Lost at Sea: Remembering Milton Tinsley
It’s Veteran’s Day and a time to honor those who served our country in times of need. It’s an excellent time to remember veterans who have been forgotten.
It’s a good time to remember Milton Tinsley.
He has a simple marker at Hopewell Community Cemetery near DeRidder, Louisiana:
Lost at Sea
I learned of Milton Tinsley’s story from his sister, Kathleen Tinsley Heard. Mrs. Kathleen handed me his photo of her brother and told me his story in a quivering voice. The following contains her recollections. I’ve interspersed it with the details available on the Internet.
Milton Tinsley was 26 when Pearl Harbor occurred. He enlisted in the United States Merchant Marines and was soon at sea.
The Merchant Marines are an overlooked branch of our service. During wartime, merchant marine ships and crews are assigned to the US Navy, providing invaluable service ferrying supplies to war zones.
Milton Tinsley was assigned as a crewman aboard the Texaco-owned SS Connecticut. The ship, with a crew of 55, left Port Arthur, Texas, with a load of gasoline and heating oil bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
Five days later, on April 22, 1942, in the South Atlantic Ocean, the Connecticut was torpedoed by a German Patrol Torpedo (PT) Esau.
The torpedo and resulting fire killed 33 of the crew. The survivors escaped in life rafts and were picked up by the nearby German merchant raider Michel.
Milton Tinsley was one of the 19 survivors.
His sister Kathleen shared this account from the Connecticut survivors who returned to America at the war’s end.
“Milton had been wounded, but what led to his slow death was his diabetic condition and lack of insulin.
“The American survivors related how affected the German sailors were by Milton’s death. The Germans gave Milton a proper sailor’s service before he was buried at sea.”
It has a startling jolt to it. Buried at Sea.
* * *
* (It’s a good reminder that it’s easy to hate the enemy from the distance of a periscope but a whole different situation when one of those captured enemies dies in your care.)
I’ve dug deeper and found more information concerning the last voyage of the Connecticut and its survivors:
The other 18 Connecticut survivors, minus Milton, ended up in a Japanese prison camp until the end of the war. Two died under the barbaric conditions of the Japanese POW camps.
Only 16 returned to tell their story.
The wreck of the Connecticut, with 33 crew members entombed, lies at the bottom of the Atlantic at coordinates 22.58 S 16.05 W.
The German raider Michel sank fifteen Allied freighters in 1942. The Connecticut was the second.
In 1943, the Michel was torpedoed by an American submarine off the coast of Japan. All 263 crew members went down with their ship.
* * *
World War II was a terrible and bloody struggle. I’m glad to say the good guys won. Our freedom was won and preserved at a terrible cost.
That’s probably why Milton Tinsley has been on my mind.
He died young, at age 26, never to have a family or enjoy a full life. For all practical purposes, his life has been lost to time and memory.
My job this Veteran’s Day 2023 has been bringing Milton Tinsley back to life.
I hope I’ve done that with this story. I hope it moves you as it moved me.
Lost at Sea
Rest in Peace
Dry Creek, LA/Alexandria, LA