Thursday, April 27, 2006

Families come together in sunken sub's memory

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Manitowoc Herlad Times
By Charlie Mathews
April 25, 2006


Service set for USS Lagarto, discovered after resting 60 years under the sea
MANITOWOC — Nancy Kenney, from Michigan, and Art Keeney III, from North Carolina, have never met face-to-face, but they share a powerful bond.

Their fathers were among the 86 men on board the Manitowoc-built submarine, USS Lagarto, when it was sunk in May 1945 in the Gulf of Thailand in the final weeks of World War II.

There will be a special memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum for family members and friends, honoring the submariners.

"We will be brought together by this one singular event, the demise of the Lagarto," Keeney, 62, said Monday. "Our fathers perished together in service to our country."

"What we share is very special. We have become like a second family, how much we all care for each other," Kenney, 63, said.

The local museum has hosted memorial services for the Lagarto before.

But this will be the first one since the discovery of the submarine on May 18 by Jamie MacLeod and Stewart Oewhl of M.V. Trident, a Thai-based diving expeditions company.

MacLeod will be attending the memorial service and reunion, showing video and photographs from the final resting place of the Lagarto, believed to have been sunk by a Japanese minelayer.

For 60 years, the families had not known definitively what happened to the Lagarto. The boat was found sitting upright in 225 feet of water, and was found to have engaged in battle to the end.

The British divers' assessment of the condition of the boat included a large rupture in the portside bow area, apparently made by a depth charge. An open torpedo tube revealed a torpedo had been fired.

'Owe so much'

Rear Adm. Jeffrey B. Cassias, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Submarine Force, will come from Pearl Harbor to give the keynote remarks.

"We owe so much to the generation that came before us," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, spokesman for "Sub Pac" in Hawaii. He also will attend the service.

"The World War II submarine generation took tremendous personal risk to carry out their job," Davis said. "They did it so successfully, with 1.5 percent of the nation's naval manpower sinking one-half of the Japanese tonnage."

Fifty-two submarines were lost, including three others built in Manitowoc, and 5,200 submariners died in combat.

The memorial service will include Cassias' remarks, the tolling of a captain's bell for each crewmember, a mariner's chorus singing several hymns, and the tossing of a memorial wreath into the Manitowoc River.

Kenney's mother is still alive, though not well enough to attend the memorial service. Her father, Signalman William Mabin, participated in lake trials with Lagarto crewmates while his wife and toddler, Nancy, lived in Manitowoc for a few months in early 1944.

Keeney's mother will be attending the memorial service for her late, first husband, Arthur H. "Bud" Keeney Jr.

"When my mother remarried, it was in the same area where my father was from in Connecticut, so I got to know his parents, along with aunts and uncles," said Keeney III, president & CEO of East Carolina Bank.

His late father was a 1941 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and transferred from the battleship North Carolina to the Lagarto.

All submariners were volunteers.

"It took a very different breed of cat. These guys really had to battle their nerves," Keeney said, noting the extremely cramped conditions.

He said he's eager to view the underwater photographs and video from his father's "watery grave."

"I am going to enjoy meeting the other people who are kin to somebody who knew my father," Keeney said.


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