The Musings of A Simple Country Man
Where are They? An Unsolved Memorial Day Mystery
By Hobie Morris
Three hundred and nine U.S. Navy sailors vanished. These young men would never grow old; would never be honored in future Memorial Day celebrations. Most of them were too young to have wives or future family generations. These men are long forgotten as if erased by time and the dustbin of American history. But once they lived and then they mysteriously disappeared, their fate unknown. This simple country man thinks they too shall be remembered this Memorial Day,
To this day, the disappearance is a long time lingering and painful toothache to the U.S. Navy. It is a century old mystery that has baffled and remains unsolved- but not without many theories, all of which remain unverified speculations.
The 309 sailors were the crew of the USS Cyclops, a naval vessel bigger than a football field. Along with all men on board, the Cyclops disappeared never to be found to this day.
What happened? Theories range from possible to fantasy: Bermuda Triangle, giant squid, German spies, U-boat torpedoes, captured by a German raider, sea monsters, a mutiny, hit by a meteorite, a huge rogue wave, a faulty engine, a shifting heavy cargo – on and on the speculation has continued over 100 years but with no success.
Renowned underwater explorer, James Delgado, has said “in terms of loss of life and size of ship, it’s probably the last great mystery left unsolved.” (the greatest loss of life unrelated to combat in U.S. Naval history)
There should have been many clues: a distress signal, pieces of life boats, or sailors caps etc. How could all these men and this colossal vessel just simply vanish? Not an oil slick to be seen despite an exhaustive search by other naval vessels. No debris – nothing!
The U.S.S. Cyclops was not a rowboat. Built in Philadelphia in 1910, it was launched on May 4th of that year. It was 540 feet long, 65 feet wide, and steel hulled. It was the Navy’s biggest and fastest fuel ship, able to haul 12,500 tons of coal, and it could steam at 15 knots. Huge clamshell buckets could lift two tons of coal in a single mouthful.
A newspaper at that time called it “a monter collier – a floating coal mine”. In those years, anthracite coal fueled our Navy and the U.S.S. Cyclops steamed out of Norfolk, VA down the East Coast to deliver coal to U.S. Naval bases in Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico.
When America entered World War I in April 1917, the Cyclops was lightly armed with .50 caliber guns. She transported MDs and medical supplies from Johns Hopkins hospital to St. Nazaire in France. (Ironically the only known monument to the Cyclops hangs in France, not the USA.)
Several months later, the Cyclops arrived in Brazil to take on 10,000 tons of manganese ore. Denser and heavier than coal, it was an unfamiliar cargo for the Navy crew.
Refueling in Barbados, the heavily loaded ship steamed out for a 9 day trip to the steel yard at Baltimore.
The date was March4, 1918. It never arrived – and still hasn’t! The search was exhaustive but futile. But we are not without hope. We live in a high tech world. Sonar can sweep the ocean depths like a flashlight. The number of shipwrecks still lost are dwindling rapidly. The discovery of two World War II warships, The U.S.S. Indianapolis and the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Lexington was led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Will Paul Allen and other wealthy Americans with similar interests eventually direct their high tech efforts to discover the U.S.S. Cyclops; to finally bring closure to 309 American servicemen who seemingly fell off Earth?
Until then, somewhere out there, the great collier remains.
The 309 sailors deserve a belated Memorial Day tribute. This simple country man hopes these men will eventually be deservedly honored.
Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.