The Rest Of The Story
Here's the rest of the "Man Overboard" story...
Fri, 21 Jan 2000 16:33:59 EST
To: USS Bennington (CVA-20) Crew members
It was great reading the story by William Thumann pertaining to the "Man Overboard" which took place aboard the Bennington April 1956. It just so happens that I, LTJG Lee C. Lewis was the Junior officer of the deck when the ship got underway from Kobe Japan. We had only been underway for approx. one hour when one of our lookouts sighted a person floating face down in the water. He immediately notified the bridge "man overboard -- port side." The Junior officers responsibilities during a man-overboard situation was boat officer of our motor whale boat. There was also a crew of approx. four enlisted men to perform various duties. After the bridge received word from the lookout we dropped smoke flares, launch the Bennington helicopter and the Bennington life boat.
It took us approx. forty-five minutes to locate the object in the water. After several attempts to retrieve the object, we finally did and realized it was not a crew member of the Bennington. It was a deceased person who had been in the water for weeks. We placed the person in a burial bag. Since the Bennington was returning to the states the captain instructed the helicopter pilot to take the body ashore and return to the ship as soon as possible due to darkness setting in.
Now here is where the story gets interesting. I'm sure most of our crew was not aware of what took place from that time on. The copter pilot headed back to Kobe and began searching for a place to land and leave the body bag. The only place visible with ample lighting was a baseball field where a game was in progress. He hovered over second base and dropped the bag. While leaving to return to the ship he noted the second baseman dumping the contents of the bag on the field and immediately started running. Needless to say it was a real shocker to all people in attendance!!!
We later received notification from the Japanese Government that the body was that of a Japanese fisherman lost at sea approx. six weeks earlier. They thanked the Bennington and her crew for returning the body allowing them to give the fisherman a proper burial in his home country, Japan.
The entire life boat crew went to Sick Bay on our return to the ship. I remember receiving brandy to help thaw me out due to the extreme low water temperature approx. 38 degrees and outside air temperature 33 degrees.
I had nightmares for weeks after the rescue; you see, when I turned the person over in the water, I wasn't looking at a face with flesh, but a skeleton head with no flesh. We had a difficult time keeping his body parts together. It's a journey that will live with me forever.
It's great sharing this adventure with all my ship mates, and especially those who were with me on that very cold and historical day.
"Now you have heard the rest of the story."
Lee C. Lewis, USN-retired