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When the war came to West Neck Road

Carl Sabal, a harelegger born on West Neck Road in a house “down in the hollow,” he said, always remembers one person in particular on Memorial Day, an Islander lost at sea 76 years ago, along with 790 other Americans.

The retired truck driver, now living in Lebanon, Pa., has a memory that is still vivid and always will be, he said, of being a boy of eight 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 Tybart. “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. Tybart 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.

Holding the telegram, Mr. Sabal remembered seeing his mother 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 Feb. 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 taskforce, 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.

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 cone … 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 entire 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.

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 Dickerson’s were always duck hunting and deer hunting, even when it was illegal,” Mr. Sabal laughed.

Two of the Dickerson boys would also lose their lives in World War II; Army Sergeant Arthur (Larry) Dickerson and Navy Seaman 2nd Class Raymond Dickerson. According to Shelter Island’s American Legion Mitchell Post 281, along with Ed Conrad and Larry and Raymond Dickerson, four other Island residents were killed during World War II:

2nd Lt. Charles W. Avona, U.S. Army Air Corp
Corporal Herbert Edward Power, U.S. Army
Private John W Sanwald Jr., U.S. Army
2nd Lt. Robert F. Winberg, U.S Army Air Corps

Lest we forget.

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.

This article originally appeared in the Reporter in 2014.