Remembering World War II Heroes: Fireman First Class Lyman Woodward Jr., of Hubbardston

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HUBBARDSTON – It was 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 3, 1944 when the Navy destroyer the USS Turner quietly maneuvered through the wind, rain and sleet in darkness before dropping anchor 4 miles Southeast of Rockaway Point, Long Island in 60 feet of water.

The ship had completed nine months of active sea duty in the North Atlantic. Here she was, awaiting new official orders.

Suddenly and without warning, a mysterious explosion ripped open the main deck sending it sky-high, toppling the mast onto the deckhouse and smashing the ship's only link with the world, destroying the ship's nerve center and the emergency transmission radio system.

Fireman 1st Class Lyman Woodward, of Hubbardston
Fireman 1st Class Lyman Woodward, of Hubbardston

Many of the officers aboard were killed immediately, while sailors were also blown to the deck. Their bleeding bodies were scattered everywhere. Fire erupted instantly while the engine room quickly filled with hot poisonous smoke and fumes.

Among the dead was Fireman First Class Lyman W. Woodward of Hubbardston, who had survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, before being transferred to the Atlantic fleet in July 1942 for convoy duty and was killed aboard the Turner.

This is the continuation of the series Remembering Local World War II Heroes.

Fireman 1st Class Lyman W. Woodward, Jr. (1922-1944)

Lyman W. Woodward Jr. was born on Dec. 18, 1922 to Lyman W. and Ruby D. (Crockett) Woodward in Hubbardston.

He was a graduate of Athol High School, class of 1940, and enlisted in December of that same year while attending the Henry Ford Trade School, where he graduated with honors on June 30, 1941.

Less than six months later, he found himself on a repair ship at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941. He survived that and went through several engagements in the Pacific area before being transferred to the Atlantic fleet in July 1942 for convoy duty.

He wound up aboard the USS Turner, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, with her third and final convoy on Nov. 23, 1943, seeing the convoy safely across the Atlantic.

The explosion of the USS Turner on Jan. 3, 1944 which claimed the life of Hubbardston soldier Fireman First Class Lyman Woodward.
The explosion of the USS Turner on Jan. 3, 1944 which claimed the life of Hubbardston soldier Fireman First Class Lyman Woodward.

On Jan. 1, 1944, near the end of the return voyage, the convoy split into two parts with the Turner joining the New York-bound contingent and shaped a course for that port. She arrived off Ambrose Light the following evening on Jan. 2 and anchored.

Early the following morning at 3:30, the destroyer suffered a series of shattering and unexplained internal explosions, mostly in the ammunition stowage areas which staggered the stricken destroyer.

About four hours later, a violent explosion caused the ship to capsize and sink. The tip of her bow remained above water until about 8:30 a.m. when she disappeared completely taking with her 15 officers and 123 men.

A number of nearby ships picked up the survivors of the sunken destroyer, with the injured taken to the nearby hospital at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

In addition, a U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HNS-1 flown by Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson — the first use of a helicopter in a life-saving role — flew two cases of blood plasma, lashed to the helicopter's floats, from New York to Sandy Hook.

The plasma reportedly saved the lives of many of Turner's injured crewmen. However, the body of Fireman First Class Woodward was not recovered and he was reported to be lost at sea on Jan. 5, 1944.

The Hubbardston World War II monument located on the Hubbardston Common.
The Hubbardston World War II monument located on the Hubbardston Common.

The name of the 21-year-old Woodward is listed on East Coast Memorial in Manhattan, New York, as well as on footstone at Rural Glen Cemetery in Hubbardston at the family plot, denoting he was lost at sea on the USS Turner.

Aside from his parents, he was survived a sister, the future Dorothy M. (Woodward) Suojanen, and his grandparents Ernest A. Woodward and Leroy C. Crockett.

Comments and suggestions for Remembering Local World War II Heroes can be sent to Mike Richard at mikerichard0725@gmail.com or in writing Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Rd. Sandwich, MA 02563.

This article originally appeared on Gardner News: USS Turner explosion during World War II killed Hubbardston man