Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arkansas man recalls sinking of WWII sub

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Arkansan Robert Lents can remember when the submarine USS Perch, recently discovered in the Java Sea, went down during World War II.

Lents was a 20-year-old torpedo man aboard the Perch when the Japanese attacked and the submarine commander ordered the craft scuttled. Lents and the rest of the crew were taken prisoner.

"I got $35 still in my locker," said Lents, now 85 and living in Mountain Home, Ark. "The only thing I grabbed when I left the ship was my toothbrush, and the Japanese took that away."

The wreckage was discovered Thanksgiving Day, according to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Star Bulletin reported Sunday. Museum education director Charles Hinman said the 300-foot diesel submarine was found in 190 feet of water by an international team of divers and photographers who were hoping to photograph the wreck of the British cruiser Exeter.

On March 1, 1942, the Perch was on the surface 30 miles northwest of Soerabaja, Java, when it was attacked by an enemy convoy that was landing troops west of Soerabaja. Two Japanese destroyers forced the Perch to the bottom with depth charges, damaging the submarine's starboard engines. Two days later, the Perch was on the surface and unable to dive because of the damage and was attacked by two Japanese cruiser and three destroyers.

The crew of 54 sailors and five officers was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Six later died in prison camps of malnutrition. Lents had only been on the Perch for six months when it was sunk. He spent 3 1/2 years in Japanese prison camps before he was released Sept. 18, 1945.

"There are only five of us left now," Lents told the newspaper last week.

Hinman said a team of divers led by Vidar Skoglie, who owns and operates the vessel MV Empress, found the wreck. Dive team members discovered a plaque, covered with marine growth, that read "USS Perch Submarine."

Hinman said the wreck, like all Navy warships sunk at sea, is protected from salvage operations by U.S. and international laws.

Cmdr. Mike Brown, spokesman for Pacific Fleet Submarine Forces, said the information he's seen indicates that the vessel looks like the Perch. He said it will require official confirmation.

For more information about the discovery of USS Perch, including images of the sunken submarine, visit the USS Perch page.


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