The crew of the USS Perch (SS-176)

USS Perch (SS-176) was a Porpoise-class submarine and the first ship in the US Navy to be named for the Perch. She was commissioned in 1936 in Groton CT. She became a member of the Pacific Fleet in November 1937 joining Submarine Squadron 6.
In 1942, the USS Perch was dispatched to the Java Sea. In the middle of the night on March 1, she was spotted and hit by depth charges. Despite the quick crash dive, she was badly damaged. Crewmembers found electrical grounds, battery issues and a severe leak in the engine room. A test dive was attempted on March 3 but the leaks forced the crew to return to the surface. The damage was too severe to route and escape. Spotted again by Japanese’s destroyers and unable to launch torpedoes, the decision was made for the diesel submarine to be scuttled. The crew was ordered off the boat and the Perch was lost to the sea. The entire crew of the Perch would be picked up by Japanese ships and become POW’s for the remainder of WWII. In Stephen Jackson’s book “The Men” the ordeal of the crew of the Perch is documented by one of its survivors Ernie Plantz.

“The prisoners were offloaded and marched, many barefoot, through the streets of Makassar. This city is almost on the equator, and the blacktop streets were hot enough to burn, blister, and bleed, and their feet suffered in the column of marching men…..The remaining enlisted men marched to a former Dutch army training came that the Japanese had made into a detention facility for Allied prisoners. The Perch men were not the only Americans to be interred here. Survivors of the USS Pope (DD 225), a World War I-era four-star destroyer, were also brought to the camp. The Pope had been sunk of March 1 as part of the same battle that claimed the Perch, a battle that was later called the Battle of the Java Sea.”

“How does one go about describing such and experience? When privation, loss of liberty, starvation, disease, cruelty, and torture are the norm, the only experiences that significantly deviate from that norm are noteworthy. The prison camp experience for these sailors was one of the slow erosion of physical health and mental stability punctuated by moments of violence, brutality, and rarely, pleasure. The men who found themselves trapped in this nightmare kept alive and kept together because they kept the faith with each other. They made the best of it, bartered with the locals when they could, stole from the Japanese when the opportunities arose, and stayed true to their shipmates, their prison mates, and their country.”

“Then one day, a day like any other of the one thousand, two hundred and ninety-seven days that had preceded it, the prisoners were called to assembly by the Japanese’s guards. Plantz recalled the joy and the irony of that day : They called us together and announced to us that the war was over and that the Americans had won. And they wanted to shake hands, ‘Now we’re friends.’ These were the same bastards that beat you and starved you for three and a half years, because we kept the same guards from beginning to end. They wanted to shake hands and be friends. Needless to say, nobody did. Plantz and the men would spend another month in the camp due in part the logistics of removing the remaining number of prisoners from the remote island, but initially because nobody knew they were there. Absent the report or confirmation from another Allied ship, the Perch had been assumed lost with all hands back in 1942.”

“Of the over three thousand men initially imprisoned at the Makassar camp, only about a thousand remained when the war ended….The crew of the Perch made out quite well, losing only six shipmates during their incarceration out of a crew of fifty-nine.”

U.S.S. Perch (SS-176)
Crew List
Alboney, Francis
Arnette, Elbert H.
**Atkeison, Warren Ingram
Berridge, Robert C.
Boersma, Sidney H
Bolden, Sidney
Bolton, Vernon
*Brown, Charles N.
Byrnes, Thomas F., Jr.
Clevinger, Gordon B.
Crist, Daniel
Cross, Charles L., Jr.
Dague, Lawrence W.
Deleman, Bernard
*Dewes, Philip J
Earlywine, Roland I.
Earlywine, Virgil E.
*Edwards, Houston E.
Evans, Roger W.
Fajotina, Alejo
Foley, Joseph A.
Gill, Benjamin S.
Goodwine, Calvin E.
**Greco, John
Harper, Earl R.
Henderson, Henry C.
Hurt, David A.
Kerich, Thomas L.
Klecky, Rudolph
Lents, Robert W.
McCray, James G.
*McCreary, Frank E.
Monroe, Elmo P.
Moore, Thomas
*Newsome, Albert K.
Normand, Joseph R.
Orlyk, Stephen M.
**Osborne, Robert Willis
Pedersen, Victor S.
Peters, Orvel V.
Plantz, Ernest V.
Reh, Theodore J.
Richter, Paul R., Jr.
Robison, Jesse H.
Roth, E.J.
Ryder, John F.
Sarmiento, Macario
Scacht, Kenneth G.
Schaefer, Gilbert E.
Simpson, Samuel F.
Stafford, Frankland F., Jr.
Taylor, Glenn E.
Turner, Marion M.
Van Buskirk, Beverly R.
Van Horn, Edward
Vandergrift, Jacob J.
Walton, Felix B.
Webb, James F.
Welch, Freeman
Wilcox, Myron O.
*Wilson, Robert A.
Winger, Ancil W.
Wright, Ray N.
Yates, Henry S.

Note: *Brown, Dewes, Edwards, McCreary, Newsome and Wilson died as Prisoner of War and **Note: Atkeison, Greco, and Osborne were mistakenly included in the 1963 edition. All three survived the loss of the boat and were taken, prisoner. Atkeison and Osborne were liberated from a prisoner of war camp on 17 September 1945, and Greco was liberated on 21 September 1945. (https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/united-states-submarine-losses/perch-ss-176.html)

This is only one story of the thousands of American men who were captured during WWII. Their stories and names will always be remembered.

Stephen Jackson’s book The Men and Trial and Triumph (An interview with Ernie Plantz) can be purchased at the museum gift shop’s online store. 

 

 

Leave a Reply