WWII submarine missing for 65 years found in Bering Sea
By Michael Gannon
February 09, 2008
By Michael Gannon
February 09, 2008
Four sailors from Eastern Connecticut were among the crew of the submarine USS Grunion in July 1942, when it disappeared off the coast of Alaska.
Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate Leo Joseph Isaie Bedard of Taftville was 34.
Torpedoman’s Mate John Harrison Wells of Gales Ferry was 22. Motor Machinist’s mate John Wesley Nobles was 25. Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate Daniel Cullinane, an Irish immigrant living in Killingly, was 47 when he gave his life for his adopted country.
Even though they are not coming home, family members are expressing confidence and relief that after 65 years, their final resting place may have been found 3,000 feet beneath the Bering Sea.
Harry Wells and his twin sister, May Laiply, of Bucyrus, Ohio, were 14 when their half brother, John Harrison Wells, was reported missing by the Navy in August 1942.
“Jude was from our father’s first marriage,” Laiply explained in a telephone interview.
“He was a junior. My niece couldn’t say junior, so she called him Jude. I was shocked when we got the news. He was so young. He had just married a Connecticut girl. She called my sister and notified us.”
The Navy has not formally identified the wreck yet. It was found last August in an expedition run and financed by the three sons of Lt. Cmdr. Mannert “Jim” Abele, the Grunion’s commanding officer.
“I was 12 years old. My brother John was 5 and my brother Brad was 7,” Bruce Abele of Newton, Mass, said of the Grunion’s sinking. “Our father was 39 when he died. He attended Annapolis and was career Navy. He never swore. I remember he was a disciplinarian, but a fair one, and he always gave us haircuts with hand clippers.”
The Grunion was on patrol off the Aleutian Islands, near Japanese-occupied Kiska.
The crew reported sinking three enemy ships in its last transmission July 30, when it was ordered back to port at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
It never made it.
“For so long, we didn’t know where he was,” said Ron Bedard of Aurora, Ill., who was 7 when his father, Leo Bedard, was lost. “When the sub first disappeared, my mother kept hoping that he had been taken as a prisoner of war, that they might find him on some desert island. But as they liberated more and more of the (POW) camps ... she never talked about him very much. After so many years, you give up hope of ever finding him.”
Jim Meagher of Dayville is married to Daniel Cullinane’s granddaughter, Karen. He said the wreck was discovered only about two months after his father-in-law — Cullinane’s son — died.
Meagher said Daniel Cullinane had gone missing in war once before — as a Marine in World War I.
“He was wounded and disappeared for about two months before turning up again,” he said. That’s what they said when the sub went missing: ‘He’ll be back. He’s done this before.’ ”
Cullinane was one of the first 100 American troops wounded in World War I. He earned the Purple Heart, and President Woodrow Wilson presented him with a citation. Cullinane was working on the Grunion as an employee of Electric Boat when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
“He was working on her (sea) trials and decided he was going to enlist in the Navy,” Meagher said.
Abele said the discovery of the sub was the result of more than 12 years of searching the Internet, reading everything available and talking to anyone the family could find.
The key information they needed came from a Japanese magazine article in which a former naval officer aboard the armed freighter Kano Maru described a battle in which his ship sank a U.S. submarine near Kiska in July 1942, giving an exact location.
In 2006, Abele ran an expedition to locate the sub and his brother, John, financed it.
They identified a “target” that was the right length and width to be the Grunion.
“And most important, it was right where it was supposed to be,” Abele said.
A return trip last year has confirmed it to the satisfaction of the hundreds of Grunion relatives and decedents who have formed a family of their own in recent years.
‘I have no doubt’
“I have no doubt it’s the boat,” said John Nobles Jr. of Apple Valley, Calif., who was 3 when his father, John Wesley Nobles, died. As proof, he noted the unusual propeller guard structure on the stern of the Grunion and on the boat the Abeles found. Grunion also is the only U.S. submarine listed as missing in the Bering Sea.
“I think the ID is positive,” Nobles said.
Lt. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Navy, said the Naval Historical Center has not received any data or video from the Abeles’ expeditions, so it can’t identify the wreck positively as the Grunion. The Abeles said they plan to send the data to the historical center.
Nobles and Harry Wells said it’s hard to describe how hearing about the discovery of the sub made them feel.
“I’d always been a realist about this,” Wells said. “I knew lost at sea was lost. But it’s always good to really know.”
“To finally know what happened was tremendous,” Nobles said. “You come to grips with something you’ve buried. Then you find out it wasn’t buried so deep after all.”