Soon after his father died in 1988, Joe McEachern came across a bag full of Joe Sr.'s things. Among them was a letter that would reveal the elder McEachern's unspoken heroic past.
The letter, dated April 16, 1944, reads as such:
TO THE HEROES OF THE USS JOYCE (DE-317) :
Just a small token to show our most deep and heartfelt appreciation for the most splendid work done by the officers and crew of the USS JOYCE on the morning of the 16th, in effecting the rescue of the crew and officers of the ill-fated PAN PENNSYLVANIA and so rapidly destroying the German submarine that was responsible for the destruction of our ship, and in rescuing part of the crew of the submarine.
- THE MEN OF THE PAN PENNSYLVANIA
On the morning of April 16, 1944, a German U-boat called the U-550 crept along the coast of Massachusetts behind the SS Pan Pennsylvania, a gasoline tanker heading for Great Britain. The U-boat torpedoed the Pan Pennsylvania, and tried to hide underneath the damaged vessel. But as the Associated Press explains, three U.S. ships escorting the gasoline tanker sprang into action.
One of those ships was the USS Joyce and Joe Sr. was one of 25 men aboard that day.
The USS Joyce spotted the German U-boat on its sonar and gravely damaged it with counter fire, forcing it to surface, the AP details. The other escorts continued to pummel the submarine, and its Germans crew was eventually forced to abandon ship.
Though 25 crew members of the SS Pan Pennsylvania perished in the debacle, 31 were saved by Joe Sr. and his shipmates aboard the USS Joyce and 25 by a different escort. The USS Joyce also pulled 13 German survivors out of the water.
Joe McEachern told the Patriot Ledger that his father was a composed man who rarely discussed his military days, and that he was only 19 years old when he joined the war. McEachern Sr. spent the rest of his days in Quincy, Mass., where he served as a deputy fire chief.
“I’d like to have a conversation with him now that I know all of this,” McEachern told the Patriot Ledger. “It breaks my heart.”
Incidentally, the German U-550 was dredged up from the ocean floor off the coast of Massachusetts this past July by a privately funded group. It's one of several World War II-era German U-boats discovered off the U.S. coast, but the only one to be found in that area.
Check out the photos below: