THOMASTON - Adeline Bolton wants people like the late World War II Navy man Lester Handlowich to be remembered for the sacrifice they made for their country.
Handlowich was a town native and one of 80 crew members aboard the USS Grayback, a submarine that was sunk near Okinawa by a Japanese warplane that dropped a bomb on it on Feb. 26, 1944. All 80 crew members perished in that attack.
But the Grayback was not found until June of this year. The submarine departed Pearl Harbor for its 10th mission on Jan. 28, 1944, and never returned. By late March 1944, the Navy had listed the submarine as missing and presumed lost.
The Navy was unable to find the vessel because it had unknowingly relied on a flawed translation of Japanese war records — one digit was incorrect in the latitude and longitude of the spot where the submarine had disappeared.
Then, last year, an American undersea explorer asked a Japanese researcher to review the wartime records of the Imperial Japanese Navy base at Sasebo. Files included daily radio reports from the Japanese naval air base at Naha, Okinawa, and an entry dated Feb. 27, 1944, indicated that a Japanese bomber had dropped a 500-pound bomb on a surfaced submarine, and it exploded and sank immediately.
That explorer, Tim Taylor, is the creator of the Lost 52 Project, an extraordinary endeavor to find all 52 American submarines lost during WWII. In June, he led a crew out to the Pacific Ocean, near Okinawa, and using drone and sonar technology that has only become available in the last 10 to 15 years, was able to find the Grayback some 1,400 feet deep.
The USS Grayback, a submarine, was sunk by a Japanese bomb on Feb. 26, 1944, near Okinawa, Japan. Contributed
Bolton watched a television program about the Grayback discovery nearly two weeks ago on ABC and said she was flooded with a mix of emotions. Handlowich was her “first love,” she said, and on one of his visits home, he’d asked her to marry him. But Bolton said she was only 16 at the time and her mother did not approve. Handlowich was two years older, she said.
“He was a very kind man,” Bolton recalled.
Bolton, who later married another man, is now 93 and resides in the Green Manor assisted living complex off Union Street. She also had two older brothers — Fred and Roy Dilger — who joined the Navy during WWII, but they survived the war. She said Fred and Handlowich were the same age and were very close friends.
Adeline Bolton, now 93 of Thomaston, wants people like World War II Navy man Lester Handlowich of Thomaston to be remembered for the sacrifice they made for their country. Here she’s pictured with him in 1942, when she was 16 and her last name was Dilger. He joined the Navy when he was 17 and died in 1944 when the USS Grayback was sunk in the waters near Japan. Contributed
When Handlowich’s mother was notified that the Grayback was missing and likely lost, she understandably became very upset.
“‘It can’t be true,'” Bolton recalled Handlowich’s mother saying. “‘I just received a letter from him.’ That tore me up.”
The Grayback is considered one of the most successful American submarines during WWII. It ranks 20th in total tonnage sunk at 63,835 tons and 24th in number of ships sunk with 14.
The submarine and crew had received two Navy unit commendations for their seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th war patrols. The Grayback received eight battle stars for its service during WWII.
Grayback’s commanding officer, John Anderson Moore, posthumously was awarded his third Navy Cross after this mission.
“Talkin’ Thomaston” runs every other Sunday, alternating with “What’s Happenin’ in Winsted.” Contact Staff Writer Kurt Moffett at email@example.com.