In Memoriam: USS Bonefish Lost 18 June 1945
At a recent funeral — they seem to come faster and faster as we get older and older — Charmaine and I talked about burials. Cremation, well, lights our fire and speeds up that dust-to-dust transition.
Charmaine asked what we’d plan to do with the ashes, where on earth to put them. We talk about the extended family’s burial plots.
“Where do you want to get buried?” She asks.
“37º18’N, 137º55’E,” I say.
“The Sea of Japan,” I remind her.
She just looks at me. Women!
“What’s there?” she wonders.
June 18th is the day we remember the loss of USS Bonefish.
This piece was originally published by The Virginian Pilot and the Courier Post.
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. 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?”
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.
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.
John Wesley Yoest, Jr., of Richmond, is [the former] assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Thank you (foot)notes: Since this was first published a few years ago, Your Business Blogger(R) has 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. Charmaine blogged on the Bonefish June years
past. And, since this article was written, we’ve added John’s brother James to the family — here he is in the same sailor suit that dad sewed by hand while at sea decades and decades ago. Sons (and grandsons) of thunder. See here for our visit to Arlington Cemetery. Alert reader Greg Gray reminds us that,
“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.
Published: June 18, 1999 Section: LOCAL, page B11 Type of story: OPINION Source: JOHN WESLEY YOEST © 1999- Landmark Communications Inc. Description of illustration(s): Art by Margaret Scott
This update is from John Howland who runs USNA-AT-Large,
In the beginning was the word, and the word was God and all else was darkness and void and without form.
So God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun and the moon and the stars, so that their light might pierce the darkness. And the earth, God divided between the land and the sea, and these He filled with many assorted creatures.
And from the slime, in a land called Lympstone, God made dark, salty creatures that inhabited the seashore. He called them Marines, He dressed them accordingly, in bright colors so that their betters may more easily find them in the holes and burrows that they’d scoured out of the ground.
And God said, “Whilst at their appointed labors they will devour worms, maggots, C and K rations and all creatures that creep or crawl”.
The flighty creatures of the air, He called Airdales, and these He clothed in uniforms which were ruffled, perfumed, and pretty. He gave them great floating cities with flat roofs in which to live, where they gathered and formed huge multitudes. They carried out heathen rites and ceremonies by day and by night upon the roof amidst thunderous noise. They were given God’s blue sky and their existence was on the backs of others.
And the surface creatures of the sea, God called Skimmers, who Supported the Airdales and with a twinkle in His eye and a sense of humor only He could have, He gave them all gedunks, polluted with much stickywater, to drink.
God gave them big grey “targets” to go to sea in. He gave them many splendid uniforms to wear. And He gave them all the world’s exotic and wonderful places to visit. He gave them pen and paper so that they could write home every week, and He gave them ropeyarn Sunday at sea and a laundry so they could clean and polish their splendid uniforms. (When you are God it is very easy to get carried away with your own great and wondrous benevolence) .
And on the seventh day, as you know, God rested from his labors. And on the eighth day at 0755, just before colors, God looked down upon the earth and He was not a happy man.
God knew He had not quite achieved perfection, so He thought about his labors, and in His infinite wisdom, He created a divine creature, His masterpiece, and this He called a Submariner. A child of heaven.
And these Submariners, whom God created in His own image, and to whom He gave his most cherished gift, great intelligence, were to be of the deep, and to them He gave more of his greatest gifts. He gave them black steel messengers of death called the “Smoke Boat” class in which to roam the depths of his oceans, and He gave them His arrows and slingshots, the Mark 14 torpedo of burnished brass and black, and the Mark 37 of green, to wage war against the forces of Satan and all evil.
He heaped great knowledge and understanding upon them, in order that they may more easily win their greatest challenge, to pass their Qualification Test and be skilled in the great works God had charged them with.
The finest of these men, God called ” Submariners” for they made all happen beyond the understanding of other men. He gave His Submariners hotels in which to live when they were exhausted and weary from doing God’s will. He gave them fortitude to consume vast quantities of beer and booze, to sustain them in their arduous tasks, performed in His name.
He gave them great food, submarine pay and occasionally, subsistence so that they might entertain the Ladies of the “Starlight”, “White Hat”, and the “Horse and Cow” on Saturday nights and impress the heck out of the creatures He called “Skimmersâ€ and “Jar Heads”.
And at the end of the eighth day, God again looked down upon the earth and saw all was good in His realm.
But God was not happy because, in the course of His mighty labors He had forgotten one thing. He had not kept a pair of “Dolphins” for Himself.
But He thought about it and considered it and finally He consoled himself, in the certain knowledge that – – –
“Not Just Anybody Can Be a Submariner!”