Sound Off: The story of the heroic Grayback

By William Callison

One of the untold stories of World War II that I heard about in the Naval Hospital on Guam in 1958, when I met a four striper (Navy captain) who served in the Pacific in that era, had to do with the dozen or so U.S. submarines that were not in Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack. These subs played a critical role in the first year-and-a-half of the war in the Pacific and, according to this old sea dog, none of them came back. They were re-supplied by other ships until they were all finally sunk by Japanese destroyers and aircraft. One of these subs was the Grayback. Two ships of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Grayback, named in honor of the grayback, a small herring of great commercial importance in the Great Lakes.

The first Grayback, (SS-208), was a Tambor-class submarine, commissioned in 1941 and sunk in 1944.

The second Grayback, (SSG-574), was the lead ship of her class of submarine, commissioned in 1958 and struck in 1984.

The first Grayback was commanded by John A. Moore. Johnny, as he was called, was the youngest officer ever to command a U.S. submarine at the time of his appointment as captain of the Grayback in 1941. My four striper friend looked up the record and the first Grayback sank 14 Japanese ships before they got him. Later I told this story to the captain of the carrier Kearsarge, where I was serving as a Naval Air Intelligence Officer, when we were off the coast of Okinawa. He arranged for the Kearsarge to sail over the point where the Grayback rested in Davy Jones Locker.

Some years later in 2000, I was invited to the launching of the Guided Missile Frigate John A. Moore in Long Beach, Calif. Evidently the Navy thought enough of the bravery of the officers and men of the first Grayback to recognize the first ship, Grayback SSG-574, and a second ship John A Moore FFG-19.

USS John A. Moore (FFG-19), eleventh ship of the Oliver Hazard Perry class of guided-missile frigates, was named for Commander John A. Moore (1910-1944). Ordered from Todd Shipyards, San Pedro, Calif., on Feb. 28, 1977 as part of the FY77 program, John A. Moore was laid down on Sept. 19, 1978, launched on Oct. 20, 1979, and commissioned on Nov. 14, 1981. Decommissioned and stricken on Sept. 1, 2000, she was transferred to Turkey the same day as that nation’s TCG Gediz (F 495).

William Callison lives in Oak Harbor.

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