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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    ‘They are us’: Navy remembers lost crew of the Albacore

    Dick John Gilkeson, of Portland, Ore., reacts as he spots the photo of his uncle John Gilkeson before the memorial service Saturday, September 16, 2023, for the lost crew of the WWII Submarine USS Albacore (SS218) at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton. Dick Gilkeson’s uncle died before he was born and was given the name John for his middle name. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Photo of John Gilkeson, center, the uncle of Dick John Gilkeson, of Portland, Ore., on display photos of the lost crew of the lost crew of the WWII Submarine USS Albacore (SS218) Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, for the memorial service at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Family members and guests listen to one of the speakers during the memorial service Saturday, September 16, 2023, for the lost crew of the WWII Submarine USS Albacore (SS218) at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Family members and guests bow their heads while Charles McMullin, of the Groton Base United States Submarine Veterans group, tolls the bell for each crew member of the USS Albacore (22218) during the memorial service for the lost crew Saturday, September 16, 2023, at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Capt. Roy Springer, left, and Richard Warnock, of the Groton Base United States Submarine Veterans group, place a wreath at the base of the podium during the memorial service Saturday, September 16, 2023, for the lost crew of the WWII Submarine USS Albacore (SS218) at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton. Later the wreath was placed a the plaque for the USS Albacore (SS218) at the World War II Submarine Memorial in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― Pamela LaMorte never knew her big brother.

    Pasquale Charles Carracino, of Newark, N.J., was among 85 submariners lost in 1944 when the Groton-built USS Albacore hit a mine off Japan’s Hokkaido Island. The men were honored Saturday at the Submarine Force Museum, more than a year after a Japanese researcher discovered their final resting place almost a thousand feet down in the freezing Pacific.

    Carracino at the time of his death was the eldest of six children, soon to be seven. His mother, Lucy, had signed him into service against her better judgment when he was 17 years old.

    “My mother was actually pregnant with me,” LaMorte said. “She was waiting for him to come home on leave, and she was going to tell him.”

    But he never got there. A telegram came instead with the message he was missing in action. LaMorte recalled her mother watching the NBC documentary series “Victory at Sea” years later in the vain hope she might spot him.

    “She thought maybe he wasn’t really dead,” she said. “Maybe he had amnesia, and maybe she would see him in one of these news reels.”

    LaMorte’s parents are dead now. Her brothers and sisters are all gone, too. The baby of the family who never met the first born is the only one left to welcome the discovery of the Albacore.

    “Whether it’s good or bad, it’s a closure,” she said.

    Capt. Matthew Fanning, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine School, spoke at the ceremony in front of roughly 90 family members of the submariners who’d been lost and found. Behind him was a large board with photos of each man.

    “For over 78 years, the family, friends and comrades of the men lost have waited,” he said. “First, with the hope that their loved ones might return. Then, with the knowledge that they never would. And finally, with renewed hope that they might find closure in learning how and where the ship was lost.”

    The average age of a submariner during World War II was 21, according to Fanning. Those on the Albacore crew were too young to understand the gravity of their task; they never saw the end of the war that could have helped put it into context for them. But even with decades of hindsight, the significance of one’s own wartime contributions can be difficult to comprehend.

    He choked up as he repeated the sentiments of his grandfather, a WWII veteran: “I was just a mechanic. I just did my job. I was no one special.”

    Fanning said it’s the same for a new generation of submariners navigating an uncertain future as actions in Russia, China and North Korea threaten upheaval.

    “None of them see themselves as heroes worthy of any pedestal,” he said. “But make no mistake, today’s sailors will fight, they will win, and some, like those on the Albacore, will die.”

    Jason Floyd, of Alaska, said he knows of his great uncle William Henry Gibson through stories told by his late grandmother. The family lore is that Gibson came home to Ellensburg, Wash., to introduce his family to the woman he’d just married. Then he set off on his last patrol.

    “Before he left, he took his dad to the side and said ‘I don’t feel good about this one. I don’t think I’m coming back,’” Floyd recounted.

    Gibson was 21 years old when he died. The family never saw his wife again.

    Floyd said he was in Groton on Saturday to honor the men who sacrificed their lives and those, like his grandmother, who sacrificed their families.

    He nodded to the torpedo exhibit room where guests had been seated in narrow rows looking at 85 faces captured in time. He wondered how many of them had never gotten to know the men on the board.

    “You listen to the news and the media talk about international relations and politics and the War in Ukraine and all this kind of high level intrigue and drama, but it all boils down to the individual American family,” he said. “Policy makers can say their grand statements up there, but ultimately it affects every one of us.”

    Floyd recalled one of the key points raised by Fanning, the commanding officer of the submarine school.

    “The best way to honor these men is to recognize that our debt to them is not fully paid, and the balance may come due sooner than we think,” Fanning had said. “We know these men, because they are us.”

    e.regan@theday.com

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