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When the war came to West Neck Road

Shelter Islander Ed Conrad, a career U.S. Navy seaman, lost his life in the South Pacific in World War II.

This article originally appeared in a different form in 2013.

Most Memorial Days Carl Sabal travels 30 miles north from his home in Ephrata, Pennsylvania to the town of Lebanon for an annual breakfast and, with others, remembers those lost in America’s wars. Reached by phone last week, he said he also comes back to the Island now and then, as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

The 83-year-old Harelegger, born on West Neck Road in a house “down in the hollow,” will remember men he served with in the Third Army from 1959 to 1965, and all veterans everywhere. But he’ll have a special place in his memory for one Islander lost at sea 75 years ago this December along with 790 other Americans.

The retired truck driver has a memory that is still vivid and always will be, he said recently, of being a boy of 8 when a visitor arrived in the second week of January 1945 to the house on West Neck Road.

In those days there was only one police officer on Shelter Island, a man named Sylvan Tybaert. “I remember seeing him coming down the driveway,” Mr. Sabal said.

His mother, Grace, had seen him too, and the sight triggered an intuition he was bringing a message to her. Being Shelter Island, Mr. Tybaert simply walked in the back door of the Sabal’s house holding a yellow Western Union telegram, a sign during the war years of terrible news.

“The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that Carl Edward Conrad, Machinist Mate 1st Class, is missing while in service to his country,” the telegram read.

“Her only brother,” Mr. Sabal said. “My Uncle Ed,” adding that he was his uncle’s namesake who was always referred to by his middle name.

Mr. Sabal remembered seeing his mother holding the telegram, acting in a way he’d never witnessed. “She went berserk,” he said. “She panicked and was crying and carrying on.”

It was, in a way, preparation for another telegram that arrived six weeks later on February 22, 1945, to the house on West Neck: “The Navy Department regrets to inform you that a careful review of all facts available relating to the disappearance of Carl Edward Conrad leads to the conclusion that there is no hope for his survival and he lost his life on 18 December while in the service of his country. Sincere sympathy is extended to you in your great sorrow.”

Ed Conrad was a career sailor, age 29, serving on the USS Monaghan, a destroyer that had seen action at Pearl Harbor and most of the historic sea battles of the Pacific.

In December 1944 the Monaghan, part of a naval task force, sailed into the teeth of a tropical typhoon — later named “Typhoon Cobra” or “Halsey’s Typhoon” for the commander, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey — with winds reaching more than 150 miles an hour and seas as tall as seven-story buildings.

Admiral Halsey later wrote: “No one who has not been through a typhoon can conceive its fury. The 70-foot seas smash you from all sides … until you can’t tell the ocean from the air … this typhoon tossed our enormous ship as if she were a canoe … we could not hear our own voices above the uproar.”

Mr. Sabal noted that his uncle was a member of the Monaghan’s engine room crew. “He would have been down below and never stood a chance,” Mr. Sabal said.

Ed Conrad, along with 256 of his shipmates, was drowned. Only six survived. Of the 883 men in the task force that December, only 93 were saved. According to The Oxford Companion to American Military History, of the 405,399 uniformed personnel killed during World War II, 113,842 died in noncombat situations but on active service.

Ed Conrad’s final resting place is listed by the government only as “180 miles northeast of Samar,” and gives compass coordinates for the spot in the Pacific where the Monaghan foundered, rolled over and sank. He is also named on a tablet at the American Cemetery in Manila.

Mr. Sabal remembered his Uncle Ed, home on liberty to Shelter Island in the early 1940s before going back to sea. He was known as a fine athlete, excelling at baseball and was an avid hunter.

“He and Raymond Case and all the Dickersons were always duck and deer hunting, even when it was illegal,” Mr. Sabal laughed.

Two of the Dickerson boys would lose their lives in World War II, Army Sergeant Arthur (Larry) Dickerson and Navy Seaman 2nd Class Raymond Dickerson.

Mr. Sabal said he has never forgotten his uncle and his service. “I think of him, and other boys from the Island who never came back,” he said.

He spoke of his mother again and how, one year exactly to the day of her brother’s death, on December 18, 1945, she gave birth to a daughter, Nancy.