As part of the Oregon Veterans History Project, CC Reporting has recorded the experiences of a number of veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Listening to their stories and a recent visit to the Panama Canal inspired me to explore my own father’s service history so I could share it with his great grandchildren.
He passed when he was 45 and I was 16 years old. We had not had the opportunity to discuss his years in the service in any detail. All I knew was he had served on a submarine in the South Pacific and that the crew had a dog.
Last October my husband and I embarked on a special cruise for our 60th birthdays – traveling through the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal. It was on my journey through the canal that I remembered pictures from my father’s Navy memorabilia and photo album depicting a young man with his comrades on their submarine sailing home from the South Pacific in October of 1945, one month after Japan had surrendered. My father was 20 years old on that day, having joined the Navy at the age of 17 during World War II.
When I arrived home from our vacation, I pulled the photo album out and discovered a collection of information that roused my interest. One of the first items was a letter written home to his mother letting her know she should not worry about him. “Here is another letter from your forgetful son, but this time it is only a couple of days since I last wrote you. And Mom if you shouldn’t hear from me for quite a while you will know it is because I am at sea and you shouldn’t worry and I will remember from now on to write you whenever I can. If I do go to sea I will be able to save some more money which I will send you and which you are to use for the family.”
Later on he continues, “By the way, Mom, in case anybody asks me can you tell me in your next letter how old the kids are? I know Don is 17 and Butch is 2 but I’ll be darned if I know how old the girls are and it seems kind of funny when anybody asks me about it.” (You have to understand he was the oldest of eight children.) My Uncle Butch recently stated, and the rest of my father’s siblings reiterated often, that my father was a family hero. The picture of my father and my Uncle Butch (Dad was probably 19 and Butch only 2) in their matching sailor outfits had been passed down to me, but I didn’t know that my grandmother sewed the outfit for my Uncle Butch to welcome my dad on his leave.
There was a letter of commendation granting him the honor of wearing the submarine combat insignia with two stars, having completed three successful war patrols on the USS Haddo; a letter awarding him for his meritorious conduct; a ribbon bar of the Navy Unit Commendation awarded the USS Haddo for heroism in action during her Seventh War Patrol from August 8 to October 3, 1944; a piece of a United States flag; a Standard Leave Form dated December 29, 1945, granting him four days of leave; and photos from Saipan, Tokyo, Guam – and the Panama Canal.
After he returned home from the service, he graduated from college earning a degree in engineering from the University of Iowa. He was employed as a civilian physicist for the U.S. Navy for over 20 years.
Wanting to find out more about my father’s service, through the assistance of the internet I was able to gather the following information about the last six months of his tour from the Naval Historical Center. Understand that this is the conclusion of the war. “The USS Haddo departed on her ninth war patrol 16 May 1945. Cruising the East China and Yellow Seas, she attacked a convoy emerging from the fog 1 July and quickly sank a small coastal defense vessel and cargo ship Taiun Maru No. 1. Clearing the area, she heard automatic gunfire, and soon saw a frigate bearing down hard upon her. Haddo’s skipper decided not to dive and instead turned on a parallel but opposite course, and the frigate shot by with her guns blazing. Haddo suffered little damage, and was able to avoid a companion escort and finally reach deep water. That evening she sank two sailing junks and then set course for a new station off Port Arthur. She sank a trawler 3 July, survived a furious depth charge attack by patrol vessels, and proceeded to Guam arriving 16 July 1945.
“The USS Haddo departed on her 10th and last war patrol 10 August 1945, but it was soon terminated by the surrender of Japan. She then headed for Tokyo Bay, where she witnessed the signing of the surrender on board Missouri and departed for home. Touching at Hawaii, Haddo arrived at Panama 28 September and New London 6 October 1945.”
All those questions never asked: Where did you serve? What combat action did you witness? Where were you when the war ended? What are some life lessons you learned from military service? Why do you have a remnant of a U.S. flag?
On December 24th, my dad would have turned 90. Happy birthday, Dad. 45 years after he passed, I am thankful to have learned more about him because of the history project, going on a cruise, and digging deeper.
What are the untold stories in your family? During this holiday season, what could asking one more question to or about your family member(s) reveal that would bring you a little bit closer to them? Whether they’re veterans or not, their stories are worth remembering…stories you’ve never heard because a question wasn’t asked.
After all, all of us — no matter who we are in our professional lives — are human beings with families first. Don’t forget to record those stories with accuracy for future generations to have and cherish!