By Jeanne McKinney
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 (JPAC) searched for the remains of five Americans lost at sea in November 1942. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd class Martin L. Carey 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 an HD camera with lights, MC2 Carey describes, “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,” says Carey, “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 states, “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.”
Underwater photography/videography has its own set of challenges and he had one pass to get the lighting and everything else set up correctly.
“That’s all there was time for,” remembers Carey, “combined with the cold and getting back to the surface with a limited amount of air…it can break your focus.”
MC2 Carey and his team searched for osseous (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 JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, the largest, most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world. Lab scientists at CIL use genetic sampling and material evidence to help solve the puzzle of 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 over 400 military and civilian personnel at JPAC command to comply with a Congressional mandate to account for over 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts.
Following 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 was found years earlier).”
The Corsica B-17 wreck is a popular dive site. “People do take stuff – we saw that,” Carey informs, “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 remains,” he adds, “We try to leave as small a footprint as possible.”
“For those who may have witnessed a crash as teenagers or are related [to the service member], our coming back 70 years later with the recovery is very emotional and they appreciate it,” says this can-do-anything sailor, who wanted to join the military as a boy. Growing up in a family of locksmiths from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Carey had never done photography and only tried scuba diving once.
“I’m a very confident individual,” Carey assures, “From day one, I was going to do the best on every test, apply myself fully and just crush it.” He crushed the “A” course at Defense Information School, graduating “Top of the Class.” While finishing up DINFOS, getting mass communications skills under his can-do 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.
Carey knew, “Absolutely — I’ll get through that school, no problem.”
Six weeks of training at the Navy Dive and Salvage Training Center prepared him for a six-month deployment to Bahrain in 2011.
“We did a lot of work with a Navy Dive and Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit,” states Carey. EOD conducted Anti-Terrorism Force Protection dives — dismantling and rendering safe inert underwater mines. “My job as a photographer was to document training exercises above and below the water.”
Carey’s been on actual ATFP dives, inspecting 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 EOD Robots. They can be driven up to a suspected IED site, survey with its cameras, and diffuse 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.” Lieutenant Miranda Williams affirms, “Any time we need him to go on any deployment — any job — he’s absolutely reliable. Does it right the first time — no questions.” “He’s an outstanding operator and sailor, just an all-around good guy,” adds Combat Camera Commanding Officer Matthew A. Young.
Carey earned “Junior Sailor of the Year” in 2011, adding to other official 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 three-year Good Conduct Award further reveals the true nature of this native son.
Some rewards are more private and personal. ”Truly the biggest impact [the Navy] has had on me is I’ve made the best friends of my life.” He hopes the junior sailors he’s mentored know, “They can do anything…Their career is in their hands and to not hold back.”
Rewarded is how he feels when he thinks if he’d never met his grandfather and got that call or letter saying, “We have your grandfather’s remains.” Carey gets goose bumps every time he sees the American flag or hears the National Anthem, stating, “It just changes your life.”
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, Marty’s having “a great time.”