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June 22, 2006

USS Lagarto (SS 371) found

Lagarto left Subic Bay, Philippines on April 12, 1945 and headed towards Gulf of Thailand, its second patrol to that area. U.S.S. Baya officers were to rendezvous with the Lagarto to discuss plans to attack a Japanese convoy on May 3, 1945.

On May 3, 1945 the USS Lagarto transmitted its final message before it went off to fight. At 1 a.m. May 4, 1945, the Japanese convoy drove off the Baya. The targets of interest were crusing with heavy escorts.

Nothing was ever heard again from the Lagarto. It was supposed to dock in Australia at the end of May, but it never arrived.

The 86 man crew of Largarto has been on eternal patrol for 60 years now and the families of the crew never really knew where to lay their flowers, just that it was somewhere between the Phillipines and Australia.

A diving team, following fisherman's hints of snagged nets in an area in the South China Sea dove into the 200 feet of water and began their search. Lagarto was suspected to be the only U.S. Balao class submarine sunk in this area.

Thier search was successful.
With all the fish and the coral covering the Lagarto, it's almost like someone put flowers on a grave," said Elizabeth Kenney-Augustine , whose grandfather, Bill Mabin of La Grange, Ill., was on the sub.

There are still some official records that have to be reviewed before the submarine can be officially reported as the Lagarto but all evidence supports the find. The propellar was photographed with the word 'Manitowac' inscribed, which indicates that it was built in Manitowac, WI- Lagarto was one of 26 submarines built there and tested int he waters of Lake Michigan. The divers recorded various serial numbers and identified twin 5-inch gun mounts both forward and aft, something unique to Lagarto. The submarine is sitting upright as if it sank straight down. There are no numbers or names on the side, and the only place divers could find the name of the ship is inside the captain's quarters. Japanese war records later revealed that the minelayer Hatsutaka reported sinking a U.S. submarine at roughly the same time and location.
The operations were conducted from the rescue and salvage ship USS Salvor (ARS 52) with embarked divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japan-based mine countermeasures ship USS Patriot (MCM 7) assisted by first pinpointing the location of the wreckage with its SQQ-32 sonar and remotely-operated Mine Neutralization Vehicle.

Props to our local boys here in HI for helping with the search. Once again our Japanese friends come to our aid.

According to the U.S. Navy, all sunken U.S. ships are considered gravesites and are off-limits. Before the divers left the site they attached an American flag to the conning tower.

Submarine Pacific Fleet Force Commander, Rear Adm. Jeffrey Cassias, had this to say:
"We owe a great debt to these men, and to all of the World War II submariners. In the world's darkest hour, they faced the greatest risks, and demonstrated the most noble courage to preserve the freedom of our nation."

It also worthy to mention that the divers who descended on Lagarto noticed that one of her torpedo tube outer door was open- and the tube was empty. The old girl went down fighting to the very end.

A Sailor's Poem

Run silent, run deep
For freedom we fought to keep
How we spent so many days
Beneath the shimmering waves

A terrible foe we fought
And gave our lives; and freedom bought
Now our souls forever lie
Restlessly beneath the waves
So silent now, so deep

For it is not enough for you to weep
For we shall not have died in vain
Lest you forget for what we gave
We gave our lives, freedom to save

For if you forget our deeds
Then we shall never sleep
Though we lie so silent, so deep.

by Al Alessandra, July 3rd, 2005

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