The CREVALLE reunion at the Sub Vets of WWII annual reunion in Las Vegas in October was a very special affair. Twelve of the refugees from Negros Island in the Philippines that were carried by CREVALLE to Darwin, Australia in 1944 were on hand-of the some 15 women and 24 children taken aboard. They wanted to remeet 18 of the CREVALLE men who they said “saved our lives”. But barely!
The 12 passengers at the reunion consisted of nine of the children who in 1944 ranged in age from two to eight years of age and three of their mothers.
When the slim, gorgeous Nancy Real chose to sit on the lap of Walt Mazzone to relive her days on CREV ALLE as a four year old, enamored with our piratical-looking Gunnery Officer, the cameras snapped and the reunion bunch were electrified. Nancy had cuddled on Mazzone’s lap back in 1944 and lovingly stroked Walt’s black beard. Not only she, but other children had had a crush on some crew member.
CREVALLE in May 1944 had closed the coast of Negros and spotted the safety sign of two white squares (sheets side by side) on the solid green jungle that rose from a sandy beach.
Promptly at six in the morning, 15 women and 24 children emerged from the trees and were brought out to the surfaced CREVALLE in bancas and rowboats.
“Soon after we came aboard”, one of the mothers at the reunion recalled, “the Japanese, having heard about American submarines evacuating Americans and disloyal Philippines from other islands, began a sweep of Negros to take us prisoner, kill us or put us in concentration camps. So we left our homes and went into the jungle for a month and a half to stay ahead of the searching Japanese. Then when the guerrilla leaders, who were keeping us safely hidden, received a message from MacArthur’s headquarters that you would pick us up, we headed for the beach where we were to wait for your arrival.”
Another wife, Mrs. Lindholm, directing her remarks to me, continued: “I remember telling you, after several days of our trip on CREVALLE, that ‘the Japanese had for the past two years incessantly claimed on the radio that the United States was a defeated country and shortly would sue for peace.’ But now it’s evident to me that you submariners are so confident and self assured about your ability to destroy the Japanese Navy, that the U.S. can’t be a beaten nation-and shortly will be victorious in this war.”
However, her confidence in CREVALLE being a war-winning submarine, was soon badly strained.
With our precious cargo of little kids aboard, the skipper in a macho mood, attacked a strongly escorted convoy-hoping to get rid of the last four torpedoes stowed in the stem tubes. But the attack proved to be a fiasco. I recalled this for the benefit of the 12 evacuee guests.
CREVALLE’s periscope was spotted by an escorting plane and bombed. Then a nearby Chidori destroyer caught CREVALLE as she was going deep, with LO highly destructive depth charges. By the time she got to 580 feet, well below her test depth of 412 feet, her conning tower was flooded and her forward torpedo room had water in it up to the waists of the stoical women who’d been stationed there. The torpedo loading hatch had been blown open, dumping tons of water on the women, while the hull forward of the hatch had been dished in a good foot in depth.
As CREVALLE went to ultra silent running and crept along at just enough speed to maintain a trim, it was hoped that detection by passive sonar would be impossible despite the isothermal waters. It seemed that she was temporarily safe, running below a 150 meter depth setting on the depth charges and above the 200 meter setting. Water was shifted from forward to aft by using air pressure to push it along. The trim pump was too loud to be risked for use.
More random depth charges followed, but all were set too shallow. And their explosions sounded far away. CREVALLE’s escape measures had done the trick. So the captain sent me forward to see how the women and children had fared from the vicious depth charge attack.
In the forward battery, all was in shambles. The children were buried in the wardroom area by collapsed bulkheads as well as books and other paraphernalia dumped from the overhead lockers. Even the pots, kettles and dishes from the pantry were strewn on top of the unholy mess.
Under this jumble of things were the children. So I shone my flashlight’s beam and the eyes followed its rays of light as the area was probed.
I asked Billy Real, who was at the Las Vegas reunion, what he thought when I discovered that all the kids seemed alive. He was pleased to report: “I thought that this was just like biding from the Japanese. But this time I felt we were really safe from harm when you quietly asked: ‘Are any of you injured?’ At this, some other little kid softly said: ‘Shhhhhh.’ It made me want to laugh out loud. But I knew we had to keep completely quiet.”
“Then you whispered: ‘I’ll be back shortly and dig you out of this rubble.” And that made those under the steel bulkhead feel real safe.”
The 12 women in the forward room were standing hip deep in water-over the floor plates-their dresses whirling over the water and their baggage in wicker baskets floating slowly over the water that was in the torpedo room. There was no crying, hysteria or pent up anger evident. The women were fatalistic about what was happening. To them it was just another part of the ongoing war-but in a little understood environment, 580 feet down in the depths of an ocean.
I asked Mrs. Real who was at the Las Vegas reunion along with four of her children, what she thought about while quietly standing with water up to her waist. She said: “I didn’t know bow deep the submarine was or how critical was our situation. I thought that ‘this sort of thing happened a lot in these submarines.” So I said a prayer to God to keep us in safety. It was the only thing I could do. Then I noticed your four torpedomen, standing in water almost over their heads up by the torpedo tubes. They seemed so unconcerned as I watched them, that I decided until they looked worried, why should I be worried?”
After calling Doc Loos the pharmacist mate to patch up some minor cuts on the passengers, I reported to the captain, who was in the control room, that: “No one seems badly injured and in fact they seem genuinely happy to be alive. And they’re not mad at us!”
Having pulled clear of the searching destroyers, CREVALLE waited until dark and then surfaced. Her sonar held no contacts. Four engines were then started up with two charging the batteries and the other two hurrying CREVALLE to Australia.
Five days later, we arrived off the sea buoy that marked the northern edge of the swept channel leading to Darwin. A large motor launch was waiting there to take our passengers to Darwin where they’d be flown first to Perth and then on to the United States. The skipper of the launch yelled over to us: “I’ve been waiting here for three days. This morning I was told that ‘you’re presumed to be lost.’ Is everything OKI”
When all the passengers were assembled topside to be debarked onto the launch, the captain had them all gather for a picture with him standing in the center of the group-bis family. The camera snapped. And then the captain reemphasized that none should ever talk about their trip. “It might hazard the safety of other refugee women and children being evacuated by submarines from other islands.”
“As we were being loaded on the launch”, Mrs. Rosario recalled, “some of us cried. Some wept for joy at arriving safely and others for having to leave the fine men of CREVALLE behind.”
One of the wives blew a kiss back at the submariners who were standing on the main deck, watching the motor launch as it headed down the channel.
It was a sad and yet happy moment as we waved at the departing passengers. There was a good deal of moisture in all of our eyes as the 12 refugees at the CREVALLE reunion recalled their escape on CREVALLE.