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Old 03-13-2019, 07:13 AM
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Thumbs up The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier

The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier
By: Ed Caesar NYT / 3/13/19
RE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/m...t-carrier.html

In 1942, a volley of torpedoes sent the U.S.S. Wasp to the bottom of the Pacific. For decades, the families of the dead wondered where in the lightless depths of the ocean the ship could possibly be. Earlier this year, a team of wreck hunters set out to find it.

Photo link: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019...y=90&auto=webp
A World War II helmet found by the Petrel, a high-tech research vessel, at the bottom of the Pacific.CreditCreditDavid Maurice Smith for The New York Times

On July 1, 1942, the U.S.S. Wasp, an aircraft carrier holding 71 planes, 2,247 sailors and a journalist, sailed from San Diego to the western Pacific to join the battle against the Japanese. On board was a naval officer named Lt. Cmdr. John Joseph Shea. Two days before he left San Diego, Shea wrote his 5-year-old son a letter.

Dear Jackie,

This is the first letter I have ever written directly to my little son and I am thrilled to know that you can read it all by yourself. If you miss some of the words, I am sure it will be because I do not write very plainly. Mother will help you in that case I am sure.

I was certainly glad to hear your voice over the long-distance telephone. It sounded as though I were right in the living room with you. You sounded as though you missed your daddy very much. I miss you too, more than anyone will ever know. It is too bad this war could not have been delayed a few more years so that I could grow up again with you and do with you all the things I planned to do when you were old enough to go to school.

I thought how nice it would be for me to come home early in the afternoon and play ball with you, and go mountain-climbing and see the trees, and brooks, and learn all about woodcraft, hunting, fishing, swimming and things like that. I suppose we must be brave and put these things off for a little while.

When you are a little bigger you will know why your daddy is not home so much any more. You know we have a big country and we have ideals as to how people should live and enjoy the riches of it and how each is born with equal rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, there are some countries in the world where they don’t have these ideals, where a boy cannot grow up to be what he wants to be with no limits on his opportunities to be a great man, such as a great priest, statesman, doctor, soldier, business man etc.

Because there are people and countries who want to change our nation, its ideals, forms of government and way of life, we must leave our homes and families to fight. Fighting for the defense of our country, ideals, homes and honor is an honor and a duty which your daddy has to do before he can come home to settle down with you and Mother. When it is done, he is coming home to be with you always and forever. So wait just a little while longer. I am afraid it will be more than the two weeks you told me on the phone.

In the meantime, take good care of Mother. Be a good boy and grow up to be a good young man. Study hard when you go to school. Be a leader in everything good in life. Be a good Catholic, and you can’t help being a good American. Play fair always. Strive to win but if you must lose, lose like a gentleman and a good sportsman. Don’t ever be a quitter either in sports or in your business or profession when you grow up. Get all the education you can. Stay close to Mother and follow her advice. Obey her in everything, no matter how you may at times disagree. She knows what is best and will never let you down or lead you away from the right and honorable things in life. If I don’t get back, you will have to be Mother’s protector because you will be the only one she has. You must grow up to take my place as well as your own in her life and heart. Don’t let her brood over me nor waste herself on anyone not worthy of her or you.

Love your grandmother and granddad as long as they live. They, too, will never let you down. Love your aunts and see them as often as you can. Last of all, don’t ever forget your daddy. Pray for him to come back and if it is God’s will that he does not, be the kind of a boy and man your daddy wants you to be.

Thanks for the nice sweater and handkerchiefs and particularly for the note and card. Write me very often and tell me everything.

Kiss Mother for me every night.

Goodbye for now.

With all my love and devotion for Mother and you,

Your daddy

Copy of letter: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019...y=90&auto=webp
Lt. Cmdr. John Joseph Shea’s original “Dear Jackie” letter.CreditFrom John J. Burns Library, Boston College

On the afternoon of Sept. 15, the Wasp was in the Coral Sea, escorting a convoy of United States Marines bound for Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, when it was hit by torpedoes fired at close range by a Japanese submarine. Explosions immediately rocked the ship. Many men were killed instantly. The ship’s magazines and fuel stores detonated like bombs. The hangar deck, where most of the planes were stored, was soon entirely ablaze. At the same time, water rushed into the breaches in the ship’s hull, and the Wasp lurched 15 degrees to its starboard side, like a boxer buckling at the knee after a body shot.

The commanding officer of the Wasp, Capt. Forrest P. Sherman, swung the ship around, so that the flames and smoke blew toward the ocean rather than across the deck, but it made no difference. More than 300 feet of his ship, from the bow to the central “island” containing the bridge, was subsumed by an uncontrollable inferno. Within minutes, the Wasp had become a vision of hell.

Half an hour after the strikes, Sherman realized the situation was hopeless. He made the order to abandon ship. The worst-injured were loaded onto rafts. Many other survivors simply jumped into the flaming waters around the ship with only life preservers, flotsam or mattresses to keep them afloat.

Five hours after the Wasp was hit, it was irreparably damaged but still drifting with the current. The U.S.S. Lansdowne was ordered to scuttle the carrier with a volley of torpedoes. The Wasp slipped below the surface at 2100 — 9 p.m. — then sank through more than two and a half miles of water to the bottom, where it has remained ever since, a giant carcass surrounded by miles of desert, in the permanent midnight of the deep ocean floor. In total, 194 men on the Wasp were deemed “killed or missing” on Sept. 15, 1942. One of them was John Shea.

Photo link: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019...y=90&auto=webp
The U.S.S. Wasp burning in the Coral Sea on Sept. 15, 1942, after an attack by a Japanese submarine.CreditFrom National Archives & Records Administration

On Jan. 2 of this year, a research vessel called the Petrel set out from Honiara, on Guadalcanal, to find the Wasp. To locate a shipwreck — even a 741-foot aircraft carrier — it’s essential to have an accurate idea of where to start looking. The ocean is vast. You need to find the haystack before you can find the needle. In the Second World War, before the advent of satellites, a ship’s position was plotted using traditional open-sea techniques. There was celestial navigation — using a sextant to navigate by the sun and the stars — and dead reckoning, the estimation of current position based on time, speed and bearing. In dead reckoning, a tiny miscalculation of one variable over a great distance can lead to a large error in final position. A navigator’s skill was particularly tested when his ship was under fire, or sinking. As a result, separate reports from naval battles of the era can show the same vessel in positions more than 20 nautical miles apart.

The ocean is also frighteningly deep. Much of the bottom of the Coral Sea, where the Wasp went down, lies between 4,000 and 6,000 meters, in what is known as the abyssal zone: a lightless realm characterized by frigid water temperatures, scant animal life and crushing atmospheric pressure. (Below 6,000 meters, in the oceanic trenches, the deepest part of the ocean, is known as the hadal zone; it is truly the underworld.)

It can be hard to grasp the profundity of the abyss. You could imagine its depth as being between eight and 12 Freedom Towers, stacked one on top of another; or, at the higher end of the range, one Denali. But even thinking about the distance to the ocean floor in terms of height is ultimately unhelpful, because to imagine skyscrapers or mountains is to imagine them made visible by light, and the sea is entirely dark below about 1,000 meters. While I was on board the Petrel, the concept that I found most vivid and unsettling was the idea of “sinking time.” When the crew dropped a transponder fitted with a 60-pound weight from the deck of the Petrel, it took more than an hour to reach the bottom.

A result of this profound inaccessibility is that scientists know the surface of Mars in greater detail than they do the abyssal plains of the ocean, which cover more than 50 percent of the earth’s surface. An international project called Seabed 2030 aims to recruit enough vessels to conduct a full bathymetric survey of all the world’s oceans within 11 years — a laudable, if wildly ambitious, task. The oceans cover 140 million square miles. At present, less than 10 percent of the ocean floor has been adequately mapped.

The Petrel is perhaps the best-equipped, and certainly the most successful, private vessel on Earth for finding deepwater wrecks. A 250-foot North Sea oil-and-gas-maintenance vessel, bought in 2016 and retrofitted for wreck hunting, it is a strange but beautiful ship. It’s the Petrel’s height that strikes you first. The ship is steered from a bridge on the seventh deck, more than 40 feet above the waterline, with 360-degree windows that lend it the feel of an aircraft-control tower, or an aerie. The ship’s most precious assets are housed several decks below the bridge. They include an autonomous underwater vehicle, or A.U.V.: an underwater drone that looks like a fat yellow torpedo. The A.U.V. uses side-scan sonar to look for “anomalies” on the seafloor. The Petrel also houses a remotely operated vehicle, or R.O.V., a four-ton square submersible robot that looks like a futuristic elevator car, which is fitted with powerful lamps, high-definition cameras and hydraulic arms and is connected to the Petrel by a 6,000-meter umbilical cord on a winch.

The Petrel owes its existence and success to Paul Allen, the multibillionaire who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates and who died in October at age 65, after a recurrence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For Allen, underwater exploration and World War II history were abiding interests. Allen’s lavishly appointed 414-foot yacht, the Octopus, had its own submarine and R.O.V., which he used for subsea exploration. But, after a few notable successes — including the discovery in 2015 of the wreck of the largest battleship ever built, the Japanese Musashi — Allen decided he wanted his own, separate research vessel that wouldn’t stop exploring every time he wanted to use the Octopus for the Cannes Film Festival or for New Year’s in St. Barts. Allen bought the Petrel, paid for its renovation, salaried its crew and sourced its rare and expensive underwater-research tools. The investment has paid off abundantly: In the two years since it became a dedicated wreck hunter, the Petrel has discovered, among many other ships, the remains of the U.S.S. Lexington and U.S.S. Juneau, as well as perhaps the most infamous American warship of all time, the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which sank with tremendous loss of life in 1945.

The vessel itself is worth $15 million; the A.U.V. and the R.O.V. cost around $5 million each; the crew is highly skilled and could easily be employed in oil and gas or other fields. To fill the Petrel’s fuel tank from empty costs $650,000. Chartering the Petrel, fully crewed, as the United States Navy has done when American aircraft have been lost at sea, costs about $80,000 a day. But to Allen, at least, its expense was trifling. In 2010, he pledged to give away more than half his wealth. That goal proved impossible within his lifetime: His investment portfolio grew faster than he could spend it. Allen bought superyachts, estates and sports teams that barely dented his pile. He collected vintage planes, guitars and cars. He threw Gatsby-esque parties. He started a minor space program. He also gave $2 billion away in the fields of education, health care, science and the arts, and appeared on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 50 most generous Americans 17 years in a row. Nevertheless, he was worth more at the time of his death ($20 billion) than he was in 2010 ($13.5 billion). (Allen’s portfolio of business and philanthropic interests — including the Petrel — is now being managed by his sister, Jody, and the senior management of his company Vulcan.)

When the Petrel sailed from Honiara, there were 37 people on board, including a photographer for this magazine and me. Most of the crew were “maritime” — that is, they attended to the continued smooth and safe running of the ship itself. A separate exploration team, consisting of 10 highly caffeinated British and American engineers and programmers, was dedicated to the subsea mission. This group was called A.T.U., which stands for “all things underwater.” Leading the expedition was Robert Kraft, a former Army medic and civilian submarine pilot who bore more than a passing resemblance to a “The Fugitive”-era Harrison Ford, and who was known to his colleagues as “Hollywood Rob.”

Kraft had allotted 15 days to search for the Wasp, after which the Petrel would change course to look for another sunken American carrier. In theory, this was plenty of time. Searching one ocean-floor grid of about 40 square miles with the A.U.V. took about 18 hours. If the sortie yielded no clues, it was possible to reprogram and relaunch the probe in a few hours. (Roughly speaking, the A.U.V. could complete a new mission every 20 to 22 hours.) When you deducted the time it took to travel to and from the rough spot in the ocean where the Wasp was believed to have sunk — a little less than three days, in total — that gave the crew something like 15 opportunities to find the wreck. But deep-sea exploration rarely runs smoothly. Time is always lost for equipment repair and recalibration, bad weather and other unforeseeable delays. It seemed most likely that the Petrel might have no more than a dozen attempts to find the Wasp. As in a game of Battleship, Kraft had to call his shots with care.

The Wasp’s navigator was a 38-year-old officer named Lt. Cmdr. John F. Greenslade. When lookouts spotted the Japanese torpedoes coming toward the Wasp, Greenslade was in the chart house, his maps spread before him. He heard the shout “Torpedoes on the starboard bow” and immediately went outside, where he watched as two of them disappeared out of sight and thundered into the Wasp’s flank, just forward of where he stood.

The blast forced Greenslade back inside the chart house. His formerly tidy office had become “a shambles.” Greenslade gathered his maps and ran forward to the bridge, along with several other officers. Debris from explosions slammed against the windows and superstructure. Within minutes, Greenslade and his fellow officers evacuated the bridge — which by now was roasting hot — and moved to the back of the ship. They did so just in time. The bridge structure was soon “completely wrecked” by a huge explosion. Both the five-inch magazines and the thousand-pound bombs were housed directly underneath the central island. Evidently, one or both of these stores had detonated.

What happened to Greenslade over the next few hours is difficult to piece together. In the account he later wrote for the official action report, he neglects to narrate what must have been a harrowing escape, noting only that he was rescued by the U.S.S. Lansdowne. But Sherman, the commanding officer on the Wasp, mentions Greenslade as having helped wounded and helpless men into life rafts before abandoning ship. From the reports, it can be assumed that — like many other senior officers on the Wasp, including Sherman — Greenslade swam. (In fact, as I later discovered from Greenslade’s grandson, the navigator spent several hours in the ocean without a life preserver, having given his own to a fellow sailor who was not a strong swimmer.) When Greenslade was rescued by the Lansdowne, he watched as its commanding officer scuttled the Wasp. Evidently, Greenslade had stowed his charts somewhere waterproof; his final report offers startlingly precise coordinates for the ship’s position as it sank.

On board the Petrel, during the first afternoon of the mission, Kraft agonized over how much to trust Greenslade’s positions. He needed a sounding board. The deputy leader of A.T.U. was a wry 50-year-old Californian named Paul Mayer, bald except for a tonsure of gray hair, who was known to his colleagues as “Pops.” Mayer has a background in commercial diving and submersibles, but he has also become A.T.U.’s historical researcher. When on dry land, he spends weeks in the National Archives in College Park, Md., pulling naval records to pinpoint the most likely place a potential “target” sank. Mayer then plots the various positions noted in the official records onto a Google Earth map. On the Petrel, Mayer and Kraft scour the data and original documents in meetings known by both men as Speculation Club.

As the Petrel sailed eastward from Honiara, along a stretch known as Iron Bottom Sound for the concentration of World War II shipwrecks in its relatively shallow waters, Speculation Club convened in Kraft’s windowless office on the second deck. Kraft and Mayer discussed the Wasp’s complicated final movements. When it was hit, at around 1445, the Wasp was traveling southeast. It was then abandoned between 1520 and 1600. From that point on, the Wasp became what is known as a “dead ship,” floating without power. Speculation Club believed that the current pushed the moribund Wasp west and northwest, at a speed of just over one knot, for around four hours. Then came the Lansdowne’s scuttling torpedoes, after which the Wasp finally sank.

(Mayer and Kraft worked on the supposition that ships sink straight down, with little variation for current. After I left the Petrel, I asked a lecturer in ship technology at Britannia Royal Naval College about this question. He told me that — in deep water, at least — a “vessel could behave like an aerofoil,” especially when picking up speed, and might move a significant distance off the vertical when sinking. But he also said the process was “complex, dynamic and based on so many unknown factors,” including air pockets, buoyancy and the asymmetrical nature of the damage that caused the ship to sink. In other words, even if you knew that ships tracked away from the point of sinking while underwater, it wouldn’t change much about how you looked for a wreck.)

Besides Greenslade’s reckoning, several nearby American ships gave estimates of the Wasp’s final position at 2100. These data points spanned around 25 miles. The question was: whom to trust? Kraft was skeptical about how much credence to give Greenslade’s reckoning, not least because the Lansdowne’s own navigator had marked his map 17 miles south of the spot Greenslade noted. “You’d think,” Kraft said, “birds of a feather, he’d at least go chat to the navigator on the Lansdowne.”

There were often long periods of silence at Speculation Club. This was one such time. Both men sat with their feet up on desks, hands cradled, trying to imagine the mind-set of a World War II navigator who, in one afternoon and evening, had watched friends die, seen his ship destroyed, swum with sharks and still found time to note down the Wasp’s final longitude and latitude.

Eventually, Mayer spoke. He was thinking about how many other data points seemed to roughly tally with Greenslade’s, and how the only outlier on the Google Earth map was the spot recorded by the Lansdowne’s navigator. “There’s no way she’s down there,” he said, tapping his finger on the spot, at the southern end of the map, where the Lansdowne’s navigator said the Wasp sank.

“I’ve heard that from you before,” Kraft said. Both men laughed.

The Petrel had invited a special guest for this mission: an amiable retired two-star admiral named Sam Cox, who now leads the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. Cox is interested in the cataloging and preservation of United States Navy wrecks, some of which — at least in shallower waters — are at risk of being damaged by bounty hunters, or raised by salvage firms, who chase value in large supplies of metal. (Cox told me that the wrecks of United States warships were the Navy’s “equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery” and should be accorded similar respect.) But he was also a walking encyclopedia on naval history, and a distinct help in interpreting the original documents used by the Petrel to find lost ships.

At one point during Speculation Club, Cox stopped by Kraft’s office, and Mayer asked him which position he trusted more: Wasp’s or Lansdowne’s.

“Oh, I think I’d trust the navigator on a carrier over a navigator on a destroyer,” Cox said. “More experience.”

Soon after, the decision was made. Kraft put a yellow pin where he wanted the A.U.V. to begin its first mission, near Greenslade’s spot. The Petrel was just out of sight of land, and still more than a day’s sailing away from the yellow icon on the Google Earth map.

At a little after 10 p.m. on Jan. 3, we were on site and the A.U.V. was primed for its first mission. The Petrel rolled in a three-meter swell. The ocean was inky and purplish here. Pink squid jumped near the surface in the light the ship cast into the water. Giant tuna swam off the stern.

Kraft watched on the aft deck as the fat yellow drone was rolled out of its hangar on a cradle. A white light blinked on its fin. One of the A.T.U. team — a jovial, shaven-headed Englishman named Scott Matthews — operated a crane fixed to the port side of the deck, which lifted the vehicle up and into the water. The A.U.V. is designed to be slightly buoyant. In order to save battery life, a weight is affixed to its nose so that it dives. At a preprogrammed depth, in this case 4,000 meters, the A.U.V. is instructed to detach the weight, at which point it engages its propeller and spirals the remaining couple hundred meters to the bottom. If the vehicle “aborts” for any reason, a not-uncommon occurrence, it also detaches its weight and rises to the surface.

The team peered over the port side as the yellow drone dived beneath the ship, its blinking light growing fainter, then disappearing. I’d been reading Sherman’s report of the Wasp’s sinking that day. (“Three torpedoes were sighted close aboard approaching,” the captain wrote. “Almost immediately the ship received three hits.”) Watching the A.U.V. barrel underneath the hull of the Petrel, I couldn’t help but perceive a plangent echo of events 76 years ago in this very patch of ocean.

The crew, however, had more pressing concerns. In the “online” room — the nerve center of A.T.U.’s operations, which was furnished with three dozen screens — a monitor tracking the A.U.V. showed that the vehicle had aborted, dropped its weight and was returning to the surface. The reasons it does so are sometimes never fully understood, even by the most experienced A.T.U. members. It was accepted that any number of factors — including an obstacle sensed by the A.U.V.’s forward-facing sonar, a loss of battery or a programming malfunction — could cause the drone to abort. One member of A.T.U. told me not to try to understand, because “it’s all witchcraft.” He added: “Send stuff down to 4,000, 5,000 meters a few times, and stuff’s going to go wrong.”

A two-man team was dispatched in a Zodiac inflatable to fetch the recalcitrant drone where it bobbed, flashing at the surface, more than 100 yards away from the Petrel, in an increasingly swollen sea: a risky operation, especially at night. Once the A.U.V. had been affixed to the Zodiac by carabiner and then towed back to the Petrel, hauled on board and reprogrammed, it was sent down again, at a little before 11 p.m. This time it appeared to dive. I went to bed. I woke up a few hours later to the news that the A.U.V. had aborted at midnight. The crew worked all night to reprogram her.

Kraft now faced another tough decision. The weather was worsening, and the swell had risen to a maximum of five meters. That’s a big sea. In my cabin on the sixth deck, I felt as if I might be pitched clean out of my bunk. Kraft could easily send the A.U.V. down in this weather, but retrieving it with the Zodiac might put his crew — and the drone — at risk. Kraft made the call: All operations were delayed until the ocean flattened out.

That didn’t happen until more than a day later, an hour or so after breakfast on Jan. 5, when the A.U.V. was sent down again. At that point the Petrel was about 300 nautical miles southeast of Honiara. We hadn’t seen another ship in two days. When the Zodiac was dispatched to retrieve the surfaced A.U.V., it was 1:30 the next morning. The humidity was stifling. Seabirds flew over the Petrel, fish thronged the water and two or three oceanic whitetip sharks circled near the Zodiac.

Photo of map where the Wasp was found: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019...y=90&auto=webp

The drone was returned to its cradle on deck, a wire plugged into its side and its data retrieved — a process that took around 25 minutes. The team convened in the online room to watch as the results of the dive came in. Eric Brager — a bearish, dryly comic A.U.V. expert from New York — had explained what I would be looking at when I saw the sonar data visualized on screen. It would be rows of what looked like a mown Kansas wheat field. If the seabed were perfectly flat, the sonar image would be featureless. If there were rocky hills or obstructions, you’d see a shadow — known as a holiday — behind the outcrop. What the crew was looking for were items inexplicable by geology. In the case of a debris field, the anomalies would look like a collection of shiny flecks. In the case of a whole, preserved shipwreck, the sonar would show what looked like a toy ship, dropped in a sandbox.

Kraft peered at the screens as the results came in. Mostly, the sonar image showed a flat, uninterrupted desert. But, scrolling through one line of data, something caught Kraft’s eye in the southeast portion of the image: shiny flecks.

“Hello, [expletive] Dolly!” he said, rising slightly from his chair. “That’s debris.”

In the next few minutes, the team would identify two distinct patches of debris, a few hundred yards apart from each other. It was 2 a.m. Kraft seemed as excited as a puppy. (“That’s a wreck,” he said at one point, before walking the comment back.) Certainly, the debris looked like a promising clue. The biggest patch was within three miles of where Greenslade, the Wasp’s navigator, said the ship went down. Kraft asked his team to run a new search, south of where the debris fields had been located. It seemed very likely, he thought, that the Wasp itself would be there, right at the end of the debris trail.

When the A.U.V. was pulled out of the water after its next mission, at around 2:30 p.m., the online room filled. Mayer and Kraft hovered by the screens. There was always an air of anticipation when the sonar data came in. Mayer told me that the moment was like opening your gifts on Christmas morning: “You’re waiting to unwrap your presents and see if you got socks or something you really wanted.”

It was socks. The A.U.V. found a little more debris in the new grid, but no ship. Mayer and Kraft spent a while thinking about where to go next. They had used two of their Battleship shots.

This was the first mission since Paul Allen’s death, and the crew felt his absence. On previous missions, Kraft emailed his billionaire boss at least once a day to update him. Allen did not give praise lightly. The highest honor Kraft could hope to receive from his boss was an email with two words, in caps: “VERY COOL.” But there was no uncertainty regarding how much Allen loved the Petrel. He liked to watch via a remote feed when his team dived with the R.O.V. at a new site. “There was never any doubt,” an A.T.U. member told me, half-joking. “We were in the entertainment business, with an audience of one.”

In August 2017, when the Petrel’s R.O.V. dived to 5,500 meters on what the A.T.U. assumed to be the wreck of the Indianapolis, Allen watched the feed from a suite at CenturyLink Field, where the N.F.L. team he owned, the Seattle Seahawks, was beating the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason game. (The only other live feed was provided for Allen’s friend Steven Spielberg in Los Angeles, a distinctly postmodern arrangement: It had been Robert Shaw’s booze-addled speech about the hundreds of American sailors from the Indianapolis eaten by tiger sharks with “lifeless eyes,” in Spielberg’s “Jaws,” that helped to fix the story of the Indy in the American psyche as the quintessential naval nightmare.) According to those who knew Allen, finding a significant wreck lit him up like Times Square.

The work of the Petrel was more than entertainment for Allen, however. His father fought in World War II, and he had become increasingly interested in the history of the conflict. The discoveries were a way, he said, to “honor all those who served our country.” Under the Sunken Military Craft Act, the wrecks of American warships on the bottom of the ocean are designated sovereign United States territory. Cox told me that the Navy’s Underwater Archaeology Branch maintains a database of all known and best-estimate locations of lost United States Navy craft. When a wreck is found, the precise location is added to that database but never made public — because the Navy has no interest in encouraging exploration on these sites. The Navy will, however, try to contact veterans’ and survivors’ groups associated with a ship, in order to break the news of the discovery to them.

Two days passed. The crew ate mountains of food, three times a day. A few of them fished off the aft deck at shift’s end. Sometimes, but not often, they hit the “trim room” to exercise. The A.U.V. only completed one successful mission — west of the first grid — and came back with nothing but mown wheat fields. Another mission was aborted. Four shots gone. Speculation Club met more frequently, as Kraft and Mayer tried to understand the mistake in their theories. The Wasp was traveling southeast; it was hit by the Japanese torpedoes; it was abandoned; it floated with the current west-northwest; it was scuttled by the Lansdowne; it sank. But if all those things were true, then the U.A.V. should have found it already. What had they missed? It was a perpetual intrigue to Kraft and Mayer that facts faithfully recorded in deck logs and official reports could prove so misleading. After the last fruitless sonar search, Kraft was in the online room, with his eyes fixed on a monitor, when he said, to nobody in particular, “the elusive Wasp.” There was, I thought, some tenderness in it.

Then came a setback. A crew member became ill, with severe abdominal pains. Nobody on board wanted to take any risks; the Petrel steamed back to Honiara, the nearest port, to seek medical help. The journey was 30 hours, one way. The importance of finding a shipwreck paled. Nevertheless, the prospects for the mission now looked bad. In the best-case scenario, in which the crew member was successfully and swiftly treated, we’d lose four days of the expedition. Four Battleship shots.

It was only at the moment when the mission seemed bound to fail — at least, within the time I would be on board — that I realized how invested I had become in the Petrel’s finding the Wasp. It wasn’t only a sense of narrative closure I sought, although that was a part of it. I had by now read widely on the Wasp’s history, and was gripped by its stories and characters. There was David McCampbell, who survived the sinking by jumping into the water, and who subsequently became the most successful Navy fighter ace of the entire war. There was Benedict Semmes Jr., who later became a vice admiral; Semmes saw an eight-foot shark circling his group of survivors as they swam toward the U.S.S. Duncan but decided not to tell anybody, lest he cause a panic. (A wise decision: The shark left his group alone.) There was the indelible vision of the Wasp’s air officer, Michael Kernodle, who was in the water when he looked back at the carrier and realized that he could see all the way through the ship, from side to side.

“What caused this large hole I do not know, but it must have been the result of a terrific explosion,” Kernodle later wrote.

And then there was John Shea, and the letter to his son, which made my eyes brim every time I read it. The action reports on the sinking of the Wasp mention Shea in the most glowing terms. As assistant air officer, he would have been in a high part of the central island called the primary fly tower when the torpedoes hit, overseeing the takeoff and landing of the ship’s aircraft. As soon as the explosions started, Shea rushed down a ladder and toward the danger, grabbing firefighting gear as he went. The mains had been knocked out in the torpedo strikes, meaning there was no water pressure in the hoses; Shea did what he could with chemical retardants. He was last seen on the port walkway leading out another hose when an enormous explosion, in the account of one witness, blew steel plating 150 feet above the deck. “Some of the men were blown into the air,” the officer wrote, “and I did not see them again.”

It wasn’t just Shea’s heroism that bit me. The more I learned about him, the more I was drawn in. Shea was a tall, lean, redheaded, soft-spoken Irish Catholic from Cambridge, Mass., and a career naval officer, with the body of an athlete but the reflective manner of a poet. At Boston College, where he was an outstanding undergraduate scholar, he had written verse, competed on the debating team and played varsity football. (A reporter on the Wasp wrote that his freckled nose was “dented from personal combat.”) After college, he waited years to marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth, because of some ill feeling between his family and hers. John and Elizabeth’s son, Jack, was an only child, and a late blessing.

When the news reached home that Shea was missing, presumed dead, two of his four sisters, both Boston public-school teachers, remembered the letter their brother had sent to his son, and read it to their grade-school classes. The school system then decided to publish it in a pamphlet. Soon, the text became a national sensation. The “Dear Jackie letter” was reprinted in The Boston Globe, which called it “an inspiring memorial to American youth.” Life magazine followed, as did many other papers. Long before Shea was declared legally dead, on Sept. 16, 1943 — a year and a day after the Wasp was sunk — the story of the letter grew bigger than the story of the Wasp itself.

Jack Shea died in 2015, at the age of 77, a father of three and a grandfather of nine, having enjoyed a happy career as a teacher of Latin and Greek at Boston College. Throughout his adult life, he oscillated between pride in his father’s legacy and unease about the strange and unbidden attention the Dear Jackie letter had brought him. From time to time, people would ask him about the letter, and he would answer their questions as politely as he could, before moving the conversation on. The tale of the Wasp, however, would never leave him alone. Especially toward the end of his life, Jack Shea often wondered exactly what had become of his father, and the aircraft carrier on which he served.

I am the father of two young children — including a bookish 6-year-old boy who hid a handwritten note in my luggage, saying how much he would miss me while I was on the ship. (“Thanks ... for the note and card,” John Shea had told Jackie. “Write me very often and tell me everything.”) But I also felt a deeper connection to the Shea story. When I was 2, my own father, a pilot who spent much of his career in the British Navy, was killed in a helicopter accident. My father was 43 when he died. Shea was 44. It was hard for me to read the Dear Jackie letter, with all its vulnerability and old-fashioned man-to-boy wisdom, and not feel a flare of anguished kinship.

I realized, of course, that the Wasp’s stories existed whether the wreck was found or not. But the physical artifact itself now seemed important, because it might allow these narratives to be reawakened. Anybody interested in the history of World War I infantry battles can tread the same Flanders and Picardy fields as the young men who fought in their millions there, and empathize with their experience. I have done so myself: There is no better recruiting sergeant for pacifism than a walking tour of the Western Front. But the surface of the ocean holds no landmarks. To understand or memorialize the sailors’ battle experience, you must dive deep.

The sick crew member was treated swiftly: The pain, it turned out, was not a harbinger of a serious ailment. We returned to the search site as fast as the Petrel could motor — which was 12 knots, or about the speed of the fastest 10,000-meter runners. On Jan. 11, the A.U.V.’s data showed nothing but wheat fields. On Jan. 12, it came up empty again.

On this second occasion, it was 5 a.m. when the drone was retrieved, and three sharks circled the Zodiac. A young A.T.U. member — a heavily bearded Englishman named Pat Travis — leaned out to clip the drone to the hook on the crane when a six-foot oceanic whitetip glided in between his boat and the A.U.V. Had Travis wanted to, he could have stroked the shark’s dorsal fin as it swam by. It was a genuinely hair-raising moment, but one quickly dismissed by the crew. They now had a technical problem to solve: The drone, they noticed, was letting in water.

As the A.T.U. team fixed the problem, Kraft used the delay wisely. He chose to dive with the R.O.V. on the big debris fields they had found on the first grid, a week earlier. He was still hoping for more clues. Mayer teased him, saying the robot would find a sign saying “Wasp: 700 m this way.” Kraft had the grace to laugh.

The remote submersible is a remarkable piece of equipment. The Petrel sends 4,500 volts and 10 amps of electricity down the umbilical cord to the R.O.V., as well as instructions that operate its thrusters. The mother ship receives crystalline images from the sub’s nine cameras. Through this technological devilry, two pilots, sitting in what look like gaming chairs in the online room, “fly” the R.O.V. to the bottom of the ocean, inspecting the abyssal surrounds as easily as if they were looking through the glass at the aquarium.

When the pilots dived on the debris field, what they found was ghostly. On the bottom of the ocean, among mesh, iron railings and shell casings, were dozens of helmets. The find caused more head-scratching from Kraft and Mayer. It seemed quite unlikely that whatever they had found was evidence of one of the Wasp’s two major traumas: the Japanese strike or the American volley that scuttled the ship.

“It doesn’t seem like a major event, but it is spread over a wide area, so whatever happened, it happened to a ship that was moving fast,” Kraft said.

A new theory began to formulate in Kraft’s mind that wouldn’t reach full expression until he’d sent down the A.U.V. again and seen more lines of wheat fields: The debris they had found wasn’t from the Wasp. If he was right, every single data point they had on their map was wrong, by at least 10 miles. But Kraft could see no other possible explanation. His team had now run six search grids — around 150 square miles — and had come up empty. The exact coordinates recorded by a dozen United States navigators didn’t matter now. They were all, in Kraft’s opinion, worthless.

Cox was more measured in his analysis. “It doesn’t give you a whole load of confidence in American open-ocean navigation,” he said, to a rueful smile from others in the online room.

Kraft, however, was on the cusp of a breakthrough. If the coordinates were wrong, and the debris hadn’t in fact come from the Wasp, it was most likely to have been a result of torpedo strikes on two other ships in the convoy. The Japanese submarine had in fact fired six torpedoes in the volley that fatally wounded the Wasp. One passed the Wasp but went on to hit the U.S.S. O’Brien, compromising it so much that it sank a month later. Another struck the U.S.S. North Carolina, forcing it back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Both were significant events, but not as traumatic as the attack on the Wasp. All that mattered to Kraft now was where the Wasp had been in relation to the O’Brien and the North Carolina. Mayer found a sketch, and Cox found a photograph. Each seemed to confirm that the Wasp had been southwest of the O’Brien and the North Carolina when it was hit.

“Well if that’s true, then it pushes everything further south,” Kraft said.

He eyed the map again. There was an empty, unsearched square in the southwest, at least 10 miles from any navigator’s estimate of where the Wasp went under. He tapped on it with his finger. “All the clues push me over here,” he said.

Mayer was silent. He could see his friend was onto something, and he didn’t want to disturb his train of thought. The new theory made perfect sense of the nagging but inchoate feeling that Mayer had wrestled with ever since the A.U.V. found the first debris site and Kraft had momentarily declared victory: Speculation Club had been misinterpreting the clues the ocean floor was sending them. Indeed, even before Kraft sent the drone down again to scan the new grid, there was a general sense of intellectual accomplishment in the online room.

When the A.U.V. re-emerged from the deep, it was around 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 14. I’d been away since the end of December. It was nearly time to catch a flight home. We were still more than a day’s sailing from the nearest airport. There might not be another chance for an A.U.V. mission after this one.

The sonar information was spooled onto the screens of the online room. We all peered at the monitors. Sitting in the middle of the grid, unmistakably, was a toy ship dropped in a sandbox.

“There she is,” Kraft said.

Site photo: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019...y=90&auto=webp
A high-resolution side scan sonar showing the U.S.S. Wasp resting on the bottom of the Coral Sea.CreditDavid Maurice Smith for The New York Times

Nobody spoke for what seemed like a while. Somebody in the room cried. Those seconds felt complicated, emotionally. The Petrel’s purpose is to find wrecks, and this moment was the purest distillation of that imperative, but there was no immediate celebration. Part of the sobriety was that the sound waves drawing the outline of the ship represented the lives of 194 people, whose stories — over the past days and weeks — we had come to know. In my mind at least, there was also a fleeting, thin and unexpected sliver of regret, which I still can’t fully explain: the pang of watching a hunter standing over a shot stag.

Eventually, Kraft broke the quiet: “Nailed it,” he said.

Hours later, the Petrel’s R.O.V. dived, lights blaring, on the Wasp. It was accompanied, until around 300 meters, by two of the sharks who now followed us wherever we went. The R.O.V. took more than an hour to descend to 4,200 meters, where the Wasp lay. It spent the next half-day or so inspecting the wreck from one end to the other, with only the occasional slow-moving deep-sea creature interrupting the view.

Note: 1st Video shown is only available on the site only.

The R.O.V.’s first sight of the wreck of the Wasp.CreditCreditVideo by Vulcan Inc.

The fire and explosions that had wounded the Wasp were evident everywhere. Whole sections of deck were missing. In one spot, forward of the central island, it looked as if the ship had been cleaved like a log. The bridge was marked with charred flame lines. The funnel had sheared off. But the cold, deep water and the lack of light had preserved the wreck remarkably well. My overriding impression was how small it seemed, for a carrier that had housed more than 2,000 sailors and dozens of airplanes. There had been so much life contained within that rusting hulk.

Scattered around the wreck of the Wasp were airplanes: Dauntlesses, Wildcats and Avengers, in various states of destruction. Even before the Wasp sank, according to the captain’s report, the planes on both the flight and hangar decks were thrown high in the air by explosions and were badly damaged. A trip to the bottom of the ocean had not improved their condition. And then there was the ghostly sight of dozens of helmets lying in the silt.

By the time we returned to Honiara days later, Cox’s colleagues in the Navy had been officially informed of the Wasp’s discovery, and her location noted. Otherwise, it was left alone. The process of contacting the families of men who had served on the ship began. I called the family of Commander Shea myself.

Jack Shea married a woman named Claudette, with whom he had three children: John, Laura and Christine. Over the period of about a week, I spoke to all four of Jack Shea’s immediate family to tell them about the Wasp. It was strange news to deliver. The facts about their grandfather were not changed by the discovery, and yet something had changed. They were all thrilled that a crew had taken the time and effort to locate the ship. Laura, a social worker, reacted to the news “surprisingly emotionally”; John, a network engineer, was happy there was new information to bolster his understanding of the conflict in which his grandfather served; Claudette told me that her husband would have been “shocked, amazed — and sad, of course” to relive his childhood memories. The exact site of the Wasp, Claudette told me, was a puzzle that Jack always hoped would be solved.

Note: The 2nd Video is also only available on the site only.
It shows a five-inch gun on the deck of the Wasp. The wreck’s precise location has not been made public. Credit Credit Video by: Vulcan Inc.

When I spoke to Christine, Commander Shea’s youngest grandchild — a teacher in a public school — she told me she felt some regret, because she knew how much the news would have meant to her father. But she also found the discovery thrilling, in part because it would mean that a new generation of people would have a chance to read her grandfather’s letter. In a polarized America, she told me, its values sang out.

“There’s a strong sense of living a good life,” Christine said. “There’s nothing in that letter about making a lot of money.”

Christine also told me about what Commander Shea’s example had meant to her father, whom she described as a humble man who did not crave the limelight that sometimes shined on him because of the letter. She said that Jack Shea had lived within the value system his father adumbrated in that short text, almost to the item. His had been, in every sense, a good life — albeit one touched by tragedy. In a strange way, the discovery of the Wasp had brought closure to this complicated episode in the Shea history. The whole family, she said, had believed that the Wasp’s last resting place would remain unknowable. Now, all these years later, the mystery had been put to rest.

“To not be missing forever,” Christine said. “That seems important.”

Several days after I spoke to the family about the discovery of the Wasp, Jack Shea’s widow, Claudette, wrote me an email. She told me that the news had encouraged her to revisit the Shea family history. She found herself researching her husband’s papers. There, she discovered a note written by John Shea as a boy. The text was undated, but the childish scrawl suggested it would have been written in the earliest years of the 20th century, when Teddy Roosevelt was president, nobody had yet driven a Ford Model T and an aircraft carrier was a distant, futuristic instrument of war.

“When I am a man I am going to be a soldier because I like to fight for my country,” it read. “I like to march and ride on horse back and go on ships.”

About the writer: Ed Caesar is a writer in Manchester, England, and the author of “Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.”
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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Old 03-14-2019, 06:07 AM
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Arrow The U.S.S. Wasp: Torpedoed, Scuttled, Sunk and Now Found

The U.S.S. Wasp: Torpedoed, Scuttled, Sunk and Now Found
By: The New York Times / 3/14/19
RE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/14/m...t-carrier.html

Video link: blob:https://www.nytimes.com/6b8074ab-001...7-bf8550197e57
A five-inch gun on the deck of the Wasp. The wreck’s precise location has not been made public.CreditCreditVideo by Vulcan Inc.

Three hours after nightfall on Sept. 15, 1942, the U.S.S. Wasp, a United States Navy aircraft carrier, slipped beneath the waves 350 miles southeast of Guadalcanal. Hit by two or possibly three torpedoes from a Japanese submarine, the crippled ship was abandoned, then torpedoed by an American destroyer to send it to the bottom, approximately 14,000 feet below.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 14, 2019, researchers laid eyes on the Wasp for the first time in 76 years. The news of that discovery and the story of the team who found the wreck was published on March 13 in a feature article by Ed Caesar in The Times Magazine.

[For more stories about the experiences and costs of war, sign up for the weekly At War newsletter.]

Aboard a 250-foot-long research vessel called the Petrel, originally built for servicing oil fields, a group of explorers, historians, divers and submersible pilots have been combing the South Pacific for the graves of American warships like the Wasp since 2017. Funded by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft who died in October and who wanted to find these ships as a way to honor his father’s military service in World War II, the ship’s state-of-the-art technology allows for faster and more efficient searches than were possible even a decade ago.

How did the Wasp sink?

During the Marine Corps’ fierce battle for Guadalcanal, the Wasp was part of a convoy delivering reinforcements to the island. While the Wasp was in transit, the Japanese submarine I-19 fired several torpedoes at the aircraft carrier in quick succession. Navy officials are not completely sure if two or three of those torpedoes hit the Wasp. Other torpedoes in that salvo hit the destroyer U.S.S. O’Brien and the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina nearby.

Japanese torpedoes of that era ran just below the surface and had large explosive warheads that detonated on contact with their target. When hit, multiple explosions rocked the Wasp and started fires that began to consume the ship from the inside out.

Unable to save the ship, the Wasp’s crew abandoned the still-floating aircraft carrier, knowing that it would most likely sink on its own within hours. To speed that process, American Navy officers scuttled the carrier by firing torpedoes from a warship in their naval convoy.

How did the Petrel team find the ship?

Many underwater explorers rely on something called a side-scan sonar device: Towed behind a ship, it sends out acoustic waves to its left and right that bounce off the seafloor. An umbilical cord connected to the device sends a stream of data back to the ship that researchers monitor for anomalies that could be ship remains.

Another video link: blob:https://www.nytimes.com/c23867f3-829...d-54322b7f8b55
An Avenger torpedo bomber found near the wreckage of the Wasp.CreditCreditVideo by Vulcan Inc.

When Robert Ballard, a reserve naval officer and oceanographer, went looking for the Titanic in 1985, he knew side-scan sonar would not be helpful because the seafloor in that part of the North Atlantic was littered with boulders deposited in the last ice age, which would clutter the incoming data. He towed a camera instead. Rather than looking for the shipwreck itself, he did something that revolutionized underwater searches: He looked for the debris field ejected from Titanic as it sank — which would be a much larger target. The strategy worked.

The technology aboard the Petrel takes Ballard’s early work a step further. It relies on a sensor — called an autonomous underwater vehicle, or A.U.V. — that propels and guides itself. This device can dive as deep as 18,000 feet as it follows a preprogrammed route and then returns to the surface on its own. Once it is craned back aboard, crew members pull data from the vehicle that researchers can quickly analyze.

After its seventh A.U.V. run looking for the Wasp, the Petrel team found the ship.

How does the unmanned underwater vehicle find shipwrecks?
The amount of seafloor the A.U.V. takes in is immense. On a typical run, the uncrewed, submarinelike device follows a track six miles long, skimming just 260 feet above the seafloor while sending out low-frequency sonar waves to its left and right. In a single mission, it can cover about 40 square nautical miles of seafloor.

Once all the imagery is downloaded from the A.U.V. and uploaded into the Petrel’s computers, team members see a graphic representation of the entire search area and can quickly identify any promising targets. If they believe they have found debris or the hull of the sunken ship, they then return to the exact spot and send an uncrewed remotely operated vehicle outfitted with manipulator arms and high-resolution cameras to examine the object.

How about rocks and underwater volcanoes? Wouldn’t those make it harder to spot the ship?

The Petrel team was lucky that the Wasp went down in a relatively flat and muddy part of the ocean, where things like sunken airplanes and ships clearly stand out along the seafloor. Such areas are relatively rare in that part of ocean because of its proximity to the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire” — a band of volcanoes both underwater and on land that spans the Earth’s crust.

3rd video link: blob:https://www.nytimes.com/082edc37-412...1-c7fef9d09d99
The bridge of the Wasp.CreditCreditVideo by Vulcan Inc.

How does the Petrel crew decide which wrecks to pursue?
Petrel crew members like Paul Mayer, who pilots the ship’s remotely operated vehicle, scour through records at the National Archives, working with employees at the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington who maintain a database of more than 2,500 shipwrecks and 14,000 sunken aircraft. Ship’s logbooks, surviving charts and witness testimonies all aid in deciding where to search.

Paul Allen’s original goal was to find the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser sunk by a Japanese submarine during World War II. While many of the ship’s crew members survived the torpedo attack, hundreds died from exposure, drowning or shark attacks while awaiting rescue. Allen’s crew found the Indianapolis in August 2017. Since Allen’s death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his team aboard the Petrel has continued its quest to find other sunken warships from the war in the Pacific.

What does the U.S. Navy do when one of its sunken warships is found?
The Navy has no intention to touch the wreck at all. Its interest is in studying the Wasp and other wrecks the Petrel has found, in part to assess the damage the ships suffered and to see what lessons can be applied to how the service builds ships in the future.

The Wasp is sitting upright on the bottom of the Pacific, “in pretty deep mud,” says Sam Cox, a retired admiral who heads the Navy’s historical department. “The mud actually comes up to about where the water line was, so you can’t see where the actual torpedoes hit.”

According to Cox, the Wasp was one of the most important ships of the Pacific Fleet in the early days of the war — a time when the Navy had only a few operational aircraft carriers available to help stop the Imperial Japanese Navy. When the Wasp was sunk in September 1942, it left the U.S.S. Hornet as the sole operational carrier in the Pacific, until repairs on the U.S.S. Enterprise were completed and the ship returned to action.

The Hornet was sunk not long after the Wasp, during the Battle of Santa Cruz on Oct. 26, 1942. The Petrel crew found it too, on the same trip, resting on the bottom about 400 miles northeast of Guadalcanal.

“Some folks say: ‘Why do you want to talk about a wreck? You know you lost that battle,’” Cox says. “It has to do with the sacrifice, the valor of U.S. sailors. These were at that time mostly professional sailors; the draft had not been in effect for that long.”

How do you “preserve” a sunken warship?

According to Cox, illegal salvage operations in the Java Sea and the South China Sea have destroyed some British and Dutch ships from World War II that sank in relatively shallow water. Their hulls were turned into scrap metal. And American warships have not been immune — the wrecks of the submarine U.S.S. Perch and the destroyer U.S.S. Pope have disappeared sometime in the last two or three years. “The only good news is that neither one of them went down with any of their crewmen,” Cox says. “So it was a case of they salvaged U.S. Navy property, but we don’t know who did it.”

Sitting in 14,000 feet of water, the Wasp is not in danger of being illegally salvaged. But Cox says he expects that the Navy will periodically visit the carrier and other known wrecks to ensure they remain untouched.

One ship Cox says is still at risk is the U.S.S. Houston, a cruiser that sank on March 1, 1942, with about 600 crew members aboard. The wreck sits only about 120 feet down in Indonesian territorial waters, and the United States is trying to get the site designated as a maritime conservation zone, so it can have legal protection under Indonesian law.

About the writer: John Ismay is a staff writer who covers armed conflict for The New York Times Magazine. He is based in Washington.
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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