By James Beaty
McALESTER — A U.S. Navy submarine believed missing off the coast of Japan since 1943 has brought a Texas woman together with area residents in Hartshorne and Red Oak. It had to do with an attempt to find photographs of all the sailors reported lost on the USS Pompano during World War II. Through their efforts, photographs of the sailors from Hartshorne and Red Oak who were lost on the Pompano have now been located, with conformation coming Friday that the Hartshorne sailor’s photo had been found. The two local sailors lost at sea on the submarine are George Alfred Jennings, of Hartshorne, and Jay S. Owen, of Red Oak. The USS Pompano embarked from Midway on Aug. 20, 1943, headed for patrols around Honshu and Hokkaido, Japan, never to be seen again by other U.S. forces — although the submarine is credited with sinking from one-to-two Japanese ships that September during her seventh battle patrol. However, the ship never returned to Midway and in January, 1944, the Pompano was removed from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register. All the sailors on board were declared lost at sea. Now, with the discovery of a possible submarine wreckage based on a side sonar scan by a U.S. Navy minesweeper in July 2012 inthe area where the ship is believed to have sank, family members of the sailors who were on board hope the Pompano’s wreckage may have been located. Public Affairs Officer CDR K.C. Marshall presented a report on the situation on behalf of the U.S. Naval Forces Japan, on Nov. 14, 2012. After diplomatic hurdles are cleared and the often choppy seas in the area make it feasible, there is hope that an identification dive will determine if the Pompano has indeed been discovered nearly 70 years after it was lost. “We are requesting permission from the government of Japan to physically confirm that a missing U.S. submarine sank in a specific location in the Tsugaru Straits during World War II,” Marshall’s report states. That’s made finding photos and possible family contacts for the 78 sailors lost with the Pompano a high priority for many of those familiar with the submarine’s history. One of those working to find the photos is Loretta Hill, a retired teacher, principal and curriculum director in Bridgeport, Texas. Her uncle, Charlie Wilson, was one of the sailors lost with the Pompano. After finding a photo of him that she had never seen before on the On Eternal Patrol website, she was eventually able to find his daughter and granddaughter, who the Texas side of the family had never known. Hill’s success in finding out more about her family inspired her try and learn more about the other sailors — which led to contacts regarding the sailors Jennings and Owen from southeastern Oklahoma. Hill had learned that Jennings grew up in Hartshorne in the 1920s and 1930s. She also learned he had a memorial stone in Hartshorne’s Elmwood Cemetery, although he was not buried there, since he’d been lost at sea. The marker notes Jennings was presumed to have died in World War II in service of his country at sea in the Asiatic area. Although the fate of the Pompano has been unknown for years, new evidence from Japan suggests it may have been hit by depth charges from members of the Japanese Navy following an oil slick on top of the water — which they took as an indication there was a submarine below. While trying to locate a photo of Jennings, Hill had contacted the McAlester News-Capital, where Delores Pingleton suggested she contact Greta Stephenson, well-known as a local historian in the Hartshorne community. Stephenson accepted the challenge. “She wanted a picture and she had no idea how to get it,” Stephenson said. Stephenson’s search led her to some groups of class pictures in the cafeteria at Hartshorne Junior High School. After checking some class photographs from 1932, the only Jennings photo she found simply had “Jennings” written on one side and “Salutatorian” on the other. Stephenson said it was the only photo in the class that had only a last name written down, without a first name. However, she located a former classmate of Jennings by telephone on Friday, who Stephenson said confirmed that he had gone to school with George Jennings in Hartshorne, and recalled that George Jennings had been the class salutatorian. Stephenson felt elated at the confirmation. She said that as far as she can tell, George Jennings was not related to the family of former Hartshorne High School football coach Haskell Jennings. Hill asked that anyone with any information about George Albert Jennings to contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org., or to contact Stephenson in Hartshorne. Hill feels she and Stephenson have already forged a telephone friendship, since they’ve never met in person. “We have connected because of these sailors and patriotism,” she said. As for Stephenson locating a photo of Jennings, Hill said “I’m ecstatic. “Every time I get a picture of one of these men, I cry a little. They are so young.” Hill said she obtained a photo of Owen, the sailor from Red Oak, through Janice Newburn. If the U.S. military is able to positively identify the wreckage as the USS Pompano, the Navy plans to arrange and conduct an appropriate memorial service and declare the site a war grave. The U.S. naval report states that the Pompano, one of 52 U.S. submarines lost during World War II, would be easily identifiable. It’s an early design “Fleet boat” with four tubes forward and two aft, according to the report. “All other F-boats with ‘four forward tubes’ have been located,” the report states. Contact James Beaty at email@example.com. For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.