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Pentagon Investigates Missing Sailors from the U.S.S. Turner

After the ship exploded in New York Harbor in 1944, 136 sailors were classified as missing, but new research suggests some were buried on Long Island

USS Turner (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

On January 3, 1944, the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Turner (DD-648) came home after a multi-month deployment patrolling the North Atlantic. It was a dark night, with snow and sleet coming down when the ship anchored in New York Harbor. But many of the weary men on board would never make it ashore. As the memorial website ussturner.org chronicles, early in the morning, an explosion ripped through the ship, taking 136 members of the 300-man crew, many sealed behind water tight doors, to the bottom of the Harbor within two hours.

According to Chris Carola at the AP, the Navy never determined the cause of the explosion, though a munitions explosion is possible (one theory is that a U-boat may have torpedoed the ship, though there is no solid evidence for the claim). Now, at least one mystery of the Turner’s sinking may soon be solved—what happened to the remains of some of the sailors on board? Carola reports the Pentagon has officially opened an inquiry into whether some remains were recovered and buried.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. at The Washington Post reports that official records state the remains of the men killed on the Turner were never recovered and they are officially still classified as missing. But last November,  Ted Darcy, a Marine veteran and founder of WFI Research Group, which studies and preserves World War II history, claimed he had received evidence from the National Cemetery Administration that some of the deceased from the Turner were recovered during the year-long effort to salvage the ship and were buried in a veterans cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island. The site, however, remains unmarked and the families of sailors killed were never notified that the remains were discovered. “There should have been a group burial,” Darcy tells Wootson. “If there were just body parts, combine them into one grave and put all the names of the dead there; build a monument.”

Woodson reports that in a letter Darcy sent to the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a military department in charge of tracking down missing soldiers, he told the agency that four separate burials at the cemetery took place during the salvage operation. Now, several months after Darcy’s initial revelation, the POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that they are “taking the steps to send out inquiries and conduct archival research” to find out more information on the burials in Farmingdale, reports Carola.

Margaret Sickles, whose brother was killed on the Turner, heard about the possibility that some remains were recovered from news articles about Darcy’s research last November. She contacted her U.S. Senator, Chuck Shumer (D-NY) to push for an official investigation.

“It’s quite possible my brother isn’t even among any of those,” Sickle tells the AP. “Nevertheless, it was something we didn’t know about until this story came out.”

The process of identifying remains is difficult, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency tells Carola that they cannot begin until they find documents, including things like dental records, before they disinter the sites at Farmingdale.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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