On his daily commute across the Golden Gate Bridge, Peter Hess would look at the city of San Francisco, from which the cousin he never knew last departed on the USS Conestoga on March 25, 1921. Then he'd look out to the ocean and to the Farallon Islands two dozen miles away. "Little did I know that George's ship was out there," he tells the San Francisco Chronicle. Almost exactly 95 years after the Navy tugboat set out for Pearl Harbor shortly before winds hit 40mph, "one of the great unsolved mysteries in Navy history" has been solved. On Wednesday, scientists confirmed a wreck found near the Farallones last fall was the missing Conestoga, which sunk with 56 crewmen on board, including chief petty officer George Kaler, who was in charge of the vessel's engine.
Confusion surrounded the lost vessel from the beginning. The Navy only realized it was missing a month after its departure, then searched near Hawaii, though a life preserver and US Navy materials were discovered on the California coast. A lifeboat marked with a "C" was found off Manzanillo, Mexico, two months later, per the AP. Finally in October, archaeologists found a wreck near the Farallones and confirmed it was the Conestoga, based on the location and number of port holes, a 50-caliber gun on the main deck, and two porcelain marine heads, per a release. Experts say the ship might have sunk after a wave flooded the engine room. "I knew George must have stood by his post, stood by his shipmates, tried to get that engine going," Hess says. "We always talked about George and wondered what happened," he adds. "Now we know. It's closure." (The ship of a famous explorer has been found, too.)