(Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

VENICE — Packed with 600 tons of ammo and explosives, the USS Serpens died in a flash beneath a full moon at 11:18 p.m. on Jan. 29, 1945.

The blast was so violent it rained shrapnel and debris on the island of Guadalcanal a mile away, killed a soldier onshore, knocked everyone standing within that radius off their feet, and flung one sailor into another vessel moored 650 yards away. That ship, the USS YP 514, had its bow and crow's nest demolished, and counted 14 injuries as "missiles" and "screeching shells" continued to explode and turn night into day.

Witnesses said the calamity generated an 8-foot tidal wave, and that the ground shock rippled five miles out. Some said the sky drizzled oil for up to two hours. When bystanders regained their senses, the 100-ton barge that had been transferring bombs onto the Serpens had vanished, and all that was left of the 441-foot cargo ship was its sinking bow, keel up.

Miraculously, two sailors who had been asleep in a forward hold survived. Few other bodies were recovered intact. When the counting was done, 193 Coast Guard crewmen, who had been manning the Navy ship, were gone — along with 56 Army stevedores and an onboard civilian doctor. It was, in short, the most catastrophic single-event loss of life in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Four years later, in what Arlington National Cemetery describes as "the largest group burial" ever hosted, the remains of the 250 casualties from that disaster were retrieved from Guadalcanal, placed in 52 flag-draped coffins, and laid to rest in 28 graves.

According to the Navy, which conducted the investigation, the Serpens blew up during the accidental mishandling of bombs, torpedoes and depth charges. But the son of a crew member isn't buying it.

After pressing Florida politicians and pursuing government records with Freedom of Information Act requests, Robert Breen of Venice has discovered curious gaps in the Serpens' obituary. And at 76, the retired Central Intelligence Agency senior finance officer and certified fraud investigator wonders if he's onto one of the last coverups of World War II.

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U.S. Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Garrett L. Dipuma

FIFE LAKE — Maurice "Maury" Cole was just 20 years old when he fought in the month-long Battle of the Bulge that ended in 1945.

The World War II veteran and Fife Lake resident, 94, died Monday. He is one of the last remaining west Michigan veterans from the battle in which more than 20,000 Allied soldiers were killed.

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Carl Lingenfelter remembers sitting on his grandfather's lap as a young boy listening to his stories about fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

His grandfather recounted how his commander, Gen. Sterling Price, refused to surrender after Gen. Robert Lee's capitulation at Appomattox Court House and instead led his remaining troops to Mexico.

"Grandpa would tell these stories to me," Lingenfelter said from the kitchen table of his Barberton home. "And when I went to school, I didn't think much of Abe Lincoln. Neither did grandpa."

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Photo: Melanie Rodgers Cox/U.S. Air Force

CATAWBA ISLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio — While the controversy over whether transgender personnel can serve in the military rages on, there are a few people who experienced exclusion in the armed forces when it was more of a matter of black and white.

Literally.

Harold Brown remembers.

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(YouTube/WTOC Extras)

Lt. Col. Robert Friend was always glad to share his story with schoolkids — and what a story it was.

Friend, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, died Friday at age 99 at his Long Beach, Calif., home.

Not only did Friend fly 142 missions in the iconic black unit in the Army Air Corps, he went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

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Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch/U.S. Army

Army Staff Sgt. Albert Leon Mampre, who served during World War II with the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division depicted in the HBO series 'Band of Brothers,' was laid to rest on June 15th, the Army announced

Mampre, who died on May 31 at 97 years old, was the last living medic from Easy Company, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A number of soldiers assigned to his unit provided an honor guard for his funeral service.

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