It was the end of the 1966 shipping season on the Great Lakes, and the Daniel J. Morrell was making its final run of the year.
Dennis Hale, a watchman on the Morrell, and his 28 shipmates were eager to head home for Christmas.
But one night on Lake Huron, they were caught in a severe winter storm.
The ship broke apart and sank. Dennis and a few others made it to a life raft, but Dennis was the only person to survive.
At StoryCorps, Dennis told his wife, Barbara, how it happened.
Click here for the transcript.
I didn't have any clothes on--I had a lifejacket, a pair of undershorts, and a peacoat on. And we went through this big wave. First thing you hear when you come through the back side is everybody gasping for air and then that 65 mile-an-hour wind would hit you. And it just felt like your skin was being pulled off.
By dawn, I looked at the kid in front of me and there was some white foam coming out of his mouth. And I jabbed him, and I said, "You alright, man?" And he didn't respond. And behind me was another fellow--there was no response from him either. And so I kicked the third guy, and I said, "Are you okay?" He says, "I'm hanging in there." We talked about being home for Christmas with our families.
But he says, "It fills like my lungs are filling up or something." Well he started coughing, and… and he passed away, and he fell with his arm around me. I guess my biggest fear right then and there was that I didn't want to be out there alone. When you're in a situation like that, you don't really care if you live or die, you just want the whole thing over with.
And that night, you know, I had my hands in my mouth to keep my hands warm. I thought maybe there's some way I can shove them down there far enough I can block off my air, but all I managed to do was gag myself. And before long I saw daylight again. At one point I heard this noise overhead, and I looked and it was a helicopter. And I waved to them.
Barbara Hale (BH): How long did all this take?
DH: Thirty-eight hours. And the next morning I wasn't fine, but I wasn't dead either. Every day I'd ask the nurse if there's any survivors. I figured I survived, why couldn't somebody else? Finally one day she came in, she says, "You should stop asking. It's been too long. If there's anybody else out there, they're dead." I just felt shame, embarrassment. I didn't want to be the sole survivor. I just wanted my old life back. There were 28 people aboard. It was quite a loss...my whole family.
BH: If you had a chance to talk to your shipmates, what would you tell them?
DH: That I miss them, that I love them, and I'm glad for the time we had together.