EDMOND, OKLAHOMA — Bertha Deen Sullivan remembers Uncle Loyce Deen as her favorite.
“He was very good-looking and he’d pick me up and swirl me around in the front room of their home in Altus.”
At her home in Edmond, Oklahoma Bertha still has his WWII era Navy papers, even his aviator’s log book.
Her strongest memory is of their goodbye before he left to join the war.
“I was just a little girl when he left,” she recalls. “and he picked me up and hugged me and said, ‘I will see you later’.”
Loyce Deen was a Machinist Mate and Gunner 2nd Class aboard the aircraft carrier Essex.
He was a 1940 graduate of Altus HIgh School and popular among crew mates and family.
“The best looking, the tallest, the happiest,” recalls Sullivan.
Deen was killed by anti-aircraft fire during the battle of Manila Bay November 5, 1944.
The pilot of his torpedo bomber barely managed to bring their Grumman Avenger back to the ship.
Rather than try to extricate his body from the aircraft the Essex captain gave a unique order never repeated before or since.
Crew members gathered on deck and, after a brief service, pushed the plane into the South Pacific.
This was the only recorded occasion in which an aircraft was used as a coffin.
Bertha says, “All I remember is my mother and father sitting in the front room with all the shades pulled.”
For years no one in the Deen family knew any details about what happened that day aboard the Essex.
It wasn’t until the actual footage appeared in the film series ‘Victory at Sea’ that Bertha’s father and uncles asked for and received the Admiral Halsey report containing the full story.
“Do you think about him on Memorial Day,” asks a visitor to Sullivan’s home.
“Yes,” she responds. “I do.”
“He was missed terribly by everybody.”
There is a marker for Deen beneath a tree at the Altus, Oklahoma cemetery.
His name is on the war memorial there and inscribed in stone at the Oklahoma state capitol.
But his most lasting memorial lies somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and on a moving piece of film that stirs emotions generations later.
An amateur historian named Gregg Mastriforte became fascinated with the Loyce Deen story 50 years after Deen’s death.
He put together an excellent website www.loyceedeen.org that provides the full story.