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Search for the USS Grunion

In August 06, with information supplied by a remarkable Japanese gentleman, Yutaka Iwasaki, and help from numerous other sources, the Abele brothers initiated a search for the USS Grunion, their dad’s sub, lost since 1942. Using the services of Williamson Associates and a side scan sonar they found a target near the tip of the Aleutian chain, almost a mile down that was about the right length and breadth and that appeared to have an appendage called a prop guard characteristic of that class of submarines. In addition they were able to locate the three Japanese wrecks in the area so it seems unlikely that there is confusion between wrecks.

The most important element of the find was that the target was located almost exactly where it was predicted by their source (a major story in itself). That piece of information did two things. It added enough credibility to the hypothesis that the target was the Grunion to justify the return in August 07 with a Remote Operated Vehicle ( ROV ) equipped with HD video to more clearly identify the target. It added credibility to the entire Aiura report. (Aiura was the military captain of the freighter attacked by the Grunion) In turn that focuses attention on a couple of hypotheses as to the cause of the demise of the Grunion.

In August 07 they returned using the services of DSSI a division of Oceaneering with 37,000 lbs of ROV and equipment lugged 3100 miles from Cape Cod to Seattle then taken by the crab boat, Aquila , 2240 more miles west to a spot just north of Kiska Island at the tip of the Aleutians. On the 23d of August the Search 07 team lead by John performed the first of two dives at a location based on data from last year’s sonar search. The goals were to find last year’s target and confirm that it was the Grunion. The third was to determine what caused the sinking.

The first two were accomplished. Although they did not find a plaque that says "USS Grunion" nor the numbers 216, the presence and style of the prop guards, the style of the conning tower arrangement, the fact that it was the only American sub lost in that area, and the precision of the predicted location are overwhelming evidence that it was the Grunion.

The third item, determining the cause of its demise, remains open. We plan to provide the images (3 1/2 hours of hi definition video and about 700 digital stills) to ex-submariners and others for analysis, but we may never know the exact cause. John performed a small memorial ceremony with flowers from Kiska. In addition he collected seawater from above the site, which will be put into vials and sent to relatives. Toshi Mikagawa, the Japanese leader of the Oceaneering ROV crew performed a similar ceremony with Saki (he poured into the sea) for the sailors of the sunken Japanese ships.

One could question the reason for the publicity on what otherwise should be a private matter, but we believe that this is about more than just honoring the 70 sailors who sacrificed their lives so we could live ours in freedom. It is that and it’s also about making an effort to remember and honor all those who died in WWII and the many more injured who took great risk and commitment to protect a democratic system that we seem to have lost respect for today. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, our democratic system may be the worst system one can think of, until you compare it with any other alternative. And if we don't learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.

Perhaps the most important reason for the publicity has been to celebrate the international collaboration that has enabled our small amateur and entrepreneurial group to accomplish what heretofore has almost always required large and expensive government efforts. As Bruce has pointed out, the soldiers on both sides demonstrated incredible courage, loyalty, commitment and hard work. Those are all attributes that can make the world a better place so long as they are aimed in a common direction. Any efforts that can find those commonalities are worthwhile. And, to the extent that we celebrate examples of efforts that do that like this one, perhaps others will follow.

Anyway it's an ongoing adventure; very humbling and an amazing privilege for all of us to work with an incredible band of volunteers and professionals to find answers to long standing questions and to honor those who sacrificed their lives on our behalf.

Bruce, Brad & John
The USS Grunion search team onboard Aquila. Summer 2007
USS Grunion Expedition 2006-07
USS GrunionHistoryCrewAbele FamilyExpedition '06-'07Expedition '18