World War II

ON A STRANGE SHORE

While patrolling the beaches of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, on May 14, 1942, two young Coast Guardsmen glimpsed an unusual shape bobbing in the surf. They stopped their truck to investigate and one of them, Arnold Tolson, took off his shoes and waded into the ocean, where a lifeless body tossed among the waves.

The Coast Guardsmen retrieved the corpse from the water and placed it in the bed of their truck. It belonged to a man in his late twenties with a black beard, wearing a dark-colored uniform and a blue turtleneck. Before the young sailors could reach their Coast Guard Station with news of their gruesome discovery, a man flagged down their truck as they sped across the island and through its small village. He had spotted another dead young man in the tide wearing a similar dark ensemble and informed the Coast Guardsmen of the body’s location.

Identifying the waterlogged bodies proved straightforward once they were laid out at the Coast Guard Station. Inside the bearded man’s pocket were papers, including a bank book, that revealed his identity: Sub-Lieutenant Thomas, a British armed trawler that had arrived in North Carolina from England around a month and a half prior.

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