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On Feb. 25, 1958, Lt Barry Troy was part of a four-ship Royal Canadian Navy F2H-3 Banshee flight heading south along the coast of Florida from United States Naval Station Mayport outside Jacksonville.
They were en route to a point south of Jacksonville Beach where they would then turn and head back to Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Bonaventure, which was about 64 kilometres offshore.
Unexpectedly, a fog bank loomed ahead of the flight. The leader of the formation of fighters and the next two pilots turned right–westward towards land–and flew out of the fog bank within moments.
Troy turned left–eastward over the Atlantic Ocean–presumably because he wasn’t sure of the location of the aircraft ahead of him and wanted to avoid a collision in the blinding fog. He was flying low and fast, probably only 500 feet (152 metres) above the water.
He was never seen again.
At the time, a few items were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean about two miles east of Jacksonville Beach: some paper, his helmet, his shaving kit and some fragments of wreckage. What became of these items following the conclusion of the Board of Inquiry into the incident is a mystery and, for six decades, nothing more was found.
Last autumn, fierce hurricanes swept through the area. Following the storms, a Jacksonville park ranger, Zachary Johnson, decided to investigate a bundle of debris near the high water line on Hanna Park beach in Jacksonville.
From the NATO stock number on one of the items, he realized the bundle contained military items.
“I knew I had found something special when I saw the lieutenant’s [name stencilled on one of the items],” he told a Jacksonville reporter.
Sixty years and one day after Troy vanished, representatives of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took custody of the historic items at a brief ceremony held at Mayport on the morning of Feb. 26, 2018.
Representatives of the RCAF, the Royal Canadian Navy and the United States Navy (USN) attended the event, which was held near the beach, about a few kilometres north of the location where Troy disappeared.
It was also an opportunity to thank Johnson and Officer Nolan Kea of the Jacksonville Police Office (who has had custody of the items since last autumn) for their commitment to ensuring the safety of the artifacts.
An honoured guest was Dick Troy, accompanied by his wife Pauline. Dick Troy was only 21 when his big brother Barry disappeared.
The ceremony opened with a low flypast of two USN Sea Hawk helicopters.
“We are here this morning because of a hurricane,” said the master of ceremonies, Master Chief Bill Houlihan, command master chief at Naval Station Mayport.
“We are here because, just as the sea sometimes takes, it also gives back. Today we can look to the sea and say thank you for providing what some military families never receive, and that is closure.”
Rear Admiral Sean Buck, Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and Commander of the U.S. 4th Fleet, welcomed the Canadians to Mayport.
“We are going to have the opportunity to celebrate humanity, sacrifice, and an enduring and strong bond between two nations: Canada and the United States. We celebrate the humanity of individuals as well as nations. We celebrate the sacrifice of individuals, as well as nations . . . . and we give thanks to all the men and women who have chosen to wear the cloth of our respective nations.”
Park ranger Johnson “followed his gut and intuition upon finding the remnants and artifacts of Lieutenant Troy and his aircraft,” Buck continued. “He knew in his heart and he knew in his mind that those artifacts would mean something very special to the family of Lieutenant Troy.
“We will also celebrate the dignity and humanity of Officer Kea, who demonstrated his humanity by aggressively overseeing the safekeeping of all these artifacts until they could be repatriated in a dignified way.
“I have wondered what good can ever come of a hurricane,” he concluded. “This morning I have had an answer. . . . I now see a silver lining in hurricanes [that] has brought us together once again with Lieutenant Troy. . . . We’re all together with him today with these precious artifacts.”
The recovered items include an oxygen tank, a parachute, parachute cover and parachute harness, an inflatable life vest and life vest straps, and small pieces of the aircraft.
Troy’s name is written on the life jacket straps. Given the condition of the items, it is thought that the items may have been washed ashore at some point after the crash and buried beneath the dunes for years before being uncovered by the 2017 storms.
“We’ve grieved all these years,” said Dick Troy, who lives in California. “We were a very close-knit family, and this settles in our mind exactly happened. I’m amazed at what they did find and the fact that his name was on that [strap] after 60 years. . . . which brought us to this day.
“When I touched that ‘chute and harness . . . knowing it was his body that last wore that ‘chute, it’s some kind of connection. It sends chills through me, but it’s a good feeling.”
Col Tom Dunne, Canadian air attaché at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, thanked Ranger Johnson and Officer Kea and presented them with signed letters of appreciation from the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, LGen Michael Hood, as well as other mementos.
“I want to thank Zachary Johnson for the care he took in recovering the items and saving them from being discarded. With a keen eye, he recognized that the bundle sitting on the beach was unusual,” said Dunne. “With the power of the internet . . . the items were identified as being from Lieutenant Barry Troy.
“I also want to thank the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and most notably Officer Kea, who ensured the items were safely stored and cared for,” he continued.
“Zach and Nolan, you’ve both been very generous with your time, and you’ve ensured the items have been treated with true dignity.”
Following the formal remarks, the base chaplain offered prayers, a USN bugler played the “Last Post” and a minute of silence was held. Then, in a brief but moving moment, a USN sailor presented Dick Troy with a folded Canadian flag. The flag had been flown at the Embassy of Canada in Washington the day before, on the 60th anniversary of Lieutenant Troy’s death.
After the morning’s events were concluded, Officer Kea signed over the items, which he had secured in the Jacksonville Police evidence lockup, to Dr. Richard Mayne, senior historian for the RCAF.
Christine Hines, curator of the Shearwater Aviation Museum in Nova Scotia, where the artifacts will find a permanent home, carefully packed the items for shipment back to Canada.
At the time of Troy’s death, maritime air was the responsibility of the Royal Canadian Navy. Now, all Canadian Armed Forces aviation assets and missions fall under the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Both the Air Force and the Navy, therefore, consider Troy to be “one of their own.”
When these artifacts are ultimately taken into the care of the aviation museum in Shearwater, they will be returning to Troy’s home base, which is now an Air Force Wing.
Lieutenant William Thomas Barry Troy, Royal Canadian Navy
Barry Troy was born Dec. 6, 1928, in Chatham, N.B., the son of J. Thomas and Lilian M. Troy.
He attended St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., where he joined a university military training program in 1947. After graduating in 1951, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy, first as a deck officer.
“He then decided he wanted to be a pilot,” said Dick Troy. In 1958, he was a member of RCN’s VF-871 (871 Squadron), based at Shearwater, N.S., flying the McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee fighter jet.
In 1952, the Royal Canadian Navy had adopted United States Navy designators for its squadrons, so “V” designated heavier-than-air squadrons, “S” designated anti-submarine squadrons and “F” designated fighter squadrons. Therefore, VF indicates a heavier-than-air fighter squadron.
“My Mum and Dad grieved for years,” said Dick Troy. “I think they would be very honoured by what happened here today.
“Barry was bigger than life, an impressive guy,” he continued. “Everybody liked him and he was somebody who you could look up to [and] the kind of guy who never gave up.” Under his photo in the St. Francis Xavier yearbook, says Dick Troy, were written the words “The grandest guy at StFX.”
In early 1958, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Bonaventure, a Canadian aircraft carrier that had been commissioned about 13 months before, was in the Mayport area.
It was carrying Grumman S-2F Tracker aircraft and Sikorsky HO4S helicopters from naval anti-submarine warfare (ASW) squadrons, based at Shearwater, that were exercising in their ASW role.
Banshees from VF-871 left Shearwater in mid-February, heading toward Mayport and the Bonaventure.
There, VF-871 Squadron exchanged places with the anti-submarine warfare squadrons and the Banshee pilots began work on their aircraft carrier qualifications.
VF-871 operated from the “Bonnie”, with Mayport as an alternate landing place. Later, the squadron would fly to Charleston, S.C., to rejoin the Bonaventure and prepare for Exercise Maple Royal, a Canadian 12-ship exercise to be held in the Bermuda area.
At about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, a flight of four Banshees, under the leadership of Lieutenant-Commander J.J. Harvie, departed from Mayport to return to the Bonnie.
The weather earlier in the day had been foggy, but the meteorological report from Mayport indicated the fog had lifted and the flight could take place. The plan was to fly south along the coastline to a point south of Jacksonville Beach, where the four aircraft would form up, and then go into a left-hand circuit (initially turning an eastward direction over the ocean) and then transit to the ship.
The No. 2 Banshee had formed up with the lead aircraft and No. 3 was joining up.
But then, “as I closed on [Jacksonville] Beach, I saw this fog bank ahead,” Harvie told the Board of Inquiry, convened on March 8, 1958.
The meteorological office had not been aware of the fog bank and it came as a surprise to the lead pilot.
“By the time I saw it, it was too late to do a turn with the flight forming as it was, so I told No. 3 to turn right on to [heading] 270 (editor’s note: that is, towards land on the right) . . . I looked back to see where No. 4 [Lieutenant Troy] was and I did not see him.
“It would seem that [Lieutenant Troy] was following me to join up. When I went into the fog bank he went into a left hand turn [toward the ocean] into the fog bank . . . and he didn’t come out of it.”
From this and other testimony, and in the absence of any eye witnesses, the Board of Inquiry deduced that Troy had probably turned left to ensure he avoided the other three Banshees turning right ahead of him.
“The board considers that the following is the most probably sequence of events. When the leader of the formation disappeared into the fog bank, [Lieutenant] Troy had not yet joined, but could well have been closing rapidly. When [Lieutenant] Toy entered cloud, he probably turned left to avoid the formation ahead, which he would know by the transmission of his leader to be turning right. [He] became disoriented on instruments and crashed in the sea.”
The board also indicated that they found “the flight was properly planned, briefed, and authorized in the light of the then-existing and forecast weather conditions.”
In their findings, the board absolved Troy, finding “that [Lieutenant] Troy was not to blame for the accident, that all flying and aircraft maintenance orders . . . were complied with, and that the aircraft was serviceable for the flight as planned.
“The cause of the accident was disorientation while on instruments, following an unexpected entry into cloud at low altitude,” the board concluded.
The recovery of the artifacts
Officer Kea described the events following Ranger Johnson’s discovery of the artifacts.
“Zach contacted me . . . and he said he had some things that they had recovered off the beach. He wanted me to look at them because they were possibly some old military artifacts. The next day he showed me what he had. He had already done some initial research and discovered Lieutenant Troy’s name and even located a surviving family member.
“I did some more research,” Officer Kea continued, “and discovered the same things Zach had found: that they were indeed artifacts from a military plane crash. I contacted the local branch of the NCIS at Mayport and asked to be put in touch with the Canadian Embassy in Washington. . . . After hearing from them that [the items] did appear to be from one of their lost pilots, I took everything and made sure they were stored in a climate controlled facility where nothing would happen to them.
“When I think on all the things we found, there was just one piece of harness that had his name on it. We would have been lost without that,” he continued. “My main concern was getting it back where it belonged. And for the family, being able to see it and touch it–that’s all I really cared about.
“It’s nice to give a family some closure. In [my] job it’s so often not possible to do that.”
Troy’s name is inscribed on a memorial “dedicated to the men and women who died while serving with the Canadian Navy during peacetime” in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, N.S.
Troy and some of his siblings visited the memorial, which features HMCS Bonaventure’s anchor and cable, several years ago.
Troy’s name and the words “lost at sea” are inscribed on his parents’ gravestone, but, although a memorial service was held at the time he died, there were no remains to inter. At the ceremony, Dick Troy was given a part of the downed Banshee, which he and his siblings now plan to bury in their parents’ grave plot.
“He was our hero, our big brother. We lost him, and now we have him back in a way. So there’s some finality, a closure, to what happened 60 years ago.”