On November 6, the US Naval Institute brought attention to a unique episode in the history of the US Navy: An aviator was buried at sea with his aircraft for the only time ever.
The institute made a social media post on platform X, formerly known as Twitter, featuring a video along with a caption that recounted the events of 1944 when a US naval aviator lost his life as his Avenger aircraft, stationed on the USS Essex, was struck by anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser.
“OTD 1944, Aviation Machinist Mate (Gunner) 2nd Class Loyce Deen was killed when his Avenger from USS Essex was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser. In perhaps the only occurrence in US Navy history, Deen was buried at sea in the plane in which he gave his life,” the US Naval Institute tweeted.
The video clip shows a poignant scene in which the rear turret gunner’s cockpit is covered, and the aircraft is ritually rolled off the ship’s fantail in an extraordinary burial at sea.
This was a necessary and solemn act due to the extent of the injuries sustained by Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class Loyce Edward Deen’s body from the anti-aircraft shell that had tragically claimed his life, making it impossible to extract him from the rear cockpit of the torpedo bomber.
#OTD 1944, Aviation Machinist Mate (Gunner) 2nd Class Loyce Deen was killed when his Avenger from USS Essex was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser. In perhaps the only occurrence in U.S. Navy history, Deen was buried at sea in the plane in which he gave his life. pic.twitter.com/HymHh7abhA
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) November 5, 2023
Loyce Edward Deen’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 23 during a pivotal mission. He was participating in the Battle of Manila at the time of his death.
Leading up to the Battle of Manila, Deen and his Avenger crew had a track record of participating in numerous battles, often returning to the carrier with their aircraft significantly damaged. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he was wounded in one such mission.
Remarkably, rather than seeking recovery on a hospital ship or land base, Deen remained with his Avenger aircrew on the carrier to return to flight duty as soon as possible.
On November 5, 1944, Petty Officer Second Class Loyce Edward Deen was fulfilling his role as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate in Torpedo Squadron VT-15 aboard the USS Essex (CV-9).
On that fateful day, PO2 Deen’s squadron was on a mission against Japanese forces, participating in a raid on Manila, Philippines.
Deen was serving as the gunner on a TBM Avenger when his aircraft came under heavy anti-aircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser in Manila Bay. Tragically, PO2 Deen was killed in action during this engagement.
The Avenger’s pilot, Lieutenant Robert Cosgrove, miraculously returned to the USS Essex. However, both PO2 Deen and the aircraft had sustained extensive damage, prompting the decision to leave his severely injured remains within the plane.
This solemn act stands as a unique moment in US Navy history, and quite possibly US military history, as it marks the only instance where an aircraft crew member was laid to rest at sea within his aircraft after being killed in action.
Loyce Edward Deen was posthumously honored for his extraordinary achievements during World War II with the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. His name is forever remembered and inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, Metro Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines.
Loyce Edward Deen’s Final Day Aboard the USS Essex
The detailed account of Loyce Edward Deen’s final day during World War II, as described on the dedicated website, paints a vivid picture of the daily routines and the harrowing experiences of the crew aboard the USS Essex.
The crew started each day with reveille at 5:30 a.m., followed by breakfast in the mess hall at 6:30 a.m. Meanwhile, preparations for the next day’s missions were underway throughout the night.
On the flight deck, the Hellcat fighters took their positions at the front, ready to take off first to protect the group and the carrier. In the rear, the Avenger and Hell Diver bombers, as well as torpedo planes, were readied for their respective missions.
On Deen’s final day, Lieutenant Cosgrove received tail number #93 for a new plane, which had recently been acquired in Ulithi Atoll. The orders for this mission were to target the Japanese cruisers in Manila Bay.
After a briefing, Cosgrove joined his crew, including Digby and Loyce, and they prepared to board their aircraft. Deen climbed into his gun turret for the last time. The VT-15 group departed mid-morning, embarking on a two-hour journey to reach Manila Bay and release their ordnance.
In Manila Bay, they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser, and tragically, Loyce Deen was struck by two anti-aircraft shells.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Lieutenant Cosgrove skillfully piloted the heavily damaged plane back to the carrier. The return flight was filled with tension and challenges, including navigating two thunderstorms.
After Loyce’s burial at sea, the USS Essex had to go on high alert due to the threat of Kamikaze attacks in the surrounding area. In the days following, Lieutenant Cosgrove and the crew of the USS Essex demonstrated remarkable courage by returning to combat, targeting the same cruisers in the Bay of Manila on multiple occasions.
Ultimately, Air Group 15 withdrew from combat missions on November 15th and was replaced by Air Group 4 from the USS Bunker Hill.
Following this, the surviving members of Air Group 15 transferred to the USS Bunker Hill, which was bound for Pearl Harbor, and subsequently, they returned home after the USS Bunker Hill made its way to Seattle.
The account underscores the courage, determination, and sacrifices made by Deen, Cosgrove, and the entire Air Group 15 during this challenging period of World War II.