OLATHE, Kan. — There are finally answers for families desperately searching for missing sailors. The USS Grayback disappeared 75 years ago. The men on board the World War II submarine were presumed dead.
Darlene Franks has binders and books filled with memories of her father's and uncle's service in World War II.
"I just kept everything,” she said.
Her father joined the Marines, while her uncle Vance Davis, of Olathe, signed up for the Navy and served on the Grayback.
Collected in the binder is the last handwritten note he ever sent.
"Dear Mother,” Franks said, reading the letter, "Will be home in about 30 days."
A year and a half later, the Navy sent its own letter. The USS Grayback was still missing and hadn’t been heard from, and Davis was presumed dead.
"I always thought Vance was just forgotten,” Franks said. “It just left everybody in limbo.”
Vance's mother and wife wrote desperately and endlessly without getting answers. After her father died, Franks continued the mission to find answers, researching in libraries and online and even going to antique stores to buy old newspaper clippings.
"I'm driving myself crazy searching for year after year after year,” she said.
Franks estimates during her research and work at cemeteries, she's added around 30,000 names to the Find a Grave website to help other families looking for loved ones.
Ocean explorer Tim Taylor and his Lost 52 Project team, named for the 52 submarines lost during World War II, had been searching for the sub, as well.
This week, after 75 years of mystery and days before her father would have turned 99, Franks saw the news the long-lost boat had been discovered in June but was just recently verified with the Navy and publicly announced.
"He always had so many questions, what really did happen to Vance and why nobody else would give you any more answers,” she said of her father.
Taylor’s team built 3D models of the ocean's floor using underwater drones, eventually finding the ship off the coast of Okinawa, nameplate nearly clean.
“This is Taylor’s fifth discovery of a lost U.S. World War II submarine for a total of 287 sailors who gave their lives to protect our freedom and liberty,” Christine Dennison, director of OceanOutreach.org, a nonprofit that works with the Lost 52 Project.
The team also used a new translation of Japanese records which indicated a location where a pilot dropped a 500-pound bomb on the sub while it was above water.
"With the technology that we're using and the ability to cover large swaths of ground, we're looking at the potential to find several more,” Taylor said.
Eighty men were on the sub, which is considered one of the most successful in the war, sinking 14 enemy ships. It was on its 10th patrol when the deadly attack happened.
“It’s not just 80 families. Who knows how many people are connected to those 80 service members?” Franks said. "Everyone deserves to find their family even if it is 1,400 feet below water."
Her binder still has room for a final note from the Navy.
"I guess that's what it's all about. Just don't forget about them,” she said. “Just keep the hope."
At least two other area sailors were on the USS Grayback: Frederick William Herman Meyer, of Kansas City, Missouri, and Wilbur Edward Campbell, from Topeka.