Martyrs to the Spear
On Wednesday, January 11, 1956, a Piper Cruiser PA-14 dipped slowly over the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador. Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilot Johnny Keenan leaned out the window, looking, looking. Below him squatted the stripped remains of another yellow Piper. Nothing stirred. Then, about a quarter mile downriver, he saw the khaki pants and white shirt of a young man floating face down in the water. Johnny reached for his radio.
On the other end of his call, some 50 miles away at Shell Mera, sat pilot wife, Marj Saint. She listened to Johnny's message as three other women hovered at her side.
Late on Wednesday the body of law student-turned-missionary, Ed McCully, was identified by Quichua Indians who knew him. Unable to retrieve the body from the Curaray, they tossed McCully's size 13 1/2 shoe on the shore and brought back his watch.
On Friday, January 13, a search party hiked and canoed their way through 25 miles of jungle to rendezvous with Ecuadorian soldiers, other Quichuas, a U.S. military officer, and Life photographer Cornell Capa. They found what was left of a dream: a few personal effects, an overturned pot of beans, and, in the water, the bodies of four young missionaries. They were World War II paratrooper Roger Youderian, budding scholar Peter Fleming, the intensely spiritual, indomitable Jim Elliot, and the imaginative, technologically creative MAF pilot Nate Saint. The search party buried the bodies just inside the jungle during a torrential downpour. Jack Shalanko, who helped, later wrote, "They were decomposed beyond recognition. Some still had spears in them."
These men between the ages of 27 and 32 were husbands and fathers (eight children ages seven and younger among them, with one more baby due ...