NAVAL BASE NORTH ISLAND, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – In August 2012, in the frigid waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, a U.S. Navy dive team and service members from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command searched for the remains of five Americans lost at sea in November 1942.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey of Fort Wayne was assigned to document the challenging operation.
They were looking for a World War II PBY-5A plane. Wearing a thick wetsuit and equipped with air tanks, weights and a high-definition camera with lights, Carey said, “The water was 30 degrees. At 120 feet down there’s a pretty good current, and visibility is extremely limited – about 15 feet.”
Carey got a headache and his fingers and toes started to go numb. Freezing cold and depth limited them to 10 minutes.
“We were swimming along,” Carey said, “then all a sudden – this big black object started to appear. The aircraft was upside down on its wings, basically untouched, 70 years later.”
“We had to do a flyover,” Carey said. “You swim over the top of the aircraft and shoot video straight down to get an overall view of the site. We couldn’t start excavations until I got the video.”
Carey and his team searched for bone remains and any other forensic clues such as personal effects, life support equipment, aircraft data plates, ordnance, weapons, packs, mess kits, uniforms, etc. Carey had to provide historical documentation because it’s treated like a crime scene.
Once evidence is recovered, it’s sent back to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, the largest, most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world. Scientists use genetic sampling and material evidence to discover a service member’s identity.
Carey’s search-and-recovery assignments come from Fleet Combat Camera Pacific Command, Naval Base North Island, San Diego.
The Navy works with more than 400 military and civilian personnel at Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to comply with a congressional mandate to account for more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts.
After Quebec, the waters of Corsica, France, were much warmer and clearer.
“You could see 100 feet down. A B-17 bomber crashed on Valentine’s Day, 1942, and we were looking for one of two crew members.” One had been found years earlier.
The Corsica B-17 wreck is a popular dive site.
“People do take stuff – we saw that,” Carey said. “We typically don’t bring anything back unless it pertains to the individuals or some piece of equipment we need. In both locations (Quebec and France) we did find osseous (bone) remains,” he adds, “We try to leave as small a footprint as possible.”
Growing up in a family of locksmiths from Fort Wayne, Carey had never done photography and scuba dived once.
He crushed the A course at Defense Information School, graduating at the top of the class. As he was finishing up at the Defense Information School, getting mass communications skills under his belt, senior leadership from Combat Camera paid a visit.
“They interviewed about half a dozen of us, trying to get a feel for our mindset, because Combat Camera deploys in hostile environments – front lines. We document operations like that.”
They were also recruiting for divers.
Six weeks of training at the Navy Dive and Salvage Training Center prepared him for a 6-month deployment to Bahrain in 2011.
“We did a lot of work with a Navy Dive and Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit,” Carey said. The unit conducted anti-terrorism force protection dives – dismantling and rendering safe underwater mines.
Carey has been on dives to inspect foreign piers and the hulls of ships bound for U.S. ports for explosives or threats. He’s also documented military operations exchanges with friendly countries – strengthening international ties, along with training for large remote-controlled robots.
They can be driven up to a suspected IED site, survey with its cameras, and defuse or place a charge to disrupt it, according to Carey, protecting service members, civilians, or anyone from harm.
“My mom was concerned the military would change me and I would be a different individual. If anything, it’s reaffirmed who I am. I’m a very outgoing and goofy person. I have a great time.”
Lt. Miranda Williams agrees.
“Any time we need him to go on any deployment – any job – he’s absolutely reliable. Does it right the first time. No questions.”
Carey earned Junior Sailor of the Year in 2011, adding to other military recognition. He was awarded The National Defense Medal for enlisting during a time of war and multiple medals for his work in Bahrain. A 3-year Good Conduct Award further reveals the true nature of this native son.
Today, MC2 Martin Carey works in the Chief of Information office at the Pentagon. He says he misses the underwater photography and traveling to new and different places in the world. No matter what service he gives to his country, Carey’s having “a great time.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Carmel Valley News in California. (c) 2013 Jeanne McKinney.