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Sea Stories: #58. Forgotten History


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Sea Stories: #58. Forgotten History


I have always loved history, and naval history in particular. No event has ever had a greater impact on the U.S. Navy than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 07th, 1941. The reminders of that attack are still very much visible. I have visited Pearl Harbor many times, I underwent Refresher Training there in 1988, and I have reenlisted a couple of sailors aboard the USS ARIZONA Memorial. Navy ships still render passing honors to that sunken battleship entombing over 900 sailors as they steam past it.


A little-remembered aspect of the Japanese attack is that they deployed five two-man mini-submarines as part of the attack force. These vessels were new technology at the time, and had a very distinctive size and shape, with two vertically-mounted torpedo tubes protruding from their bows. One of the subs was sunk outside the harbor entrance that morning by the destroyer USS WARD, which in so doing fired the opening shots of America's participation in World War II. Two of the subs actually penetrated the Harbor defenses and recent historical research indicates that they probably hit the battleships USS WEST VIRGINIA and USS OKLAHOMA with torpedoes. And one boat washed ashore on the coast of Oahu, having failed to clear the reef and make it into the harbor. That boat, the HA-19, was recovered, and while one crewman had died, the other, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, was apprehended and became America's first captured Japanese POW. A photo of HA-19 stranded on the beach is one of the iconic images of America's first day of the war.


Flash forward forty-eight years. As Executive Officer of USS TAURUS (PHM-3), I was based and quartered at Naval Station Key West's Trumbo Point facility in 1989. Trumbo Point is an old seaplane base. This is where officer housing, the BOQ and the piers which were home to the USN's Hydrofoil Squadron were located. It is also home to the US Army Special Forces Dive School. I enjoyed commuting on foot, walking back and forth between my ship and my quarters, past the dive school and its then-antiquated dive tower, which was a tall water-filled tank with an old diesel submarine escape trunk mounted at its base, and where SF divers learned how to perform scuba lockouts/reentries into submerged submarines.


One day, out of boredom, I took a different route home, exploring behind some close-to-abandoned buildings on the base. And I stopped dead in my tracks, looking through a rusty chain-link fence at a piece of forgotten naval history. For there sat the HA-19, with its unmistakable profile and bow torpedo tubes. A unique and priceless artifact, she was just lying there, canted at a slight list, rusting silently away. Apparently she had spent some years on static display at the nearby Key West Submarine Base, and when that base was closed she had been hauled into the vacant lot and left to rot. It was like seeing a ghost of Naval History, footsteps from my own front door.


Happily, HA-19 was not lost to posterity. She was eventually relocated to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas in 1991. Her surviving crewman visited her there that same year. She has been nicely restored on her exterior, and can be seen there today, looking much as she did on the morning of December 07th, 1941.








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