Memorial Day 2020
History is replete with stories of small bands of gallant warriors who bravely took on tall challenges and took fierce combat to the face of an enemy against great odds and with great consequences dependent on their bravery.
In the darkest days of the Nazi onslaught over the skies of England, Prime Minister Winston Churchill paid tribute to the intrepid RAF airmen defending the beleaguered island, “Never in the field of conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Today we mark Memorial Day in America in the 75th year since the victory in World War II and the Tennessee Submarine Memorial Association would like to offer special recognition to the small band of American Submarine crews in that great war.
Of the approximately 4,000 Americans who were lost in submarines since 1900 when the U.S. Navy took delivery of its first submarine about 3,630 of them were lost during World War II.
The single most decisive element of Allied victory in the Pacific was the destruction of Imperial Japanese shipping. American submariners accounted for 55% of the merchant tonnage sent to the bottom in the war despite being a small proportion of the Pacific Fleet. The Navy started the war with 55 fleet- and 18 medium-sized submarines in the Pacific. By war’s end the U.S. had a total of 228 submarines out of over 6,700 American warships.
The submarine war patrols that served to turn the tide of the war did not come without cost. American submariners suffered the highest casualty rate of any element of the U.S. Armed Forces in the War. One in five submariners were lost. One in five!
Fifty-two submarines were lost, 33 to direct enemy action. America produced 16,000 submariners during the war our of 4,000,000 Americans who served in the U.S. Navy. Of those, 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men were killed. The State of Tennessee was home to 82 of those lost men.
They went into combat, usually alone, in enemy waters thousands of miles from friendly territory. A veritable tip of the spear as America rebuilt its arsenal in the dark days of the war and the instrument of bleeding the enemy as the war ground on. Ships with funny names, most named for “denizens of the deep”: Perch, Pickerel, Bonefish, Albacore, and Shark. Over thirty-five hundred men from every corner of America: ensigns from Illinois, torpedomen from Tennessee, quartermasters from Wyoming, enginemen from Virginia, cooks from New York.
They sailed into the mouth of the monster Imperial Japanese Navy in the furthest reaches of the Western Pacific. They attacked shipping and warships across the South China Sea, the Japanese home waters and every corner of the Pacific. They held off invasions of America’s allies in Australia and destroyed enough enemy troopships to inhibit reinforcements against U.S. advances. They endured surface attacks from enemy destroyers and aircraft, frightening depth charge attacks, enemy submarine torpedoes and the ever-present threat of sea-mined straits and shallows. They were on their own. And when they were lost it was usually only the fact they didn’t return home that anyone had an indication they had made the supreme sacrifice.
Medals of Honor would go to seven submarine skippers, two posthumously. They are names that are part of submariner lore, including Commander Howard W. Gilmore. His courage in the engagement that took his life is best summed up in the citation that accompanied his Medal of Honor.
“Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and anti-submarine patrols, Commander Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the USS GROWLER. He daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 17 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machine guns, Commander Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Commander Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, ”Take her down.” The USS GROWLER dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead Captain.”
Nashville members of the national Submarine Veterans organization were fortunate to have Torpedoman Mark Parish among their ranks. Mark a WWII combat veteran who served aboard the Growler on that famous war patrol, graciously briefed the group on the engagement that sent Gilmore into history and almost sent the Growler to the bottom. The heroic action of the crew was the only thing that saw her safely back to Australia.
On this 2020 Memorial Day we remember the Gilmores, the quartermasters, the enginemen, and the cooks. We pay special tribute today to our Submarine Brothers of the Phin who stepped forward, who volunteered, who sailed into harm’s way, knowing the odds and they did their duty, they turned the tide, they were the instruments of America’s victory and they gave us everything they had. We remember their sons and daughters and their grandsons and granddaughters. The living legacy of America’s best.
So, with respect to Sir Winston we humbly suggest that the high form of commendation appropriate in these circumstances should not be “never” but rather, “Not often … in the field of conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
We, at the Tennessee Submarine Memorial Association invite you to honor them with us. We are committed to keeping their memory alive and that is our work. We especially take special responsibility for commemorating the sacrifice of the 85 Tennesseans lost in submarines in all eras of service. We invite you to visit www.tennsub.org for more information about our work.
Please consider making a gift so that none among us will ever forget them.
With warm regards,
Patrick W. Ryan
Submarine Memorial Association
We also pay gratitude to the dedicated staff of “OnEternalPatrol.com” for their work in keeping the memories alive through their painstaking compilation of boats and submariners who have “gone on eternal patrol.”
Tennessee Submarine Memorial Association
Perpetuating the memories of submariners who didn’t come home
The mission of the Tennessee Submarine Memorial Association is to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the American Submarine Force sailors who gave their lives in the line of duty in war and in peace, especially Submariners who called Tennessee their home.
The TSMA is a tax exempt charity registered with the IRS (501c3) and the State of Tennessee. Gifts to the TSMA are tax deductible to the full extent of the current IRS regulations.
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