|St. Patrick's Day Parade, South Boston 2007|
Photo credit: Boston.com
I hope you all had a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day. I have read no news reports of missing men, so my hope is that all our young adults have made it home safely. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how St. Patrick's Day has touched the lives of some of the young men who have gone missing.
Missing in Boston
The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day 2007 greeted revelers in Boston with an assault of stinging, pelting snow that was carried horizontally by the cold, whipping wind. Visibility along the water was poor and temperatures were in the teens. The storm was not expected to wind down until March 17. Despite the poor weather in Boston, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities carried on with many venturing out in the snow.
That weekend, two young sailors from North Carolina—Dustin Willis, 26, and William Hurley, 22—arrived in Boston to spend their shore leave at one of the nation’s biggest annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Although the men were stationed aboard different ships, their lives would intersect in an odd coincidence, years later—both would ultimately disappear, their lives ending tragically.
Dustin Willis, a 26-year old Navy petty officer 3rd class, was serving aboard the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer carrying a crew of approximately 338. The vessel arrived in South Boston on Mar. 16, 2007 and had docked in Boston Harbor for St. Patrick’s Day.
“Dusty,” as he was known to family and friends, was a native of Frisco, N.C. and was stationed out of Norfolk, Va. He and his girlfriend, Shawna, and their 5-year old son, Logan Gene, were living in Rodanthe, N.C. They were looking forward to the future, when they could spend more time together as a family and eventually make a home for themselves in Virginia Beach, Va.
A long-awaited night on the town
The crew of the USS Donald Cook was just coming off a long and tedious schedule and looking forward to some down-time before their return trip home. Like many other Navy personnel that night, Dusty decided to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with an evening out on the town, despite the poor weather.
He and some of his shipmates spent the evening in Boston’s tourist area, the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area. This area is on the waterfront and about 11/3 miles from the ship.
Dusty was wearing civilian clothing, a jacket, blue jeans, and a tuxedo t-shirt which did stand out a bit from the crowd, but it was not his habit to carry much cash.
He spoke with his parents in North Carolina around 10 p.m., then called Shawna again at 10:50 p.m., mentioning that he had some beers to drink that night. Both his father and his girlfriend say he was not drunk; he was in full control of his faculties and not slurring his words.
Shawna was still chatting on the phone with Dusty at 11 p.m., when he and his shipmates left McFadden’s bar. When Willis turned the corner near the Black Rose Pub in Quincy Market, his shipmates lost sight of him in the blowing snow. They assumed he had ducked into a building, but when they checked out a few places, he was nowhere to be found. His cell phone call to Shawna then ended abruptly.
Both Shawna and his shipmates called Dusty's cell phone and left messages, but got no response. An hour later, Dusty's phone was found by a passerby on the sidewalk near the Legal Sea Foods restaurant by the Long Wharf. It was then turned in to the police department.
There was no other trace of Dusty Willis.
Dusty, a gas turbine system technician, was known to be exceptionally reliable. Just three days before the night of his disappearance, he had just received the Navy Achievement Medal and was described as having a stellar, spotless record during his four years in the Navy. It was not like him to disappear, yet he was not reported missing until 7:30 a.m. Sunday, when he was due to report back to the ship.
|Long Wharf in Boston|
Photo credit: kamalyn
Officials believe Dusty's death was a bad mishap, that after he was separated from his friends, he became confused in the driving snow and accidentally fell off the dock.
"I do miss my son. He served his country and I am very proud of him. I am glad he had friends in the service-- people who cared about my son. My other four children, their wives, their grandchildren, my wife, Michelle, we want to thank everyone for what they've done. We want to take my son home and give him the burial he deserves," Dusty's father, Tony Willis, told TheBostonChannel.com.
On St. Patrick's Day 2007, William Hurley, 24, was serving alongside a crew of 206 aboard the Navy frigate USS De Wert. Spending shore leave in Boston over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend is a tradition for the Navy, and like the USS Donald Cook, the DeWert had docked in Boston Harbor.
William Hurley, also ventured out into the blizzard-like conditions to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. He met his future fiancee, Claire, while out on the town.
Claire, a graduate of Emmanuel College, was working on her master’s degree in teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. William belonged to the MP Division and had served on the USS DeWert since Sept.7, 2005. He was stationed out of Mayport, Fla.