"It's an amazing story. And it's still unfolding," stated Bruce Abele.Sixty-five years ago, in July 1942, she disappeared without a trace and left 70 families grieving and searching for answers. The USS Grunion's Commander, Mannert "Jim" Abele left three sons, ages 5, 9 and 12 to grow up on their own, when he disappeared. They built lives of their own but they never forgot their father Jim, a Newton MA resident.
Over the years, his sons Bruce, Brad and John, have pored over Navy documents, any shipping records from the area they believed the Grunion went down in and contacted anyone else that may have been interested in the Grunion's fate. John, the billionaire director, youngest brother and co-founder of the medical equipment company, Boston Scientific Corp, has funded much of the search. Thursday, August 23 2007, at approximately 2 am, they received the first in a series of underwater pictures that may prove that they have found their father's ship.
The USS Grunion was a Gato-class attack submarine commissioned in the early part of WW II and was on it's maiden operational voyage, patrolling the seas between Alaska's tip and Japan when she disappeared. In July 1942, the submarine made several transmissions reporting that it had sunk three Japanese destroyers. On July 30, it reported heavy antisubmarine activity nearby and that they were down to 10 torpedoes. It was never heard from again and warplanes sent out to search for wreckage, never found any evidence of the sub's fate.
A break came to the brothers in 2002, when a Japanese man, Yukata Iwasaki, posted a translation of an article in an obscure Japanese shipping journal on one of several websites dedicated to the Grunion. The article, written by a military officer on board the armed Japanese merchant ship "Kano Maru", described an exchange of cannon fire and torpedoes with an American submarine in the area of where the Grunion was patrolling.
That article gave the brothers a location that would make the search in the dangerous and brutal seas near the Aleutian Islands a bit easier. Any search though was still going to face 100 mile an hour winds, huge waves and ocean depths of 1,800 feet and deeper. The brothers decided though to expand their search to include the two Japanese sub-chasers, SC-25 and SC-27, that the Grunion had sunk and to find the Japanese destroyer "Arare" that had gone down in the same area.
After four years of research, they felt they had narrowed the location down enough to have John fund an exploration. They spoke with Robert Ballard, Titanic explorer, who declined to take it on and finally hired a Seattle ocean surveying firm, Williams and Associates. They chartered a crab fishing boat, the Aquila, skippered by veteran Kale Garcia. Peter Lowrey, a former Newton MA resident and crab fisherman, is recording the search with a pair of high-resolution video cameras and sending back frequent updates to the Abele's.
The search began over two weeks ago and found little but sonar images of the ocean floor while traversing the grid. Then came the image on the screen of a smooth, oblong object that had features that could be a tower and periscope mast. No other submarines had ever been reported as missing in that area, so they have concluded that they have indeed found the USS Grunion, lying 1,000 feet deep north of Kiska Island.
The photographs taken by a robot sub only seem to confirm their conclusion and show massive damage from implosion according to Cataumet MA based search team, Deep Seas International. The Grunion was known to have an unusual configuration for a propellor guard, which was rare on sub's at that time and it seems to be on the wreck they found as well. The Navy is well aware of the search by the Abele's and will not assist in the search unless there is positive proof that what they have found is indeed the long lost Grunion.
"We're doing this as much from a desire for a connection to my father as to learn the answer to a mystery," stated John Abele.To date, the relatives of 69 men lost on the Grunion are following the progress of the continuing search. Maybe now these families can make the same connection and the mystery of what happened on that fateful day can be discovered.
To visit the Abele brother's USS Grunion web site, go here.
Of note: USS Grunion as she was in 1942 and from recent 2007 underwater photos.