World War II submariners remember their days at sea
STOW, Ohio — Jack Hoenes and his comrades who served on submarines during World War II know the number.
That is how many submarines sunk or were missing during the war. For Hoenes, the number includes a submarine that could have taken his life.
Nearly 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men died on those ships.
Hoenes was one of about a half-dozen veterans who attended the most recent meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II.
A plaque on a table at the meeting room in the Acker-Moore Memorial Post 4738/American Legion Hall Post 175 on Fishcreek Road is inscribed with the names of 46 members who have died since the group has been meeting.
“There aren’t many World War II submariners left,” said Ellis Augsburger, 88, of Akron, a member of the group who served on the USS Hawkbill.
While the Northeast Ohio group continues to meet, the national U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII disbanded last fall and gave up its charter, said Don Beach, 70, of Granger Township, the president of the group.
Even though he is an associate member because he served on the nuclear submarines the USS Jack and Pollack years after the war ended, Beach is president because there was no one else who wanted to run the meetings.
“Two to three submariners a day are dying nationally,” he said, pointing out that only 2 percent of the sailors who served during World War II served on submarines.
Beach’s group is made up of eight World War II submariners, five of their wives and three of their daughters, eight widows of World War II submariners, and several associate members. One of the associate members is an Army veteran who used to bring a World War II submariner to the meetings and continued coming after his friend died.
The national group was formed in 1955 and chartered by Congress in 1981. He is not sure when the Northeast Ohio group got started.
Beach, who retired from the trucking industry, said he has a great respect for his comrades who served on submarines before him.
“In World War II, they didn’t have snorkels on the submarines and they had to surface every day to run their diesel engines to charge their batteries, which left them as targets on the surface,” he said.
Hoenes, 87, of Bay Village, who worked 42 years on the railroad as a dispatcher, was serving on the USS Trigger when he was asked if he wanted to switch submarines and serve on the USS Chub.
The Trigger later would be sunk in the war.
“I figured the good Lord was on my side,” said Hoenes, who went on three patrols in the Pacific during his time on the Chub.
Roland Romito, 87, of Broadview Heights served on the USS Sperry, a submarine tender, a ship that serviced submarines in the water.
Romito estimates during his time as a radio repairman, he worked on radios on 32 submarines and he is sure some of those submarines never came back from the war.
“You either came back or you didn’t — there was no in between,” said Romito, who worked in the auto parts business after the war, repaired car radios on the side and is still an amateur radio operator under the call number W8GTJ. He joined the group right after the war.
“I’ve seen a lot of them come and a lot of them go but I’m still here,” said Romito, who grew up in Bedford.
Dewey Hansen, 86, of Peninsula, who owns Hudson Extrusions, worked as an electrician stateside on a school submarine where young sailors were trained to be submariners in 1944 and 1945.
“It was good pay and good food,” said Hansen, who added that submariners were paid 50 percent more than other sailors.
He said it was a myth that it was super crowded on a submarine.
“We had more cubic feet of space per man on a sub than they did on an aircraft carrier,” he said.
Hansen, who grew up in upper Michigan, has lived in Peninsula for about 40 years.
Group member Jim Bock, 87, of Warren, who served on the USS Corporal, which was commissioned in early 1945, has been a longtime member of the group.
“It’s quite a group of fellows but we are dwindling down,” said Bock, who worked for the family-owned business Bock Transfer and Storage for 47 years, including several years as president.
Augsburger made five patrols on the USS Hawkbill and one frightening six-hour period still stands out in his mind. That was off the coast of Singapore in the South China Sea, when Japanese ships were close by.
“One depth charge went off under our bow and blew our bow out of the water,” he said.
The submarine dove to the bottom of the ocean. It remained there — only about 100 feet below the surface — for several hours to avoid detection.
“They went back and forth over us,” said Augsburger, who was a torpedo man on his submarine.
“We got scared, of course,” he said.
Lucille Hourigan, 88, of Warren, whose husband, Michael Hourigan, taught radar to sailors on submarines when he served in the Navy, still goes to the meetings. Her husband died four years ago.
She worked as a photographer at a Pratt & Whitney aircraft factory as a “Rosie the Riveter” during the war but loves to spend time with her late husband’s submarine pals.
“They are still nice to me,” she said.