How did a World War II assault vessel end up sunk off the coast of North Carolina?

A team of researchers from East Carolina University has identified a shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound near Rodanthe as a type of World War II troop transport, media outlets reported.

How a World War II assault vessel ended up on the bottom of the Pamlico Sound is a mystery researchers say they intend to solve.

The identity of the ship has long been a mystery, with local folklore suggesting it was a gravel barge that ran aground in the 1960s during the road building boom on the Outer Banks, reported Coastal Review Online. Archaeological details found last month suggest a very different original function, officials said.

Nathan Richards of the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute told the Coastal Review the team quickly realized the ship had a welded steel hull. By the third week of work, he said it became clear that the wreck was actually a military vessel.

It is believed the shipwreck is one of many troop transports introduced late into the Pacific Theater of World War II.

They were designed for amphibious warfare and were used to land and support troops on enemy beaches. With crews of 71 men, they supported landings in the Philippines, Borneo, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, it was reported. After the war, most of the ships were scrapped or stayed in the Pacific for mine-sweeping and other duties.

“We did not expect to find an American amphibious assault vessel lying in Pamlico Sound, so our research is continuing,” Richards said in a statement, adding that he hopes “to fully explore the historical and archaeological significance of the wreck, and hope to shed more light on the vessel by the end of the year.” Richards is head of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute’s Maritime Heritage Program.

The shipwreck sits in the brackish, waist-deep waters of the Pamlico Sound and in the direct path of the planned Bonner Bridge extension project. It has been named the Pappy’s Lane Wreck, in connection with a nearby road, outlets reported.

The shipwreck was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Place in 2016, based on the potential archaeological information it offered.

More research will need to be done to identity the type, name, and individual story of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck, officials said. The time between its possible tenure in the Pacific Ocean and its life as an unassuming shipwreck in the Pamlico Sound spans decades, leaving much to uncover, reported TV station WTKR.

Graduate students from East Carolina University performed a limited archaeological excavation of the stern and three cross-sections to determine the shape of the hull and other details about the vessel’s construction, officials said.