Tragic Accident on “Miss” involving Seaman Edward Darcy
The attack on 20 November 1944 was not the first time the Mississinewa suffered a loss of life. On 10 October 1944, Seaman Edward Darcy died due to an accident aboard ship.
Photos courtesy of
MACS Robert E. Friedlieb, USN Ret
The following excerpt was taken from Kaiten – Japan’s Secret Manned Suicide Submarine and the First American Ship It Sank in WWII by Michael Mair and Joy Waldron.
On a day that marked tremendous victories for Allied forces in the Pacific, a horrible shipboard tragedy ended with an American sailor buried at sea. The calendar said October 10. As Formosa and Okinawa were under Allied air attack, hundreds of miles to the east Mississinewa sailors witnessed their saddest day.
Agonizing screams pierced the air that morning right after reveille, screams that burst out from the chain locker of the Mighty Miss. Seamen Patrick Curran and Herb Daitch rushed to the compartment and saw a shocking sight. Ed Darcy, a fellow seaman, lay slumped on the deck, scalded, the skin peeling from his body. Daitch grabbed Darcy by the arm to help but let go when scalded flesh sloughed off in his hands.
On a working oiler, danger could come from the most unexpected quarters, and every sailor knew it. In this case, the culprit was superheated steam, packing 400 pounds of pressure in temperatures over 700 degrees Fahrenheit. It could be a killer, and on this day it was. Superheated steam was invisible to the naked eye, and a small leak could cause serious injury. A pinhole leak rarely offered a sound — not even a hiss — to warn a potential victim. It was all too evident that superheated steam had escaped from the steam line and literally cooked Darcy. He hadn’t seen the ghostly wisps of death, never knew the danger until it was way too late.
The elbow joint in the steam line that caused Darcy’s burns had previously burned seaman Herb Daitch a few weeks before from just from a minuscule leak. Daitch had reported the minor injury to an officer. Evidently this morning the superheated steam hit the water condensate in the line with thousands of pounds of force and blew out the faulty elbow.
Darcy had entered the chain locker, his General Quarters station and dogged down the hatch behind him, a procedure he’d repeated every morning for months. Then the line blew. From his myriad cuts and bruises covering his body, it appeared the stricken sailor had fallen to the deck, desperately trying to open the dogged hatch, but his burned hands were unable to grip or twist the hatch wheel. In moments the killer steam-cooked him alive.
Panicked sailors summoned a stretcher, and Darcy was rushed to sickbay, where Dr. Bierley administered morphine and placed an oxygen mask over his face. The doctor inserted an intravenous needle and began to pump fluids into the terribly burned man and sprayed him with burn ointment. As Pharmacist’s mate John Bayak wrapped him in sterile gauze, he noted burns over his entire body except for a tiny patch on his abdomen that had been protected by his belt buckle.
Delirious with pain, Darcy said over and over, “Look what they’ve done to me.” Bierley placed a stethoscope on his chest and listened to his breath gurgling in his lungs; he glanced at Bayak and shook his head, making no comment. The burns were fatal. Darcy wouldn’t live long.
Though the smell of burned flesh sickened the pharmacist’s mate, Bayak made Darcy as comfortable as possible. Late in the morning, Bierley, on death watch, phoned the galley requesting a bite to eat. Cook John D’Anna was shocked to hear about the tragedy, recalled how he’d served Darcy at breakfast and exchanged friendly banter only a few hours earlier as he heaped eggs on the deckhand’s plate. It was unimaginable that the young man lay dying.
As morning wore on, life seeped out of Darcy’s scalded body. At the dying boy’s request, Bierley summoned an ensign to sickbay to baptize him; Darcy clutched a rosary in his bandaged hands during the religious rite. He drew his last breath at 1100, five hours after the accident. Bierley called the bridge and notified Captain Beck, who signaled the commander of Task Unit 30.8 for permission to bury Darcy at sea. Permission was granted.
All hands not on watch were ordered to witness the burial. Bierley ordered a canvas bag stitched for the rite; in order to make certain the bag sank, the gunnery department delivered two 5-inch/38 shells to sickbay, where the heavy brass casings were stitched into the bottom of the bag. As all hands assembled on deck, Mississinewa ceased zigzagging with the rest of the task unit ships and sailed free on the tossing seas.
Darcy’s body lay on a board, the end with his feet rested on the starboard rail, the other end supported by a sailor. Two others held the corner of an American flag draped over the body. Herb Daitch, one of the honor guard, touched his shipmate’s body in a final farewell. Captain Beck conducted the burial as prescribed by Navy regulations, first reciting prayers. After the 10-minute ceremony ended, he nodded to the honor guard. The board was slowly lifted, and Darcy was committed to the sea, his body sliding out from underneath the American flag. The sound of Taps mournfully drifting across the deck. It was the worst day so far for Mississinewa sailors, who watched grim-faced as the bag containing Darcy’s remains slipped beneath the waves.
The following was Jim Cunningham’s recollections regarding Edward Darcy, and particularly Edward’s last day – Shared with www.ussmississinewa.com on 25 Nov 2015 . . .
Jim Cunningham S2c, remembers Darcy as a big man. He and Jim talked often, usually about their mothers and their mothers’ dedication to their faith. Jim’s mother had given him communion wafers to carry with instructions to put one under his tongue when in danger of death. Knowing he was dying, Darcy asked Jim to come to him and give him one of the wafers on his tongue. Jim did as he was asked. The wafers had an image of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, on them.
Jim still carries the last wafer in his wallet today and wants the Darcy family to know that Edward is remembered and spoken of fondly.