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Intimate artifact from warship sunk off Key West found stashed in piece of furniture


The USS Amesbury is well-documented as a hazardous shipwreck split in two off South Florida, but a mystery has emerged from its heyday as a naval destroyer in World War II.

A log that details the ship’s travels was found in Massachusetts, stuck in a piece of furniture.

Who wrote it, what happened to the author, and how it ended up in Massachusetts are among many unanswered questions.

The notebook’s content intrigues maritime archaeologist Matthew Lawrence of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

“There are little gems of information that provide insight into someone’s experience with USS Amesbury. If only we knew who wrote it,” he told McClatchy News.

“I haven’t done detailed research about the USS Amesbury, so several of the entries described events new to me. The first entry is the date the Amesbury was commissioned (8/31/1943) and the last entry is when it crossed the international date line on 10/28/45 on its way to Pearl Harbor for Eniwetok (Atoll).”

Among the most poignant — and confounding — entries is one dated April 7, 1945, which says only: “War ended with Germany.”

The USS Amesbury is well documented as a shipwreck split in two off South Florida, but a mystery has emerged from its heyday as a Naval destroyer in World War II.

The USS Amesbury is well documented as a shipwreck split in two off South Florida, but a mystery has emerged from its heyday as a Naval destroyer in World War II.

That date is weeks before Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30, and a full month before the Third Reich signed an unconditional surrender on May 7.

Amesbury served as a destroyer from 1943 until the end of World War II, and played a role in the invasion of Normandy “attacking German planes bedeviling the ships offshore,” according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The ship was decommissioned by the Navy and placed in reserve in July 1946, the command says.

By coincidence, the travel log shows the ship spent two months off Key West in 1944, including a period when it rode out a hurricane.

The ship now rests 5 miles west of Key West, where it ran aground prior to being intentionally sunk for a deep water artificial reef, historians say.

“En route to its final destination, the vessel grounded and was unable to be re-floated,” Dive Center Key West reports. “From a hurricane in the early 1960s, (the ship) was further broken in half to leave the current 150-yard gap between the bow and stern.”

The wreck, known locally as Alexander’s Wreck, sits in 25 feet of water, with its deck guns still visible, the center reports.

“USS Amesbury is well known as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s Shipwreck Trail (but) is likely less visited than other of the shipwrecks on the trail as it is farther away than some more visited dive sites,” Lawrence said. “There are around a dozen naval vessels sunk in the waters around Key West for naval target practice and wildlife habitat. We even have vessels built in the WWI time frame including a submarine, S-16.”

Lawrence doesn’t believe the notebook was “anything official” for the ship, but was more likely someone’s personal observations while serving on the Amesbury.

The book was discovered by Brenda O’Keefe of Massachusetts, who tracked down the fate of the ship and contacted the sanctuary, Lawrence said. The journal remains in her possession.

“Florida Keys Sanctuary doesn’t have a suitable archive for the notebook so I suggested that she contact other naval archives who are better suited for its preservation,” Lawrence said.

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