60 Minutes Presents: War Stories

For Memorial Day weekend, a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents"

CBS All Access
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The following is a script from "60 Minutes Presents: War Stories" which aired on May 24, 2015.

Good evening, I'm Scott Pelley. Tonight, during this Memorial Day weekend, 60 Minutes presents: war stories.

Navigating the end of the longest war in American history is the job of General John Campbell. His mission is making sure that after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, the Afghan security forces do not go the way of Iraq where territory that was fought over and won by the U.S. at great cost was lost because the Iraqi military wasn't strong enough to hold the enemy back.

Could the same thing happen in Afghanistan? The U.S. combat mission officially ended on December 31st last year, but in a sign that the Afghans need more time, the U.S. agreed to still play a limited role on the battlefield.

As Lara Logan first reported in January, under General Campbell's command, American forces will fly combat operations for Afghan troops when needed and U.S. Special Operations Forces will continue to hunt down al Qaeda with their Afghan counterparts. But, after 13 years of fighting, the war as Americans have known it is over.

Ending America's Longest War

The following script is from "Ending America's Longest War." Lara Logan is the correspondent. Max McClellan and Jeff Newton, producers.

America's longest war is being reduced to dust and rubble. You can see it here at Bagram Airfield...half the base is gone. Barracks, where soldiers slept, torn down. Bunkers bulldozed into piles of sandbags.

Equipment and vehicles shipped out at a relentless pace and close to 300 U.S. bases shut down to meet the deadlines set by President Obama. Much of what is left now belongs to the Afghans.

General John Campbell fields questions from h... 04:02

Gen. John Campbell: We've been at this for 13 years, been a lot of blood, sweat, tears. But I've seen some good progress, as well.

57-year-old John Campbell is one of the youngest four-star generals in the Army and this is his third tour in Afghanistan.

To show us what billions of dollars in foreign aid has done to make Kabul more modern, he flew us over the city just hours after we arrived. This was among the darkest capitals in the world when the U.S. got here. Now, the ancient city is ablaze with light.

Gen. John Campbell: This is a perspective people don't get. Kabul at night here. The lights.

Lara Logan: When I came into Kabul for the first time with the Afghan forces, when they took the city from the Taliban in 2001, there wasn't a single light--

Gen. John Campbell: Just take a look at the highway lights.

But millions of people across Afghanistan are still without power and the lack of security threatens whatever progress has been made.

Last year was the deadliest of the war: more than 5,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen killed.

At this memorial down south in Kandahar, Gen. Campbell paid tribute to some of their fallen. Afghan Major General Abdul Hamid was at his side. He lost close to 200 of his men this past year.

Lara Logan: You believe that the Afghan security forces, particularly the Afghan National Army, doesn't get the credit it deserves.

Gen. John Campbell: It's the number one respected institution in Afghanistan. Couple years ago, I probably wouldn't have said that, but today it is. They've taken this fight on, they've gotten 'em through two very, very tough fighting seasons and the last one predominantly all on their own.

Lara Logan: The Afghan government can't afford to pay for them. The Afghan army, the police, the air force, they're all paid for by the U.S. and its allies. Casualty rates -- they're dying in huge numbers. Unsustainable, according to your deputy. The attrition rate's another area of concern.

Gen. John Campbell: Yeah, I mean, there's challenges. They know that the army they have today probably will not be the size several years from now. They just can't afford that. The casualties you brought up, you have to take a look and put that in context. So, in fighting season 14, their operational tempo was at least four times greater so you expect probably casualties to go up a little bit.

Leading the fight...Afghanistan's elite Special Operations units. The Defense Department released this video, which shows Afghan commandos on a nighttime clearing operation. At the height of the fighting season this past summer, they carried out over 150 missions every month. Eight years ago, these forces didn't exist.

Gen. Campbell flew us out to their main training facility in the high desert on the southern edge of Kabul, where they allowed us a rare opportunity to see some of these soldiers up close.

They have their own wing of specialized pilots and on this training exercise, the Afghan commandos showed how they would assault an enemy compound. While they operate mostly on their own, they still rely heavily on the U.S. in areas like intelligence and logistics. And there are fears over what will happen when the Americans withdraw, heightened by the collapse of U.S. trained forces in Iraq.

Gen. John Campbell: There is a lot more talk, from many of the senior leaders I deal with on the Afghan Security Forces, about Iraq and Syria and what's going on, and saying, "Hey, the coalition left Iraq, and a couple years later, look what happened. Don't let that happen to us here in Afghanistan."

Lara Logan: The U.S. significantly underestimated the risks of withdrawing completely from Iraq. Do you face any of the same risks here?

Gen. John Campbell: The fundamental difference is that the senior leadership, both on the military side and in the government, want the coalition. They want the U.S. to stay here.

Lara Logan: But do we share any of the same risks?

Gen. John Campbell: There'll still continue to be threats here in Afghanistan that will try to dictate that is it not stable. So absolutely.

Gen. Campbell has to weigh those risks against his orders to end this war for Americans. Here, he was pinning medals on some of the soldiers he was sending home. Under President Obama's mandate, U.S. troops are now down to about 10,000. And, in December 2016, the U.S. mission is supposed to be over.

Lara Logan: You're operating on the president's timeline here. How much wiggle room do you have?

Gen. John Campbell: As any commander gets on the ground, he has to make an assessment and then provide his best military advice with senior leadership. So I'm constantly making those assessments.

Lara Logan: So you don't feel boxed in?

Gen. John Campbell: Well, I-- I feel like-- you know, I'm a four-star general, I'm not sure what you mean by "boxed in." If it means boxed in on the number of people I can have here and the timeline I'm on, again, if the administration just wanted somebody to come here and say, "Hey, you're not gonna make any changes, you're gonna do X," then they wouldn't need a leader that had the experience. They wouldn't have picked me.

President Ashraf Ghani: Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas.

Ashraf Ghani is the new president of Afghanistan, a former World Bank official who has spent much of his life in the U.S.

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: If both parties, or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to reexamine a deadline.

Lara Logan: Did you tell President Obama that?

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: President Obama knows me. We don't need to tell each other.

It took a firm hand from the U.S. to get President Ghani and his chief political rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to share power, after a bitter dispute over fraud in the presidential election. It's Gen. Campbell's job to stay close to both men. He's now invited to attend their National Security Council meetings here in the palace, and says the new government is on the offensive. In our interview, President Ghani had strong words for the nation's enemies.

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: Do not ever threaten an Afghan with violence. We will rise as one and we will face every threat the way we have taken on thousands of previous armies and conquerors. This is the moment of destiny. Work with us to transform Asia but should you threaten our existence everybody will be destroyed, not just us.

Lara Logan: You say that with a smile at the end.

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: Well, because I want to make sure people understand who they are dealing with.

Lara Logan: Who are they dealing--

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: The bones--

Lara Logan: --with?

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: --of my ancestor guide us. This country was not the gift of anyone. It is the results of millions of people sacrificing. What did we have? Our bare hands.

One of President's Ghani's biggest challenges is something John Campbell has dealt with before. When we first visited him here four and a half years ago, he was in charge of eastern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan. During that visit in 2010, we were caught in an ambush with his troops along the frontier - a routine event for U.S. soldiers who faced the impossible task of fighting an enemy that flowed freely from its safe havens in Pakistan.

Lara Logan: We've had this conversation before, 2010, when you were division commander.

Gen. John Campbell: Three hours you made me talk about Pakistan.

Lara Logan: And nothing has changed on the battlefield. In fact, the Pentagon, in their most recent report on Afghanistan, said that-- "The resiliency of the Afghan insurgency continues to depend on sanctuary in Pakistan."

Gen. John Campbell: Well, everybody's been frustrated with Pakistan. Afghanistan has been frustrated. Pakistanis have been frustrated with Afghanistan. But I've seen change here just in the last couple of weeks with engagement with the senior leadership--

Lara Logan: Let's look at what hasn't changed in 13 years. The Pentagon, in their most recent report, said that Pakistan is continuing to provide sanctuary to America's most lethal enemies in Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network, which they describe as the most potent strain of the insurgency, the greatest risk to U.S. and coalition forces.

Gen. John Campbell: Yeah, I agree with you. Haqqani you brought up. They've been the greatest threat to the coalition. I've lost many soldiers because of Haqqani members. Am I frustrated because they come in Afghanistan, they go into Pakistan. Of course I am.

Lara Logan: The Pakistanis protect their leadership. They allow them to recruit. They allow them to rest.

Gen. John Campbell: I agree. You know, I'm not gonna tell you that I'm a friend of Haqqani here and that Pakistan is not providing them sanctuary. They are. We've known that for years.

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: We'll either sink together or swim together. We've both become mutually vulnerable and we both need to understand that stability in one isn't conceivable without the stability in the other.

Lara Logan: Can you understand the skepticism, though, given Pakistan's actions here?

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: Skepticism is part of your job. The job of an elected president is to overcome the past and change the playing field. My people are bleeding. It is precisely because of that that I need to make sure that peace comes.

But in remote parts of the country, like these mountains in Kunar Province, President Ghani's enemies are entrenched. We asked a local journalist to meet up with the Taliban fighters there. The U.S. ceded this ground to them when American soldiers were pulled out of here. This man, who goes by the name, Qari Abdullah, claimed to command 150 Taliban fighters.

He said: "We will fight against democracy wherever it is."

And he used this interview as an opportunity to pledge support for the Islamic State, which has threatened to move into Afghanistan.

"May we be united to spread our ideology throughout the world," he said.

Lara Logan: Are you concerned about the rise of the Islamic State and what threat that could pose here?

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: Yes. Yes. Because the past has shown us that threats, that networks change their form.

Lara Logan: But their ideology hasn't changed.

Pres. Ashraf Ghani: Their ideology gets more radical.

Lara Logan: How concerned are you about that threat?

Gen. John Campbell: There have been incidents of recruiting, of night letter drops that talked about different parts of the country. So they're concerned-- if they're concerned, I'm concerned about that. But I think with the military they have here, with the conditions that are set-- this-- again, this is not Iraq. I don't see ISIS, ISIL, coming into Afghanistan like they did into Iraq. The Afghan Security Forces would not allow that.

As Gen. Campbell transforms America's mission, there's no peace agreement with the enemy, no decisive military victory and no end to the war in sight. His challenge is making sure the soldiers he brings home do not have to go back.

Lara Logan: The U.S. came to Afghanistan after 9/11 to defeat al Qaeda. Thirteen years later, as the U.S. leaves, al Qaeda is still here.

Gen. John Campbell: What's the question?

Lara Logan: That's the question.

Gen. John Campbell: Are they still here? Are there small pockets? Are there leadership that we continue to go after and a network that supports them? Of course. Are they at a level that they can continue to attack and plan for the United States? We're doing everything we can today to make sure they don't have that capacity. But I think we're gonna have to keep continued pressure on that. Once you take that pressure off, it's only a matter of time before they continue to build that back up. So that's why it's so important that we do build upon the Afghan capacity to keep that pressure on. If we get to a point where I think their capability can't do that and they're still a threat to the United States, then I'll make sure my senior leadership understands that.

Coming Home

The following script is from "Coming Home" which aired on March 8, 2015. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Henry Schuster, producer.

Two and a half million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we wondered what's become of them long after they cut down the yellow ribbons and the camo went into hiding in the back of the closet. What do they think of their war? Was coming home the homecoming they hoped for?

As we first told you in March, we recently joined an annual reunion of men that we first met five years ago. It was back in 2009, Golf Company, Second Battalion of the Eighth Marines, was taking the highest casualties on Afghanistan's most lethal battlefield. When we met them again last summer in Washington we found that their searing experience had made them brothers in war and peace.

Scott Pelley travels to Afghanistan to meet t... 13:01

We caught up with them on a field trip, part of their Washington reunion. They fell in without uniforms, weapons or the passing of years. They're mostly civilians now gathered in one place they could be together, the place they could say things that had been left unsaid or deliver news of the last five years. Golf Company's Lance Corporal Burrow and Lieutenant Bourgeois were enlisted in the ranks of Arlington National Cemetery. Each stone arch, a gateway through time.

This was September 2009. We were there as Golf Company stood ridged in a mud-walled memorial service. It was the first time the troops had come to grips with the terrible loss signified by seven battlefield crosses. First Sergeant Robert Pullen called the roll of the dead.

[Robert Pullen: Leopold Damas. Lance Corporal Patrick W. Shimell. Lance Corporal Dennis J. Burrow. Lance Corporal Javier Olvera. Lance Corporal David R. Hall.]

In 2009, a story about Golf Company Marines a... 03:51

The seven Marines had died fighting to clear and hold the Taliban heartland --exhausting months negotiating around land mines and skeptical elders. Back then their orders were to use restraint. And Corporal Jonathan Quiceno told us what he thought of that.

Jonathan Quiceno: It sucks. I don't know another word to say it. It sucks, because all you wanna do is get that guy, just get them, you know, for revenge.

Revenge for the death of his friend Nick Xiarhos who was killed in 2009 by a roadside bomb. Five years later Quiceno had used his veteran's benefits for college. And now he's selling retirement plans for Lincoln Financial outside Philadelphia. He moved on but he never let go of Xiarhos.

Jonathan Quiceno: It's because of people like him that I want to continue to push harder in life and succeed, because it's the good ones that pass. And I can't let that be in vain. It drives me. It motivates me.

Scott Pelley: Is there anything that you miss about Afghanistan and the Marine Corps?

Jonathan Quiceno: Absolutely. The brotherhood. There's no question about that. You miss the sense of purpose. Right? You had a mission. You felt accomplished with everything that you do. Even at a young age. I think when you transition into the real world you have to find out what your mission is.

"It's because of people like him that I want to continue to push harder in life and succeed, because it's the good ones that pass. And I can't let that be in vain..."

Scott Pelley: You know, a lot of people would think you would try to forget Afghanistan and it seems to me you're trying to remember it.

Jonathan Quiceno: I don't want to put it behind me. I want it to be real in everything that I do because it gives me something to live for. Gives me something to stand for.

Rory Hamill: I loved the camaraderie and everything that came along with it.

Scott Pelley: There's nothin' like it.

Rory Hamill: Nothin'. Haven't found anything like it.

Golf Company's Rory Hamill was so dedicated to the camaraderie he went back to Afghanistan for another tour in 2011.

Rory Hamill: I suppose it was to try and get back at the guys that killed my brothers.

Scott Pelley: Tell me about the day you were wounded.

Rory Hamill: Came across a local national who gave us some intelligence on the ground that there was an IED in a compound next to his house. I took the minesweeper off my point man's back and I jokingly said, "See you on the other side," I got about three-quarters of the compound swept and then I stepped on a low metallic pressure plate. And my leg was instantly sheared off. I remember it seemed very surreal. My vision went gray, a lot of ringing, dust everywhere.

When the dust settled his right leg was gone, halfway up the thigh. At Walter Reed Medical Center, President Obama brought him an honor.

Rory Hamill: He awarded me with a Purple Heart. It was amazing. It was an amazing experience.

Scott Pelley: But you must've been in a pretty dark place otherwise.

Rory Hamill: Oh yeah. The first two weeks, lotta the thoughts goin' through my head were, "Why didn't I die? What am I gonna do now with my life"

Scott Pelley: Were there times you wished you hadn't survived?

Rory Hamill: Yeah, I was contemplating takin' my own life. But sittin' and thinkin' about it, realizing that I have children that depend on me, I knew that was not the right course of action.

Urged onto a different course by his father, Hamill pressed through counseling and physical therapy. He's found work managing logistics in a Navy program for wounded warriors.

Scott Pelley: Having been through everything you've been through, would you do it again?

Rory Hamill: In a heartbeat. It made me the man I am today.

Christian Cabaniss: Whether they like it or not, I still feel responsible, you know, for them.

Scott Pelley: They're still your Marines?

Christian Cabaniss: They always will be.

Golf's battalion commander was Lt. Colonel Christian Cabaniss.

[Christian Cabaniss: In this summer of decision in Afghanistan in 2009, you are going to change history.

Christian Cabaniss: Living the dream one minute at a time.]

Today he's "Colonel" Cabaniss, and he joined this reunion.

Scott Pelley: Why do you think some of the Marines are still struggling after they've come home? After five years?

Christian Cabaniss: I think in some ways we all do when we come back. It's 'cause we're trying to put that experience into perspective. I joked I am never more popular coming home from a deployment than right before the bus door opens. "Superman's coming, Superman's coming, Superman's coming," the door opens and "Oh, its just him." And they expect you to fall back into those roles, husband, father, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle as if nothin' changed.

Dan O'Hara: There were definitely times when I questioned what we were doing over there.

Five years ago, Dan O'Hara was a fresh second lieutenant leading his first combat platoon.

Scott Pelley: What's the biggest threat to your Marines?

Dan O'Hara: The biggest threat would be the improvised explosive device, for sure.

He told us, then, he joined the Marines because he didn't want to regret not serving. It turned out, we met on what would be his worst day.

Scott Pelley shows his album of personal phot... 03:20

[Dan O'Hara: We should be good pushing up through here until we get near that IED site.]

It was a mission to defuse a landmine and it went exactly according to plan. But on the way back, Lance Corporal David Hall detonated a second bomb. And the next day O'Hara tried to give meaning to Hall's death.

[Dan O'Hara: Just understand we're doing the right things we're doing good work, we're making a difference here, we're here fighting for the people of Afghanistan, we're here ultimately fighting for our-- we're fighting for our country.]

Dan O'Hara: Should we have been in Afghanistan? I don't know. Maybe the answer's yes. Maybe it's no. And so when I run into people who say, "Tell me about Afghanistan? What were our goals there? Should we have been there? I think I'm in the same boat where I would say, "You know, to be honest with you, I don't know."

After two tours, and a lot of questions, O'Hara's been recruited into General Electric's program for returning vets. He's a project manager for GE oil and gas. And sometimes he thinks about running for office.

Dan O'Hara: I had done what I wanted to do in the Marine Corps. I could say I deployed twice in the defense of my nation, so that was something I was proud of. There's certainly part of you that says, "I'm glad that that's over with."

Scott Pelley: Goodbye to all that.

Dan O'Hara: Yeah. Goodbye to Afghanistan. I won't be seeing you again.

Devin Jones: Those images are burned in your head, man. They never go away. They never go away.

Afghanistan did not leave Golf Company's Devin Jones. Like many others, Jones brought the war home.

Devin Jones: I mean it was rough. I didn't do anything during the day. I moved at night and that was it.

The anxiety of post-traumatic stress left him isolated and jobless.

Devin Jones: You're gettin' closer to closer to being on the streets. You're gettin' eviction notices. You're gettin' those and you're just like, "Man, this is bad.

Scott Pelley: Did you lose the apartment?

Devin Jones: Yeah. I ended up losing it. I ended up...

Scott Pelley: Where'd you go?

Devin Jones: For a little while I stayed in my storage unit

Scott Pelley: You were living in a storage unit?

Devin Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Staying in the storage unit.

Scott Pelley: Why aren't you reaching out for help?

Devin Jones: I felt like a complete idiot. Like, a complete failure. I went from being a very proud combat, you know, veteran to just to another, you know, percentage of the homeless vets. It's so much easier to give up. You go from having a job, stable job, having everyone that cares about you around you 24/7 to being alone, broke, eating saltine crackers living in a storage unit. Who wouldn't want to die.

But what torments Jones is that he isn't alone. There is the persistent presence of his friend Dennis Burrow. After Burrow was killed by a landmine, Golf Company put his name on a combat outpost so he wouldn't be forgotten, but it turns out that isn't the problem, the dead are immortal in the mind.

Scott Pelley: Were you there when Burrow died?

Devin Jones: Yes. Yes, I was.

Scott Pelley: What happened?

Devin Jones: I'm not sure if I really wanna go into detail on that too much. You know? I'm not-- I don't wanna be the person that the family hears that from if they don't already know. You know? It's not easy to think about that day. Because that was a pretty rough day. Sorry.

Scott Pelley: I'm sorry that it's so hard to remember that.

Devin Jones: It's all right.

Scott Pelley: You're still looking out for Burrow?

Devin Jones: Yeah. You never stop looking out for your team. Your team's everything. I've had nightmares where I've just been sittin' there just starin' at him.

Scott Pelley: Did you sometimes think you'd like to trade places?

Devin Jones: Every day. Every single day. How do I deserve to be here?

[Devin to Burrow: It's been a long time bud. Miss you dude. Don't know else to really say. Just look after us, look after, you know, everybody else, man. So I'm thinking about you bud.]

The men do look after one another. Phone calls at three a.m.--to be reminded that what got them through combat will get them through whatever they're fighting now. There is a bond that only a vet can know, that does not loosen with time.

Scott Pelley: Where do you think these Marines will be five years from now?

Christian Cabaniss: What I really hope is, you know, five years from now, they're still coming together to see each other, to talk to each other. And they're talking about their kids and the things that are going on in their lives. So they've been able to put that experience in perspective and use it as a foundation. Because I've said these kids are our next greatest generation, but not necessarily because of what they did on the battlefield. It's gonna be because of what they did when they got home.

A Forgotten Corner of Hell

The following is a script of "A Forgotten Corner of Hell" which aired on Nov. 23, 2014. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. David Schneider and Joyce Gesundheit, producer.

More than 400,000 Americans died fighting the Second World War. Adding to the heartache of that staggering loss, nearly one in five of those killed was declared Missing In Action. To this day, the families of some 73,000 unaccounted for servicemen have lived with the mystery of how they died and have been deprived of the comfort that comes from a burial.

At the end of the war, the technology didn't exist to find and identify many of the missing, but today it does. As Anderson Cooper reported in November, this is the remarkable story of a group of volunteers who spend their own time and money quietly searching for these long lost servicemen -- remarkable because of what they've discovered in recent years. They are doing it, they say, for the fallen and focus on Palau, a Pacific island nation that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war 70 years ago; a place that some pilots called "a forgotten corner of hell."

Anderson Cooper dives into sacred waters with... 04:24

Fly today over Palau's 586 small islands and miles of barrier reefs and you'll see no sign of the carnage that once occurred here. But beneath the jungle canopy you can still find the rusted ruins of Japanese anti-aircraft guns; and in the clear blue water, a graveyard of planes and the men who flew them. As the Second World War raged in the Pacific, the islands of Palau were teeming with Japanese soldiers and under attack by American planes. The skies overhead were filled with Hellcats, Corsairs, Avengers and B-24 Liberators. On September 1, 1944, this B-24, number 453, and its crew took off on a bombing mission.

[Announcer: A Liberator is hit!]

453, like the B-24 in this newsreel, was shot out of the sky and disappeared into the sea. It was one of more than 200 American planes lost over Palau during the war.

[Announcer: Our Pacific island warfare is not cheap.]

Dr. Pat Scannon: This was a tough place. This was no pushover. There was as much anti-aircraft fire available in this part of the Pacific as anything that was over Tokyo.

Today, Dr. Pat Scannon leads a group of volunteers that look for the wreckage of American warplanes and the missing airmen who flew them, including 453 and its crew of 11. They call themselves the BentProp Project. Many have military backgrounds. With permission from the Palaun government, they come every year, paying their own expenses, to search in the sea and on land.

[Dr. Pat Scannon: I think that's what took my breath away when I saw that star and bar.]

When Scannon's team finds the remains of Americans, they inform the U.S. military, whose job it is to recover and identify the missing airmen.

It all started when Scannon was vacationing in Palau 20 years ago and came across the wing of a B-24 with its propeller sticking out of the water at low tide. The bent prop gave the group its name.

Anderson Cooper: Did it surprise you that it was still there?

Dr. Pat Scannon: Oh absolutely.

Anderson Cooper: That moment you saw that, what did you think?

Dr. Pat Scannon: I think somebody died there.

The wing and engine of the B-24 Scannon found in 1993 are still here -- the propeller undisturbed in a few feet of water. Scannon says he hasn't been the same since he first found it.

Dr. Pat Scannon: It was one of those special moments in life where from one step to the next I knew I had to know what went on. It just was wrong to me that this wing is sitting here and nobody knows anything about it.

Finding the answers rarely comes easily or quickly. Scannon's team spent 10 years looking for 453 -- acting on hunches and old battlefield reports. But it wasn't until 2004 and a tip from a local fisherman that they finally found the wreckage.

Anderson Cooper: That's the tail section of the plane. It was about a mile away from where they'd been searching all those years.

Dr. Pat Scannon: A mile away underwater is -- you might as well be on the moon. We spent years doing grid searches in the area that we thought it was.

Anderson Cooper: Just methodically square by square underwater?

Dr. Pat Scannon: Square by square underwater. Because we knew it had to be here. A B-24 is a big thing. And you know, at least on the map, these waters don't look that big. So how hard could it be? At least that's what we thought. Well, it turns out it's hard.

We went to 453 to dive with Pat Scannon and his team, the site is now protected by the Palaun government.

Anderson Cooper: When you first enter the water, it's only a few seconds before you see the first signs of the plane. The plane impacted and as it hit the water and that's why it's now laying in sections. At first you might mistake it for coral, in fact coral has been growing over it. And over here you can see the propeller.

"There's a whole generation of people in my family that just did not speak of this because of the unknown."

Dr. Pat Scannon: At the end of the game, it's not about finding aluminum. It's not about finding wreck sites. It's about finding the MIAs who are no longer MIA.

Solving the mystery of a missing WWII soldier... 01:12

The remains of eight crew members were found at this site and later recovered and identified by the U.S. military. One of the men was Jimmy Doyle, a 25-year-old Texan, who was 453's nose gunner. You can still see the turret where he was sitting when the plane crashed and where his remains were found. That diver, pausing in the spot, is Jimmy Doyle's grandson, Casey Doyle, an active duty Marine who now volunteers with the BentProp Project.

Casey Doyle: Just to know where the last few moments of his life were, is a very special time, and to see that down there, there's probably still a little physically, a little bit of him and the rest of the crew still down there, so it's an incredibly powerful and special place for me.

Until BentProp found the wreckage, Jimmie Doyle's family didn't talk much about him. Some family members actually believed he survived the war and started a new life.

Anderson Cooper: What did people say about your grandfather?

Casey Doyle: There's a whole generation of people in my family that just did not speak of this because of the unknown.

Dr. Pat Scannon: You can tell a family that their loved one is missing or that their loved ones were captured and were POWs. But I swear to goodness, I have talked to families who really believe that grandpa somehow made it out, was saved by the natives and had amnesia and was living on an island being taken care of by young native girls.

Anderson Cooper: And families really believe that?

Dr. Pat Scannon: I have heard it.

Anderson Cooper: Why would people think that?

Dr. Pat Scannon: I think it comes with the hope that someone missing may show up.

Jimmy Doyle finally returned home with seven of his crew members in 2010 -- 65 years after their plane was shot out of the sky. A memorial was held in Arlington National Cemetery, where some of the men were buried. Pat Scannon was invited to attend.

Anderson Cooper: What was that like to be at Arlington?

Dr. Pat Scannon: I was, I felt that my job on that plane was done. And I actually stepped back and watched the ceremony from a ways off. And it was extremely emotional.

Anderson Cooper: You're emotional just thinking about it?

Dr. Pat Scannon: Yeah. It's, I think about it a lot, actually.

Anderson Cooper: What's the emotion for you?

Dr. Pat Scannon: Happiness. That they know what happened.

"We could bring him home to family. And we can do a proper burial, we can honor them."

But not everyone from 453 has come home. Just after the plane was hit, three crew members parachuted out, including 22-year-old Art Schumacher. All three were quickly captured by the Japanese, and according to witnesses, taken to a camp in the jungle and executed.

The BentProp team is still looking for their remains, but searching on land is no easier than in the ocean. Pat Scannon has tried to pinpoint the location of the graves by traveling to Japan to interview former Japanese soldiers stationed in Palau. And he's tracked down Palauans who say they saw the men just before they were captured.

Dr. Pat Scannon: So you saw the parachutes?

Man: Yeah.

Dr. Pat Scannon: Do you know how many?

Man: Well, I saw like three, I think.

One Palauan drew a map in the dirt showing where he believed the prisoners were executed. Using that information, the BentProp team has identified two spots in the jungle where they think as many as a dozen Americans were killed. We were with them when they started digging.

The red sticks are where buried pieces of metal were detected -- probably fragments of munitions, but perhaps a prisoner's button or zipper. The chance of finding Art Schumacher and the others on the first dig may be small, but Schumacher's niece Jo has flown here from Washington.

Anderson Cooper: What would it mean to find your uncle?

Jo: Well, gosh, we could bring him home. We could bring him home to family. And we can do a proper burial, we can honor them. And they gave their lives for the country.

Scannon's team has found debris from at least 30 American planes over the past 20 years. In addition to the eight airmen recovered from 453, BentProp's other discoveries could lead to the return of 19 more MIAs from Palau. But many planes crashed in far less accessible parts of the ocean and dense jungle and their crews never found.

Anderson Cooper: Do you know how many Americans are still missing here?

Dr. Pat Scannon: We think it's somewhere between 70, 80 American airmen crashed in this area. The real question is how many crashed inside the barrier reef. Inside the barrier reef means we can possibly find them.

Anderson Cooper: Why? Because outside...

Dr. Pat Scannon: It's 2,000 feet deep.

In 2005, Scannon's team found this wing of a TBM Avenger in the jungle. They believe the rest of the plane is in the water nearby and they've been searching for it the past nine years.

"It was very emotional. And when you put your finger on the plane, it's real."

Dr. Pat Scannon: We've never been able to find the fuselage, so somewhere out here there's a fuselage with, possibly, with two MIAs on it.

To find the Avenger, BentProp has now been joined by a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware. They bring high technology to the hunt. This research torpedo, called REMUS, can scan large areas of ocean with sonar. Eric Terrill leads the effort.

Eric Terrill: We ran the REMUS a few hours off of the mangroves here and found a couple of targets. Drop down. Get some visuals on the targets.

Dr. Pat Scannon: If there's a place it ought to be, it's right here.

Terrill leads the way with a handheld sonar device and is the first to come across debris, including part of the plane's tail. When the sonar shows signs of something ahead, he turns around to get Pat Scannon.

Dr. Pat Scannon: He comes swimming up to me, grabs my hand and practically yanks my arm off. And so I figured he probably knows something. And this gray hulk becomes an airplane. And there's a big propeller right there. You get misty, I got misty underwater. You know, "Maybe this isn't such a good thing to do underwater, you know?" But, you know, I couldn't help it. It was very emotional. And when you put your finger on the plane, it's real. And that's what we did.

Anderson Cooper: You touch it?

Dr. Pat Scannon: You touch it. And...

Anderson Cooper: Why?

Dr. Pat Scannon: I don't know. Science is about facts. I mean, my eyes saw it, you know? I mean, so fact was it was there. But touching it, you know, just gave it a sense of finality. We all knew what this was. And what it meant.

Anderson Cooper: There are Americans down there?

Dr. Pat Scannon: There are Americans down there. The families don't even know yet. And it's not that I'm wanting to keep a secret, but we also, until the remains are properly identified, we don't want to hold out false hope.

To get proper identification, BentProp notifies the U.S. military of the discovery, but the actual recovery and identification of remains by the military can take years.

Dr. Pat Scannon: This plane was shot down over this area the 4th of May, 1945.

Every time BentProp finds wreckage of a plane with missing airmen, they hold a small ceremony. They videotape it so that, one day, the families of the MIAs will know the respect shown to them by Scannon and his team, who spent their own time and money to find them.

Over the Avenger crash site this year, BentProp unfurls an American and a Palauan flag and speak of the men who were lost. They say their names, their ages, what they've learned of their lives. And at the end of every ceremony, Pat Scannon recites a poem written during World War I. It's called "For the Fallen."

Anderson Cooper: Would you read it to me?

Dr. Pat Scannon: Sure, I'll read it to you. I can't read it without standing up. Can I stand up?

Anderson Cooper: Of course.

Dr. Pat Scannon: So, "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: / Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. / At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them."