Church to dedicate memorial for young member lost at sea
After graduating from Clay High School in June 1943, 17-year-old Richard Dickey talked with his good friend Jack Heninger about how they might end up serving together in the regular Army, should they be drafted into service.
After turning 18, Richard, thought his chances might be better if he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine. Jack waited for a draft notice. On March 26, 1944 the 18-year-old Richard went to New York City and enlisted. He was assigned as a messman to the S.S. Pan Pennsylvania, a tanker owned by the U.S. Maritime Commission.
On April 15, with a cargo of 140,000 barrels of gasoline, the tanker left New York Harbor bound for the United Kingdom. The very next day, the Pan Pennsylvania was torpedoed by a German submarine U-550 in the North Atlantic, about 70 miles off the coast of Nantucket.
Although there are several historical counts of what happened that day, it is believed the tanker was lagging behind its wartime convoy. Accounts say the torpedo struck the port side in the vessel’s #8 tank, causing an explosion that blew a large hole in the side, rupturing the #7 tank and disabling the steering gear.
Two officers, 13 crewmen and 10 armed guards were lost. Most died when a lifeboat capsized; three were crushed when they attempted to launch a lifeboat; some drowned after jumping overboard.
Young Richard Dickey was among those who perished – on only his 21st day of service.
On May 6, 1944, back home in Oregon, Edna Dickey received the dreaded telegram – “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Richard Henry Dickey is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country in the American Merchant Marine.”
For the next 43 days, she and her husband F. Martin awaited further news about their only child. After another month, a letter arrived outlining the events of that tragic day, including the names and address of three survivors the grieving parents could contact for firsthand information.
Perhaps out of hope or grief, the couple told fellow members of First St. John Lutheran Church that they wanted no memorial service for Richard until after the war. There are no church records of a memorial ever taking place for the young man lost at sea.
Richard’s name appears on a memorial plaque at Clay High School. A plaque with his photo hangs in First St. John – the only known acknowledgements of his sacrifice.
In 2011, as the First St. John Cemetery Committee began research for the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, Richard’s story came to light.
“We were computerizing our records – going through trying to make sure that we identified every soldier that was buried in the cemetery,” said Joanne Crandall, Cemetery Committee member. “I knew about Richard, because for as long as I can remember, his picture has hung in the back of our church on a plaque put there in his honor by the Luther League (youth group) after he was lost at sea.
| A commemorative garden featuring a headstone for 18 year old Richard
Henry Dickey, who was lost at sea during WWII, will be dedicated in a
ceremony at First St. John Lutheran Church cemetary in Sept. 14. (Press
photo by Ken Grosjean)
“That year, as we were preparing for our Memorial Day, the representatives from the Christ Dunberger American Legion Post were here and I asked them to leave a flag for Richard – we always put his plaque along with a flag in the cemetery for Memorial Day,” Crandall said.
“Doug Kigar, whom I was speaking with, asked where Richard’s headstone was,” she said. “I told him he didn’t have one; he asked why not and said, ‘We need to get him a stone.’”
With the help of the Dunberger Post, members of the First St. John Cemetery Committee set out to get Richard a headstone through a program offered by the Department of Veteran Affairs. After an initial rejection, the request was approved and the stone was engraved and delivered.
The church designated a plot of land where the headstone could be laid. “We decided to put Richard’s headstone in a commemorative garden, where we could remember him, as well as other veterans,” Crandall said. “Members of the congregation were also offered the opportunity to purchase engraved pavers in memory or in honor of their loved ones, which we’ve used to create a walkway.”
Last week, the headstone was set, the memorial walkway was laid and landscaping was installed. Labor and landscaping materials were donated by Jeff Moritz, of Landscape Design.
On Sept. 14, Richard will be remembered and the memorial garden will be dedicated at a 10 a.m. service. The dedication will include a welcome and opening prayer by First St. John Interim Pastor Jerry Rayl, a presentation about Richard Dickey, an American Legion Honor Guard Ceremony and closing prayer, followed by “Taps.” The cemetery is located at 2471 Seaman St., Toledo.
Crandall said she hopes members of the community will come out to remember the young man who would have turned 88 on Sept. 5.
Among those who will be there will be Floyd Hagedorn, a member of the Cemetery Committee who knew and remembers Richard.
“He was one of the ‘big boys,’” Hagedorn recalled. “It was the Great Depression-era and as an only child, he enjoyed some extra privileges. Richard owned the most expensive Western Flyer bicycle made. He gave me my first bicycle ride on the handlebars.
“He often gave ‘little kids’ rides there.”
As the finishing touches were being placed in the garden, Crandall said, “It took some time but it has come together beautifully.
“After 70 years, now he has a place.”