The Unknown Sailor
Of the 11 Worden sailors who went missing after the disaster, one may yet be found.
An unknown sailor is buried at Sitka National Cemetery in section K plot 30, and there is conclusive evidence that it is one of Worden’s crew. Research by Pete Fineo of Homer, Alaska, shows that the unknown sailor at Sitka was originally buried at the Amchitka Island Post Cemetery, where the Army had reported burying two Worden casualties.
Soon after Worden sank, Leland Bass and Charles Wood died aboard the destroyer Dewey and were buried at sea; Don Blue, who died aboard the transport Arthur Middleton, was buried in a temporary grave by Navy Seabees and then moved to the Amchitka Island Post Cemetery; Arthur Middleton had also run aground soon after Worden, making sea burials impossible. The other 11 fatalities were declared missing and presumed drowned.
Bits of Worden’s hulk were still occasionally visible on the rocks, and in mid-March 1943 the partial remains of a body washed ashore and was later buried.
Adjoining Don Blue in row 1 of the Navy section of the Amchitka cemetery were the remains of the unknown sailor, identified only as “X-1,” and whose date of death was not recorded on the cemetery chart. After the war, the post cemetery was emptied and the bodies moved elsewhere; Don Blue was sent home to Texas but the unknown sailor was re-interred at the nearest national cemetery, in Sitka, on 6 September 1948.
Could the unknown sailor be from Worden?
The Army thought so, and carefully recorded the discovery of the body:
UNKNOWN SAILOR, died about 12 January 1943, burial at 1600 24 March 1943. This body was washed ashore during the storm, about 100 yards from where the U.S.S. Worden sank on 20 March 1943. No identification tags found on the remains. The head, both lower arms, and lower portion of the legs being missing. There was no clothing on the remains, except for a non-issue leather belt and a piece of blue dungaree about 38” x 2” having no laundry marks. Remains were viewed by Lt. Comdr. Reed, U.S. Navy on 21 March 194.
Other evidence is compelling:
- All of the Navy bodies at the Amchitka Island Post Cemetery are accounted for, except the one next to Don Blue.
- The unknown sailor was buried on 24 March 1943. Bodies were buried on Amchitka in successive plots in chronological order; the unknown sailor in plot 32 was buried after Don Blue but before Ensign Peter P. Patterson, who was killed (along with AMM3c Alvin D. Shave) in the takeoff crash of a Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber on 23 May 1943. This was only a little more than four months after Worden sank.
- The island quickly became the home of Amchitka Naval Air Facility, and there were no other obvious incidents on Amchitka during World War II that might cause a body to be identified as a Navy man but not by name.
The circumstances are very limited under which a single body can be identified by service but not by name: It would have to be a case of three or more simultaneous deaths with at least two unknown victims, otherwise the identity could be easily deduced. The lack of at least one more unknown sailor in the post cemetery indicates that some victims were never found. Worden seems to be the only incident on Amchitka that fits these conditions.
- Worden’s crew, who had just been dispatched from the South Pacific via California, received little if any arctic training, and most of the dead were inexperienced sailors who had stripped to their underwear before diving into the Bering Sea in the mistaken belief that navy pea coats and pants would cause swimmers to drown.
The dead sailors succumbed to hypothermia, and without shirts and pants (which also carry the owners’ names) their dog tags might easily slip off their necks while floating in the rough water. It is not a coincidence that 10 of the 14 dead were young men who were not yet seasoned petty officers.
The 11 possible Worden sailors are: EM3c John Anderson, F1c Keith Briley, RM3c Robert Kieser, S1c Francis Musgrave, F1c William Reddeman, F2c Leo Schultz, S1c Stephen Seltz, S1c Harvey Senne, F1c Willard Shinabery, F1c Jerome Wolshock and S1c John Wright.
In any case, here we remember the sacrifice of the unknown sailor of Sitka National Cemetery.