Earlier this month I did a blog post on my dad’s World War II hero, Slade Deville Cutter. My father shared another story of a Commander that made the ultimate sacrifice for his crew and our country, Commander Howard Walter Gilmore.
Gilmore underwent submarine training in 1930 and in the years that followed served in various submarines and at stations ashore. In 1941, he assumed his first command, USS Shark (SS-174), only to be transferred the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor to take command of the still-unfinished USS Growler (SS-215). On his first, Growler attacked three enemy destroyers off Kiska, sinking one and severely damaging the other two, while narrowly avoiding two torpedoes fired in return, for which Gilmore received the Navy Cross. On his second patrol, Growler sank four merchant ships totaling 15,000 tons in the East China Sea near Taiwan. Gilmore received a gold star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.
The submarine continued to take a heavy toll of shipping on her fourth war patrol, and on the night of 6–February 7, 1943, she approached a convoy stealthily for a surface attack. Suddenly a fast gunboat, Hayasaki, closed and prepared to ram. As the small ship charged out of the darkness, Gilmore sounded the collision alarm and shouted, “Left full rudder!” — to no avail. Growler hit the Japanese adversary amidships at 17 knots, heeling the submarine 50 degrees, bending 18 feet of her bow sideways, and disabling the forward torpedo tubes.
Simultaneously, the Japanese crew unleashed a burst of machine gun fire at Growler’s bridge, killing the assistant officer of the deck and a lookout, while wounding Gilmore himself and two other men. “Clear the bridge!” Gilmore ordered as he struggled to hang on to a frame. As the rest of the bridge party dropped down the hatch into the conning tower, the executive officer, Lieutenant commander Arnold Schade waited expectantly for his captain to appear. Instead from above came the shouted command: “Take her down!” Realizing that he could not get himself below in time if the ship were to escape, Gilmore chose to make the supreme sacrifice for his shipmates. Schade hesitated briefly — then followed his captain’s last order and submerged the crippled ship.
Commander Gilmore's Grave Stone in Meridian, MS
Surfacing some time later in hope of reattacking the Hayasaki, Schade found the seas empty. The Japanese ship had survived the encounter, but there was no sign of Gilmore, who apparently had drifted away in the night. Schade and Growler’s crew managed to control the ship’s flooding and limped back to Brisbane.
For sacrificing his own life to save his ship, commander Howard Gilmore was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Today “Take her down!” remains one of the legendary phrases of the U.S. Submarine Force.
Thank you Commander Gilmore for sacrificing your life for your crew and our freedoms. A true hero to remember forever.