On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Pacific fleet’s call to colors was interrupted by the roar of aircraft and at 0757, World War IT’s first bomb aimed at America exploded on the seaplane ramp of Patrol Squadron 22 at Ford Island, slightly wounding three sailors. By 0800, several ships, including USS DOLPHIN (SS-169), USS NARWHAL (SS-167) and USS TAUTOG (SS-199), had opened fire at the attacking Japanese aircraft. USS CACHALOT (SS-170) crewmen were a little behind Moored in the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard just behind dry docked USS PENNSYLVANIA (BB-38), CACHALOT was covered with scaffolding and part of her deck and periscope shears had been removed. Her crewmen had an awkward time getting guns rigged, but by 0803, a .30 cal. and a .50 cal. machine gun were firing. Soon after opening fire, a Zero made a strafing run against the ships in CACHALOT’s area and several bullets hit her superstructure, flinging bits of metal through the air. SlC Charles Arthur Meyer, who had been sent topside to help replace ballast tank covers, was struck in the chest by several fragments. He was the first submariner to be wounded in World War II.
When the last submarine patrol ended in 1945, submariners had become one of the most decorated groups of fighting men in the war. Well known are the feats of Medal of Honor winners Cromwell, Dealey, Gilmore, Fluckey, O’Kane, Ramage and Street. The most Navy Crosses ever awarded– five -were won by submariner CDR Roy Davenport. Six more submarine Commanding Officers received four each. Five enlisted submariners also were awarded Navy Crosses, and over four thousand other awards of the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Bronze Star and Secretary of the Navy Letter of Commendation were made to enlisted dolphin wearers. But almost nothing is known of the Purple Hearts awarded to World War II submariners. Yet, this medal was awarded to over 2000, and not just those who went down with their boats. Purple Hearts also were awarded to a number of submariners for wounds received in surface actions, and for mistreatment while prisoners of war of the Japanese.
When World War ll began, the Purple Heart was an Army medal. Modeled on the Badge of Military Merit given to three enlisted men by GEN George Washington in the Revolutionary War, it was created by Army Chief of Staff GEN Douglas MacArthur. It was made official during the Washington birthday bicentennial celebration Feb. 22, 1932. It actually had come about through a long struggle within the Army which started soon after World War I, to establish a medal to reward junior officers and enlisted men for meritorious service. GEN John J. Pershing only had three medals available for World War I soldiers: the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal. The first two were for heroism and the latter was to recognize “exceptionally meritorious service to the government in a position of great responsibility” – usually colonels and generals. There were no medals for the thousands of junior men and women who had performed meritoriously. After 13 years of bureaucratic infighting by successive Army Chiefs of Staff, MacArthur got the Purple Heart – primarily by an end around Congress to President Herbert Hoover who signed an executive order authorizing the medal. It was to be called the Badge of Military Merit like Washington’s medal, but MacArthur struck through that name in a Dec. 7, 1931 memorandum and changed it to the “Purple Heart.” With another stroke of the pen, he changed the criterion from meritorious service to that of having been wounded, concluding that anyone who had been wounded in war had performed meritoriously. It should be noted that MacArthur himself had been wounded twice by gas in World War I. He would receive Purple Heart serial #1 with an oak leaf cluster.
A final quirk of the new medal was that anyone who had been in or assigned to the Army, had been wounded in action, was still living and could provide a medical certificate proving wounds, could receive the Purple Heart. At least ten Civil War veterans, a number of veterans of the Spanish American War, and some from the Indian Wars, the Boxer Rebellion and the Banana Wan received Purple Hearts. However, in setting the parameters of the medal, MacArthur directed that it not be made a posthumous award.
Members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard not serving with the Army weren’t eligible for the Purple Heart until President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9277 on Dec. 3, 1942. Besides making the award an all-service one, it provided for posthumous awards to next of kin. It also allowed the delegation of authority to Fleet Commanders or designated subordinate commands for awarding the medal. The actual administration of the Purple Heart in the Navy was placed in the hands of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) Medals and Awards Section, with instructions to refer doubtful cases to the Secretary of the Navy’s Board of Decorations and Medals. BUPERS retained the authority to award posthumous medals in the name of the Secretary. This was never delegated.
Fleet Commanders began awarding the Purple Heart in December 1942, but only ribbons were initiaUy available. Actual Purple Heart medals were not presented within the Navy until May 1943, when BUPERS began mailing out medals to the next of kin of those killed at Pearl Harbor, in the Philippines and in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. This mailout included the first awards to submariners. A Purple Heart was sent to the parents of LTJG Samuel H. Hunter, Jr. of USS SEADRAGON (SS-194), killed by fragments of the bombs which destroyed USS SEALION (SS-195) in Cavite Navy Yard, P.I. on Dec. 10, 1941. He was the first officer of the submarine force killed in World War II. Medals also went out to the next of kin of SEALION’s dead, the first enlisted submariners killed in the war. They were: CEM Sterling C. Foster, CEM Melvin D. O’Connell, MOMM1 Ernest E. Ogilvie and EM3 Valentyne L Paul.
Also mailed in May 1943 were Purple Hearts to the next of kin of CDR Howard W. Gilmore, ENS William W. Williams and F3c Wilbert F. Kelley, killed during the USS GROWLER (SS-215) engagement with the Japanese provision ship HAYASAKI Feb. 7 1943. The first living submariner to be presented a Purple Heart was TM3 John A Baxley, one of the surviving GROWLER lookouts. He received his Purple Heart from the Commanding Officer of the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital July 6, 1943. The other wounded GROWLER lookout who survived, GM3 George Wade, didn’t get his Purple Heart until Sept. 29, 1943, while recuperating at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Treasure Island.
There was another man wounded in the GROWLER engagement. He was LCDR Arnold F. Schade, the Executive Officer who took command of the boat when Gilmore was lost. Though severely bruised in a fall from the conning tower to the control room when HAY ASAKE and GROWLER collided, he didn’t consider himself wounded and his name was not included in the casualty message. As now retired V ADM Schade says, he was “battered and bruised several times, but no Purple Heart — for which I thank the Lord.” This philosophy was fairly typical of submariners at least early in the war. If a bullet or shrapnel didn’t hit you, you weren’t wounded. So while surface force personnel collected Purple Hearts from a variety of injuries due to enemy action, including smoke inhalation, hearing loss, exposure, sunburn, sprains and contusions like Schade’s, submariners sustaining similar injuries while firing deck guns or being depth charged often received no Purple Hearts. As an example, though a number of submarine personnel were injured from flying glass and the like during depth charge attacks, only two received Purple Hearts. One, former TMl Howard E. McCune of USS SNOOK (SS-279), didn’t get his until 1989. As V ADM John A Tyree, Jr., former CO of USS FINBACK (SS-230), put it in a letter to the author, “We often joked that as submariners, we did not aspire to be awarded the Purple Heart. We looked upon it as a posthumous award for the boys in the overdue boats.”
And what of the boys in the overdue boats? The submarines lost due to enemy action in World War IT were initially listed as presumed lost and the men aboard them were carried as missing. Since the crewmen weren’t declared dead, no Purple Hearts could be awarded. However, the ever resourceful V ADM Charles A Lockwood, Jr., COMSUBPAC, had his staff send Submarine Combat Patrol Pins to the next of kin of missing submariners. Each pin had the correct number of stars indicating successful war patrols and each was accompanied by a special letter from l.ockwood praising the contributions of the families and their missing kin.
On Feb. 16,1943, the men ofUSS SHARK (SS-174), missing since Mar. 7, 1942, were declared dead, the result of information received from various intelligence sources. BUPERS mailed SHARK crewmen’s Purple Hearts to their next of kin July 31 of that year. These were the first posthumous Purple Heart awards to submariners of a boat lost with all hands due to enemy action. They were followed by Purple Hearts to next of kin ofUSS ARGONAUT (SS-166) and USS AMBERJACK (SS-219) also sunk in 1942, and to those of USS GRAMPUS (SS-207) and USS TRITON (SS-201), lost in early 1943. The TRITON medals were the last posthumous Purple Hearts awarded to submariners until after the war.
As the war continued, more Purple Hearts were awarded to living submariners, usually for being wounded during surface action against Japanese aircraft and ships. Most notable were six including the XO aboard USS PLUNGER (SS-179), wounded by a Japanese Zero while picking up a downed pilot, and ten aboard USS TROUT (SS-202) wounded by machine gun fire while battling on the surface with a damaged Japanese merchant ship. In fact, as the number of submariners wounded in surface engagements increased, disagreement developed in the submarine community as to whether the results of surface battles with Japanese ships were worth the increased danger to crews and boats. Although patrol instructions directed skippers to sink enemy shipping with all means available, some were reluctant to use their guns. Even Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Ernest J. King, expressed his displeasure at a duel between USS GATO (SS-212) and a Japanese aircraft in Dec. 1943. Finally, V ADM Lockwood directed that submarine COs would not engage enemy vessels on the surface within the range of small arms fire.
Though conservative in awarding Purple Hearts, the submarine force did have some unusual ones. RM3 Kenneth H. Williams of USS SKIPJACK (SS-184) received a Purple Heart for frostbite to both hands while serving as trainer on the 4″ gun during a surface engagement. LT Robert C. Giffen, Jr., USS GURNARD (SS-254), was wounded when he attempted to stop a runaway bow planes wheel caused by a bomb attack from a Japanese aircraft. He received severe contusions and lacerations when thrown across the control room. Several submariners received Purple Hearts from being injured by their own guns when shells exploded in the breech. TM3 Caleb L Cochran, USS ROCK (SS-274), almost lost a finger while loading a round in the 4″ gun during the shelling of a Japanese installation in the Philippines. Coincidentally, the ROCK CO, CDR Robert A Keating, on the bridge during the engagement, received flash burns and was temporarily blinded by the same 4″ gun. His XO had to take over for several days. V ADM Lockwood awarded them both Purple Hearts.
When the war was over, there was a flurry of activity in the BUPERS Medals and Awards Section to mail posthumous awards of the Purple Heart and other medals to the next of kin of submariners who were fmally declared dead. The preparation of posthumous Purple Hearts was different from those awarded living individuals. BUPERS had each one hand engraved with the name and rank/rate/rating of the recipient. This caused some management difficulties. The medals and a list of what had to be engraved on each one was picked up by the Navy’s contract engraver who worked in his home in Washington, D.C. When the medals were ready, they were delivered back to BUPERS, matched with the appropriate certificates and mailed to the next of kin. In spite of these arrangements, surviving records indicate few mistakes.
Another category of Purple Heart recipients required a great deal of effort on the part of the Medals and Awards Section at the end of the war – returning prisoners of war who had been mistreated by their captors. The Navy Board of Decorations and Medals declared soon after the war was over that mistreatment to POWs such as beatings by their captors merited the award of the Purple Heart. However, mistreatment had to be substantiated in some manner. Since there usually were no medical records from the POW camps, substantiation usually took the form of lengthy affidavits from officers who had been POWs. Full names often were not known and this required research. Among those Navy men returning from Japanese POW camps were 164 submariners from seven boats. Although all had been mistreated, due to administrative errors, only 95 received Purple Hearts. Twenty-four other submarine POWs were awarded Purple Hearts for being killed while prisoners. Those who died from starvation or disease, although beaten before they died, were not awarded Purple Hearts. BUPERS determined that their deaths were “were not as a direct result of a wound received in action with an enemy.”
A number of the submariners returning from prisoner of war camps passed through Camp Dealey, the submariner rest camp at Guam, and through Pearl Harbor. Once again, Uncle Charlie Lockwood wasn’t satisfied to wait for the bureaucracy to take care of his people. He met the arriving POWs and awarded them Purple Hearts. BUPERS refused to accept the followup paperwork from the COMSUBPAC Awards Board and directed that the men be instructed to make application for Purple Hearts “with substantiating papers” to the Chief of Naval Personnel. By this time the men had been sent to hospitals throughout the United States and these instructions apparently didn’t reach them. Consequently, few of the submariners awarded Purple Hearts by Lockwood had the medals entered in their service records.
Today, the Navy’s Awards and Special Projects Branch of CNO’s office in Washington, D.C. and the Navy Liaison at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis are still receiving requests from World War ll submariners for Purple Hearts. Medical and service records are checked to substantiate a wound Often there is no mention of one. That’s as far as the Navy will go in helping a man receive a Purple Heart. Copies of deck logs or war patrol reports documenting the wound must be provided by the submariner. But these sometimes don’t list men slightly injured who were treated by the boat’s corpsman. In that case, two affidavits from eye witnesses to the wounding usually will suffice for awarding of the Purple Heart.
And what about the first submariner wounded in World War ll -SlC Meyer? His wounds weren’t very serious and in the rush to get CACHALOT buttoned up and out to sea, it didn’t seem important Most on board, including the boat’s gunnery officer, LTJG Otis R. Cole, and newly reporting ENS Albert J. Beede, didn’t even know he had been wounded. Meyer was taken to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital in a pickup truck driven by a shipyard worker. Later that day, he was moved to Aiea Naval Hospital where the shrapnel was removed from his chest. He checked himself out that evening and hitchhiked back to CACHALOT. He made the boat’s first war patrol and was awarded a Secretary of the Navy Commendation for the patrol. His Purple Heart was finally awarded in June 1946, while he was serving in USS 1UNA (SS-203).[Editor’s note: This article is condensed from a chapter of Hearts: A History of the Purple Heart, currently being researched and written by Stan Sirmans.]