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The Booo! Blog: Paranormal New England

USS Escolar (SS-294)

New England Paranormal Investigators - Anthony Duda
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MMXII
 
I'll get to USS Escolar in a moment, but first...Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and that 2012 brings you health and happiness. I've always heard the older you get, the faster the years seem to fly by; that certainly seems to be true.
 
While this blog really is a mix of all things paranormal, the emphasis (as with my website) is to supply information to help you with your paranormal problems and issues. The Internet is vast and seemingly infinite, with endless possibilities. Yet, I believe most New England paranormal investigators and weekend ghost hunting groups have wasted opportunities and failed to supply anything but the same tired (yawn) information on their sites, information that has been repeated and recirculated throughout the Internet for years. Rarely will you find differing opinion, original thought or unique ways of approaching subjects in the paranormal realm. For that reason, and because of the swelling tide of nonsense out there, I decided to come forward. With all that being said, I've decided to deviate a bit off my usual path with this edition of The Booo! Blog and tell you a very personal ghost story, one that has contributed to my opinion of what this whole 'ghost thing' is all about: the story of the Escolar...
 
USS Escolar (SS-294)
 
USS Escolar (SS-294) was a Balao-class submarine built by the Cramp Shipbuilding Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and launched on April 18, 1943. She was transferred to the Boston Navy Yard after launch, then on to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (named for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but the facility is actually across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth in Kittery, Maine) prior to her commissioning on June 2, 1944, Commander W.J. Millican in command. While I could find no official record, I have heard an unconfirmed report that Escolar did, indeed, make a stop at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut while en route to Boston from Philadelphia.
 
Escolar had final combat training at Pearl Harbor, and was put out on her first war patrol on September 18, 1944. After topping off fuel at Midway Island, she joined USS Croaker and USS Perch for a coordinated patrol of the Yellow Sea.
 
On September 30th, when Escolar was estimated to be about north of the Bonin Islands, a listening post received a partial message from her:
 
THIS FROM ESCOLAR X ATTACKED WITH DECK GUN BOAT SIMILAR TO EX-ITALIAN PETER GEORGE FIVE OTYI
 
Escolar was then forced to break off the transmission and the engagement with the gunboat.No further transmissions were received by bases from Escolar, but Croaker and Perch recorded intra-ship communications with her until October 17th, when Perch received a routine message from Escolar giving her position and course. She was never heard from again. Had Escolar ended her patrol on the scheduled date, she would have arrived at Midway on or around November 13, 1944. All attempts to contact Escolar failed, and she was reported on November 27, 1944 as presumed lost.
 
Information supplied by the Japanese on anti-submarine attacks gives no clue as to the cause of her loss, but the Yellow Sea area is thought to have been mined. Her course as transmitted to Perch does not cross any known Japanese mine fields, but positions of mines laid before April 1945 are not precisely known. However, the most likely explanation for her end remains that she detonated a mine. (Written with assistance of Wikipedia.com)
 
As Paul Harvey used to say, "And now, the rest of the story..."
 
The above account is taken from the official report issued by the United States Navy, and may very well be the telling of events as they actually occurred. However, rumors of a cover-up have circulated for decades among family members of those lost on the Escolar, as well as crew members of Croaker and Perch, some of which can be found on the Internet. Cramp Shipbuilding Company had little experience in building submarines, and closed its doors in 1947. Construction done at the yard was said to be shoddy at best, and some believed the Escolar unseaworthy, but she was pushed through the process because of need on the part of the Navy. There have also been reports that error or friendly fire on the part of Croaker or Perch caused the sinking of Escolar, but these are unconfirmed and will forever remain rumors. What was the actual fate of Escolar and her entire crew? It will likely never be known.
 
Joseph James Bender
 
Among the 82 crew members of Escolar was "Bender, J.J. PHM1", my uncle. His duties per designation (Pharmacist's Mate 1st Class Petty Officer) would have been to dispense medications, administer first aid and keep medical records, among others. While I never knew him (the disappearance of Escolar happened 14 years before I was born), my understanding is that he was relatively short in stature, small build with a sarcastic sense of humor. He was 22 and married at the time. The only photograph of him I had ever seen was his official Navy portrait that my mom kept displayed in the house when I was a kid.
 
Time on my hands from being temporarily unemployed, somewhat curious and knowing very little about the story, I decided to do some research in the 1980s at the local library. As there have been many submarines lost and Escolar had such a brief service history, little information was available back in the days before the public had access to the Internet. Most books, even those dedicated to the subject, had practically no mention of the sub; basically just an entry in lists of lost vessels. As my quest was halfhearted at best, I quickly moved on to other things, and what little I did learn was quickly forgotten. End of story, or at least that's what I thought...
 
Salem County, New Jersey: February 2000
 
It was a bitterly cold and crystal clear Tuesday afternoon in Southern New Jersey, the kind of cold that would make your tongue stick to a pole like in A Christmas Story. I was visiting my family home located very near Parvin State Park in rural Salem County, and decided to walk my dog. Walking down the street and on to a short wooded path, I entered the Thundergust Picnic Grove portion of the park, which I had visited probably hundreds of times over many years growing up at the house. The path ends at the red gravel parking lot of the picnic area, across from a large, open, grassy area with two softball fields. The nearest field has a small set of aluminum bleachers for watching the games. I looked around. As expected, no cars were parked in the lot and not a soul was there, with the quiet stillness that only frigid cold can bring. It was midweek and, familiar with the location, I would have been very surprised if someone had been there. It seems to get relatively little visitation even in the best of weather.
 
Being clumsy and always tripping or falling over something, I tend to look down when I walk. Upon again looking up and across the parking lot, I noticed someone sitting on the cold, metal bleachers that were approximately 30-35 yards away, staring out in the opposite direction over the field. Now, I know what you're probably thinking, and the Field of Dreams analogy has not been lost on me, although it didn't occur to me at the time. It was a man in dark blue Dickies-type work clothes much like a mechanic would wear, but wearing absolutely no coat or jacket of any kind. Almost as soon as I looked up, I saw him, still sitting, turn towards me and smile broadly. I remember thinking, "What idiot would be sitting there with no coat in this weather?" as he continued to stare intensely at me with a wide grin on his face. Not wanting to engage him, I turned in the opposite direction and started to walk my dog through the picnic area and around the pond in the grove, which was frozen solid from days of sub-zero temperatures. The complete circle takes about 20 minutes, finally ending where it started, in the Thundergust parking lot. As I again glanced towards the ball field, I saw the man still sitting, motionless, in the bleachers. He again turned and smiled, but this time stood up and started walking towards me at a 45 degree angle as I walked through the lot to get to the short trail to exit the area, the same way I had entered. For some reason I did not feel threatened, even though I knew he was walking to intersect my path. My dog was wagging his tail and pulling on the leash towards him as he approached, but I kept my course, pulled him back and headed towards the exit. During this time, I got a more detailed look at him. He was about 5'8", early 20s, average build with brown hair that struck me as cut in a style that would have been popular in the 1930s or 40s. Something about him made me feel that he just didn't belong there. I remember my overwhelming thought at the time was, "He looks like a young Matthew Broderick", as ridiculous as that sounds. He adjusted his course to my continuing pace, to the point to where he was walking only a few feet in back of me by the time I reached the exit trail. Pulling my dog along, I quickly turned to see him walking at arm's length behind, still silent, still grinning. I walked another step, again turned, but he was nowhere to be seen. Within a time frame of no more than two or three seconds, he had completely vanished! I visually scanned my immediate area, but was alone. The trail is only about 25 feet in length and sparsely wooded; there was absolutely no way for someone to hide or leave that quickly other than literally dissolving into thin air. It was at that time that I realized I had just witnessed something truly special...I had come face-to-face with a ghost.
 
While a bit stunned, I took it in stride. In the following days, I wondered who 'he' was and why neither of us spoke. To this day, I don't understand why I didn't say something; maybe I was a bit more wary of him than I thought and more interested in getting away from there than having a conversation. In any event, the thing that kept going through my mind was, "Why there?" Knowing the park's history, nothing in recent memory made sense. His manner of dress suggested his lifetime could be measured in decades from the present day, not centuries. I knew of no tragedy or deaths at the location. Quite the opposite; it was all rather uneventful and benign. While not forgetting the incident, I filed it away and moved on to everyday matters and responsibilities. It soon became only a curious memory.
 
Portsmouth, New Hampshire: July 2004
 
It was a slow day at the office, and almost time to leave. Sitting at my desk, I was doing some web surfing and stumbled upon a story about USS Thresher (SSN-593), that went down with all hands off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts in April 1963. That again got me thinking about Escolar, which hadn't entered my mind in several years. A click of a mouse and, much to my surprise and in stark contrast to what my library search uncovered two decades before, there was a wealth of information about Escolar, including several sites with photographs. You've got to love the Internet! Zooming in on one of the group shots, I got one of the biggest shocks of my life. Standing there was Joseph James Bender, my uncle and the man I had encountered in the park four years before. Suddenly, everything came full circle, although still unexplained. There was no doubt of his identity; this more casual photo looking much different than his posed and likely airbrushed official Navy portrait that I had seen as a kid.
 
I contacted my aunt, his only living sibling. Extremely curious, but not wanting to upset her, I asked for any information she had about him without telling her the events leading to my renewed interest. She was gracious enough to send everything she had, including photographs and a letter he wrote just before leaving on the journey that would end his life and those of 81 other men only a few months later. Mimeographed and heavily redacted as was procedure at the time for secrecy and matters of national security, the letter added color-a faint echo of a voice-to those smiling black and white faces about to sail away, completely unaware of what awaited them.
 
Some final thoughts...
 
No, I still don't know why he decided to visit on that icy-cold February day, and have come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never have the answer. I regret that I didn't say something-anything-to him, and am equally clueless as to why. Missed opportunities are common in the paranormal; the very nature and unexpected spontaneity almost guarantee it. We can beat ourselves up and ruminate over why we did or didn't do something, or we can simply be thankful for an encounter that few get an opportunity to experience. I'm through with the former, and am now comfortable with the latter.
 
This experience and others during the course of my investigations have shaped my opinion of what is really going on in some 'hauntings'. Yes, there are definitely haunted locations, but sometimes it's not the location that's haunted, it's the person(s) at the location. I don't think location had any relevance in my encounter, other than it being a moment when I was totally alone. In that sense, it was merely an opportunity.
 
As for the true fate of Escolar and her crew, we can only speculate. The only certainty is that her 82 men will forever remain On Eternal Patrol.

 
Joseph James Bender, PhM1 United States Navy  
Joseph James Bender, PhM1 - USS EscolarJoseph James Bender, PhM1 - USS Escolar

            
             


















 
  

I would like to thank Mrs. Anne Harris and Mr. Ronald Norford. Without them, this blog would not have been possible.

New England Paranormal Investigators - Boston - MA - Anthony Duda





Legal Disclaimer: All information, opinion and theories on this website and blog are published in good faith and for general information purposes only. I do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information on my website and blog is strictly at your own risk, and I will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with its use. All opinion and theories are strictly my own, and should not be construed as fact.

34 Comments to USS Escolar (SS-294):

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Val on Saturday, January 07, 2012 11:05 PM
I totally agree that in this case, the place wasn't haunted, but the opportunity was there as you were there alone and your Uncle wanted to make his presence known to you. The reasons that he made himself known to you are probably very complex or it can be as simple as he's your "Guardian Angel". Either way, it was an amazing experience and goes to show that we should keep our minds and eyes open to what is going on around us.
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Ron Norford on Sunday, January 08, 2012 8:55 AM
I truly hope that one day I may have this experience, and knowing how you have regretted not speaking or inquiring, of the image, I will do so learning from your experience. I too have endeavored to learn the fate of Escolar and her crew, which my brother was a member, to no avail.
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Janice on Monday, January 09, 2012 4:21 PM
What an interesting story. It's very sad, but was very uplifting in that it was not the end for those brave men. I will do more research on the Escolar. Thank you for your wonderful gift.
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Sandra on Monday, January 09, 2012 6:00 PM
Poignant and beautifully written in so few words, I love this! I went through several emotions in the few minutes it took to read your story. Thank you for telling a story I probably otherwise would have never known. God bless the men of the Escolar.
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Ed DeLeo on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 3:07 PM
I had never heard about the loss of USS Escolar, so I did a Google search after reading your amazing story. Yours was one of those stories that will stick with people for a long time. It was such a tragedy, all those men on the sub's first patrol. I hope that one day the truth will be known, for better or worse. They were brave and not forgotten. They are in my prayers.
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Glenn B. on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:22 AM
Thank you for bringing this story to light and telling it so well. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think you're right in just being thankful for the experience. Your story was an inspiration, and we should all thank your uncle and the crew of Escolar.
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Steve Rainey on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 8:53 AM
A very moving story, one that really makes me wonder if there's much that we just don't know. I looked at the linked pictures; they were all so young. In a way, this keeps USS Escolar and her crew alive and remembered. Thank you.
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Mike Braunstein on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 3:42 PM
Hello Mr. Duda- Have you been to Battleship Cove to visit USS Lionfish? I did some searching online and it seems to be almost the sister ship of USS Escolar- built at the same time and at the same shipyard. You and others have mentioned the poor workmanship done back then at the Cramp Shipyard in Philly, but it's interesting that with just a couple exceptions, most of the submarines produced there held up long enough to eventually be retired. I'm sure it was with duct tape and a prayer that they made it through. Thanks for telling your story- the crew will be in my thoughts.
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Calvin on Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:42 PM
I don't know if I believe in ghosts and the paranormal, at least not 100%, but your story pulled me in. An unusual adjunct to the Escolar history, which I had never heard. May they rest in peace.
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Evelyn Campbell on Friday, January 13, 2012 1:42 PM
I wonder why your uncle didn't speak, and the purpose of his visit? Maybe the conditions were just right for him to materialize? It's comforting to know that on some level, the crew lives on. Like you said, on eternal patrol. Thank you for a beautiful story.
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Meg on Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:46 AM
Your account gave me chills up my spine! Not because it was creepy, but just the possibility of it all. It's actually quite a hopeful tale, that things don't really end. I wish that for the entire crew. I have to wonder if any other family members have had similar encounters? I hope others connected with the tragedy get the chance to read it. Thank you for your candor.
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Darren Evans on Sunday, January 15, 2012 9:07 PM
This is such an amazing story! It has everything; a lost ship, mystery, history, war, ghosts. It would be nice if USS Escolar is eventually located for the families. We sometimes forget how many lost their lives in similar fashion. I had no idea subs were that risky and dangerous back then. A nice reminder for all of us. Thank you, Mr. Duda.
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Phil J on Sunday, January 15, 2012 10:40 PM
You would think the Navy would make more of an effort to find WWII subs like Escolar. They should have a branch that does that exclusively, if they don't already. As taxpayers, we should demand it. We should all write our representatives. I can understand not finding her back then, but I'm sure the ability exists today. Why aren't they? Maybe someone high up will read your story and it'll light a fire under them. We can only hope.
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Maria Santangelo on Monday, January 16, 2012 6:46 AM
I loved your telling of your account; I felt like I was there on that cold winter's day. The conditions must have been perfect that day for all of this to happen. I think the cold played a part--static electricity in the air? Maybe it was a period of high electromagnetic energy in the atmosphere--solar flares? Maybe you should go back and check the records for Feb. 2000? Something had to be special for such an encounter to take place.
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Susan Wilde on Monday, January 16, 2012 5:10 PM
Whatever happened to the sub, I will say a prayer every night for the crew. I have to wonder if it was some kind of mechanical malfunction, as the sub was pooly constructed. I wonder if is still intact and can be raised? Is that at all possible after all this time? You are very lucky to have had that visit. Thank you. Susan Wilde.
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Doug on Monday, January 16, 2012 5:35 PM
All do respect, and it's a nice story and all, but have you ever considered that it might have been a daydream or hallucination because of the cold or something? I don't believe people come back from the dead. Not from shipwrecks, not from car wrecks, not from natural causes. They don't.
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Anthony Duda on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 12:20 PM
Hi Doug. I make it a point not to respond to comments, as this is not a forum, and want people to feel free to express both positive and negative opinions and comments. I manually approve all comments unless they violate the few terms I've put in place to maintain civility. I assure you that the incident with my uncle was not a "daydream or hallucination"; I was not sleep-deprived or suffering from exposure to the elements. Did that run through my mind? Absolutely, as I believe it would with any sane person. I was as lucid as any time in my life, and the story of USS Escolar was far from my thoughts. Too, keep in mind that if I was hallucinating, my dog was as well, as I had all I could do to hold him back; he really did want to greet this 'person'. It has been my experience that some never experience a paranormal event, and I haven't a clue as to why that is. It could be they are not "tuned in" or just somehow filter it, and I can certainly understand how those individuals would negatively view the entire phenomenon. I do not ask or expect people to believe; the purpose of my website is to relay my experiences and offer advice based on my many years in this field. I thank you for your comments and for visiting my site, and hope you will continue to do so.


Haley Donovan on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 12:00 AM
I don't question whether anything like your experience is possible. I've had too many experiences and my life has been brushed by the other side many times. It always seems to be when I least expect it, and there's no figuring it out.
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Gloria Barbour on Thursday, January 19, 2012 11:14 AM
I've heard that people lost suddenly in a tragedy are more likely to come back. I don't know how true that is? I hope the sub is found someday. Thanks for your site. I find it fascinating.
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Ingrid on Friday, January 20, 2012 11:21 AM
I never realized how many submarines were lost during the war. Strange that you do not hear as much about them as regular ships. I guess that is due to their secret and stealthy nature. I wish to someday have a visit like yours from my father. Thank you.
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Chuck on Sunday, January 22, 2012 11:39 AM
Cool story. Not what I was expecting to find when checking out subs online.
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Joey on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 2:42 PM
I wonder if he'll ever come back? maybe his visit had somthing to do with the disappearance of the sub? maybe the mysterious circumstances? that area was known to have mines everywhere. it doesn't seem right for the navy to guess at what happened. You would think they would know for sure. I hope Escolar and her crew are found someday.
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Harry Lester on Friday, January 27, 2012 12:35 PM
Escolar!! I haven't heard about that boat since I did a report on lost submarines in high school. That one piqued my interest because of the mystery. Most we know what happened, but not USS Escolar. Thanks for bringing it back to memory, and the supernatural connection is truly weird.
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Alice Calderone on Sunday, February 12, 2012 3:26 PM
I read your story last night and cannot get it out of my head. It was perfect for a cold winter's night, and can only imagine what the Escolar crew went through. I'm sure they are in a better place. Thank you.
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Ryan Tucker on Thursday, April 05, 2012 1:33 AM
Mr. Duda- Thank you very much for sharing your story. I think you were given a rare gift. My great uncle S 1/C John B. Tucker from Mentone, IN was on board with your uncle when they were lost. I've grown up with the stories of the loss of the Escolar and thanks to the internet have been able to find information lost or unknown by my family. But then I found an old trunk in my grandmother's house (her husband, my late grandfather Joe E. Tucker was his brother). Upon opening it I couldn't believe what I found. It contained newspaper clippings of John's progression through his service, pictures, handwritten letters from him to his family (he was a beautiful writer), a postcard from Hawaii (final training location) and uniform pins. It was a very, very strange feeling when I came across the telegram from the US Department of the Navy. I cannot imagine the thoughts and reaction my great grandmother and grandfather must have had that day opening and reading that their son was missing in action. If I remember correctly, I then found a letter stating that they were sorry to inform them that their son was officially considered "Killed In Action." At the bottom of the trunk was a small box. I opened it to find a purple heart. I had never seen one in person and felt very strange just holding it. I experienced many emotions that day I found the trunk as I recall and could actually feel the pain that was closed up in that old trunk. All the stories I ever heard about John were of what a great guy he was and a kind old soul well beyond his young age. Now as a father myself, my heart just aches thinking about such a tragedy. I think John was there when I opened that box. I don't know why, but I just felt his presence. I did have the opportunity to correspond with one gentleman whose father was lost on the Escolar a few months before he was born and never got the chance to meet him. Other than this, I have never spoken to anyone who has had a family member lost on the Escolar and am very thankful for your story. If nothing else, stories such as yours will hopefully remind others of the ultimate sacrifice that these men paid for the country we live in, the ones they loved, and those that would come after whom they would never have the opportunity to meet, such as yourself - and myself as well for that matter. Growing up with the story of the USS Escolar and as well as the stories of my grandfathers wounded in battle (though they would never speak of it) really helps me to appreciate the incredible sacrifice those before us made. I just wish everyone would/could be aware of the past to better appreciate the present. Thanks again!
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Ron Norford on Monday, October 29, 2012 1:08 PM
Mr. Tucker would like to commend you on the fine story you submitted on Anthony Duda's site. I know how you must feel as I experienced the same when I attempt to learn of Escolar's fate. I have been quite fortunate to have been in contact with a crew member of Perch and one having served on Croaker. Also another gentleman that was to be transferred to Escolar, requested permission, which was granted, to be transferred to another sub and lived to tell about it. It's ioronic, but my wife and I toured Croaker in 1982 when it was open to the public at New London. Take care and God bless you and keep checking on Escolar.


DeeDee Vackar on Wednesday, August 08, 2012 11:37 PM
Email me back. My grandmothers first husband Laurence Bailey was also on the USS Escolar I have some info I would like to share with you.
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fred hahn on Saturday, November 17, 2012 2:26 PM
my uncle was on the escolar dee dee all info would be nice. fred hahn


fred on Thursday, November 15, 2012 4:14 PM
My uncle was on the Escolar. A week or two after it was reported missing someone called my grandmother and said they were being held captive by Russia.
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Tom Dougherty on Friday, November 16, 2012 5:51 PM
Cramp did indeed have tremendous problems in finding skilled workers, being a latecomer to submarine construction. The Philadlephia Navy Yard, New York Ship Building in Camden and Sun Ship in Chester had taken most of the skilled workforce before Cramp started building. On top of that, they were using plans drawn up by Portsmouth NSY, and had few individuals familiar with submarine construction. The boats were so behind schedule that several of the Cramp subs were towed to other yards (Boston, Portsmouth) to be finished. One of Escolar's sister subs, USS Lancetfish, never got to war but sank while tied to the pier. While tied up alongside Pier 8 in Boston, Lancetfish flooded through an aft torpedo tube and sank 15 March 1945. She was raised eight days later and decommissioned 24 March. Never used. Both Ling (now a museum in Hackensack, NJ)and Lionfish (Fall River, Ma.) are Cramp built submarines,
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José Carlos de Lima on Tuesday, February 05, 2013 3:13 PM
Hi Tony, was just reading, and remembering when you told me the story. Was navigating in my memories. miss all that time...thanks.
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Michelle on Monday, March 25, 2013 5:11 PM
I just love this story, and have come back to read it again and again over time. It's very tragic what happened to the crew of the USS Escolar, but it gives me a glimpse and hope that we go beyond this life. I thank you for that, and hope it remains available online so others can find it.
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Kerren Taylor on Monday, April 14, 2014 12:19 AM
My Uncle. Stanley D Miller was also on the USS Escolar. Thank you for sharing your story. My Uncle still lives through stories like these.
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John Pindale on Friday, July 04, 2014 11:55 PM
Mr. Duda: Amazing story, beautifully written! I hope you will keep us updated if you have any encounters in the future. May the crew of the Escolar rest in peace.
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