A shiny piece of metal that caught the eye of a young sailor searching for survivors aboard a sinking ship finally made it home to its owner’s family Saturday.
Seaman Clyde McCrackin, an Horry County native, somehow lost a dog tag as he scrambled from the boiler room to abandon the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier as it was sinking at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942. He survived the war and died in 2011 at 92 while he and his wife, Irene, were living near Ash, N.C.
A few months ago in New Jersey, Jim Askew of Delaware was helping pack his parents’ belongings so they could move to a nursing home that was closer to him. A shining piece of metal on top of everything in his father’s jewelry box caught his eye. “What is that?” he asked.
The answer led to him and his wife, Kathy, to bring the dog tag to Clyde McCrackin’s brother and sister-in-law, Windell and Johann McCrackin of Myrtle Beach.
When Jim Askew asked about the dog tag, he heard its story for the first time from his father, the young sailor who found it and slipped it into his pocket to hopefully reunite it with its owner. But then, the war raged on and Bill Askew kept fighting, receiving 16 battle stars and a Bronze Star for heroic achievement against the enemy off Okinawa.
Clyde McCrackin also stayed in the Navy throughout the war, and later served aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia, one of the battleships the Japanese sank at Pearl Harbor that was raised, renovated and sent to sea.
Windell McCrackin served in the both the Marines and the Army, and he served in World War II and the Korean War.
Bill Askew said he had thought many times about trying to get the dog tag to its owner, but he didn’t know whether or not Clyde McCrackin had survived — and that made it hard for him to decide.
Once Jim Askew found it, he knew that the Internet would probably provide most of the answers, and it did. He said his father is very happy to know that the tag was being returned.
“It’s a marvelous thing,” Windell McCrackin said. Irene McCrackin said she is ecstatic to know that the tag was returned.
Clyde never talked about the tag, maybe because he was so thankful just to have his life, she said.
He did talk about taking off his shoes to keep from slipping on the fuel-covered deck, about someone showing him a rope to climb down to a lifeboat that was too full for him. He clung to the side of it for several hours.
Aboard the destroyer USS Hughes, which had taken on a lot of survivors and was ordered to back away, many of the survivors would not go below deck and lay wounded, burned and exposed to the salty ocean spray, Bill Askew said.
Bill Askew said he and some of the crew saw a seaman still on the Yorktown, shooting a machine gun into the water to get their attention. They went back in the “whaleboat” and got two men. One died on the way back to the destroyer.
The other one said he had friends in sick bay on the Yorktown. Bill Askew said he found a seaman who was willing to go back with him, and they went down several levels until they ran into water, but never got to sick bay.
Beside the USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hamman was also assisting the Yorktown until it was hit and sunk.
The USS Yorktown sank, but another U.S. aircraft carrier was under construction. That ship was renamed USS Yorktown, and after its long and heroic tour of duty, it now rests in the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant near Charleston.
The one little piece of metal, a dog tag bearing a young man’s name, holds a wealth of history, most of which has not been told. It is now back where it belongs.