Monday, November 11, 2013

uncle bill and the submarine

This was first published as a tribute to my Uncle Bill on Memorial Day in 2011, and I decided to repost it today on Veterans Day as a tribute to Uncle Bill, and all the brave men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States.  Thank you, all.   

Every country has its own traditions for honoring those who serve in the military.  For the United States of America, we have two major days to honor these men and women.  Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. 

Today is Memorial Day.  A day when our country honors those who have served and fallen, and those who continue to serve in our Armed Forces.

uncle bill
I decided to tell this story of my Uncle, Bill Jones, as a tribute to him, and also as a tribute to all the men and women who have served in all the branches of service.

Uncle Bill was my dad's older brother.  He was about 9 years older than dad.  He enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served on a submarine.  I don't know a lot of details about Uncle Bill because he died when I was 2 years old, but I will tell you the story I know:

Uncle Bill was young when he enlisted, about 20 years old.  He was assigned to serve on a submarine early in the war.  And the submarine he served on had an important mission: to sneak into Tokyo Bay and prepare for an attack by the US, by sending information back about fortifications in the bay.  Let me add that the US was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the feeling of vulnerability it gave our country.  So this daring plan came about as a way of showing the enemy that we could also hit them at home.

Tokyo Bay was filled with underwater mines.  But Uncle Bill's ship did sneak in.  And while it sat on the bottom of Tokyo Bay, Uncle Bill had an appendicitis attack.  It was serious enough that he required surgery.  Right there in a submarine sitting on the bottom of Tokyo Bay.

There were two problems:  No surgeon on board (not even a doctor) and no medical supplies beyond the most basic kind.  I guess the thinking at the time was that if a submarine got hit, it was going to go down, and there wouldn't be much need for a doc or medical supplies at the bottom of the ocean.

What they had on board was someone with the rough equivalent of a medic's training.  And a medical book that gave information that could be used.  (Sort of a do-it-yourself appendectomy book.)

So the medic (or pseudosurgeon) took kitchen utensils (knives and spoons), and had them modified by a machinist on board, and operated on Uncle Bill using basic anesthesia. 

Uncle Bill survived.  He also survived World War II. 

Hollywood incorporated his story into the movie "Destination Tokyo" with Cary Grant and John Garfield.  They called my Uncle Bill to Hollywood as an advisor on the film. 

How do I know all this?  Because I had a Grammy who loved to tell her granddaughter stories.  I listened to the stories and was amazed at them.  When Grammy told me this one, she also showed me the newspaper clipping about it, and I remember seeing the photo of Uncle Bill standing with some other people on the movie set.  And I have something that was with Uncle Bill while he served:

So every Memorial Day,  I spend a few moments saying a prayer for the safety of those serving.  And I remember the story of Uncle Bill and the submarine.

I also think of all the families who wait at home for the return of their loved ones.  And of all the loved ones who will never return.  Men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

grammy and uncle bill
How did my Grammy manage to get through World War II knowing she had a child on a submarine somewhere in the South Pacific?  She crocheted.  Bedspreads and tablecloths.  With a tiny crochet hook and delicate cotton thread, she worked her worries into works of art.  I have one of the tablecloths she did.  My baby sister has a bedspread.  So for me, that tablecloth is a link to Grammy and how the mothers and wives and sisters and daughters waited and worried and prayed.

God Bless them all.  And God Bless America. is good. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter


  1. Women have always turned to some form or ease their souls. What a lovely memory, Cath! Thank you for sharing it so much.!

  2. Thanks Jerene for such a wonderful comment! xoxo

  3. You're obviously proud of Uncle Bill as well you should be!! His story is remarkable, it's amazing that he survived Tokyo Bay and surgery under those conditions...God certainly looked after him!! Hollywood picked an inspiring story to spread for sure. Thanks so much for sharing Uncle Bill's story!!!

  4. Hi Cath, what a wonderful story. There are many "good" stories we never hear. But last week I heard another. This persons Grandad was born in Co Mayo Ireland and served in the British army in the Middle East. He was captured by Rommels Afrika corps, escaped, re joined his unit. He then captured some German soldiers to find the guy who was his guard was now his prisoner. They exchanged details and in later years met up and became good friends until their deaths.
    On the other hand about 6 years ago we paid a heart wrenching visit to the graveyard at Kanchanaburi, near the infamous river Kwai,Thailand. Reading the inscriptions on the gravestones was a distressing experience but we need to remember and honour those who served, whether we agree with the cause or not.
    Thank you for sharing your Uncle Bill's story.

  5. what a wonderful story! I can't imagine the courage those men required not only to carry out their mission but to do a surgery with crude tools.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. @David: My dad's family were tough people, and it started with my Grammy who was a remarkable woman...thanks for the comment I really appreciate it and it gives my a lot of satisfaction to share a story that until now remained within our family folklore only.

  7. @hocam: What a remarkable story Mary! Thanks for sharing that...and I remember seeing the movie "Bridge Over the River Kwai" as a child and how horrifying the conditions those men lived and died under just reminds us all that war is hell and the toll on humanity is a heavy one...
    thanks so much Mary..
    ~cath xo

  8. @Aaron: My grammy was a wonderful storyteller and would tell me about her life and my dad and Uncle Bill over and over...I learned to love stories and the art of storytelling from her...
    thanks for the comment Aaron...

  9. I too remember Grammy telling us this story and showing us the picture and newspaper. I am so glad she told us family stories over and over, so that they are ingrained in our memories and can be shared on such an important holiday!

  10. What an amazing story Cath! Thanks so much for sharing xo

  11. Yes Vix, I may not remember my own childhood much, but I sure remember Grammy's stories!

    Thanks @Lalia I am glad you enjoyed it :D

    cath xo