Looking Back: Remembering longtime MIA Carl Bernard Trager

With the approach of this year’s Veterans’ Day it is time to remember another one of our South Snohomish County young people who died in defense of this country.

Carl Trager was killed in action and has been an MIA for over 71 years. Even though our country never forgets its MIAs and the search for them never ends, it is most likely that Carl will remain missing forever.

Carl Trager's name is engraved in front of the Edmonds Museum.
Carl Trager’s name is engraved in front of the Edmonds Museum.

Carl Trager was born in Minnesota in 1926, and by 1930, Carl and his family had settled in Edmonds. Carl grew up as an Edmonds boy—one who attended Edmonds Grade School and High School. Sadly, he was also one of our young men who lost his life during World War II. It has been a long time, but a few traces remain showing that Carl was once a young man with a lot of potential for a bright future. A few school mates are left who do remember Carl. There is also a brother who lives in California. As another remembrance of Carl, his name is etched into the memorial monument standing in front of the Edmonds Museum in downtown Edmonds. Carl is also remembered at the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii. The inscription on the wall says simply, “Trager, Carl B., Seaman 2C, USNR, Washington.”

Carl Trager in his high school football uniform.
Carl Trager in his high school football uniform.

Graduating from Edmonds High School in 1944, Carl’s photo appeared on the Senior Class Honor’s page of the school’s yearbook. He is shown here in his football uniform–number 58. Carl was an outstanding athlete. As a senior he was captain of the football team and winner of the inspirational award. He was active in track, football and basketball for all four of his high school years, and he lettered during his sophomore, junior and senior years. He was president of the Boys Club in 1944. During his sophomore year, Carl was class president. He also became a thespian and appeared in the junior and senior plays. Always friendly, with a ready smile, Carl was popular with the other students at Edmonds High School.

Following his 1944 graduation, Carl enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After a short training period, he was assigned to the recently commissioned aircraft carrier U.S.S. Franklin (CV-13). Because this ship, the last home for Carl Trager was to become famous, here is its short history.

The Franklin was an Essex-class aircraft carrier built during World War II. Commissioned in January 1944, she was nicknamed “Big Ben.” Although he was technically still a teenager, Carl Trager was one of the men aboard the ship when she left Bremerton in February 1945. After training exercises, the carrier joined Task Group 58-2 for strikes against the Japanese homeland to support the Okinawa landings. On March 15, 1945, she joined other task force units and three days later launched strikes close to Japan’s mainland. In fact, before dawn on March 19, 1945, the Franklin was within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland, closer than any other United States carrier during the war. Aboard the carrier was the famed “Black Sheep Squadron.”

A fighter sweep was launched against Honshu and also a strike against shipping in Kobe Harbor. Suddenly, a single dive bomber came through a cloud cover and made a low level run on the Franklin to drop two semi-armor-piercing bombs. One bomb struck the flight deck center line, penetrating the hanger deck, causing destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks. The second bomb hit aft, tearing through two decks.

At the time of the strike, the ship had 31 armed and fueled aircraft warming up on her flight deck. The hanger deck contained 22 additional planes—16 fueled and five were armed. The explosion on the hangar deck ignited the fuel tanks on the aircraft, and a gasoline vapor explosion devastated the deck. Only two crewmen survived the fire on the hangar deck. The explosion jumbled aircraft together on the flight deck above, causing further fires and explosions, including the detonation of 12 “Tiny Tim” air-to-surface missiles. Armor on the hangar deck contained this explosion and fire and prevented spread of the fire below.

The Franklin lay dead in the water and took a 13-degree starboard list. She lost all radio communications, and broiled under the heat from the fires. Many of the crew were blown overboard, driven off by fire, most killed or wounded. However, hundreds of surviving officers and enlisted men remained to save their ship. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded. Among those lost were 631 of the ship’s company, 33 men from the “Black Sheep Squadron” and another 34 from the Sky Raiders Squadron. Carl Trager was one of the ship’s company whose body was never recovered.

The U.S.S. Franklin with fires still burning after it was attacked in 1945.
The U.S.S. Franklin with fires still burning after it was attacked in 1945.

The Franklin limped back to the mainland for repairs. After the repair work, she slowly made her way to the New York Harbor. However, Franklin sat out the remainder of the war, and never saw action again. The end for the Franklin came when she was sold for scrap in 1966.

The ship was the most heavily damaged carrier to survive the war. She is remembered as “The Ship that wouldn’t die.” Movie footage of the actual attack of March 19, 1945, was included in the 1949 WWII movie Task Force starring Gary Cooper.

The Franklin is shown here listing in the water, the fires still burning, and the survivors lined up on deck.  The damaged carrier was being closely guarded by other ships of the task force.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County.

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