12-14 September 1980, Groton, CT
wartime life aboard a thin-skinned sub
By David Collins, [New London] Day Staff Writer
The Day, Monday, September 15, 1980, Page 13
[Newspaper article contributed by Carol Hare Mier with
Hugh Story's photo of Bluegill taking
the place of the faded one in the original column.]
Bluegill returned to Pearl Harbor from her last war patrol in June 1945, above,
with four battle stars to her credit and a distinguished record of having sunk
51,000 tons of enemy shipping. Among the members of her crew who gathered in
Groton this weekend for a reunion were: from left, Eric L. Barr Jr., a New
London native and the boat's captain; Raymon Basil Phipps, gunner's mate, Of
Annapolis Md.; Douglas Smith, quarter master; and Nicholas Ferro, fire control,
of New London. [Original caption.]
[Body of original newspaper article follows]
GROTON - The Bluegill was one of the thin-skinned submarines which slid monthly down the ways at Electric Boat in 1943 as the country pushed its fight against the Japanese in the Pacific.
She was commissioned Nov. 11 and by April 1, 1944, the young members of her commissioning crew had received training in the Caribbean and were off on their first Pacific war patrol. On April 27, they drew their first blood and sank the Japanese Cruiser
Yubari off Sonsorol Island.
Eric L. Barr Jr., commanding officer and New London native, was 31 years old at the time. Many of the members of his crew had never served on submarines - the service which suffered some of worst losses in the war.
But Barr and his men returned the Bluegill - named after a sunfish of the Mississippi Basin - safely to Pearl Harbor in June 1945, after her last war patrol, having sunk some 51,000 tons of enemy shipping and haying earned four battle stars.
"He took us out there and he brought us back and that alone is saying a lot," one of Barr's crew said this weekend about the "old man" during the 35th anniversary reunion of the breaking up of the boat's crew.
The officers and crew of the Bluegill came from as far as London, Arizona, Illinois and Missouri this weekend to see how each is getting along and to reminisce about those unforgettable two years together. Barr flew in from Israel where [he] is working for a construction group for I the reunion he "wouldn't think of missing".
They patted each other's stomachs, recalled the nicknames, winced a little about the gray hair and bald spots, introduced each other's families and talked about the careers they have pursued since their intimacy
aboard the 330-foot submarine and the war they helped fight and win.
“They were a special group, a I breed unto themselves. You have 87 men put together for an extended period of time and they have no choice but to be close-knit. They went through a lot and have a lot of respect for the captain. The mortality rate in submarines was high.
"They were lucky to get back," said 27-year-old Harry Gold, whose father used to tell him stories about the war at bed time.
Gold knew the names of most of the men at the
Bluegill's reunion from his father's stories. But his father, Frederick Gold, who had helped plan the 35th reunion, died three weeks ago of cancer.
"I think we feel my husband is here in spirit and we wanted to be with him. It was such a vital part of his life," said Mrs. Gold, who came with her son from their home in Park Forest, Ill, for the reunion.
The activities this weekend began with cocktails and dinner at the Groton Elks Club where about 25 people were starting in on the stories, snapping pictures and buying each other drinks when the old man arrived.
As the 68-year-old Barr walked through the door, a cheer went up in the room and an accordionist played "Anchor's Aweigh." Arms were flung around shoulders and more pictures were taken.
"We have gone onto other things, careers. Some have retired. But we are all submariners," said John A. Dean of Mystic. "No one gives a damn what someone is doing now, though. We were shipmates, that's all.”
"We were younger then, our families were younger then," Barr said
Friday night. "It was more of a picnic atmosphere. We are getting acquainted again. I'm sure it'll be a picnic again by Sunday."
From those who couldn't make the trip, there were letters with news and old stories. These were displayed on a table in the rear of the Elks Club meeting room where there was also a collection of photographs of the boat's crew posed on the sub's deck, around tables in nightclubs and with young families. Most had trimmer stomachs and more hair.
And there were more memorabilia, more pictures of the boat, copies of her commendations and the chronology of events that led to her being sunk off the Hawaiian Islands in 1970 for Navy diving exercises.
The Bluegill was a 200-class boat and made of a thin sheath of steel that would enable her to submerge only to a depth of 300 feet. Most of those in her class were retired after the war.
Bluegill was taken out of commission in 1947. But in 1952 she was put back in service and served as an auxiliary unti1 1970, when she was sunk off Maui.
Among the pictures of her collected by Raymon Basil Phipps of Annapolis, Md., one appeared recently in the National Geographic magazine.
In the underwater photograph which
Phipps had displayed on the Elks Club table, the Bluegill is shown resting on the bottom where her black hull has become covered with black coral - a valuable treasure of the Pacific. A single diver hovers over her in the almost eerie, submerged silence.
[Newspaper article contributed by Carol Hare Mier.]
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