November 5, 1944, Battle of Manila Bay – Reveille sounded at its usual time of 0530 aboard the USS Essex. Breakfast was one hour later, after which the aircraft crews would assemble for mission briefings. This morning was the last reveille, the last briefing, for one man, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Loyce Edward Deen.
Lt Robert Cosgrove, the pilot of an Avenger fold-wing aircraft and his crew, Digby Denzek and Loyce Deen were tasked that day with going after Japanese ships in Manila Bay. They were assigned to tail number 93, a TBF Avenger that was just acquired from Ulithi Atoll a few days before.
It would take the torpedo bombers 2 hours to get to the ordnance release coordinates in Manila Bay. The crew climbed into the plane, with Deen entering the gun turret.
Air Group 15 (VT-15) took off mid-morning. When they reached their destination, they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser.
“Denzek told me over the intercom that Deen was hit bad. Then, Denzek came back up thru the small passage way to sit in the cabin behind me. He stayed there until we landed.” Capt Cosgrove to the History Channel 2001
But Cosgrove’s plane had been hit, and the controls were badly damaged. The plane was truly un-flyable. It took all his strength and skill to get the aircraft back to the carrier. Two hours later, through two thunderstorms and extreme mechanical problems, he landed the crippled Avenger on the deck of the USS Essex.
One of his crew didn’t make it. And the gun turret was terribly crushed. The Navy took fingerprints, and removed Loyce Edward Deen’s dog tags. His body was so badly mangled that removing it would have been extremely difficult. They decided to leave him inside his plane, and bury him at sea.
The crew of the USS Essex assembled on deck, as the damaged aircraft with Loyce Edward Deen still inside, was pushed over the side into the sea. Two other Avengers flew overhead in salute as the tail of the airplane disappeared beneath the waves.
Not long after the brief service, the Essex went into general quarters from the Kamikaze attacks in the area.
As far as history goes, it appears to be the only time a sailor was deliberately buried inside his aircraft. Deen’s awards included, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Combat Action Ribbon.
The very next day, Lt Cosgrove climbed back in another plane to go after more Japanese ships. By November 15, Air Group 15 was relieved and sent to Seattle. Cosgrove rose to the rank of Captain during his Navy Career, and received numerous awards: the Navy Cross, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eight Air Medals.