USS Bonefish, Lost June 18, 1945

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Sixty years ago on Saturday, June 18th, 1945, the Japanese sunk the USS Bonefish, with the loss of all hands. A young torpedo-man, John Yoest, received transfer papers some time prior to her last voyage, and walked off the submarine, safely. His son, John Yoest, Jr. is my husband . . . and the following is a tribute Jack wrote several years ago to the men of the Bonefish. This piece was originally published by The Virginian Pilot and the Courier Post.

DEBT OF HONOR: REMEMBERING THE USS BONEFISH

My father, then only a teen-ager from Jersey, left high school, went to war and was assigned to the submarine, USS Bonefish. Just before the final mission of the Bonefish, my father walked off the gangplank – transferred to another assignment. Another man took his place.

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USS Bonefish,

Returning from her 4th patrol.

Sailors, rest your oars.

On its eighth mission, on June 18, 1945, the Bonefish was lost fighting the enemy in the Sea of Japan, with the loss of all 53 officers and men. It was the last U.S. submarine sunk in World War II. Dad eventually went back to high school and married my mother. The other man is “on eternal patrol,” as the veterans say.

A half-century later, after fighting in and surviving two wars, my father was buried in Arlington Cemetery. He had the chance to raise a family and devote 30 years to the armed services, and pin second lieutenant bars on my shoulders. He didn’t talk much about the Bonefish or the man who replaced him. Still, I imagine in some Navy Valhalla my dad and this other sailor linked up together and asked the Creator, “Why?”

“Why him? Why me?”

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John Sr. with John Jr.

War forces these questions on us, and they echo for generations. My father had me, and I now have a 4-year-old son, John, who carries his grandfather’s name and his love of battle and discipline.

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John III with John Jr. (Jack)

John, like all children, often asks, “Why?” Like all fathers, I struggle to answer. But there are questions mere human reason cannot fathom.

Why was my father not on that submarine that fateful day?

And the answer does not come. Only that John now lives. With a purpose and a destiny still unknown.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, someone asked her, “What is your greatest fear?” She answered that it was losing her husband; she feared the possibility of facing the awesome responsibility of motherhood alone. But now, several children later, as I reflect on that same question, my fear is not of losing her, or even one of our daughters. I fear losing my son. In my masculine pride, I believe I can protect my wife and girls, but in my heart lurks the dread possibility that I must one day send my son to war.

My boy loves my cavalry saber and my dad’s medals. Wearing a military uniform and military service runs in our family. My son’s bloodline is traced through the Civil War and the Revolutionary War to William Penn to Charlemagne of ninth century France. His great-grandfather helped build Virginia Military Institute. I pray the time never comes, but if it does, I expect that he will fight for God and country like his fathers before him.

Buried at sea, there are no headstones. I cannot mark the grave of the man who took my father’s place, so I mark the date. I pay silent homage in remembrance of June 18, 1945, when the sea smashed through the bulkheads and turned a warship into a coffin. There have been many such coffins, and if history is any teacher there are many yet to come.

When I think of future wars, I pray that a doomed high-tech Bonefish will not carry my John. The fear of this nearly unendurable loss humbles me. That young man who walked on the Bonefish to take my father’s place was another man’s son. Another man’s dreams lost at sea. War turns civilization on its head. In peace, sons bury fathers. In war, fathers bury sons.

It is a weighty debt. A debt of honor due. I expect to instill in my son a sense of history, of purpose, of his mission. That his body is not entirely his own, that he has a high calling. I hope that I can teach him the lessons of his forefathers, those men now called the Greatest Generation.

It is my prayer that instilling this sense of mission will drive out the distractions, temptations and destructions of his growing generation. That drugs will not cloud his ambition. That he will see the hand of divine providence moving in his life. That he will know he has so much to be thankful for. Like his fathers before him.

I pray he will be grateful, like his grandfather. It is my charge to tell my son that another man took his grandfather’s place. My son has the duty, and like me, the obligation to his family and to that other man, to live with a sense of purpose and awe. To live with a sense of respect to the tomb of that other young submariner.

This June 18, I want to salute the man who died for me and the men who died for us all. I want my son to know his debt of honor. And, God willing, my son will bury me.

# # #

Since this was first published a few years ago, we’ve been honored to hear from other veterans who served on the Bonefish and naval historians. There were actually 85 men lost aboard the Bonefish and another boat holds the distinction of last sub lost in the war.

And, since this piece was written, we’ve added John’s brother James to the family — here he is in the same sailor suit that Jack’s dad sewed by hand while at sea.

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James and Jack

See here for our recent visit to Arlington Cemetery.

Thank you for the inter-service support to Mudville Gazette on Open Post

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6 Responses

  1. Debt of Honor

    Charmaine at Reasoned Audacity posts this tribute to the officers and crew of the USS Bonefish, written by her husband John.

    [W]ar turns civilization on its head. In peace, sons bury fathers. In war, fathers bury sons.

    It is a weighty debt….

  2. Greg says:

    Charmaine, pass on to John (or Jack, I guess)…

    Well written tribute. When their turn comes, I would hope that both John and James serve well, and with distinction. And hopefully in peacetime.

  3. “In peace, sons bury fathers. In war, fathers bury sons.”

    That comes from Herodotus 1:87. But it’s still a wonderful point. Also relevant to today is Pericles’ oration in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars.

    “you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed

    your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your

    hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer. For this offering of their lives made in common by them all they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall call for its commemoration.”

    So shall we too remember the brave men and women who have so served since 9/11.

  4. Tom McMahon says:

    The USS Bonefish And The Eternal Why

    The USS Bonefish And The Eternal Why A short excerpt from Charmaine Yoest’s Reasoned Audacity, written by Charmaine’s husband Jack:My father, then only a teen-ager from Jersey, left high school, went to war and was assigned to the submarine,

  5. Jack Williams says:

    My father’s middle brother Tom Ford Williams F1 was lost on the USS Bonefish. I appreciate your article very much. My dad also served in the Pacific with the US Army. Dad passed away in 1996. His youngest brother also served in the Army Air Force. I am a Vietnam Veteran and have been a High School Principal the past 25 years. Again, thank you for your article. I will share it with my family.

    Jack Williams

  6. Marion says:

    My father, Mario Pane, was one of the radio operators on the USS Bonefish. He, too, was on shore leave when it was lost at sea. He was also devastated and his memories haunted him until he passed away in 2004.

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