About 30 minutes before sunset on 11 May 1944, USS CREVALLE (SS-291) surfaced off Negros Island in the Philippines. Her mission: to bring supplies to guerillas fighting the Japanese and pick up refugees. CREVALLE’s commanding officer, Frank Walker, remembers, “My orders stated that we would bring out twenty five passengers and no baggage,” and that the refugees would be delivered to the sub on a canoe. The second canoe, carrying sixteen more refugees, was a total surprise. “He [Colonel Abcede, the guerilla commander] said the he had done this in hopes to persuade us to carry more than the twenty-five. …Many of the second group…were women, children, and also included four American and Filipino soldiers who had survived the Bataan Death March, had made their escape and desperately needed medical treatment.” Walker could not turn them away—CREVALLE took everyone aboard. Among the refugees was American missionary Paul Lindholm and his wife and four children. Lindholm made sure his family was safe aboard the boat and then, in Walker’s words, “returned ashore at the last minute to continue his ministry among the guerillas—much to the astonishment of his wife who expected him to accompany them to safety.” The entire family would survive to be reunited at war’s end.
With forty-one extra people aboard, CREVALLE was crowded. The chiefs gave their quarters over to the women so they could have some privacy, but mealtimes proved to be the bigger headache. “We fed them in the crew’s mess, which required trooping them through the control room,” Walker said. “This fascinated some of the children, who took to straggling and playing with the switches, on the interior electrical control panel. The Chief of the Watch solved this by putting up a sign that read, ‘Any children found in the control room without their mothers will be shot.’ The mothers read this to their kids, who seemed to take it as a matter of course. Considering that some of them could not remember a time when they were not fugitives and in the middle of the war, this is entirely understandable.”
The trip to Darwin, Australia, where the refugees would disembark, was anything but calm. A particularly vicious depth-charging sent the boat down to 580 feet, far below her 412-foot test depth; water flooded into a forward area where the female refugees had been told to stay. Nancy Real explained why they were able to keep their cool: “…I noticed four…torpedomen, standing in water almost over their heads up by the torpedo tubes. They seemed so unconcerned as I watched them, that I decided until they looked worried, why should I be worried?”