Memorial day 2021

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 05-30-2021

USS Herring

Memorial Day… It seems lots of people get caught up in the “Served” side of “remembering those who served and died” and Memorial Day quickly becomes a second Veterans Day. But, of course, it isn’t; Memorial Day is not about thanking anyone for their service, Memorial Day is about remembering those who died while serving the country. But, even given that, it is too easy to make that remembrance non-specific, to wave a hand at the million or so who have died in our wars, (the current number is at least 666,441 (confirmed combat casualties), which rises to 1,354,664 (confirmed military deaths during wartime), and both probably higher, depending on how you count.
And each one of those deaths has a story behind it, a family, a future cut short. As has been noted many times before, statistics are horribly impersonal. Go stand in any veteran’s cemetery and read a head stone; that is a real Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, and also a real son, brother, father…
So, for today, here is a remembrance of some real men who gave their lives, chosen today only because they gave their lives near to May 31, the actual date being June 1st. The year was 1944, and these are the officers and men of a US submarine.
USS Herring, SS-233, was a Gato class submarine built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. That means she was almost 312 fit long, had a 27 foot beam, and fully submerged displaced about 2400 tons. She had four 1,600 horsepower diesel engines for running on the surface, and 4 electric engines for power while submerged. On batteries she could run for 48 hours at 2 knots and she had a crush depth of just 300 feet. She was armed with 24 torpedoes, a 3 inch gun and a 40 mm and a 209 mm cannon. The crew was nominally 6 officers and 54 sailors, but this was usually augmented with a number of other personnel, to include a team of sailors who had access to the “Magic” intelligence, the reading of Japanese radio transmissions. USS Herring had a total of 83 personnel on board on her eighth patrol - she would’ve been a crowded boat. What that translated into was 3 men per bunk, constant “hot-racking.”
She was launched in January of 1942 and was commissioned 04 May, 1942. Just after her 6th patrol, Commander Raymond Johnson, who had sunk three ships and damaged another on this patrol, turned her over to LtCMDR David Zabriskie. Zabriskie took Herring on her 7th patrol but only was able to achieve a single torpedo hit on a Japanese destroyer on March 23rd, 1944. The destroyer did not sink. When he returned to Pearl Harbor he was warned about his poor showing, but was given a chance to redeem himself and his boat. Zabriskie took Herring out on his second patrol in command, Herring’s eighth war patrol, departing Pearl Harbor on May 16th, 1944. On 21 May she stopped at Midway Island and topped off with fuel, then headed to the Kurile Islands.
On the morning of May 31st Herring rendezvoused in heavy fog with USS Barb, Gene Fluckey in command. Fluckey was also in command of the Wolf Pack, which consisted of Barb, Herring and USS Golet (LtCMDR James Clark in command). Golet had actually departed Midway late, never arrived at the rendezvous, and was sunk on June 14th with all hands - 82 officers and men. It was an unforgiving business. Fluckey was on his first patrol in command. Fluckey would go on to become one of the Navy’s most successful sub commanders.
The “conference” consisted of Fluckey and Zabriskie yelling at each other from conning tower to conning tower, with Fluckey assigning Zabriskie one patrol box and Barb taking the other. Dave Zabriskie was a graduate of the Naval Academy, class of 1936, had been on the football team and the boxing team and was known as a powerful  athlete and a great football player. Fluckey noted afterwards that Zabriskie could comfortably yell between the two boats while he - Fluckey - had to use an electric megaphone.
The site had been chosen because Naval Intelligence indicated that a Japanese convoy was scheduled to depart Matsuwa headed for Hokkaido. Barb and Herring were to intercept the convoy. The intelligence turned out to be accurate. Later that day Herring sank a Japanese frigate, Ishigaki, and a merchant, Hokuyo Maru. The following morning she sank a troop transport, Iwaki Maru, and a freighter, Hiburi Maru; both were riding at anchor off Matsuwa Island (now known as Matua Island, in the central Kurils). The submarine was close enough to shore that a shore battery sighted it and fired on her. Two hits were made on the conning tower and the submarine sank, with a loss of all hands - 83 officers and men.
Dave Zabriskie was 31 and, with the exception of one or two chiefs on board, was probably the oldest man on the boat.
In all, 52 submarines were lost during the war, 37 of them with all hands. Each one has a tale to tell, each one manned by real officers and men. On this Memorial Day, remember them.