Staff Sergeant Clarence O. Deakyne, Jr. (1917–1944)

Deakyne in The 1939 Blue Hen (Courtesy of the University of Delaware, enhanced with MyHeritage)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareTime keeper and/or laboratory technician
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32076630
TheaterUnit
European33rd Chemical Decontamination Company
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartExercise Tiger (Battle of Lyme Bay)

Early Life & Family

Clarence Oscar Deakyne, Jr. was born at 1308 (North) Walnut Street in Wilmington, Delaware, on the night of April 20, 1917. He was the son of Clarence Oscar Deakyne, Sr. (a machinist, 1886–1971) and Rose May Deakyne (née Roberson, 1889–1979). Deakyne had an older half-sister, Olga May Hickman (later Alexander, then Chickadel, then Alexander again, 1905–1973), as well as an older sister, Mary Elizabeth Deakyne (later Woodrow, 1914–2011). The family name is pronounced “dee-kine.”

The Deakyne family was recorded on the census on January 5, 1920, living at 1319 Walnut Street in Wilmington. On September 19, 1924, Deakyne’s parents bought property in Brandywine Hundred, in the Bellefonte area east of Wilmington. It is unclear if the family moved there, but the Deakynes resold the property on September 27, 1927. On May 14, 1929, the Deakynes purchased a property in Minquadale, an unincorporated area south of Wilmington. They were recorded there on the census on April 17, 1930. Deakyne was a good student and was apparently inducted into the National Honor Society while in high school. Deakyne graduated from Wilmington High School on June 20, 1935. The following day, Journal-Every Evening reported that at the ceremony, “Clarence Deakyne was awarded the International Correspondence School prize of any course selected.”

Deakyne was a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet for two years while at the University of Delaware. According to his yearbook, Deakyne (nicknamed Deacon in college) was in the Agriculture (“Aggie”) Club for his entire college career.

Deakyne was recorded on the next census on April 23, 1940, living with his parents on Wildel Avenue in Minquadale. That spring, Deakyne graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. Later that year, when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was a student at North Carolina State College in Raleigh. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, seven inches tall and weighing 150 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.

Deakyne was engaged to Mary Caroline Coble (1915–1994). A graduate of Greensboro College, Coble was a schoolteacher. Presumably, they met while Deakyne was at North Carolina State College. The couple did not wed before he went overseas.

Corporal Deakyne with his fiancée, Mary Coble, c. fall 1942 (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)

Deakyne’s father listed his son’s occupation as time keeper, while Private Deakyne’s enlistment data card recorded his occupation as laboratory technician or assistant.


Military Career

After he was drafted, Deakyne was inducted into the U.S. Army at Camden, New Jersey, on July 22, 1942. Deakyne’s father’s statement indicates that Private Deakyne went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on August 5, 1942, and began his training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia. Initially trained as an infantryman, Deakyne was transferred to the 33rd Chemical Company at Camp Blanding, Florida, around September or October 1942. According to his father’s statement, Deakyne was promoted to corporal on November 1, 1942, and to sergeant on December 1, 1942.

Deakyne with a Sergeant Twilliger (left) during stateside training (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)

According to his father’s statement, Deakyne went overseas around November 14, 1943, arriving in the United Kingdom around November 28, 1943. That’s consistent with the unit’s history, which stated that the company shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on November 17, 1943, arriving in Glasgow one week later. Deakyne’s father added that his son was promoted to staff sergeant in February 1944. According to a July 3, 1994, article in The News Journal, Staff Sergeant Deakyne was the company supply sergeant.

Deakyne as a sergeant (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

The 33rd Chemical Decontamination Company was scheduled to land on Utah Beach on D-Day in Normandy. As the name implied, the unit’s original role was as a countermeasure in case the Germans responded to the invasion with chemical weapons like those widely used in World War I. However, they were given the additional role of generating smoke screens to shield the beach from air attack, a role which ended up proving largely unnecessary.

4th Platoon, 33rd Chemical Company in a February or March 1944 photograph. Deakyne is in the middle row, second from the left. (Courtesy of Brian Siddall)

Staff Sergeant Deakyne boarded LST-507 along with other members of the 33rd Chemical Decontamination Company, as part of Exercise Tiger. Held at Slapton Sands, England, Exercise Tiger was a dress rehearsal for the landings at Utah Beach. The ship departed from Brixham on April 27, 1944, under the command of Lieutenant James S. Swarts (1916–1944).

Wendy Lawrance wrote in her book, Exercise Tiger: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Silent Few:

The ships containing the men and equipment would take a circuitous route from their embarkation points, rendezvous and then continue to Slapton Sands in order to replicate the amount of time they would spend at sea during the Channel crossing.

LST-507 at Brixham, England, on April 27, 1944, shortly before departing to participate in Exercise Tiger (Courtesy of Eugene Kyle and NavSource)

That night, LST-507 was last in the column of eight L.S.T.s in Convoy T-4, sailing at a leisurely five knots in Lyme Bay. The convoy was scheduled to hit the beach at 0730 hours on April 28, 1944. The L.S.T.s were only escorted by a single corvette, H.M.S. Azalea. A failure of planning meant that the American ships were not in radio contact with the British escort. That same night, a force of nine German fast boats (Schnellboots) departed Cherbourg and slipped past Royal Navy forces patrolling the area. Referred to by the Allies as E-boats, these small vessels had a powerful armament of torpedoes.

According to the report written by LST-507’s senior surviving officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) J. F. Murdock, the ship’s executive officer, there were 165 sailors and approximately 282 soldiers aboard. The first sign that something was amiss was around 0135 hours on April 28, 1944, when crew members “heard gunfire and observed tracers coming from our port quarter […] Ship went to General Quarters.  Source of firing could not be determined.”

Although unaware that E-boats had been sighted in the area by British forces, the reports indicate a puzzling lack of response to the mysterious gunfire on the part of the officers aboard the L.S.T.s. The convoy did not immediately change course or increase speed. The report by the commanding officer of the sole escort, leading the column by 2000 yards, indicates he was unaware of the tracer fire. The L.S.T. group commander was puzzled by the gunfire even in hindsight, suggesting that “Attacking enemy craft may have used gunfire to (1) Start fires on the targets or (2) Invite return fire in order to locate targets.” He added:

Because of its position and in the absence of any indication to the contrary, it was concluded that the firing came from a sourse [sic] on the shore or one totally unconnected with the Convoy.  No reports had been or were received of enemy craft in the area.

Lieutenant Murdock wrote that at around 0204 hours, LST-507

Was torpedoed on the starboard side.  Torpedo struck auxiliary engine room and all electric power failed; The main engines stopped.  The ship burst into flames.  Fire fighting was attempted but the vast percentage of the equipment was either inoperative, due to power failure, or, in-accessible due to fire.  What fire fighting equipment was available was used, but it was inadequate.  Fire gained headway.

Although other ships in the convoy could see LST-507 afire, none recognized that it was from a burning ship, much less the result of an enemy attack. No aid was dispatched. It was not until around 0218, when another L.S.T. was torpedoed, that the rest of the convoy recognized that they were under attack.

Meanwhile, LST-507’s crew were losing their fight to save the ship. Around 0230 to 0235 hours, Lieutenant Swarts ordered the personnel aboard to abandon ship. Lieutenant Murdock wrote that “As far as could be observed the abandoning of the ship was orderly.  Opportunity was afforded only to launch #1 and #2 boats and at least two life rafts.” Murdock wrote that 94 of 165 sailors aboard, as well as 151 of 282 soldiers aboard, were rescued. 202 men were reported dead or missing in the sinking.

In total, two L.S.T.s were sunk and another two damaged in the attack. Over 600 Americans were killed in the Exercise Tiger disaster, more than died on Utah Beach on D-Day. The German fast boats returned to Cherbourg without loss.

According to the unit’s morning reports, the 33rd Chemical Decontamination Company lost 17 men: nine killed in action and another eight missing in action, including Staff Sergeant Deakyne. In the absence of any evidence that they had survived, the missing men were declared dead that summer. A telegram dated May 18, 1944, informed Deakyne’s parents that their son was missing, and another dated August 10, 1944, that he had been killed in action.

Morning report listing Staff Sergeant Deakyne as missing in action (Courtesy of Brian Siddall)
Telegram from the War Department to Staff Sergeant Deakyne’s parents informing them that their son was missing in action (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)
Telegram confirming Staff Sergeant Deakyne’s death (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)

After his death, Deakyne’s fiancée, Mary C. Coble, married John Paul Lentz (1911–1995) in Greensboro, North Carolina, on June 8, 1946. Deakyne’s niece, Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt, recalls:

After he was killed, I believe she visited with my parents.  At that time, she gave my mother her engagement ring to give to me.  I don’t think Mary and my mother saw each other again, but they regularly kept in touch with letters, even after Mary married. I remember the letters and pictures she sent of her daughter.  When Mary passed away, her daughter wrote and told my mother.

Rutt added that the friendship between her mother Mary Elizabeth Deakyne Woodrow and Mary Lentz “lasted over fifty years.”

Deakyne with his young niece, Rose Mary Woodrow, and his dog, Nancy, shortly before he went overseas in 1943. Deakyne’s niece provided many of the photographs accompanying this article. (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)

Staff Sergeant Deakyne’s body remains unaccounted for. He is honored on the Tablets of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England, at the Exercise Tiger Memorial in Torcross, England, at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware, and on memorials at Gracelawn Memorial Park in New Castle (where his parents are buried) and Barratts Chapel Cemetery in Frederica (where his sister, Mary Elizabeth Deakyne Woodrow, and his brother-in-law, John Howard Woodrow (1911–1980), are buried).

Cenotaph to Staff Sergeant Deakyne at Barratts Chapel Cemetery in Frederica, Delaware, on December 20, 2021, decorated by Wreaths Across America (Courtesy of Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt)

Further Reading

Staff Sergeant Deakyne graduated Wilmington High School in 1935, the same class as 1st Lieutenant Seymour Miller.

Staff Sergeant Winford J. Poore of the 35th Signal Construction Battalion was another Delawarean killed in the Exercise Tiger disaster.


Notes

Residence

Curiously, Deakyne was listed on his enlistment data card as a resident of Calvert County, Maryland. Indeed, his name appears on an official Maryland casualty list, indicating that the Army considered Deakyne to have entered the service from Maryland. Draft cards sometimes annotate changes in address, but none is present on his. His father’s statement gave his pre-war address as Minquadale, not Maryland.

One possible explanation is that Deakyne had moved to Maryland, but either considered Delaware his permanent address or otherwise did not update the draft board. The fact that he was inducted in Camden, New Jersey, as was customary for Delawareans, suggests that it was a draft board in Delaware that selected him. Indeed, he was assigned a service number beginning in 32 (as were all U.S. Army draftees to enter the service from Delaware, New York, or New Jersey during that period) and not 33, as he would have if he were drafted in Maryland.

According to a list compiled by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency as of December 10, 2021, Deakyne is one of 807 Marylanders whose bodies remain unaccounted for following World War II.

Exercise Tiger Casualties

Remarkably, the number of Americans killed during Exercise Tiger is still disputed. A 1944 statement gave a total of 639 dead, though others have argued for a figure of 749 dead.

Photo Enhancement

The lead photo on this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (due to the resolution of yearbook printing). I believe it to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below.

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Staff Sergeant Deakyne’s niece, Rose Mary Woodrow Rutt, to the University of Delaware, to NavSource Naval History, and the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos. Thanks also go out to Brian Siddall for records pertaining to the 33rd Chemical Decontamination Company.


Bibliography

“4 Soldiers Killed, 3 More Wounded.” Wilmington Morning News, August 14, 1944. Pg. 20. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90559464/ssg-deakyne-kia/

The 1939 Blue Hen. Courtesy of the University of Delaware. https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/9756/1939_03_Classes.pdf

“Bride Of June Eighth.” The Daily Times-News, June 10, 1946. Pg. 8. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92236185/mary-coble-marriage/

Clarence Oscar Deakyne Jr birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DR29-XZ5

Company morning reports for the 33rd Chemical Decontamination Company, April 28, 1944, and May 1, 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of Brian Siddall.

Deakyne, Clarence Sr. Clarence Oscar Deakyne, Jr. Individual Military Service Record, November 27, 1944. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18343/rec/3

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_256994-00317, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257019-00621, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257034-00616  

Doyle, J. H. “Report of Action on 28 April 1944.” May 3, 1944. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/279750212

Giddes, G. C. “Report of Proceedings of H.M.S. ‘Azalea’ during the attack by E-Boats on Convoy T4.” April 28, 1944. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/279750363

“Honor Society Increased by 50.” Journal-Every Evening, March 22, 1935. Pg. 12. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90560117/deakyne-nhs/

“John Paul Lentz.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/37737490/john-paul-lentz

Kleber, Brooks E. and Birdsell, Dale. The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals in Combat. Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army, 1966. https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-9203192-bk

Lawrance, Wendy. Exercise Tiger: The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Silent Few. Fonthill Media Limited, 2013.

“LT James Strickland Swarts.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3331124/james-strickland-swarts    

“Mary Elizabeth Deakyne Woodrow.” The News Journal, June 5, 2011. Pg. B7. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92235572/mary-elizabeth-deakyne-woodrow-obit/

Milford, Phil. “WWII mystery lingers for grieving families.” The News Journal, July 3, 1994. Pg. B7. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90557631/deakyne-and-poore-exercise-tiger/

Murdock, J. F. “Loss of Ship – Report of.” May 2, 1944. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/279750325

Rutt, Rose Mary Woodrow. Email correspondence on December 15, 2021, and January 9–10, 2022.

“Sergt. C. O. Deakyne Missing in Action.” Wilmington Morning News, May 31, 1944. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90559986/ssg-deakyne-mia/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295770-00661

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00411

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00546-00520

“Wilmington High Honor Pupils.” Journal-Every Evening, June 21, 1935. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88529054/seymour-miller-fifth-in-class-whs/

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32076630&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=2745741  

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940 – 3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_01_00002-01204


Last updated on August 28, 2022

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