying P-38 Marge. That this plane survives in the jungle brings new awareness of the amazing life and legacy of Richard Bong,” said Bong Center Curator Briana Fiandt.

“I had the privilege of working with Sister Cities International as head of the Ohio-Ukraine Sister State effort,” said Pacific Wrecks Program Manager Steve Kleiman. “We knew it would be a win for all stakeholders to parlay those insights and relationships to PNG. Pacific Wrecks is excited to partner with Poplar, Madang, Sister Cities International, the State Department and the White House toward making that a reality.”

The event can be viewed on YouTube.

Pacific Wrecks ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to finding America’s Missing In Action and leveraging new technologies in the study of past conflicts. Founded in 1995 by Justin Taylan, grandson of a WWII combat photographer who served in New Guinea, Pacific Wrecks operates throughout the Pacific region including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and North Korea. Taylan has personally documented over a thousand plane wrecks.

The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit museum located in Superior, Wisconsin. Opened in 2002, the museum is dedicated to sharing the legacy of Wisconsin hero, Richard Bong. The Bong Center plans an exhibit on the crash site.

Founded by President Eisenhower, Sister Cities International ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit uniting tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers through 2,000 partnerships spanning 145 countries. Last October, the United States Department of State and the White House National Security Council announced the “7 for 70” initiative to create seven new Sister Cities in the Pacific Islands in tribute to SCI’s 70th anniversary in 2026.

Electronic Press Kit (EPK) with photos:

More information: Steve Kleiman / / +13102375389

Available for interviews: Justin Taylan, Director of Pacific Wrecks; Briana Fiandt, Curator of Collections, Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center; James Bong, Richard Bong’s nephew.