Months on end spent 400 feet below the surface of the water, unable to distinguish day from night without the aid of a clock, navigating cramped quarters and hallways wide enough for one, sleeping in bunks the size of a casket, cut off from all communication with family and loved ones, conducting mundane duties days on end; such is the normal everyday life of a submariner not engaged in a battle. The following is a wartime snapshot of Corwin Guy Mendenhall, Jr. who was catapulted into the Pacific battle with the Japanese shortly after being assigned to the USS Sculpin.
Corwin, born in Beaumont, Texas, Dec. 23, 1916, was the eldest child of Eula Gripon and Corwin Guy Mendenhall, Sr.’s. three children. After graduating from Lamar College, Corwin was accepted into the Naval Academy at Annapolis on 1 June 1939. “I served first on the battleship, Mississippi, where I was a gunnery officer,” Corwin wrote in his book, Submarine Diary, The Silent Stalking of Japan. “Late in 1940 the Navy Department asked for applications for submarine school. Although I had originally planned to ask for aviation training, I sent in my request and was ordered to New London, Connecticut, for the submarine class that began the first week of April 1941. Normally the class would have lasted six months but because of the ongoing war in Europe . . . was condensed into three months. Upon graduation on 28 June, I asked for and was ordered to duty on the USS Sculpin (SS-191), one of the new “fleet boats” with home port at Pearl Harbor. . . I went south to San Diego to join Sculpin there on 23 July. I was the lowest ranking officer, or “George,” aboard Sculpin when we left San Diego for Pearl Harbor, and I settled in to learn my jobs as torpedo-gunnery officer and first lieutenant, and to qualify as officer of the deck (OOD). I also went to work on the rigorous task of becoming qualified in submarines which would give me the right to wear the golden dolphins, the submarine pin.
Mendy, as Corwin was affectionately called by his shipmates, wrote, “My concept of what a submarine did on war patrol had been arrived at by movies of German U-boat actions in World War I. By those standards, we should be dashing about, sinking ships daily, leading the swashbuckling life portrayed in motion pictures. In actuality, we went for weeks on end without seeing anything to shoot at. The routine on board a submarine could become monotonous, especially for the crew. Most of them never saw the outside world at all. Only the bridge watch, consisting of the OOD, two or three lookouts, and the quartermaster, regularly made contact with the world outside the boat. The captain, the exec-navigator, and other officers would come to the bridge occasionally to talk and to see what was going on. All others were confined below, scattered through the interior of the boat, performing their work, standing watches, and following the daily plan. When a sighting was made, word of the contact spread quickly through the boat. Everyone could feel the excitement. Many times the conditions under which we lived were uncommon: up all night working, sleeping all day while submerged, without water for baths, growing beards. The foul-smelling atmosphere seemed normal.” Because of their extended periods submerged below, they were allowed certain liberties that other Navy are not, like growing beards. Often the men had contests to see who could grow the best beard, Mendy won hands down.
During Mendy’s duties of OOD at night he studied the constellations. “I practiced a night watch habit first developed when I was officer of the deck (OOD) on the Mississippi. To help relieve boredom and to make the time pass faster, I would locate stars and constellations. Each night I would study the star chart before going on watch, then later on the bridge, visibility permitting, I would pick out a particular constellation and at least one star by name in the constellation. By repeating that procedure regularly, adding more and more constellations and stars, with seasonal changes and ship movements to northern and southern latitudes, I was by now familiar with twenty-seven constellations and could locate many more stars than that. Such knowledge of star locations would be invaluable when I became navigator,” concluded Mendy.
Mendy served on the Sculpin for seven patrols advancing to the rank of lieutenant on his third patrol. William Galvani wrote in the October 2022 issue of the Naval History Magazine, “When Lieutenant (junior grade) Corwin Mendenhall Jr. received word that he had been promoted to lieutenant, he was a long way from a Navy uniform shop. News of his promotion arrived by radio message on 19 June 1942, while the Sculpin was on a war patrol in the South China Sea. Commanded by Commander Lucius Chappell, the Sculpin began her fourth war patrol from Fremantle, Australia, on 29 May 1942. In the first weeks of the patrol, the submarine made several attacks on Japanese shipping, sank or damaged three ships, and endured a depth charge attack and a ramming attempt. On the day of Mendenhall’s promotion, the Sculpin attacked and damaged a cargo vessel.
None of the lieutenants on board had an extra collar device to give the brand-new lieutenant. The situation required ingenuity. When Mendenhall had been promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) during the Sculpin’s third war patrol, Auxiliaryman Ernest Baldwin had converted his ensign’s gold bar to a silver one by grinding off the gold finish. Mendenhall called on Baldwin again, and they began to cut away at an Australian silver coin called a florin. The obverse of the florin showed a profile of King George VI, and the reverse displayed the Australian crest bordered by a kangaroo and an emu. Importantly, the florin had the right dimension, about an inch, to become lieutenant’s bars.
When they were finished, they had worked the florin into homemade, but recognizable, lieutenant’s railroad tracks. They didn’t grind away the king’s profile, so an altered George VI now graced the front of Lieutenant Mendenhall’s new collar insignia.
The Sculpin returned to Fremantle on 17 July. For months, Lieutenant Mendenhall continued to wear what must have been the most distinctive lieutenant collar device in the Pacific fleet. However, he had to retire the insignia when a regulation-bound captain ordered him to get standard-issue bars.
In 1991, Rear Admiral Mendenhall visited the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, and donated his Australian-florin lieutenant bars. The soldered clasp he describes in his book Submarine Diary has fallen off, but the profile of King George VI, the kangaroo, and the emu remind us of the courage of World War II submariners and the bonds of friendship between the United States and Australia in the Pacific conflict.
While on the Sculpin he travelled 48,845 nautical miles on the surface, 6,635 submerged, they fired 91 torpedoes, sunk 5 cargo ships, 1 cruiser, 5 tankers, 3 transporters, 1 steamer, and 2 fishing patrol boats.
“My dad was really dedicated to the service,” said Guy Mendenhall III. “After he graduated from South Park High School in Beaumont, TX he went to Lamar College for a couple of years. He wanted to go to West Point but could not get an appointment, but he got one for the Naval Academy and he took it.” “Pop graduated at the top of his class at the Naval Academy,” added son Rick, “and was just a sterling individual, he really was. After leaving the Naval Academy he was assigned to the battleship, Mississippi. He requested a transfer to submarines and was on a submarine in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He barely got out of the Philippines before they invaded.”
“They were in Manila Bay on regular routine ops when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December,” exclaimed Guy, “the next day they bombed Manila Bay. They got everyone back on board as quickly as they could, to keep from getting hit by the bombs the Japanese were dropping,” His dad wrote, “On 8 December 1942 shouts of ‘Gunner’s mate! Gunner’s mate! Where the @#!! Is that gunner?’ jolted us awake as the general alarm brought the crew to battle stations at 0345. That’s how Sculpin learned the war with Japan had begun. Our Pearl Harbor Day was 8 December because we were west of the International Date Line, moored to a buoy behind the breakwater in Manila Bay. . . During the late minutes of midwatch Signalman Striker Keith Waidelich, the duty signalman on the bridge, read a visual “All Stations Alert!” . . . JAPAN HAS ATTACKED PEARL HARBOR X GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY.”
“My father related one story to us,” noted Guy. “He said they were being depth charged and it caused a leak in a small water line in one of the heads, that’s the bathroom on the ship. The water had hit one of the hot light bulbs and caused it to break. He went in to help repair the leak and was sitting on one of the toilets doing the repair. He did not realize he was sitting on a piece of glass. Once the repair was finished, he went on about his business not realizing he was bleeding from his back side. He always thought he should have gotten a purple heart for that,” laughed Guy. “There was another time when they were having big problems with the torpedoes early in the war,” explained Guy. This was a major point of contention with submariners. Admiral I. J. Galatin evaluating the problem said, “The Mk-14 did not perform as advertised. Its story deserves the label of major scandal that went too far too long uncorrected. It had three defects: running too deep, premature explosion, and a faulty contact exploder. It took almost two years of combat before our submarines went to war with effective torpedoes. In my own war patrols in command of Halibut, in late 1943, I sank a ship simply because two torpedoes punched twenty-one-inch holes in the side of a freighter. On another attack we hit the light cruiser, Nachi, and she got home with one of our unexploded fish sticking in her side,” exclaimed Galatin. “The major flaw of the Mk-6’s exploder design,” said George Solleder, “was that it had been developed off New England where the Earth’s magnetic field is strong. In the much weaker magnetic field areas of the southwest and western Pacific, the exploder could detonate at any point in its run, informing the enemy of their presence.”
“Pop served on both the Sculpin and the Pintado. He was transferred off the Sculpinjust two patrols before it was sunk. After it was sunk the Japanese picked up the surviving men from the water and loaded them onto two carriers to transport them to Japan. One of the POW ships was sunk by US forces as there were no markings to show it was carrying POWs,” said Guy. Mendy, hearing the news, recorded in his book, “Civilian radio and newspaper stories brought devastating news: Sculpin was lost. The boat that had been my home for seven patrols was lost on her ninth patrol. Although I knew that Lu Chappell was transferred after the eighth patrol, classmate Butch Allen, on his second patrol as exec, and George Brown, on board for five patrols, were gone. So was Joe Defrees, on his third patrol. (Ironically, Joe’s mother christened Sculpin when she was launched.) Nine of the crewmen had been on board for all nine patrols: Phil Gabrunas, James Harper, Richard Hemphill, Weldon Moore, Arny Moreton, George “Moon” Rocek, John Swift, Ellis Warren, and Gunner Wyatt. There were so many friends we would not see again in this life.”
“Pop met my mom in the early 1940s while he was stationed aboard the USS Mississippi, before he transferred to submarine duty,” said son Rick. “He was engaged to a girl here at home, but met my mom at a party in San Francisco and that was the end of that. It was a whirlwind romance. They married on April 7, 1943, after Pop left the Sculpin and before he joined the Pintado. My dad wanted to come home and introduce mom to everyone, so they caught a train which stopped in Devers. My mother came from rather nice circumstances in San Francisco. They were dressed very nicely prepared for cold weather; weather much colder than it was here. The train let them off in the pitch dark and there’s no station there, I can imagine how dark it was,” laughed Rick. “It was awfully hot at the time and my mom was probably thinking, ‘what did I do?’ My grandparents came down the Devers road and met them there at the railroad crossing.
Mendy relays the meeting this way: “Ann and I rode trains to Texas to visit my family. Arriving near midnight at the small whistle-stop town of Devers, where there was no passenger station, we were let off the sleeper car onto the loose gravel of the railhead, looking into the dark of the deep ditch along the railroad right-of-way, wondering if anyone was meeting us. I suggested as a last resort, that we might telephone my cousin Theresa Boyt, who lived nearby, if we could find a telephone. Clouds of mosquitoes were buzzing around us. Ann, wanting to look her best for her first meeting with my family, had insisted on wearing a dark wool suit and black hat. I tried to prepare her, but she was accustomed to California weather and couldn’t believe my warnings of the sultry, humid August heat of the Texas Gulf of Mexico. I was in my navy blue dress uniform, and the heat and humidity hit like a sledgehammer. Both of us were promptly soaked with perspiration. We could hear voices on the other side of the noisy train but had to wait until it pulled away before a joyful reunion with Dad and Mother. The time was one o’clock in the morning, and we had another eighteen miles to drive to south Anahuac.” “So, it was quite an introduction for my mother in Texas in the heat and humidity,” laughed Rick as he imagined the scene, “but everything worked out all right, yes, everything worked out all right,” he concluded softly.
While Mendy spent most of his time submerged 400 feet below the sea, his brother, Lee Mendenhall, flew the skies over Germany and France as part of the 355th Fighter Group called the Mustang Group. It was this fighter group that destroyed more enemy aircraft by ground strafing than any other Eighth Air Force Group. Based at Steeple Morden, England from July 1943 to July 1945, the group flew Thunderbolts and Mustangs as escorts for bombers and in area patrols and fighter sweeps. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters for meritorious service. Rick Mendenhall said of his uncle Lee, “Pop had no interaction with his brother Lee as Lee was flying fighter planes in Germany and Pop was several thousand miles away in the Pacific. My Uncle Lee was quite a character and if you met him you’d never know he was anything but a rice farmer and a rancher and yet he was an Ace Pilot in WW II. He was in the same unit that Chuck Yeager was in, the famous pilot who was the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. My dad actually shared a desk with Wally Sherrod at China Lake in California when they were testing weapons and so forth. When Wally was preparing to go to the moon, he asked dad for a tie clip to take with him, so my dad’s tie clip went to the moon. You would never have known the lives both of these brothers lived while in the war if you just met them.”
Mendy served on the Pintado for four patrols traveling 55,414 nautical miles on the surface and submerged, they fired 54 torpedoes and sunk 4 cargo ships, 2 transports, 3 tankers, 1 destroyer, 3 supply ships, and 1 unidentified ship. Mendy recorded in his book, “I had begun my wartime submarine service in Manila Bay on 8 December 1941 as an ensign. It ended three and a half years later on the West Coast as a lieutenant commander. From being the most junior officer on board I had progressed up the ladder to the position of waiting for an opening to command a submarine. But the war was essentially over as far as submarines were concerned and I was moving on to new challenges.” Mendy was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral upon retirement.
“After the war Pop searched for his surviving shipmates and kept up with them over the years,” stated Guy. “When he wrote his book it took him several years, maybe as many as ten, because he went back to the Navy archives in Washington DC and researched all the shipmates, who were captured by the Japanese when the Sculpinwas sunk,” concluded Guy. A Somberness settled over son Rick as he recalled, “At the end of Pop’s book, he was reflecting on all the friends he had lost during the war. The submarine service lost about a quarter of its people. He talked about how poignant it was when he thought about all his friends he would never see in this world again. It was rather touching,” expressed Rick softly, “he’ll never see them in this world again.” Rick’s mood shifted as he added, “After the war he was stationed on a destroyer, the Warrington. He talked the Chief of Naval Operations, who he knew at the time, into letting him putt-putt his destroyer up the Sabine River at the time. They threw a big festivity for him there with bands and banners, the prodigal son had returned home with a destroyer,” chuckled Rick. “After that he was the head of weapons testing in China Lake, California at the weapons testing facility there. After that he was in charge of some of the nuclear testing in the Pacific blowing up atomic weapons. Pop was only in the service twenty years, and accomplished everything he did retiring as a Rear Admiral. He wanted to get out because he thought after the war it was going to be a drag.”
“After Pop was promoted to Rear Admiral, mother wanted to enjoy the social life as an admiral’s wife,” Rick added with obvious mirth, “and here Pop got out of the Navy and moved here to Anahuac and headed the phone company. My grandfather, Corwin Guy Mendenhall the first, ran the phone company and he wasn’t doing well, so Pop came home to help him. Uncle Lee also worked for the phone company after he retired from the military. Pop moved my mom from a three-story Victorian mansion in Washington, DC to basically a termite infested wood shack in Anahuac,” said Rick with a chuckle. “Mom was always somewhat disappointed that Pop didn’t reap some of the more prestigious benefits after being in the Navy, she figured she’d paid her military dues and wanted to enjoy some of the finer benefits. But Pop didn’t care about that and besides, he wanted to help my granddad out. My dad was quite totally unselfish.”
“My father was gone most of the time, from the time I was in the fifth grade until I graduated from high school,” said Guy, “as he was on a destroyer, and they were operating out of the Atlantic. This was long after the war. The earliest times I really remember with my dad was when we were in Hawaii. One of his tours of duty was in Hawaii and we lived on what they called the windward side of the island. Pearl Harbor was on the other side and there’s a big mountain range between us. We use to have to cross over the mountain range all the time to get back and forth and we had a convertible at the time. When we would go over the top of the mountain the convertible top would be inflated almost like a parachute. it was called the Pali Mountain, now they have a tunnel going underneath so you don’t have to go over the top anymore, He was gone a lot of the time when we were in Hawaii, but we had a great time there. I think I was in the fourth grade. We lived about two blocks from the beach and in those days kids wandered around everywhere. We didn’t worry about being kidnapped or molested or anything. My grandfather was pretty high up in the Lions Club; in fact he was the leader of the Lions Club in Texas for a while. They had a convention in Hawaii, and he and my grandmother came to visit us there. My dad was 23 when he graduated from the Academy and served for twenty years, retiring in his mid-forties.”
“Pop was an Eagle Scout in Anahuac,” continued Guy, “so wherever we moved we always went camping, he really loved camping. When we lived in California in the middle of the Mojave Desert at the Naval Ordinance Test Station, the Sierra Nevada Mountains were to the West of us. Off of the main roads there were dirt roads that went up into the mountain. On the weekends, whenever we could get free, he would take us up one of those dirt roads and we would camp. When we lived in Albuquerque NM, I was a boy scout there and dad sponsored the troop. We would go up in the mountains in various places there too, just wherever we could go.
“Pop didn’t teach us as much verbally as he did by demonstrating life to us,” noted Guy with respect. “He modeled honesty, integrity, and service throughout his life,” After he retired from the Navy and entered civilian jobs, wherever he worked or lived he did his best to help the community. The last place he lived before moving back to Anahuac was Benbrook, Texas, southwest of Fort Worth. They needed a community center in the little area where he lived so he took charge of that and got it done. He also established a little fire-fighting unit. They kept a large tank of water behind the center where they could get water if they had a fire, because they were maybe 10 or 15 miles from Fort Worth. They named the center after him because they thought so much of his service to the community. He was a man of action; he would see a need and make it happen. I remember one time I was there visiting them in Benbrook. They were going to have a 4thof July celebration at the community center, and they didn’t have a flagpole,” Guy said with a chuckle. “My dad had a flagpole in his back yard; he always had a flagpole wherever he was. So, we pulled that flagpole out of the ground, took it to the center, dug a hole and put it in the ground and they had a flagpole! That’s just the way he was, can’t never could, if something needs to be done just figure out a way to do it.”
“My Pop was the best guy I ever met,” affirmed Rick with obvious pride. “He never swore or anything. I remember one time he was hammering something at the house and hit his thumb.” Rick, unable to control his laughter as he recalled the memory said, “I heard a ‘dammit’, that’s about as bad as it got. He wasn’t much of a disciplinarian,” continued Rick, “but I remember one time when we lived in Albuquerque Pop told me, ‘Rick if you’ll help me in the morning you can take off and do what you want to do later in the day.’ Well, I woke up that morning and I took off.” Rick broke into a laugh as he recalled that day. “I went out collecting rocks and lizards with a friend of mine. When I got home Pop wasn’t steaming angry, he just said softly, ‘you let me down here.’ The upstart is he took his belt off and whacked me kind of half-heartedly with it. I was laughing and he was crying, because he had to do that in the first place. Yeah, my dad was the greatest.” Rick concluded softly and reverently, more to himself, “you know he was the greatest.”
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