'My Escape from a Sea Monster,' written by McCleary, has since become somewhat legendary in crypto-zoological circles and has lately inspired a bizarre Internet parody.
In summary, McCleary wrote that on a Saturday, 24th March 1962, he and four companions left their homes in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, for a diving expedition offshore from Pensacola. Their target was the USS Massachusetts, a decommissioned battleship deliberately sunk by naval gunfire in January 1921.
Joining McCleary on that fateful day were 17-year-old Warren Salley Jr, 16-year-old Eric Ruyle, 15-year-old Larry Bill, and 14-year-old Bradford Rice.
Aboard a rubber raft, the five boys paddled toward the Massachusetts, but were tossed around by unexpected currents, gale-force winds, and fog that left them stranded on a buoy anchored to the sunken hulk.
At nightfall, according to McCleary, a long-necked and foul-smelling sea monster approached the buoy, prompting all five boys to swim in panic through the fog.
To make the story short, only McCleary made it to shore, where a helicopter crew from Pensacola's Naval Air Station found him at 7:45 A.M. on Sunday.
Three years after the supposed event, McCleary wrote that he immediately shared his monster tale with personnel at Pensacola's naval hospital, where he was treated for shock and exposure to the elements. E. E. McGovern, a verified member of the Escambia County Search and Rescue Unit, allegedly listened in awe, then said, "The sea has a lot of secrets. I believe you, but there's not much else I can do."
McCleary, two months after Fate published his story, sent an abbreviated and amended version to Loch Ness researcher Tim Dinsdale, who apparently accepted the tale at face value and remarked on "the potential danger faced by those who swim in waters inhabited by these animals, which must be fish-eating carnivores."
Michael Newton of Fortean Zoology recently wrote that he checked the weather for Pensacola, Florida, and environs of 24 March 1962, through the Old Farmer's Almanac online. The day was reasonably warm, with a high of 64.9° Fahrenheit. No precipitation or fog was recorded, visibility was cited as 4.8 miles, and the stormy winds that allegedly drove McCleary's raft off-course never topped 13 miles per hour.
Do we smell a hoax? Some people on the internet think so.
But what’s troubling is the fact that the newspapers or even the local authorities at that time never bothered to check on McCleary’s missing companions.
And this is how it will probably remain, unless McCleary someday offers evidence supporting his account, the rest of us can call it for what it is, another story to while away time.