Billy Grieves enlisted in the Navy April 3, 1939 al the age of 18. While in boot camp at Newpol’t, RI, the submarine, USS SQUALUS (SS192), was lost in the Atlantic off the coast of Portsmouth, NH. Training completed, Bill was one of 12 volunteers sent north to help raise SQUALUS. As the salvage progressed he became more and more fascinated with submarine life and when SQUALUS was brought into port at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, he volunteered and was accepted for submarine duty. In due course he was assigned to USSR-10 (SS87), a school boat at New London, CT. Not satisfied with this duty he requested new construction and was transferred to the brand new submarine, USS THRESHER (SS-200). They went into commission August 27, 1940. Ill April, 1941, THRESHER joined the Pacific flee/ at Pearl Harbor.
In the course of World War II he participated in 13 war patrols in the Pacific, 11 aboard THRESHER and 2 aboard USSL/ZARDFISH(SS-373). He served as a TM lie in charge of the Forward Torpedo Room and he was awarded the Submarine Combat Medal and 2 Bronze Star Medals. He was honorably discharged from the Navy October 10, 1945.
He then served 27 years in the Detroit Fire Department retiring with the rank of Lie11tena11 t. This was followed by 10 years service as an Industrial Fire Fighter with the Ford Motor Company in Dear born, MI. He married the former Muriel Jeanne Bach in 1947 and reared two daughters. Bill and Muriel reside in the retirement community of Sun City West, AZ where they lead an active life style. The sea was calm off Tokyo Bay that morning. Through the periscope, the skipper sighted a freighter with one destroyer escort coming out the channel. The date was April t 0, t 942 and the skipper was Commander Bill Anderson.
It was THRESHER ‘s (SS200) third war patrol. We conducted the approach and, in due course, fired one fish with the torpedo depth set to pass beneath the keel. When the magnetic exploder detonated the war head, the 3,039 ton Sado Maru was blown into two sections. She sank in two minutes. But the destroyer, following the torpedo wake, was right on top of us. Their first depth charges were close aboard the stem and drove us down to 410 feet, well below THRESHER’s test depth. Hanging, as if suspended, down by the stem, the planesmen fought to regain our lost trim. Slowly we struggled back up to 350 and as sea pressure decreased, the hull cracked loudly as if being struck by shell fire as the pressure hull regained it’s configuration.
Then a more ominous problem became evident. The severe concussion had knocked the port propellor shaft out of alignment causing the boat to fish-tail wildly. This set up loud vibrations throughout the boat. In the torpedo room, cans of food stowed in the frame spaces behind the reload torpedoes, sprang loose and crashed into the reload racks. In the engine room, a heavy wrench suspended on the side of a locker, set up a loud drum-like thumping. In every compartment men pounced on the sources to eliminate the noise but we couldn’t find them all. When power was placed on the port shaft the noise was intolerable. But without the port screw, depth control was impossible. Then two more destroyers joined the hunt.
In the hours that followed, the destroyers trailed tenaciously. Whenever we came up above 300 feet, depth charges drove us back down. At 11 :30 that night, after I 4 hours under attack and 18 hours submerged, the oxygen content in the boat was perilously low. Normal breathing was in deep, rapid gasps and the depleted batteries were running critical. An air of hopeless resignation settled over the crew.
It was then Captain Anderson made a precarious decision. He ordered a 180 degree course change back towards Tokyo. This was followed by, “ALL AHEAD FULL-SURFACE! As we came up past 300, depth charges rained down close aboard on all sides violently rocking the boat. But, miraculously, we came up through them. We broke the surface 500 yards astern of the closest destroyer which was playing the water with powerful search lights. But a submarine in a low, flooded down condition upon surfacing and one that is going away has a very narrow silhouette. And the sea was so filled with depth charge echoes, the sound of our screws went unnoticed. When we were clear, four main engines were placed on the line and from the horizon we could see the sweeping search lights and hear the probing pings of their sonars as they echo-ranged on an empty ocean.
When we limped into Pearl we were immediately placed into dry dock. Both sides of the hull were dented in and rippled like a wash hoard. A strip 100 feet long and six feet wide was replaced on the starboard side and a strip 60 feet long and six feet wide was replaced on the port side. The port propellor shaft was replaced.
But many of our boats had exciting stories to tell, didn’t they? We submariners know this because we’ve been listening to these stories for more than 50 years. And yet, there is one story that has never been told: And that is the story of the Skippers, the commanding officers who took their boats out on patrol, gave them direction through attack after attack and then led them home. Is there anyone here today who would have cared to change places with the skipper, Bill Anderson, when, against all odds, he gave that order to surface? And yet, every skipper who ever took a boat out on patrol was repeatedly faced with these life or death decisions.
Captain George Grider, skipper of FLASHER, in his book, put it this way, “When we went out on patrol we were on our own. There was no one to give us orders how to make the approach, how to attack, how to follow through. It was us against the enemy. We were corsairs in a world that had almost forgotten the word. And when the boat was being rocked by depth charges and the lives of 80 men hung in the balance, it was up to the skipper to maintain his focus and give the orders to get his boat free and home safely into port. Because on a submarine there is one man who cannot escape for an instant the onerous grasp of responsibility for the safety and performance and the morale of his boat. He is the Skipper. It is the most lonesome, overwhelming responsibility God ever placed on a man.
What was this rare, innate quality our skippers called upon to handle such formidable responsibility? Was it guts? Could you call it that? Evil Knievel has guts. And guts can be foolhardy. Guts can be fatal. It took more than guts. It took unshakeable determination. It took superb competence. It took unprecedented concentration. On life or death missions, there are no rules. Success rests on leadership … and composure. And let’s not forget the ability of the crew. On a submarine, every man knew his duty and every man could do his job with or without supervision. But, in the final analysis, the success or failure of the mission belonged to the Skipper.
On numerous occasions during the war, after a prolonged or successful attack, as I walked through the narrow passageway past the tiny cubicle known as the Captain’s Cabin, I was fiercely tempted to stop and put my head in and say, “Good job, Skipper. Thanks a lot. But it wouldn’t have been appropriate then, would it? Because the crew would have accused me of being patronizing. Or, worse yet, trying to make Chief on my first cruise. And so the years passed. And then in I 991, the submarine convention was held in San Antonio. And the first Skipper’s Brunch was set into motion. On the day of the general membership meeting, about 300 guys assembled in a large meeting room. But the entire front row of seats was reserved. It was reserved for skippers, and there were about 45 or 50 of them there. When the meeting opened, Joe McGrievy, the coordinator, took the floor and called off each skipper’s name together with his boat. When his name was called, the skipper stood and faced the audience. And when all were standing the crowd snapped to it’s feet as one man and I have never heard such loud, enthusiastic, prolonged applause from a group that size in my life time. As the skippers marched out to their breakfast the applause continued to the last man. And then it came to me … these were the thank yous that were never said. These were the congratulations that were never offered. As I recognized this I was glad that I didn’t have to speak because with that lump in my throat it would have come out like a wimper.
But let’s bring this story up to date. As all submariners know, the need for cool-headed, dedicated competence in our submarine skippers did not expire with World War II. It didn’t expire with the Cold War. Nor with any of the subsequent wars of lesser magnitude. That demand is out there today where our boats prowl the oceans of the world, silent and unheralded, protecting this country against an ever changing enemy which will be forever with us. And there is one man who can never escape for an instant the grasp of responsibility for the safety and success of the mission … he is the Skipper.
As I have said, there were things that could not be said back then. But thanks in large part to the leadership and the peerless performance of our submarine skippers, we who survived the ordeal of war, we who came back, are privileged to be here today … and I can say to them now. “Good job, Skippers. Thanks a lot.