Coxswain Charles F. Masden (1925–1945)

Charles Masden as an apprentice seaman in 1944 (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
HometownsCivilian Occupations
Wilmington and Elsmere, DelawareFarmhand, arc welder for American Car & Foundry Company
BranchService Number
U.S. Naval Reserve9064896
TheaterUnit
PacificUnderwater Demolition Team No. 11
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Bronze Star Medal, Purple HeartOkinawa, Labuan

Early Life & Family

Charles Francis Masden was born at 800 (North) Adams Street in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 22, 1925. He was the second child of David Henry Masden (1904–1962) and Ada A. Masden (née Clifton, 1904–1978). His family was living at 222 Cherry Street in Wilmington when he was born. Masden’s father was working as a riveter at the time, though the family later launched an oil business after the war. 

Masden had an older brother, David Henry Masden, Jr. (1925–1926), and a younger sister, Betty Jane Masden (later Long and eventually Porter, 1927–2014). Masden had moved to 109 Rodman Street in Wilmington prior to February 22, 1926, when his older brother died of bronchitis and bronchopneumonia. Census records indicate the Masden family moved to Maple Avenue in Elsmere prior to April 1, 1935. They were recorded there on the census taken on April 16, 1940.  

According to his military paperwork, Masden completed seven years of grammar school, attending Bayard Elementary School in Wilmington. Journal-Every Evening reported that Masden “formerly attended the Oak Grove School and was active in Boy Scout Troop No. 65 of Elsmere.” His hobbies included stamp collecting. Masden was Presbyterian.  

Masden initially worked as a farmhand four years. In mid-1943, he was hired as an arc welder by the American Car & Foundry Company on 8th Street in Wilmington, where he earned $86 per week. 

When Masden registered for the draft on his 18th birthday, November 22, 1943, Masden was living with his family on East Hazeldale Avenue in Minquadale, a suburb south of Wilmington. At the time he entered the military, Masden was listed as standing five feet, four inches tall and weighing 112 lbs., with brown hair and gray eyes, though his U.S. Navy identification card described him as weighing 120 lbs., with black hair and hazel eyes. 


Military Training & Okinawa

After Masden was drafted by New Castle County Board No. 1 in early 1944, he was accepted for the U.S. Naval Reserve on February 29, 1944. According to his personnel file, after processing at the Navy Recruiting Station, Camden, New Jersey, Apprentice Seaman Masden reported for boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station Bainbridge, Maryland. Upon graduation from boot camp on March 27, 1944, Masden was promoted to seaman 2nd class. 

Masden was assigned to demolition training at the Amphibious Training Base, Fort Pierce, Florida, per a letter from Commander Service Force Subordinate Command dated April 7, 1944. He reported for duty there on April 14, 1944. Masden was promoted to seaman 1st class around July 7, 1944.  

On October 8, 1944, Masden arrived at the Training and Distribution Center, Shoemaker, California. Masden shipped out from San Francisco, California, on October 14, 1944, aboard the new transport U.S.S. General M. M. Patrick (AP-150). On October 21, 1944, Masden reported for duty at the Naval Combat Demolition Training & Experimental Base on Maui, Hawaii.  

U.S.S. Kline, seen here in late March 1945, served as U.D.T. 11’s base of operations (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-356718, National Archives)

According to his personnel file, Seaman 1st Class Masden transferred to Underwater Demolition Team No. 11 (U.D.T. 11) on February 13, 1945. That same day, he and the rest of the team boarded the U.S.S. Kline (APD-120). The Underwater Demolition Teams were among several special operations groups that were forerunners of the modern U.S. Navy SEALs. Each team’s base of operations was a high-speed transport converted from either a World War I-vintage destroyer or a destroyer escort (like Kline, which was originally DE-687).  

According to an entry in his personnel file, on February 18, 1945, the Kline crossed the 180th meridian and Masden was “thus initiated in the order of the Golden Dragon.” 

Swimmers like Masden were lightly equipped and approached the beach in small groups. They were typically armed only with a knife and explosives for clearing obstacles and mines. Their other equipment included a dive mask and fins, but no breathing gear. Some recorded notes with a grease pencil on Plexiglass tablets while other relied on their memories. 

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Samuel C. Conrad (1920–1985), another member of U.D.T. 11, at Balikpapan, Borneo, on July 3, 1945 (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-274681, National Archives)

U.D.T. 11’s first operation was at Okinawa. It was at full strength: 13 officers and 85 enlisted men, including Masden. U.S.S. Kline departed Leyte, Philippine Islands, arriving off Okinawa on March 26, 1945. U.D.T. 11 began reconnoitering Beach Brown 1–4 on March 30, 1945, two days before the invasion began. The following day, they also cleared obstacles at Beach Red 1, Beach Blue 1, and Beach Blue 2. On April 1, 1945, designated L-Day (Love Day) on Okinawa, U.D.T. 11 guided the assault waves at Beach Brown 1–4. The following two days, they used explosives to clear a channel for landing craft.  

U.D.T. 11 swimmers would enter and exit the water from the rubber boat dragged by the landing craft, seen here at Okinawa in late March 1945 (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-356711, National Archives)
U.D.T. 11 at Okinawa. Eugene Liptak wrote in his book, World War II US Navy Special Warfare Units, that “Swimmers always entered the water from the side of the landing craft facing away from the enemy-held shore.” (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-356717, National Archives)

Although the men occasionally came under Japanese fire (and U.S.S. Kline was attacked by Japanese aircraft), only one man from U.D.T. 11 was wounded during the battle. Masden’s personnel file stated that he “Assisted in successful action against two (2) Japanese suicide bomber aircraft while aboard the U.S.S. KLINE” during the Battle of Okinawa, suggesting that he helped man antiaircraft guns during those attacks. 

Masden was promoted to coxswain on June 1, 1944. Despite the promotion, his personnel file indicates that he continued to perform swimming reconnaissance missions. 


Tragedy at Labuan Island

U.D.T. 11’s last operations of the war were in support of the Australian landings on Borneo. The team, now slightly understrength with 13 officers and 75 enlisted men, sailed from Morotai aboard the U.S.S. Kline on June 2, 1945, arriving in the area of Brunei Bay on the morning of June 7, 1945. At 0630 hours the following day, June 8, 1945, U.D.T. 11 boarded gunboats and landing craft to reconnoiter Brown Beach, near Ramsey Point on Labuan Island. Their mission was to determine if the Japanese had placed mines or beach emplacements, locate natural and artificial obstacles, learn about the beach’s underwater characteristics and surf conditions, and determine the best landing sites and beach exits. The landings would take place two days later on what was dubbed Z-Day (Zebra Day). 

Diagram of Brown Beach on Labuan (National Archives via Fold3)

The U.D.T. 11 swimmers’ mission was delayed as the convoy threaded their way through an enemy minefield. Coxswain Masden and his comrades entered the water at 1100 hours, 400 yards off the beach. The gunboats’ cannon fire and airstrikes by American and Australian aircraft mostly suppressed the Japanese garrison, and though the swimmers encountered some mortar and small arms fire, none were hit. Around 1135 hours, after completing their mission, Coxswain Masden and his platoon were returning to their landing craft, about 50–60 yards offshore from Brown Beach 1, when tragedy struck. B-24s from the Thirteenth Air Force inadvertently dropped their bombs short, with the ordnance landing among the swimmers rather than on the Japanese defenses. Coxwain Masden was killed and several others wounded. 

The explosion of an American bomb dropped offshore from Labuan. The National Navy UDT-Seal Museum has a copy of this photograph with back text: “Bombing run that hit water Killed Masden wounded Van [Zuilen]; Bender; Barber; Horton; [Kammerer] and Borre.” (Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-356696, National Archives)

In his comments regarding U.D.T. 11’s action report, Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey (1893–1985), commander of Task Group 74.3, commented that “Underwater Demolition Team No. ELEVEN carried out assigned mission in an effective and efficient manner.  It is regrettable that the only casualties were caused by friendly forces.” He added: 

The B-24 (13th A.F.) strike of about 1135 bombed without checking in to control Support Aircraft and all efforts to communicate with that flight were fruitless.  The same applied to the Beaufighter (R.A.A.F.) strike that occurred about 1125.  It would appear that the airforces involved may have lacked information that underwater demolition team operations were being carried out, but that is no excuse for the flights not checking in with the local C.S.A. who endeavored to hold them off. 

Coxswain Masden was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal. The citation stated in part: 

Steadfast and courageous in the performance of duty, MASDEN disembarked from his landing craft 400 yards offshore and fearlessly swam through the shallow waters under a terrific barrage of rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire laid down by the enemy in a determined effort to carry out a reconnaissance of the landing beaches prior to our scheduled assault of the area on June 10.  Killed in action while carrying out his perilous assignment, MASDEN, by his daring initiative, dauntless perseverance and zealous devotion to the completion of a perilous mission, had served as an inspiration to his comrades and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. 

Summary of U.D.T. 11 reconnaissance at Labuan (National Archives)

Masden’s father accepted the medal on his behalf in a ceremony in Philadelphia on August 23, 1946. Masden was also awarded the Purple Heart. For the collective actions of its men during Okinawa, Brunei Bay, and Balikpapan operations, U.D.T. 11 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. 

In a condolence letter to Coxswain Masden’s mother dated June 10, 1945, the commanding officer of U.D.T. 11, Lieutenant Louis Alva States (1909–1977), wrote: 

Charles and I had served together continuously since May 1944.  In addition to our military relationship I felt that we were also friends.  He performed any duty assigned him cheerfully and with real ability.  In recognition of his good work he was promoted on 1 June 1945 to Coxswain, one of the most highly regarded rates in the Navy. 

Masden’s body was located two days after his death when Australian troops landed. He may have been initially buried at Brown Beach. Regardless, Australian war graves personnel reburied him at the Labuan Temporary War Cemetery on June 19, 1945. He was later moved to an American military cemetery on Leyte. Eventually, he was reburied in Arlington National Cemetery on September 2, 1948. 

Coxswain Masden is honored on the Navy SEAL Memorial in Fort Pierce, Florida, and at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware. 


Undated aerial photo of an air raid on Labuan by Thirteenth Air Force B-24s (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

Notes

Mother’s Middle Name 

Various records spell Ada Masden’s middle name as Aileen or Alleen. 

Promotion to Seaman 1st Class 

A document in his personnel file stated that Masden was promoted from seaman 2nd class to seaman 1st class on July 7, 1944. Curiously, some documents in his personnel file from later that year, as well as a passenger manifest dated October 14, 1944, refer to him as a seaman 2nd class. Multiple sources agree that he was promoted from seaman 1st class to coxswain on June 1, 1945. 

Joining Underwater Demolition Team No. 11 

According to his personnel file, Seaman 1st Class Masden was not officially transferred into U.D.T. 11 until February 13, 1945. Curiously, the team was at Fort Pierce at the same time and even shipped out to Hawaii aboard the same ship.  

Iwo Jima 

Masden’s parents stated that their son participated in operations at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Borneo. The Iwo Jima claim was repeated in an article in The News Journal printed on February 17, 1985. However, muster rolls and his personnel file prove that when the battle began, Masden was already a member of U.D.T. 11, which did not participate in that battle. 

Casualties at Labuan 

Multiple sources agree that Masden was the only member of U.D.T. 11 killed at Labuan. The original U.D.T. 11 report stated that three additional swimmers were wounded. On the other hand, Eugene Liptak gave the figure of six wounded in his book, World War II US Navy Special Warfare Units. The back text on the copy of photo 80-G-356696 at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum also listed six men as wounded: Morris L. Barber, George J. Bender, James J. Borre, Robert W. Horton, Vernon F. Kammerer, and Sterling Van Zuielen. 


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo. 


Bibliography

Betty Jane Masden birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YQM-QJJK  

Charles Francis Masden Official Military Personnel File. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. 

Delaware Death Records.  Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-694Q-5L5 

“C. F. Masden Rites To Be in Arlington.” Journal-Every Evening, August 31, 1948. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110405589/masden-funeral/  

Charles Francis Masden birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YQM-QDQL  

David Henry Masden, Jr. birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYQM-31D9  

Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00545-00468 

Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2590/images/40479_2421406260_0495-01412  

King, Robert Allan. “WWII UDT TEAM ELEVEN.” http://www.viewoftherockies.com/UDT11.html  

Leary, Bob. “Courage amid carnage: Images from Iwo Jima.” The News Journal, February 17, 1985. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110423122/masden-error-about-iwo-jima/  

Liptak, Eugene. World War II US Navy Special Warfare Units. Osprey Publishing, 2014. 

Louis Alva States Notice of Separation from U.S. Naval Service. North Carolina Discharge and Statement of Service Records, 1940– 1948https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61952/images/FS_007419466_00870  

Masden, David and Masden, Ada. Charles Francis Masden Individual Military Service Record. May 24, 1946. 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/19851/rec/1 

Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 1/1/1939–1/1/1949. Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/303739333 (October 1944), https://www.fold3.com/image/309001947 (February 1945) 

Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00545-00468 

States, Louis A. “Action Report.” Underwater Demolition Team Number Eleven, April 9, 1945. 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/295923468  

States, Louis A. “Action Report.” Underwater Demolition Team Number Eleven, June 10, 1945. 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/300772852  

“Two Posthumous Awards To Go to Heroes’ Parents.” Journal-Every Evening, August 23, 1946. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110405938/masden-bronze-star/ 

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_05_00006-01369  


Last updated on Janaury 29, 2023

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