The Only World War II Gunner Buried in His Aircraft

YouTube / TJ3 History

Loyce Deen was a TBF Avenger Torpedo Bomber gunner that was killed in action. Here’s the story behind the only Navy airman in history to be buried at sea inside his plane. 

Sent to the Front

In the spring of 1944, Loyce Deen had recently passed gunnery training and had been sent to the front to join Air Group 15. Here, he was to be the rear gunner of a TBF Avenger Torpedo Bomber.

The Avenger

Unlike its predecessors that have open turrets, the Avenger’s gunner position where Deen was instead enclosed in a tight fit. While it protected the gunner in some ways, it also made other aspects challenging.

Final Mission

Deen sustained a shrapnel injury on the foot during the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. Nursing an injury, he could have chosen not to go, but he bravely went back with his group for their final mission- eventually sealing his fate. 

Killed Instantly

Their group was assigned to attack a Japanese cruiser in an early morning raid in Manila Bay. As they dropped their ordinance on the cruiser below, they were hit by two large anti-aircraft shells. It exploded right inside the gunner’s turret where Deen was sitting. In these two hits, he was likely killed instantly.

When their plane landed on the carrier, the rest of the crew quickly realized that Deen was dead. The explosions inside the gunner’s turret had completely mangled both Deen and the turret itself.

Tragic Decision

To make the situation worse, a Japanese kamikaze flight was en route to their position. This left the crew in a very difficult position on how to take care of their deceased crew member. They had to prepare the flight deck for the raid, but there was no way to remove Deen from the gunner’s position.

In a tragic decision attempting to honor their brother in the best way possible, it was decided that Deen be buried at sea inside his aircraft. The entire crew stood to honor the fallen airman in a makeshift funeral and his plane was then pushed overboard into the sea.