On 5 March 1944, USS TULLIBEE (SS-284) departed Pearl Harbor on her fourth war patrol, arriving on station in the western Pacific’s Palau Islands, where she was scheduled to support air strikes, in just under three weeks. Less than a day later she spotted her first targets: a convoy of two freighters, a destroyer, and two escorts. The sub closed to 3,000 yards and, at 0315, launched two torpedoes. Gunner’s Mate Clifford Kuykendall was standing on the bridge, acting as a lookout, when the fish left the boat. “There they go,” he remembers his fellow lookout saying. “We’ll see what happens now.”
Just moments later, TULLIBEE was rocked by an explosion that knocked Kuykendall unconscious and hurled him overboard. “The explosion was a red film,” he told Amanda Warner, a reporter for the Wichita Falls (Texas) Times Record News, which published his story on 20 July 2008. “It passed over my eyes.” He swam to the surface where he “swallowed so much diesel [he] could taste it a year later.” Treading water, he watched TULLIBEE sink beneath the waves. He heard voices for a few minutes, but then they went silent. “I remember it just like it happened yesterday,” he told Warner. “It’s something I can’t forget.”
The next day Kuykendall was picked up by a Japanese ship and sent to a POW camp. He survived the war and was released after V-J Day. When he returned to the United States and discovered that he had been the only man to survive TULLIBEE’s loss, he sat down at his sister’s kitchen table and wrote letters to the families of his 79 shipmates to explain what had happened to their loved ones. For many who had been resigned, like countless other families of lost submariners, to never knowing the why or when or where or how of their Sailor’s death, the letter provided a great deal of comfort. “For our mother, he was a hero,” says Ruthie Joyce Ticknor, whose father, Chief Electrician’s Mate George Ticknor, went down with TULLIBEE.