‘My heart just sunk’

Amer­i­can sub lo­cated in wa­tery grave off coast of Ja­pan hits home in Lodi

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MANN

On Satur­day, Feb. 26, 1944, a Ja­panese war plane took off from an air base in Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan, with a belly full of bombs. Its tar­get was an Amer­i­can sub­ma­rine that had sur­faced miles off the coast.

The plane’s pay­load found its tar­get, a di­rect hit. The sub was heav­ily dam­aged. It man­aged to stay afloat for a day or so longer, but even­tu­ally the USS Gray­back sank to the bot­tom of the ocean, tak­ing with it its crew to a wa­tery grave. A cir­cling Ja­panese pi­lot noted the map co­or­di­nates of the at­tack, looked around for any sur­vivors, but only saw bub­bles and an oil slick. The sea swal­lowed ev­ery­thing.

Seventy-nine souls were on board that day, in­clud­ing Isauro Vic­tor (“Vic”) Sil­veira, a 1941 Lodi High School grad­u­ate and

Acampo res­i­dent. He was just 21 years old.

All aboard per­ished. The sub set sail from Pearl Har­bor on Jan. 28, 1944 for the East China Sea. It was ex­pected at Mid­way on March 7, but never ar­rived. It was re­ported lost on March 30, 1944. The Gray­back was one of 52 sub­marines re­ported miss­ing from World War II.

Griev­ing fam­i­lies of those lost on the Gray­back ex­changed photos of their loved ones with each other. It was their way to be­gin the heal­ing process. Each fam­ily was now trag­i­cally re­lated in sor­row and loss.

The ex­act where­abouts of the lost ship has been a secret known only to the sea for the past 75 years. It has al­ways been known that the sub was at the bot­tom of the ocean some­where off the shores of Ok­i­nawa, but re­peated searches had al­ways turned up noth­ing.

That all changed on June 5 when a team of ex­plor­ers from the Lost 52 Project found the ship’s bar­na­cle-en­crusted re­mains un­der 1,400 feet of wa­ter, miles from where pre­vi­ous searches had been con­ducted.

Dis­cov­ery of the lost sub made na­tional news. When Julie Jensen of Lodi saw it in the New York Times—on Veteran’s Day — she was shocked. “My heart just sunk,” she says.

Vic Sil­veira was her un­cle, the kin she’d al­ways heard about but never knew. Now, sud­denly, her rel­a­tive who died a gen­er­a­tion ear­lier was thrust to the fore­front in her life.

“It’s all per­sonal now,” she says, and she ad­mits the news made her “sad for a cou­ple days.”

A new search for the boat was launched after an er­ror was found in the trans­la­tion of the lon­gi­tude of where the Gray­back sank. “With the new data and newly dis­cov­ered Ja­panese mis­sion logs, the searchers were able to re­fo­cus their ef­forts and, us­ing ground­break­ing ro­bot­ics and tech­nol­ogy, found the di­lap­i­dated sub 100 miles from the area recorded in the orig­i­nal his­tor­i­cal records,” ac­cord­ing to In­ter­net sources.

Even though Vic, the brother of Julie’s mother, had died be­fore she was born, she and the rest of her fam­ily were well aware of his life and death at sea. “I’d heard all the sto­ries,” she said of her un­cle. He was al­most a myth­i­cal fig­ure, some­one to whom she was re­lated but had never met. She had only seen pic­tures and heard tales about him from her mom and other fam­ily mem­bers.

Julie, an el­e­men­tary school teacher, had al­ways been told that Vic had a “pleas­ing per­son­al­ity” and was hand­some. “The girls were all over him,” she re­mem­bers peo­ple say­ing.

As fate would have it, her own son would marry an Ok­i­nawan. “Our grand­chil­dren are dual cit­i­zens (and) they are flu­ent Ja­panese speak­ers,” Julie says proudly. “My daugh­ter-in-law lost many rel­a­tives in the fight­ing, in­clud­ing an un­cle con­scripted at the age of twelve. We find it crazy that we are now fam­ily.”

Be­fore the dis­cov­ery was made, Julie trav­eled to Ok­i­nawa to visit fam­ily. She re­mem­bers stand­ing on the shoreline look­ing out into the ex­panse of wa­ter, say­ing to her­self, “Vic, where are you?” She even went by the Kadena air base where the Ja­panese fighter plane that killed her un­cle likely took off. The base is now an Amer­i­can hub of air­power in the Pa­cific.

The Sil­veira clan were dairy farm­ers and lived on Acampo Road. The old homestead is still stand­ing, Julie says. Vic in all like­li­hood worked on the fam­ily farm.

The Sil­veira fam­ily has lived in Amer­ica, most of it in the Lodi area, for 100 years. Josephina Pereira (Amer­i­can­ized to Josephine Perry at Ellis Is­land) and Isauro Viera da Sil­veira im­mi­grated to Amer­ica in 1911. The pair met and fell in love, mar­ry­ing in 1916. They had eight chil­dren; three daugh­ters and five sons, in­clud­ing Vic. Josephina was quoted as say­ing in her na­tive ac­cent, “Ev­ery time your fa­ther hang his pants on the bed, I have an­other baby.”

Vic was born April 3, 1922. His sis­ter Josie mar­ried Clay­ton Knit­tel. They had three chil­dren to­gether, in­clud­ing Julie and her two brothers.

Vic and his younger brother, Julie’s un­cle Fred, en­listed to­gether. “They were two peas in a pod grow­ing up,” she says. “They both joined the navy and in­tended to serve in the same unit to­gether, but the mil­i­tary would not al­low this. Early in 1942 the five Sul­li­van brothers all died on the same ship, so after that sib­lings were not al­lowed to serve in the same unit to­gether. At the time, both brothers were up­set they could not spend the war to­gether, but after Vic died, the en­tire fam­ily was grate­ful that they did not lose two sons on that sub,” Julie says.

All of Vic Sil­veira’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily are now de­ceased, in­clud­ing his par­ents and seven sib­lings. Only Julie’s dad Clay, who’s in his 90s, and rel­a­tives from later gen­er­a­tions re­main to­day.

Julie has also be­come the un­of­fi­cial ar­chiv­ist of the Sil­veira fam­ily and keeper of Vic’s mem­o­ra­bilia. When her mother died, she in­her­ited all of Vic’s ser­vice medals and of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing his Lodi High School di­ploma.

Among the ar­ti­facts she keeps in a bin­der are the last two let­ters Vic sent home. One was writ­ten to Josie, Julie’s mom, Vic’s sis­ter. It was dated Jan. 4, 1944, less than two months be­fore he died. He men­tions how de­lighted he was to re­ceive sev­eral let­ters at once, writ­ing, “It was re­ally some­thing to get all that mail at once. I just didn’t know where to start.”

In his let­ter he also mar­veled at how the Galt foot­ball team was do­ing that year. “They sure must have a good team this year to beat big schools like Lodi and Sacra­mento.” He also ad­mired the “write up” one of the play­ers re­ceived, re­mark­ing, “That’s the kind of write up I al­ways hoped I would get in high school.”

He seemed a lit­tle en­vi­ous of other men who’d man­aged to get leave dur­ing the hol­i­days. “I’m telling you I don’t see how guys can be so lucky. … You just wait un­til I get my leave one of these days. I’m telling you (noth­ing’s) go­ing to be (too) good for me. I’m re­ally go­ing to throw me a time,” he writes.

Vic was also a gen­er­ous guy. In the last let­ter to his dad, he wrote, “Dear Pop, I sure hope you’re all get­ting along swell. … I’m send­ing you one-thou­sand dol­lars in the let­ter. Here’s what I want you to do with it. Take $250 out of it, and keep $50 for your­self and $50 for Ma also. Then give each of the kids $25 (apiece). … Put the $750 in the bank. Write soon, won’t you?”

There would be no more let­ters sent home.

Vic Sil­veira is memo­ri­al­ized at Tablets of the Miss­ing, Honolulu Me­mo­rial in Hawaii, an Amer­i­can Bat­tle Mon­u­ments Com­mis­sion lo­ca­tion. He was awarded the Pur­ple Heart, Com­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon, World War II Vic­tory Medal, Amer­i­can Cam­paign Medal, Dis­tin­guished Unit Ci­ta­tion, Good Con­duct Medal, Asi­atic-Pa­cific Cam­paign Medal, and Navy Ex­pe­di­tionary Medal. Most of Vic’s medals were awarded posthu­mously and are now in Julie’s care.

In May, 1946 Vic’s mother Josephine re­ceived a no­tice of set­tle­ment from the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tions in­form­ing her that she was a ben­e­fi­ciary of in­sur­ance in the amount of $9,848, which was granted to Isauro Vic­tor Sil­veira by the United States un­der the Na­tional Ser­vice Life In­sur­ance Act. She was to be­gin re­ceiv­ing monthly pay­ments of $56.72 for life, “with 120 monthly in­stall­ments cer­tain.”

Some 16,000 sub­mariners served dur­ing WWII, of whom 375 of­fi­cers and 3,131 en­listed men were killed, ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia. There were also other men from Cal­i­for­nia aboard the Gray­back when it went down, in­clud­ing three from San Francisco, one from Berke­ley, one from Ro­seville, an­other from Vallejo, one from Los An­ge­les, and one from Bellflower. Jack For­ward was also as­signed to the ship, but was killed sep­a­rately in a plane crash and was not aboard at the time. He lived in Berke­ley, but was born in Stock­ton.

While the USS Gray­back has now been found, dozens of other WWII sub­marines still re­main lost at sea. No plans to ex­hume the Gray­back or its crew have been an­nounced. But now that its lo­ca­tion is known, it’s be­lieved the site may be des­ig­nated as a pro­tected area, off-lim­its to those who would seek to dis­turb its hal­lowed wa­ters.

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BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SEN­TINEL

NAVAL HIS­TORY AND HER­ITAGE COM­MAND PHOTO

The USS Gray­back pho­tographed in 1941.

COUR­TESY PHOTO/JULIE JENSEN

Be­low: Isauro Sil­veira, a for­mer Acampo res­i­dent, was killed when the sub­ma­rine he was serv­ing on was sunk near Ok­i­nawa on Feb. 26 1944. Left: Sil­veira was awarded a Pur­ple Heart and re­ceived a WWII Vic­tory Medal. Above: Sil­veira’s niece Julie Jensen re­calls the mo­ment she heard her un­cle’s sub­ma­rine had been dis­cov­ered.

BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SEN­TINEL

Julie Jensen with a pic­ture of her un­cle Isauro Sil­veira. Sil­veira was killed when the sub­ma­rine he was serv­ing on, USS Gray­back, was sunk near Ok­i­nawa on Feb. 26, 1944.

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