On Saturday May 18, 2024, the Topeka-Jefferson Base of the United States Submarine Veterans Inc, held a “Tolling of the Lost Boats” at Crowder Hall at the University of Missouri. Hartsburg resident and Base Commander Donald Dihel was the Master of Ceremony.

The ceremony involves reading the names of the United States Submarines that were “lost.” While it is true that the sea has always taken its toll of seaman, this is especially true for the submariner. Over the years, some 4,000 young men have lost their lives in serving our country in the US submarine force. In all, a total of 65 US submarines have been lost in war and in peace.

Between April 1900 and June 1941, nine submarines were lost with the death of 179 sailors. Despite these losses, the US Navy continued design and development of submarines and the US submarine force continued to grow in number and capabilities.

The years of 1941 through 1945 were years of monumental struggle and sacrifice for all Americans. The objectives were to protect and preserve the freedoms of the United States of America, as well as those of our friends and allies. To this end, our entire national efforts, both civilian and military, were rendered to a full measure of devotion.

Immediately following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, with the pacific fleet in ruins, fleet admiral Chester Nimitz, a submariner himself, took command as commander –in-chief, pacific fleet. He recognized the true military value of a submarine, raising his official flag on the USS Grayling, and, upon relinquishing command, took down his flag on the USS Menhaden.

“It was to the submarine force,” stated Nimitz, “that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial capacity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to our enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.”

During World War II (December 1941 and August 1945), the United States Submarine force, which accounted for 2% of the US Navy forces in WWII, accounted for 1392 ships sunk for a total of 5,583,400 tons lost by the Japanese Navy. This included 540,192 tons of Japanese Navy war vessels or 30% of their combat ships. Seldom, if ever in history, has so small of a naval force accomplished so much. Japan’s war effort depended on shipping. It was sunk, in the main, by US submarines.
However, these successes did not come without a price. 52 American submarines were lost during WWII. Many of the submarine force were lost in the performance of their duties. Some men lost their lives individually, but by far the greater number died as boats failed to return from patrol.

In some instances, the cause of the loss was known, but in most cases, the report “Submarine overdue, presumed lost” was the epitaph for both submarine and men. A few were rescued by the Japanese and imprisoned until the war’s end. From these men were then learned the fate of their boat and crew.

The price, overall, was that the US submarine force suffered the highest percentage of losses of any branch of the armed services. 3500 submariners quietly paid the ultimate price in defense of this country. Seven submariners were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during WWII; two were posthumous awards.

Since WWII, four submarines have been lost, two of them nuclear submarines. Another 229 men were lost with those four submarines. Another 66 men have lost their lives while serving on submarines, but the boats were not lost.

John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

The Topka-Jefferson City Base remembered their fellow submarines with this ceremony as the bell was tolled after each boat was identified, a description of how it was lost, and the number of men who perished with their boat.

Base Commander Donald Dihel was the Master of Ceremony. Frank Renkoksi read the list of lost boats. Ed Irwin was the Base Chaplain and gave the closing prayer. Dave Oelrichs played Taps. Special guests were Captain Thomas Ulmer and Lieutenant Tingler of the University of Missouri Reserve Officer Training Corps. The base’s float and submarine memorabilia was on display.

The Topeka-Jefferson City is open to all US submariners who have qualified in Submarine Warfare and wear the submarine force “dolphins.” Currently the base has 81 members. The base’s last WWII member passed away earlier this year. Look for the base float in the Jefferson City 4th of July parade.



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