Story of long-lost sword spanned seven decades

Mr. Wentz’s sword was salvaged from the wreck of the USS Erie.
Mr. Wentz’s sword was salvaged from the wreck of the USS Erie.

Sword salvaged from the ocean floor, returned after 70 years

A Caymanian family’s 70-year-quest to return a ceremonial sword recovered from the wreck of a US naval ship in the Caribbean Sea has had a happy ending.

The US Naval Academy sword was recovered from the wreck of the USS Erie, which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off Curacao in 1942.

Enos Eldemire, the navy salvage diver who recovered the weapon, tried in vain to locate the family of its original owner, Ned James Wentz, whose name was engraved on the blade.

When Mr. Eldemire died, the sword and the search passed to his son, Kent, a prominent Caymanian businessman. For decades, it remained an enthralling artefact in the Eldemire household, until finally, after years of trawling the Internet and following up on any lead, no matter how small, he struck gold.

It was a funeral notice in a Tallahassee newspaper that caught his eye. The name of the widow, Frances Wentz Taber, matched a name he had been given for the daughter of the dead officer.

After a call to the funeral director, he made contact with Mrs. Wentz Taber, who confirmed her father was the sword’s original owner. She had been two years old when he was killed in the torpedo attack.

Months later, the sword, still in its original leather scabbard, arrived via airmail from Mr. Eldemire’s second home in Australia, ending a lost-and-found story that spanned two continents and eight decades.

Mr. Eldemire said the return of the sword was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition, passed on from his own father.

“When we were kids, we wanted to use the sword to play pirates, but my father would never let us. He always impressed on us that the sword did not belong to us, that we were just looking after it till we could return it to the family of the owner.”

Over the years, there have been several false alarms. Internet search engines threw up many possible leads. It was only the fact that Frances had kept her maiden name that made it possible for Mr. Eldemire to track her down.

“She had been a genealogist, so she knew the value of keeping her maiden name on any records,” he said.

Mrs. Wentz Taber was overwhelmed to receive the sword. In correspondence shared with the Compass, she said: “The news was astounding. It is the most overwhelming lost-and-found story I have ever heard.

“Believe me, overwhelming emotion and excitement prevailed as I awaited its arrival and, after 70 years, held it in my hands.”

Experts at the Tallahassee Museum were able to restore the sword and remove it from the scabbard, where it had been stuck for seven decades.

The ceremonial sword, given to graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, would have been worn with dress-whites at functions on the USS Erie which, as the flagship for the Caribbean fleet, had its own orchestra and aeroplane.

Mr. Wentz was one of seven men killed when the ship went down on 12 November, 1942.

Enos Eldemire was first mate and senior salvage diver on the tug, Killerig, which conducted the salvage of the wreck.