Sunday, July 1, 2012

Buried at Sea

I wrote a story about my grandmother's cousin Clarence Hudson Lundy several years ago. He died as a result of a Liberty ship collision and fire during WWII. He was the Captain of the J. Pinckney Henderson.
Svein Erik Deichmann-Johannessen

Since then I've been contacted by several family members of men who died in that incident. All of them were in the USA until a couple months ago when I got an email from Norway.

A guy contacted me because he was trying to locate information about his uncle who was part of the crew of the J.H. Senior. It was a Panamanian flagged tanker, under contract to the US to supply airplane fuel to the European theatre. He wanted to know where his uncle was buried.

The Navy incident report is not real clear, at first they thought the ships had been torpedoed by a German U Boat. It looks like three ships hit each other in the fog, with the last collision being the Henderson hitting the Senior broadside after it turned left in front. After that collision the airplane fuel tanks blew up and both ships burned. There were only a few members of either crew who survived.

I had written about the burial of the Henderson crew in Nova Scotia and how they were later moved back to the US. The email asked if I knew what happened to the crew of the Senior.

I started looking into this, reviewing old emails, photos and letters I had received as part of my original research. I found the uncle, Svein-Erik Deichmann-Johannessen listed as the Junior Engineer of the Senior. He was 23 years old. I even found a photo of him on a family history web page.

Both ships were part of a Convoy HX 252 that left New York on August 14, 1943, heading to Liverpool with 52 ships. The crew of the Henderson were mostly US Citizens but except for the US Navy Armed Guards, none of the crew of the Senior were Americans. Most were from Norway. Both ships had US Navy Armed Guards aboard.

The memorial to the dead at the National Cemetery in Missouri, on the link above, has only two members of the Senior listed. Both were Navy Armed Guards. After contacting several people who know more about WWII military history, I checked the online records of the VA Cemeteries and the overseas listing of US War dead. None of the Senior crew were listed in the VA Cemeteries, except for the two in Missouri. Both crews were listed as US Merchant Marines. I'm not sure about how this worked, maybe since they were aboard a ship under contract to the US the Norwegian crew had to join the USMM.
Remains of the J H Senior after the fire buned out

The Senior crew members were listed among the USMM killed during WWII but none of the records showed where they were buried. I then checked the listings of US Servicemen buried overseas and was surprised to find all the US Navy Armed Guards assigned to the Senior were listed. But not with a place of burial, they are shown as MIA or Buried at Sea. Their names are listed on the WWII East Coast Memorial in Battery Park, New York City, NY.

Now it started to make sense. I had obtained some photos of the ships from the Maritime Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The deck of the Senior was just a bunch of twisted metal after the fire. The ship burned for several days. The fire finally burned itself out after all the airplane fuel was gone.

At the conclusion of the fire there would not have been many remains found. So the two US Navy Sailors who are listed on the memorial must have been the only bodies found or identified. The remains of the others, including Svein Johannessen were undoubtedly buried at sea.

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