Monday, May 26, 2008

Wahoo Remembered

This Memorial Day I had a chance to pay tribute to the men of Wahoo in a special way due to the efforts of good friend Jeff Porteous. Last week he forwarded a special flag he had made to honor Wahoo. It is a replica of her battle flag with the boat's name, hull number and date of loss. It really is striking. We've hung it outside our home for Memorial Day and will return it to Jeff when we meet for our r/c modeling group's annual summer fun run. Thanks, Jeff!

The War Fish Blog encourages all its readers to have a wonderful day, tempered with honor and respect for all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy. For a list of those lost aboard Wahoo, click here:
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Escape From The Deep" Review

One week from today, Alex Kershaw's new book "Escape From The Deep" will be officially released -- just in time for Memorial Day. And a fitting tribute it is for the men who fought and died so bravely aboard the subject of the book, USS Tang (SS-306).

Taking a refreshingly different tack from previous work such as "Unrestricted Warfare", "The Bravest Man" and Tang skipper Richard O'Kane's classic memoir "Clear The Bridge!", Kershaw spends little time on the first four war patrols of the US Navy's most successful WWII submarine. Instead, he jump starts the story at the end of her fourth patrol. What follows is an almost cinematic retelling of fifth patrol action, her tragic loss at the hand of her own malfunctioning torpedo, the daring escape by crew members trapped 180 feet below the surface, and their brutal imprisonment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for the remaining nine months of the war.

For those looking for a meticulous depiction of battle tactics, they will have to continue to rely on previous works. Little new is learned about Tang's actions. Kershaw's focus is not on rudder orders and galley menus but the emotional ride experienced in one of the most famous of all war patrols. The human element is stressed in the personal stories of the central players and their interrelationships. Though the narrative is relatively short in length, a bit over two hundred pages, Kershaw brings an entirely new depth to the understanding of these well known events.

Naturally, the figure in the center of everything is Medal of Honor recipient Dick O'Kane. And though his death in 1992 prevented Kershaw from interviewing him personally, his research, in particular the time he spent with the late Rear Admiral's family, coupled with his consummate writing skill, enabled him to bring O'Kane fully to life. Details of his childhood, marriage, and family relationships round out a "proud yankee" known principally for fearless heroics and consummate devotion to duty.

Kershaw's attention to detail does not overlook the rest of the crew either. The personalities, backgrounds, and personal relationships between crewmen are firmly established. They are then studiously revisited during the terrible hours of Tang's sinking when close friendships, such as Clayton Decker's and George Zofcin's, were torn apart by death. And those who escaped, like Bill Leibold and Floyd Caverly, forged new bonds in order to survive.

It is in his depiction of the desperate fight for survival aboard the sunken Tang that Kershaw's prose shines brightest. The chaos and struggle is brought vividly to life as the trapped crew fights their way to the only working escape trunk in the forward torpedo room. Again, Kershaw's focused research brings a richness of personal detail from first hand accounts. This plants the reader firmly in the action and into the survivor's heads as they await their chance to escape, endure the excruciating pressure of the escape trunk, and slowly make their way from the inky depths to the surface.

Their reward, of course, was captivity. And again Kershaw brings a personal focus to the beatings, interrogations and privations that previous works have lacked. I was surprised to learn that O'Kane advised his men to tell the Japanese what they knew and not to lie, while refusing to divulge the secrets he carried himself. However, the rest of the Tang men strayed from their skipper's orders on this occasion and did their best to confuse their captors.

At war's end all nine Tang survivors remained alive in varying degrees of health. O'Kane had suffered the most and was very near death. His choice to recuperate in Hawaii before presenting himself to his family varied with the eager desire of the rest of the men to return home. Again Kershaw gives fresh insight into the postwar lives of each man, their faithfulness to each other through the years, and to the friends they left behind. The book ends with O'Kane, in the midst of his final struggle with Alzheimer's, pulling his daughter towards the ocean repeating, "We have to go save them." A poignant image of a captain who never forgot, and never got over, his crew.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wahoo and Tang Family News

Got two updates from Charles Hinman at the Bowfin Museum yesterday to pass along regarding the USS Wahoo and USS Tang extended families.

Freida Barker, the 107-year old mother of Wahoo crewman RT1c Max L. Mills, was recently profiled in the Kokomo Tribune. Mills joined Wahoo for patrol six and was lost on patrol seven. Unfortunately, Mrs. Barker was unknown to the Bowfin prior to last October's memorial services in Pearl Harbor for the boat so she did not receive the information in time to attend. However, she has been informed of Wahoo's discovery and is much relieved to finally know what happened to her son. To read the article online, click here:

Due in part to the impending publication of Alex Kershaw's new book on Tang, "Escape From The Deep", several parties have been gathering information in order to search for the boat's wreck. As a result of this activity, the Bowfin Museum is compiling information for a Tang Family Network in order to keep relatives of those who served, or were lost, aboard Tang abreast of the latest developments. If you are a Tang family member, or have contact information for one, please contact Charles Hinman at the USS Bowfin Museum:
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Full Fathom Five" Review

Mary Lee Fowler, daughter of S-39, Skipjack, and Cisco skipper James "Red" Coe, has written a new book, "Full Fathom Five: A Daughter's Search", dealing with her research to learn more about the father she never met. Cisco was lost on her first patrol, but not before her skipper learned his wife was pregnant with their third child. Following his loss, Mary Lee's mother remarried and essentially buried her first husband's memory in an effort to move her family forward and save them unwanted grief. It wasn't until her mother was near the end of her life that Mary Lee began to wonder what sort of man Jim Coe had been. The ensuing years of research revealed not only her father's distinguished naval career but a deep examination of her mother's actions following his loss and how it affected her family.

As you might imagine, this is not the standard WWII submarine history book. While there is plenty of insight into WWII sub ops, especially early war issues such as skipper aggressiveness and torpedo trouble, Mary Lee has taken a decidedly personal approach to this work of creative nonfiction. A gifted writer, she gives intimate details of her own struggles to cope as a young girl with the loss of a father she never new, and his abusive surrogate. She also examines the strained relationship she shared with a mother who essentially expunged her first husband's memory from her life for decades and the impact that had on the rest of the family.

Fortunately, things do turn naval soon enough and through her considerable research, Mary Lee paints a vivid picture of pre-war submarining and the Asiatic station where cheap servants made life easy for the wives and S-boats challenged the husbands. As war approached and families were recalled to the states, Jim Coe assumed command of S-39. Following the commencement of hositilities with Japan, he took the ancient boat into combat. An affable, fun loving personality, Coe proved to be an able skipper and turned in some of the few productive S-boat patrols.

Coe's reward for his performance was command of Skipjack. His successful ways continued, despite torpedo failures. A forthright commander, Coe didn't hesitate to highlight his personal opinion of faulty ordinance in his official reports. However, he did leaven the complaints with diplomatic language. As a result, Coe's boat was used by Admiral Lockwood to conduct the live torpedo tests which revealed the first of their many flaws: faulty depth keeping.

Eventually, Coe returned to the states to assume command of the new construction boat Cisco. A competition among yards to produce the fastest construction time from keel laying to first sinking on patrol cut the build time for the boat to under 60 days. It also created a host of mechanical problems due to hasty workmanship. While Coe agreed his boat was ready to put to sea, issues remained: primarily a persistant oil leak. It is thought by many to be an oil leak which lead to her discovery by the Japanese while submerged in shallow water. Whatever the case, she embarked on her first war patrol and never returned.

By the end of her journey, Mary Lee had a profound new appreciation for her father. But she also came to understand her mother, who passed away at the beginning of her research, in a new light and developed a deeper sense of family with her siblings. Even her political views were impacted. The opportunity to make the trip with her, to get to know the author in her forthright self examination, as well as sound some underreported waters of the Pacific submarine war, cobine to make "Full Fathom Five" an unusual, and extremely satisfying, read.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pearl Harbor Escape Training

Recently got this very interesting description of escape tower training from Gazette reader Dick Church, CAPT. USNR (ret):

"Dear Paul: Thank you for the excellent coverage of the Wahoo ceremonies and the Subase tour. I was stationed there in the late 50's and early 60's on Greenfish and Blackfin. Completed PCO School there and got my "Qualified for Command of Submarines" ticket just prior to my separation from active duty. I especially enjoyed seeing the BOQ Clean Sweep and the addition of the memorabilia which I have not seen. Will certainly check it out this fall. I also had the "privilege" of qualifying in the escape tower from the 110 foot level. Thanks for the pictures of the inside which I haven't seen since '62."

When I asked him to describe the experience he wrote:

"You entered a small pressurized chamber at the base of the tower (to simulate the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room of the average fleet submarine). Then you would bleed air into the sealed chamber until it equaled the sea pressure of the depth you were bottomed at (in this case equal to pressure at 110 feet), and flood the compartment until the water was over the lip of the side hatch. The pressure now equaled that of the outside depth. Your body was also so pressurized.

You now opened the side door. Wearing an inflated life jacket you stepped out of the compartment at the base of the tower. Placing your hands outstretched over your head, you tilted your head back and while pursing your lips expelled air from your lungs as the natural buoyancy created by the air in your lungs propelled you to the surface. You had to expel air all the way to the surface for if you did not the pressurized air in your lungs would rupture your lungs! They had divers stationed at intervals all the way to the surface to insure you expelled the air in a timely manner! The terminology for this escape method was called " Blow and Go!!"

Needless to say when you step out of the 110 chamber the top of the tower looked like it was more like 500 feet up! One of my Sub School classmates told me that if he ever had to do a buoyant accent again he would go to his bunk and read Playboy instead!"

Thank you for the story, Dick, and your service!
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Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Clean Sweep" T-shirt Error

In the last Wahoo Gazette email blast I mentioned the great "Clean Sweep" t-shirts made available at the Wahoo Memorial event by the Morton family. At the time I thought these were still available through the Bowfin Museum at Pearl Harbor. Charles has informed me this is no longer the case. So, please refrain from contacting Charles about them since he no longer has any in stock and will not be getting more in the future.

Speaking of t-shirts, a new USS Tang item has been added to Legends' Clean Sweep Store. It is made from 100% organically-grown cotton and features an "athletic department" logo as seen below. Order a size up for a loose fit as they are designed to run small. You can see all the offerings here: Proceeds go to support Legends' website and research.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Wahoo Veteran Lemert on Eternal Patrol

USS Wahoo veteran Richard H. "Dick" Lemert, 89, died February 29, 2008 at the Iowa Veteran's Home in Marshalltown. He was born June 5, 1918, in Waterloo, the son of Harley and Lillian Hark McElhany. He married Margaret Messer on June 5, 1946, in Kansas; she preceded him in death on June 29, 1995.

Lemert was a farmer and worked at the Rath Packing Company for 25 years, retiring in 1978. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1939-1945. During WWII he was a Pearl Harbor survivor and spent the entire war serving on submarines, achieving the rank of Chief Motor Machinist Mate. He served in Wahoo from her second patrol through her sixth, departing just prior to the boat's loss with all hands. He served as the Wahoo's "Oil King" in charge of her diesel fuel supply.

He is survived by one son, John (Sandy) Lemert of Brandon; one daughter, Sue (Lloyd) Bathen of La Porte City; eight grandchildren; thirteen great-grandchildren and one sister, Karen Hark of Illinois. Services were held March 6, 2008, at the La Porte City Funeral Service with burial in the Brandon Cemetery. Military rites were conducted by the La Porte City American Legion San Diego Post #207.

Information courtesy the Waterloo & Cedar Falls Courier (
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About Me

The first 'grown up' book Paul Crozier ever read was "War Fish" by George Grider. Since then he has spent most of his life researching the U.S. Submarine Force in WWII and USS Wahoo (SS-238) in particular.


This blog is dedicated to all who have served in the U.S. Submarine Force. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Admiral Chester Nimitz

"We shall never forget it was our submarines that held the line against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds."

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