My interest in this story began in 1997 soon after my wife and I were first married. We went down to visit her Grandmother, affectionately known as "Nana-Nana" in Salem, Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. This was an annual family tradition and the one time during the year when relatives from near and far would get together.
We we're sitting around the dining room table and the subject of Uncle Bernard being lost during the war came up. I think it may have been prompted by his graduation photo that was on display in the room. I asked if anyone knew the details of Bernard's loss. After a few shrugs someone finally suggested that Bernard may have been a pilot, and then someone else recalled he was the Captain of a U.S. Destroyer that was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Wow, pretty exciting stuff I thought. Not much to go on, and feeling my question was at least partially answered, I filed it away in my head.
Sadly, a few years after that, in March 2001 Nana-Nana passed away at the age of 90. Now one of Nana-Nana's many charms was that she never threw anything away that could even remotely be considered useful. Many in the family, including us, spent several weekends cleaning out her four story Federal Period house.
I had already put the word out that I was interested in this topic, so when someone found Bernard's obituary, they gave it to me. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone. It had all kinds of details, including the date and location where the ship was sunk. This was key because at that point of the war they stopped including such details so they would not confirm anything to the enemy.
The obituary also had information on his schooling and what his future plans were to be, which would give me some other great leads to follow-up on. The schooling in particular led to several pieces of critical information and some great contacts, including the remarkable Captain George Duffy.
I really had no clue where to begin, so I started poking around the internet to see what I could find. I dabbled at it part time for the next couple of years and found some basic information, such as the name of his ship and the U-boat that sank her. I could never quite shake the desire to learn more though.
The true story I was able to uncover wasn’t quite as ‘romantic’, for lack of a better word as a destroyer captain battling it out with a Japanese submarine, but was every bit as interesting and much more tragic as far as I’m concerned.
Bernard was a licenced Master Mariner in the U.S. Merchant Marine, not a Captain in the Navy (I respect both equally) and had actually been serving as Chief Mate of the freighter SS Arkansan. He was lost during a critical phase of the war, and was only days away from the relative safety of a new job. A job that would allow him to contribute to the war effort, while still starting a new life as a husband and perhaps one day as a father. Like so many others at this time, his life was interrupted.