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January 15, 2015 (2)

January 15, 2015 (3)

January 15, 2015 (1)

I forget which esteemed movie critic said it, but I recall someone stating that one of the more damning critiques of the WWII submarine action-drama, U-571 (2000), was the “political correctness” of including a Black submariner as part of the American naval crew. After all, the gazette’s editor wrote, everyone knew that the US Armed Forces were segregated at the time, there never would have been a Black sailor on a submarine.

As it turns out I live near the USS Silversides Maritime Museum in Muskegon, Michigan, where the actual submarine is permanently docked. On one of my visits to the Museum I purchased their “Illustrated Record” of the submarine’s wartime tour and there, on page 6, was a photo proving the movie critic wrong. “Mess Attendant Anderson Royal keeps deck hands supplied with coffee on early war patrol,” the caption declared. This fascinated me; had the US Navy been somehow progressive at a time when the rest of the United States wasn’t? From there I started doing research to find out more about Black submariners.

It is true that even after Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor while the United States geared up to go to war the US Military continued to pig-headedly embrace segregation within its ranks. The Tuskegee airmen, the Black army units in Europe, the Black marines in the Pacific – none of these existed in 1941. One of the few volunteer branches an African-American man who wanted to see action could join, however, was the Navy’s submarine service and become a “Fighting Mess Attendant” (Knoblock, 13). By the end of the war over 950 men served as Stewards, Mess Attendants and Officer’s Cooks; and it was through submarine duty that Black sailors participated in every major naval engagement of the Pacific War, from Pearl Harbor’s December 7, 1941 to the surrender of Japan, August 12, 1945.

“Here was the irony of their situation – they were officially condemned to what was thought to be a simple rate yet they qualified in submarines which meant that they had to know the complexity of every system on the boat. In actual practice these men served in a variety of submarine jobs including Helmsmen, Planesmen, Gunners, and Torpedomen. Officially, they were qualified Stewards, but they served their boats in whatever way was needed.” (Submarine Research Center, 2013)

Remembering those who came before us is very important to me. As George Eliot put it, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” I have complied a listing of all the African-American sailors killed in action on submarines during WWII. If a photo is available it is noted with [*]. Much of the information here comes from Charles R. Hinman’s fascinating website, On Eternal Patrol, which documents submariners of all races lost while serving in the US Navy. Glenn A. Knoblock’s Black Submariners in the United States Navy is another invaluable source, featuring interviews of many submariners who survived the war.


USS O-9 (SS-70. Lost June 20, 1941, off Portsmouth, New Hampshire)
John Henry Edwards, Mess Attendant, Third Class

USS R-12 (SS-89)
Willie Daniel Young, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS S-26 (SS-131. Lost Jan 24, 1942, Gulf of Panama)
Nathaniel Noble Johnson, Mess Attendant, First Class

USS S-28 (SS-133. Lost July 4, 1944, off Hawaii)
Levi Bolton, Steward’s Mate, First Class
Jake Spurlock, Cook, Second Class [*]

USS S-33 (SS-138. Killed Nov 7, 1943, San Diego, California)
Samuel Edward Freeman, Jr., Ship’s Cook, Second Class [*]

USS S-44 (SS-155. Lost Oct 7, 1943, off Paramushiru, Northern Kuriles)
Curtis Glenn, Cook, Second Class [*]
Herman Mondell Mitchell, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS ALBACORE (SS-218. Lost Nov 7, 1944, off northern Japan)
James Louis Carpenter, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Willie Alexander McNeill, Steward’s Mate, Second Class

USS AMBERJACK (SS-219. Lost Feb 16, 1943, off Rabaul)
Arthur Ray Massey, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]
Wallace Montague, Jr., Steward’s Mate, First Class

USS ARGONAUT (SS-166. Lost Jan 10, 1943, off Rabaul)
Percy James Olds, Steward, Second Class [*]
Willie David Thomas, Officer’s Cook, Second Class [*]

USS BARBEL (SS-316. Lost Feb 4, 1945, mid-Pacific)
Nathaniel Thornton, Steward’s Mate, First Class
Arthur Wharton, Jr., Steward’s Mate, First Class

USS BONEFISH (SS-223. Lost June 18, 1945, Toyama Bay, Honshu, Japan)
Quintus Leon Cooley, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
William Henry Epps, Jr., Steward’s Mate, Second Class

USS BULLHEAD (SS-332. Lost Aug 6, 1945, west end of Lombok Strait)
Hubert Byron Hackett, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Percy Johnson, Jr., Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]

USS CAPELIN (SS-289. Lost Dec 2, 1943, off Celebes, possibly off Kaoe Bay)
Earl Cheatham, Steward’s Mate, First Class
Finon Perry, Steward’s Mate, Second Class

USS CISCO (SS-290. Lost Sept 28, 1943, in Sulu Sea west of Mindanao, Philippines)
Samuel Nelson, Steward, Second Class [*]
Albert Wade Williams, Steward’s Mate, First Class

USS CORVINA (SS-226. Lost Nov 16, 1943, south of Truk)
Russell Alexander Brooks, Steward’s Mate, First Class
Eddie Jackson, Ship’s Cook, Second Class

USS DORADO (SS-248. Lost Oct 12, 1943, perhaps in the Caribbean Sea)
Isaac Cabase, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
Dewitt Harris, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS ESCOLAR (SS-294. Oct 17, 1944, Pacific)
Benjamin Evans, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
James Arthur Raley, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS FLIER (SS-250. Lost Aug 13, 1944, in Balabac Strait near Mantangule Island)
Clyde Banks, Ship’s Cook, Third Class [*]
John Clyde Turner, Steward’s Mate, First Class (7 war patrols) [*]

USS GOLET (SS-361. Lost June 14, 1944, Pacific)
William Evorn McCulough, Jr., Steward’s Mate, First Class
George Sterling, Jr., Steward, Third Class

USS GRAMPUS (SS-207. Lost March 5, 1943, in or near Blackett Strait)
Curtheal Black, Officer’s Steward, Third Class (6 war patrols) [*]
Donald Massey Fenner, Mess Attendant, First Class (6 war patrols) [*]

USS GROWLER (SS-215. Lost Nov 8, 1944, South China Sea)
Bennie Cleveland, Steward, Third Class (6 war patrols) [*]
Willie Flippens, Steward’s Mate, Second Class

USS GRUNION (SS-216. Lost July 30, 1942, near entrance to Kiska Harbor, Alaska)
Herbert Joseph Arvan, Mess Attendant, Second Class
Cornelius Paul, Jr., Mess Attendant, Second Class

USS HARDER (SS-257. Lost Aug 24, 1944, off Caiman Point near Bataan, RPI)
James Edward Cromwell, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]
Robert Moore, Ship’s Cook, Second Class [*]

USS HERRING (SS-233. Lost June 1, 1944, near Point Tagan, Matsuwa Island, Kuriles)
Timothy Burkett, Cook, First Class (8 war patrols) [*]
Nathaniel Campbell, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Louis Hill Jones, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]

USS KETE (SS-369. Lost March 20, 1945, between 29-38N 130-02E and Midway)
William Howard Dawson, Cook, Third Class
Calvin Frederick Dortche, Steward’s Mate, First Class

USS LAGARTO (SS-371. Lost May 4, 1945, off Malay coast near the Gulf of Siam)
Robert Green, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Albert Kirtley, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]

USS POMPANO (SS-181. Lost Sept 17, 1943, northeast coast of Honshu, Japan)
Sherman Ganious, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
Wesley Lewis Leonard, Steward’s Mate, First Class (6 war patrols) [*]

USS ROBALO (SS-273. Lost July 26, 1944, two miles off west coast of Palawan Island, PI)
Elliott Gleaton, Jr., Cook, Second Class (8 war patrols) [*]
Davie Lee Williams, Steward’s Mate, First Class

USS RUNNER (SS-275. Lost July 11, 1943, north of Hokkaido, Japan)
Charles Laws, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS SCAMP (SS-277. Lost Nov 16, 1944, off Inubo Saki near Tokyo Bay)
Odie Bass, Steward’s Mate, Second Class [*]

USS SCORPION (SS-278. Lost Feb 1, 1944, South China Sea)
Raymond Palmer Dews, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
Nearest Fergerson, Steward, Third Class [*]

USS SHARK 2 (SS-314. Lost Oct 24, 1944, between Hainan and Bashi Channel)
Richard Edward Hooker, Steward’s Mate, First Class
George Washington Pittman, Cook, Second Class [*]

USS SNOOK (SS-279. Lost April 9, 1945, Pacific)
William James Rodney, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
William Everett Shelton, Steward, Third Class (6 war patrols)

USS SWORDFISH (SS-193. Lost Jan 12, 1945, near Yaku Island off Kyushu, Japan)
Vernon Kirk, Steward, Third Class [*]
William Penn Grandy, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]

USS TANG (SS-306. Lost Oct 25, 1944, Formosa Strait near Turnabout Island)
Ralph Francis Adams, Steward’s Mate, First Class [*]
Rubin MacNiel Raiford, Cook, Second Class, First Class [*]
Howard Madison Walker, Steward, Third Class [*]

USS TRIGGER (SS-237. Lost March 28, 1945, Pacific)
Andrew Jordan Carter, Steward’s Mate, First Class
Nathaniel Elton Thompson, Cook, Second Class (12 war patrols) [*]

USS TRITON (SS-201. Lost March 15, 1943, between Rabaul and Shortlands Basin)
John Davis Dabney, Officer’s Cook, Third Class (6 war patrols)
Herman Thurmon McCalop, Mess Attendant, First Class

USS TROUT (SS-202. Lost Feb 29, 1944, east of the Philippines Basin)
John Edward Ewell, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Albert Sylvester Lewis, Steward’s Mate, Second Class
Calvin Coolidge Millner, Steward’s Mate, First Class[*]

USS TULLIBEE (SS-284. Lost March 26, 1944, north of Pelews)
LeRoy Ellis, Steward, First Class [*]
Ripley Washington, Jr., Steward’s Mate, First Class (9 war patrols)


Works Cited and Suggested Reading:

Edgerton, Robert B. Hidden heroism: Black soldiers in America’s wars. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. (2001)

Hinman, Charles R. On Eternal Patrol (www.oneternalpatrol.com)

Knoblock, Glenn A. Black submariners in the United States Navy, 1940-1975. Jefferson, N.C.; London: McFarland. (2005)

Sherlock, Martin. United States Submarine Data Book. Groton, CT.: Submarine Force Library and Museum Assoc. (1976)

National Archives – Military Personnel Records Center.

USS Silversides SS236: an illustrated record of Silverside’s War Patrol Period December 1941-August 1945. Muskegon, MI: USS Silversides & Maritime Museum. (1998)

United States Navy. Steward’s Mates. Washington DC: Governmental Printing Office (1946)

United States Submarine Losses In World War II (www.subsowespac.org/united-states-submarine-losses-in-world-war-ii.shtml)