SOUTH PLAINFIELD – It’s said that Henry L. Case’s mother, Leila, kept a light in the window of her Hamilton Boulevard home, across from the First Baptist Church, for the rest of her life, hoping her son would find a way home.
That practice began when her son was among 80 Navy sailors aboard the USS Grayback submarine when it went missing off the coast of Japan on Feb. 26, 1944, during World War II.
A Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class, Case was stationed on the Grayback when a Japanese carrier plane sunk the vessel while it was cruising on the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Okinawa. Case was declared Missing In Action on March 28, 1944 and after a year, was listed as Killed In Action. He received the American Campaign Medal, the Pacific Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart and a commendation from the Navy.
His mother’s symbolic light can finally be extinguished.
"We may not have known him, but we thought about him all these years," said Case’s nephew, Robert Middleton. "My grandmother was always talking about him. He was always part of the conversation. It brings us closure to know where he is."
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Middleton said according to her wishes, Leila Case’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific near her son’s final location. Middleton’s sister, Sandy Romasz, said the family is thrilled about the discovery of the Grayback and hopes to eventually have a memorial service for their uncle.
"I can’t tell you how much this means to us," she said.
Case enlisted in the Navy on his 17th birthday and died at the age of 20. Ironically, he had an earlier brush with death. He was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet when it was hit during the Battle of Midway. He also served on the submarine Tulip Wheel when it was damaged by enemy fire.
Case was transferred to the Grayback, which set sail from Pearl Harbor on Jan. 28, 1944, headed to the East China Sea. After sinking several Japanese cargo ships, the Grayback was left with only two torpedoes and was ordered home from patrol but was never heard from again. It is believed that a Japanese carrier plane sunk the submarine on Feb. 26 that year.
"I remember my grandmother always keeping the light on for him," said Romasz. "If Gram could only be here now."
In addition to his parents, Henry V. and Leila, Case had two brothers, Paul and Jeroud, both who served in the Navy; and five sisters, Regina, Olive, Nan, Aleda and Betty. Betty, the youngest, is the only surviving sibling. Case Drive, off Oak Tree Avenue, was named after the sailor and his photo adorns a Hometown Hero flag hanging on a lamppost near Borough Hall.