Are miss­ing sailors buried in L.I. ceme­tery?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Carola

It’s a con­found­ing mys­tery of World War II: What hap­pened to the 136 miss­ing sailors from the ex­plo­sion and sink­ing of the USS Turner?

Af­ter all, the ship did not go down in bat­tle or even in the open sea, but while an­chored near New York Har­bor in 1944, so close to the city that shock­waves from the on­board mu­ni­tions blasts shattered win­dows in some build­ings.

Now, newly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments show that the re­mains of four of the miss­ing sailors were in­deed found and buried not long af­ter the dis­as­ter in sep­a­rate graves for un­knowns in a Long Is­land vet­er­ans ceme­tery.

And the re­searcher who found the doc­u­ments sus­pects many more re­mains could have been found and buried along with them in those same sim­ple gravesites, marked only with the words “Un­known U.S. Sailor” and “Jan­uary 3, 1944,” the day the de­stroyer sank.

“Just don’t throw them in the ground and for­get about them,” said mil­i­tary his­to­rian Ted Darcy, who is turn­ing over his find­ings to the Pen­tagon. “These guys have been ne­glected by our gov­ern­ment. It’s not fair, es­pe­cially to their fam­i­lies.”

Darcy’s hope is that the mil­i­tary will ex­hume the four gravesites, iden­tify the re­mains and re­bury them with a proper memo­rial.

The Pen­tagon still of­fi­cially lists 136 Turner sailors as miss­ing. The De­fense POW/MIA Ac­count­ing Agency, the fed­eral of­fice re­spon­si­ble for re­cov­er­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing the na­tion’s miss­ing war dead, didn’t re­spond to re­peated re­quests from The As­so­ci­ated Press about Darcy’s find­ings.

The Turner, a 10-mon­thold de­stroyer re­turn­ing from con­voy duty in the At­lantic, was an­chored a few miles off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, when an ex­plo­sion erupted be­low deck, set­ting much of the ship ablaze. More ex­plo­sions fol­lowed, the last break­ing the ship in two.

While no cause of the ini­tial blast was ever de­ter­mined, a Navy re­port men­tioned anti-sub­ma­rine mu­ni­tions were be­ing de­fused around the time.

More than 150 men were res­cued, but 136 oth­ers went down with the ship, ac­cord­ing to Darcy’s re­search. He said the Navy’s Na­tional Ar­chives file on the year­long sal­vage op­er­a­tion con­tains no in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing how many sets of re­mains were even­tu­ally re­cov­ered from the 55 feet of wa­ter where the ship sank. Darcy con­tends many of the bod­ies would have likely been in­tact on the ship in com­part­ments sealed with wa­ter­tight doors.

Ac­cord­ing to 1944 in­ter­ment records for the Long Is­land vet­er­ans ceme­tery in Farm­ing­dale, the re­mains of four Turner sailors were buried in in­di­vid­ual graves within a year of the dis­as­ter.

But Darcy, a re­tired Marine from Lo­cust Grove, Vir­ginia, be­lieves all or most of the re­mains were found and comin­gled in the four graves. “I went to the Navy and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t know how many are in there,’” he said.

Darcy said comin­gling of unidentified re­mains was a fairly com­mon prac­tice, par­tic­u­larly when the Navy was over­bur­dened at the height of World War II. The Long Is­land ceme­tery has mul­ti­ple graves con­tain­ing the re­mains of more than one WWII ser­vice­man, while the re­mains of 388 USS Ok­la­homa crewmem­bers dis­in­terred in 2015 for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion were buried in 45 mass graves in Hawaii.

Another WWII MIA ex­pert, Mark Noah, founder of Florida-based His­tory Flight, said he “wouldn’t doubt it at all” if Turner graves con­tained the re­mains of mul­ti­ple sailors. “Skele­tal re­mains can pack out a full cof­fin with more than a dozen peo­ple,” he said.

Loved ones from the Turner dis­as­ter were ini­tially told only that their sailor was miss­ing. If re­mains had been found and buried, they were never in­formed.

“Oh, my good­ness. I would’ve liked to have known that,” 82-year-old Mar­jorie Avery, of Cor­si­cana, Texas, told the AP by phone. Her fa­ther, Henry S. Wy­gant Jr., was the Turner’s cap­tain and still of­fi­cially listed as miss­ing.

Sev­eral rel­a­tives of nowde­ceased Turner sailors who sur­vived the dis­as­ter told the AP their loved ones also were never told about the graves. Two of the last Turner sur­vivors still liv­ing — James Thomas, of Leivasy, West Vir­ginia, and Robert Mowry, of Ir­win, Penn­syl­va­nia — also said they didn’t know.

More than 70 years later, their mem­o­ries of the dis­as­ter re­main clear yet tinged with sto­icism typ­i­cal of so many WWII vet­er­ans.

“It’s just one of those things that hap­pen in a war,” said Mowry, 91. “It was just us at the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all.

FRANK ELTMAN — AP PHOTO

This Nov. 11 photo shows a grave­stone with the in­scrip­tion UN­KNOWN U.S. SAILOR at Long Is­land Na­tional Ceme­tery in Farm­ing­dale, N.Y.

U.S. NAVY — AP PHOTO

In this un­dated file photo pro­vided by the U.S. Navy, the USS Turner is pic­tured on the East River in New York City near the Wil­liams­burg Bridge.

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