The thoughts and prayers of James O’Connor since he served aboard the submarine Salmon during World War II have been with shipmates who didn’t return from the fighting at sea. And many didn’t survive combat as submarine sailors.
The thoughts and prayers of James O’Connor since he served aboard the submarine Salmon during World War II have been with shipmates who didn’t return from the fighting at sea.
And many didn’t survive combat as submarine sailors.
“The U.S. submarine force in World War II was made up of less than two percent of the U.S. Navy fleet,” he wrote in a brief summation of his career.
“Submarines accounted for more than 55 percent of all the Japanese ships that were sunk. Submarines sank over 1,200 merchant ships and 215 Japanese war ships.”
Fifty-two U.S. submarines were lost in sea attacks during World War II, he added, and more than 3,500 American submariners lost their lives — about one out of every five who served aboard a submarine in combat.
“My prayers are always and always will be with my shipmates.”
O’Connor, who was born in Beachwood and went to high school in the Cleveland area, enlisted in the Navy in December of 1941, right after Pearl Harbor.
“I went down on the 10th of December, with two buddies,” he recalled. “We were going to graduate (from high school). We never did get our diplomas until after the war.”
After training, he was shipped to the Pacific with Marines aboard the troop ship U.S.S. J. Franklin Bell, a converted cruise ship that had been called the U.S.S. President McKinley. “I’d never been in Stark County, so it didn’t mean much to me then,” he said of the coincidence that would amuse him years later.
The ship took the Navy men and Marines to Pearl Harbor, where they saw the destruction that the Japanese attack had caused.
“I’d read about what happened. But, for a 17-year-old to stand on deck and see what happened ... I think at that moment in time I became a man.”
Acting in response to a sign he’d seen aboard the J. Franklin Bell asking for volunteers for the submarine service, O’Connor requested the assignment and met rigid physical and mental standards. “Only eight out of 100 passed the physical, psychiatric and written exams,” he noted. “Then only two out of five get through submarine school.”
O’Connor reported to the U.S.S. Salmon, SS 182, in January 1943, and served board the submarine for six of the vessel’s 11 war patrols. He left the Salmon in November 1944 after her last battle, in which she “took the worst depth charging in the history of the submarine service,” and had to limp to Saipan escorted by three other submarines.
O’Connor served the rest of the war as a torpedo instructor. He had become an expert on the Mark 18 electric torpedo during study in the summer before the Salmon’s ill-fated final war voyage.
Page 2 of 2 - BACK HOME
It was about the time of that schooling in 1944 that O’Connor wedded his wife, Jeanette “Jenny” O’Connor, with whom he will have been married for 68 years in July. The couple raised four children — sons James, Paul and Patrick O’Connor and daughter Geraldine O’Connor Sawrey.
The O’Connors have lived in Massillon for 22 years. They have five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
For 35 years, O’Connor worked for The Timken Co., retiring in 1983 as vice president of the company’s bearing operations.
In his office at Timken, O’Connor kept a book that has served him well, he said, through his military and business careers. He had obtained the volume shortly after joining the Navy, while passing through a small town in New Mexico in January 1942.
“A man handed me a Bible and I’ve had that Bible ever since. It’s pretty worn out now. I had it with me throughout the war and in my desk for 38 years with the Timken Co. I opened it every morning to whatever passage I came to, and I continue to do that today.”