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Wreck of US Navy submarine confirmed last month includes sailor from Kern County

USS Albacore (Dmoore5556/WikiCommons)

It was 1944, and Jerrold W. Reed Jr. was only 20 when the USS Albacore, the submarine he was serving aboard, was lost at sea.

Had he lived a long and charmed life, the onetime Taft resident might have turned 100 later this year. But that was not to be. The cruelty of war cut short the submariner’s life, and the lives of his shipmates.

Nearly eight decades after the disappearance of the Gato-class submarine and its crew of 85, the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command confirmed last month the discovery of the wreck of the Albacore off the coast of Japan.

The command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch used information and imagery provided by professor Tamaki Ura from the University of Tokyo to confirm that the wreck found off the coast of the island of Hokkaido is in fact the Albacore.

“As the final resting place for sailors who gave their life in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, said in the release.

“It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years.”

Like teams of detectives, the Americans and the Japanese used everything at their disposal — including a remotely operated underwater vehicle used by Ura’s team — to find and identify the Albacore, which is believed to have struck a mine on Nov. 7, 1944, a few weeks before Reed’s 21st birthday.

Ura used data from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records in his research, the command said in a news release. The location mentioned in the records matched an effort by Underwater Archaeology Branch volunteers to find the shipwreck.

But it was Jim Gregory, an author, historian and retired teacher in Arroyo Grande, who alerted The Californian that a Kern County man was serving aboard the Albacore when it went down all those years ago.

“I thought it was newsworthy,” Gregory said. “A little bit of history coming back to us.”

But there’s another, even more personal connection.

“My maternal step-grandfather — our Gramps — George Kelly Sr., was a Taft cop,” he said. “My great-uncles were roughnecks; my aunt was a secretary for Union Oil. My parents were married at the Presbyterian church (in Taft). My two older siblings and I were born in Taft.”

So when Gregory learned that a Taft man was aboard the highly decorated sub that began its 11th war patrol just two weeks before its sinking, he was compelled to look deeper.

Through military records, high school yearbook information and other sources, Gregory began to piece together more background on the young sailor.

“His folks waited more than a year to have his death confirmed,” Gregory learned from a 1946 clipping from The Californian.

“That had to be hard for them,” he said.

Although Reed and the rest of the crew were declared missing in December 1944, it was not until Dec. 12, 1945 — after the war had ended — that the Reed family received an official letter at their home on the Richfield Oil Lease in Elk Hills confirming that the crew had been officially declared dead, The Californian reported at the time.

Gregory sometimes refers to Reed as “Jerry” rather than “Jerrold” because the young Taft man signed, “Jerry W. Reed Jr.” on his own draft card.

Gregory marveled at Reed’s and the entire crew’s service in a cramped American submarine.

“I’m a little claustrophobic,” he said. “I don’t think I could do it.”

The American submarine Albacore holds one of the most distinguished service records of the war, he said.

“She is credited with 10 confirmed sinkings and three probables,” Gregory said.

One of the enemy ships sunk by Albacore was a light cruiser, 3,300 tons, and another, astoundingly, was the aircraft carrier Taiho, at 31,000 tons, Gregory said.

The men aboard that lost submarine deserve to be remembered, he said, not just as numbers, but as individuals.

“My father was a World War II veteran,” Gregory said. “When I write about young men like Jerry Reed, there’s a very powerful feeling.

“I have two sons, and ironically, these young men of my father’s generation become like my own sons.”

Reed’s name is engraved on the Kern County World War II Veterans Memorial, which was opened to the public and dedicated at Jastro Park in downtown Bakersfield last December.

Vietnam veteran Ed Gaede, who led the effort to build the new memorial, agrees with Gregory’s contention that the names of the men of the lost Albacore must be honored and remembered.

“It’s the least we can do,” he said, “for all those who participated in saving the world.”


(c) 2023 The Bakersfield Californian

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