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Ceremony honors memory of lost submarine veteran

 

Veterans of the submarine service paid tribute Saturday to one of their own who gave the ultimate sacrifice 70 years ago during World War II.

At a special ceremony Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Submarine Veterans of North Carolina presented Eileen Torrence of the North Cove community with a book of remembrance containing old photographs, historical information and written tributes about her late father, Robert D. Bissell. She was also given a special plaque from the Submarine Veterans of North Carolina.

Saturday’s ceremony was held at the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce’s Visitors Center. It came complete with a traveling replica of a torpedo and a submarine. Veterans on motorcycles were there too in a caravan.

The purpose of the presentation and the ceremony was to honor the memory of her father.

“Bless his soul, he was a real hero and a hero to all veterans everywhere,” said 88-year-old Joe Clark, a Greensboro resident and a member of the Submarine Veterans. He too served aboard a submarine during World War II.

But unlike Bissell, Clark survived the treacherous waters of the Pacific Ocean. Bissell and the other crewmen of the USS Pompano perished when their submarine sank off the coast of Honshu, Japan in September 1943. They were all lost at sea.

Saturday’s ceremony came about almost by accident. One day around three years ago, Clark and two other submarine veterans, Edward Galaviz and Tom Ritchey, were all traveling through McDowell County. They were looking for a memorial to submarine veterans which is located in nearby Burnsville. The privately-built memorial was constructed by a fellow veteran who wanted to honor his comrades. Since then, the new owner of the property has deeded the place to the U.S. Submarine Veterans of North Carolina.

On that day three years ago, the three men stopped at the McDowell Chamber’s Visitors center to inquire about how to get to Burnsville and the memorial. Torrence, who is a Chamber volunteer, happened to be working that day. She did not know about the memorial. But she noticed their commemorative shirts and vests and said that she was the daughter of a submarine veteran who died in World War II.

Torrence was very young when her father went off to serve his country and she does not have many memories of him. The Submarine Veterans of North Carolina were moved by that and decided to put together a book of remembrance for not only Torrence but her sister Janet Hanson, who lives in San Diego, Calif.

The book contains articles and photographs compiled about Robert Dudley Bissell and the USS Pompano. A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Bissell was a seaman first class aboard the Pompano, which operated out of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii during the war. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Pompano was sent on its first war patrol and was ordered to reconnoiter the Marshall Islands. The sub went out on more war patrols in the Japanese home waters and off the Marshall Islands. The underwater vessel and its crew sank or damaged numerous Japanese ships in the Pacific Theater of the war, according to the remembrance book.

On Aug. 20, 1943, the Pompano left Midway Island bound for the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The submarine was never heard from again and was presumed lost by the Navy. It is believed that the Pompano and its crew were sunk when it either hit a Japanese mine floating on the water or was struck with depth charges. It could have been sunk by a Japanese air attack.

In any case, Torrence’s father never came home, not even in a coffin. He and the rest of the Pompano’s crew are presumed to be resting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. They are “on eternal patrol,” as the submarine veterans say.

During World War II, a total of 52 submarines were lost. When the Submarine Veterans of World War II was started, they assigned a lost sub to each state. The USS Pompano was assigned to Kentucky. Today, a memorial to this lost ship and its crew stands in Frankfort, Ky. California and New York got two submarines each.

Every year, the U.S. Submarine Veterans holds ceremonies to remember those who have perished beneath the waves and who are “on eternal patrol.”

“This means that your father will be honored every year,” reads a letter from the association to Torrence and her sister Janet. “He will always be our hero for giving up his life so that we can all enjoy ours.”

On Saturday, the U.S. Submarine Veterans of North Carolina participated in the Independence Celebration Parade in Troutman and then made their way to Marion so they could present the book of remembrance to Torrence. She was joined by her husband John Torrence who is a distinguished Marine fighter pilot from World War II. Her sister in San Diego will receive a similar book of remembrance.

“I just think it’s wonderful,” she said on Thursday. “A lot of things have come up.”

“Your father was special,” said Clark to the daughter of a lost submariner.

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