Posts Tagged ‘Al Jacobson’

Welcome Aboard Flier

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 15 2010

Sixty six years ago today, Al Jacobson, fresh from Submarine School, reported aboard the USS Flier for his first assignment.

Five of the officers were left from the Midway incident:  Commander Crowley, Lieutenant Liddell (now promoted to Executive Officer), Ensign Herbert Beahr (called “Teddy”) Engineering  Officer, and Lieutenant John Edward (called “Ed”) Casey, The Gunnery Officer, and Herbert Miner, Communications Officer.

Joining them was Al Jacobson, 22, fresh out of school, and the Ensign under Instruction.  As he was not a qualified submariner yet, he was going to have a rough time: if he wasn’t on duty, eating or sleeping, his job was to study every cog, knob and system on the Flier until he could run them all if he had to.  In addition, his formal duties included Commissary Officer (in charge of ordering and planning food for the crew in cooperation with the cooking staff), Assistant Gunnery Officer (Helping Lt. Casey, the main Gunnery Officer , direct and man the deck guns)  Assistant Torpedo (Helping Casey with the Torpedoes) and Assistant Navigator (helping Lt. Liddell with the Navigation).  It was  a large undertaking, to be sure, but no more than most  new officers.

Also Lt. Paul Knapp, of San Francisco, taking the position of Engineering Officer.  He would be working with the three Motor Mac Chiefs (Edgar Hudson was still aboard.  By the time of Flier’s second patrol, there would be two more: William Brooks and James Snyder, though I have no evidence of when they joined the crew) to keep Flier running in top shape.  With four engines, four generators, two massive batteries, and a complex electronic system linking them all together, it was an important job.

Lt. Bill Reynolds of Industry, Pennsylvania, assigned to the Communications Officer Position.  He would oversee the communications that went in and out of the submarine, coordinate other known received communications, such as locations and positions of Allied and enemy convoys, weather reports, special communications, and more.  While the submarine risked discovery each time she sent a message, she could receive messages without risk of discovery.

There was also likely one more officer aboard Flier, but his name I cannot find: Once the Flier reached Fremantle, thirteen men were detached, and thirteen more joined the crew.  One of these new recruits was Ensign Philip Mayer, Officer Under Instruction, (like Al will be for the first patrol), so it stands to reason that there may have been one other officer on Flier for the first patrol that had been removed before the second.

That being said,  Flier carried nine officers on her second patrol, she had bunks for only eight.  So it’s just as possible, that this missing officer was not assigned to Flier at all.  If anyone knows the answer, please let me know.

Sub School

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 18 2010

Sixty-Six years ago today, the Flier is still up on blocks, the Redfin is about to leave, and the Robalo is getting repaired and a good deep cleaning while her crew is on R&R somewhere all over Australia.

I want to return to Al Jacobson, where he is currently (sixty-six years ago that is) located in New London’s Submarine school, in the final stages of his training and getting ready for his first assignment.

Al Jacobson at 22 years old and entering the Navy as an Ensign.

The American Submarine Force only takes volunteers, and maintained that policy even in the depths of WWII.  Submarine duty is hazardous.  During WWII, nearly 20% of the submariners went down with their ship, and many others died in various incidents that did not cause the loss of their boat.

It was hot, cramped, uncomfortable, and often submarines operated alone miles away from the nearest Naval ship.  The Calvary could not often be called in.  Under such circumstances, the Navy believed that volunteers would be the least likely to crack under the pressure.

However, volunteering only got you so far.  Once in Submarine School, the Navy did the best they could to make you crack, to get rid of those who might not be able to handle the physical, mental and emotionally rigorous life of the submarine sailor.

There was the Pressure Chamber, where potential submarine candidates were locked in with a doctor, while the chamber pressurized to the equivalent depth a submarine could reach underwater.  Usually a volleyball or some air filled object joined them.  By the time the chamber was fully pressurized, the volleyball resembled a bowl, and the candidates would have to equalize the pressure in their ears several times.  (Think about the pressure you feel in your head as a plane takes off or lands.  It’s apparently similar).  The chamber would also feel very warm.  Anyone who couldn’t equalize the pressure in their ears or showed signs of distress would be safely removed from the test and rejected as unfit for submarine duty.  Those whose eardrums burst because they could not equalize also were rejected.

Then there was the escape tower, where candidates learned to escape a sunken submarine using the Momsen Lungs or Steinke Hoods (nicknamed “Stinky Hoods”)  that would be stored aboard.  (Despite the fact that less than 1% of the ocean is at a “rescuable” depth).  Starting from a pressurized chamber beneath the 300 foot tower, a candidate would learn to ascend to the top without bursting or damaging their lungs.  Anyone who didn’t want to would be released to the surface navy.  (According to one source I found, completing this test earned you the name “bubblehead”)

The Submarine Escape Training Tower still stands in New London's Submarine School. There was a second one built in Pearl Harbor Hawaii, but it has since been drained. It apparently still stands as a landmark.

The School itself was tough:  generally there were classes in the morning, and afternoon exercises in either simulation chambers or training patrols on the old R and S class boats.  Officers and Enlisted both attended, but would also have specialized classes pertaining to their specific jobs.

Once graduated from Submarine School, a man was considered a “non-qual”, whether he was an officer or enlisted man.  The last stage of his training took place on board a working submarine, where he had a year to learn every pipe, valve, cog, and dial onboard.   When he felt he had learned enough, he would be given a written and oral test by that submarine’s officers.  Upon passing, he would be awarded his dolphins, the official insignia of the Submariner.  Those who couldn’t pass in a year were reassigned to the Surface Fleet.  Many submariners in WWII completed their qualifications in one patrol.  (They were not permitted much leisure time until they were fully qualified.  So every waking moment most non-quals were either working on duty or studying for their qualifications).

Today, submarine school apparently still bears a strong resemblance to the WWII version Al would have undergone.  Classes in  the morning, exercises in the afternoon, studying in the evening, and every man (and perhaps soon women) a volunteer.  Most of what they learned is strictly classified, so after volunteering for Submarine Duty a potential candidate is also background checked for security classification.
Al was approaching the end of his training, and likely spending his days on an old S-boat doing short patrols learning the rhythm of a working boat and wondering where he was going to go.  Would he be asssigned to a new construction which meant it might be another year before he went to sea?  Would he be assigned to one of the stars of the Submarine Service like the Trigger, the Tang or the Harder, or a boat just beginning to earn her stripes.

One thing he wasn’t thinking about was the danger.  They all knew the odds, and while no submariner ignored them as such, they didn’t dwell on them.   You’d go crazy otherwise and break down.  One thing Al did say later was the Submarine Service was an all-or-nothing proposition.  There was little risk you’d come back missing an eye or a limb.  You either came back whole, or you didn’t come back at all.

For more information: US Navy Submarine School

BREAKING: Trailer released for Dive Detectives

The Book, The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 12 2010

I’ve noticed a lot of people have found this site looking for photos or images of the Flier wreck.  Those are all in the possession of the filmers, YAP Films and Mike and Warren Fletcher of Dive Detectives.  The search for the Flier will be featured in a future episode of “Dive Detectives” called “Submarine Graveyard” and they recently posted their trailer for this episode, and the first glimpses of the USS Flier at rest in Balabac Straits!

There’s no news yet on when this will air, but it will definitely be exciting when it does especially since it seems they are tracking not only the Flier, but her sister the Robalo, whose grave location is still unknown and the fate of the crew is still a mystery.

On another note, I was able to meet with someone today who was able to give me wonderful insights into my main character, Al, and will require quite a bit of work, but I think will really improve the book.  I’ll have to re-write a couple of scenes, that’s for sure!

And as for the exhibit, we’re still looking for funding, but hopefully, as more stuff about the Flier comes out, we may find sponsors or get interest from foundations.  I’ll keep everyone posted.

Under the Golden Gate

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 16 2010

So where was Flier 66 years ago today?

She was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and churning the final few miles to the Naval Base at Mare Island.  Mare Island was the West Coast’s submarine base, they were building and launching several a month, in addition to the scheduled overhauls most long-serving submarines were scheduled for every two years or so.  They had building ways for the new construction, dry docks for the overhauls and repairs of any kind.  Every kind of laborer, shipwright, welder, metalsmith, and technician was employed at Mare Island, and they churned out submarines, ships and any kind of naval vessel you could think of at an amazing rate.

The USS Silversides and USS Trigger under contruction at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where Flier was headed. (Though in actuality, these photographs were taken over two years before Flier's grounding.)

Mare had been a Naval Base since shortly after California’s entrance into the US.  It built and repaired boats for the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII (it was built up immensely to handle the demand for services by the Navy), Korea and Vietnam.

Flier would spend the next two months up on blocks, being thoroughly checked, overhauled, and made fit again.

It would not be cheap, nor easy, and Crowley, like any other submarine captain, would be right there every day overseeing all of it.  Submarine captains were allowed and encouraged to make numerous decisions about their submarine and her fittings every time they were in port.  Where the guns the sub was assigned would be mounted.  How the ladders going up and down the floors would be mounted (I once lead a Trigger veteran through the Silversides and he remarked how rare it was to see a ladder mounted on the long side of the hatch, instead of on the short side, as the Trigger’s was) or anything else they wanted.

While Flier was in port, she would have the latest technology installed in her if any of her systems were out of date (they were, computers then being like computers now, on the cutting edge for the blink of an eye), and anything else desired.

A Pen and Ink Drawing by Sckirken showing a submarine in Dry Dock #1 at Mare Island. Flier would have looked soemthing like this while undergoing repairs.

Most of the crew, since they had not been out for a patrol yet, would remain attached to the Flier, though many of them would be sent home to visit for several weeks while she was up  on blocks.  In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

Al, meanwhile, was still in Submarine School, still wondering who his first sub would be.  An established warrior with a record like the Bowfin, or the Barb, or the Finback, or one of the dozens of submarines under construction at New London, Mare Island, or Manitowoc?

While we leave Flier up on blocks in California, we’ll start meeting two other submarines that ended up being vital to the story of the Flier: the Robalo and the Redfin.

First Book Excerpt: Chapter 2: Remembering Midway

The Book | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 14 2010

For those who have been curious to read portions of my book, here we go.  I’d appreciate CONSTRUCTIVE help only.  If you think there’s a problem, please be specific.  I don’t want to stop doing this because a lot of people just want to say “This Sucks!” and leave it at that.  Not helpful.  If you think it’s good, tell me, if you think there are places where I could use some clarification, or it’s too wordy, or anything else tell me that too.

For my submariner friends out there, let me know if this sounds like something that could have happened in a sub.  The tons of research I have to do in order to attempt to depict submarine culture is no match for your experience.  Let me know if I got it right, wrong, or how to fix it.

This is a large excerpt from Chapter 2: Gateway to War.  The Flier is now north of Australia, on her way to Lombok Strait, the dividing line from Allied to disputed waters.  Al, off duty, is passing through the Mess Hall on his way back to his cabin, when he gets caught up in the conversation between two of Flier’s “plankowners”  (these are men of a submarine’s original crew, the one that she was commissioned with).  They end up  telling the new hand, Elton Brubaker, 17 years old and on his first tour, about the time Flier grounded at Midway, over several hands of poker.

To read the excerpt, click here, or check out the Book Excerpt page for the link at the bottom.

If you don’t want to leave a comment publicly, please feel free to e-mail me at

Meet Al Jacobson

The Book | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 10 2010

While the Flier is on the way back to California, I’d like to introduce a friend of mine: Al Jacobson.

In 1944, Al was 22 years old.  He had just left behind his mom, dad, and three sisters to join the Navy.  His older brother Charlie was already in the Navy aboard a cruiser, his younger brother David was in the Army Air Force (predecessor to the Air Force) as a bombadier.  Al, due to the influence of one of his ROTC instructors at U of Michigan, decided to join the Submarine Force, and in January, passed the stringent tests to get in.

The thing was, Al and his brothers didn’t have to join the military.  Their family owned a brass foundry in Grand Haven Michigan, which was immersed in producing military products.  They had the option to stay home and work for the military as civilians.

Certain men, during WWII, were deemed important enough on the homefront to be exempt from military service.  Farmers and their families were needed to produce food, shipwrights, steelsmiths, coppersmiths, ect. were important to keep building the weapons of war, and so on.  Training new people in order to allow experienced people to head to the front didn’t make sense.  Keeping those of military age working at these jobs rather than continually rotating inexperienced people (who would likely make mistakes due to that inexperience) was the best, fastest way to keep the military machine rolling quickly and safely to battle.

But the Jacobson boys felt called to join the military anyway, and Al and David joined two of the most dangerous branches available to them.  And now Al was starting Submarine School

Submarine school was brutal, it had to be. If you were going to crack under stress, in tight quarters for days at a time, when the pressure around you was so great your head felt like it was going to explode, the Navy wanted to find you and weed you out before you ever headed out on patrol.  The Submarine Force had a high fatality rate: 20%.  They took only volunteers.  Once in, you had every option to remove yourself every time your sub came to port, and no one would say anything, and you could be removed if some of the senior crew believed you were a hazard to the rest of the crew.  (This is still true today: a nuclear submarine veteran once told me that while his boat was under the ice at the North Pole for weeks, one of the crew suddenly panicked that the sub was going down and tried to open the hatch.  He was tackled and chained to his bunk under guard until he could be picked up by helicopter.)

It was going to be a tough three months for Al, especially since he was an officer, and expected not only to do his job, but take responsibility for men much older and more experienced than he.  He had chosen to join this service, and he believed in doing the best that he could in all things.

He just didn’t know how much that was going to be tested in the next few months.

The book

The Book | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

In the very first post, I mentioned that the exhibit was coming with a book.  In the case of which came first, the exhibit or the book, the answer is definitely the book.

I first heard about Al Jacobson in April of 2005.  I had just started working at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum, when the secretary of the board and the executive director came to me and asked me if I would be willing to transcribe/make minutes of the last three months of board meetings.  After two hours of frantic typing (I love veterans, I really do, but they can get off on tangents so fast, and then they have to top one another!) they reached the end of the agenda and had to select two replacements for two members whose tenures were up and poor health was preventing their return.

One of the veterans said he knew two men who might be interested, and one of them was Al Jacobson, and proceeded to give a thirty second summary of what happened to him.

I remember thinking, “WOW!  I have got to talk to this guy for our oral history project!”  I mentioned that to our executive director, Bob,  who was going to talk to Al in a few days, and he said he’d bring it up.  Two days later, he calls me in his office and says while Al was quite busy at the moment, he gave Bob the account of the Flier that he’d written to give to me.  It was amazing to go through that simple account, and I wanted to read more.  I was shocked to discover that while there were dozens of submarine books on the market, including several each about the Harder, Wahoo, Tang and Growler, there was no book about the Flier at all.

I instantly thought, “I wonder if I could write it…” and just as quickly dismissed the idea.  I had been writing “books” since I was in 9th grade, but usually by the time I finished, I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculous things I written.  If I actually thought it was good, I put it away for six months or so, then re-read it, always to shrieks of laughter.

But the idea wouldn’t leave me.  I started to do every bit of research I could on the Flier.  Flier’s account was summerized in several large compendiums, and I was able to discover various facts behind these short narratives.  The more I learned, the more questions I came up with and wanted to know.

So I decided to give it a try.  The worst thing that could happen was I failed to finish.  At least working from a real story, I couldn’t write myself into a ridiculous, melodramatic corner.  I started to talk to Al about the Flier, and interviewed him on the phone and on tape.   I started giving an “elevator speech” version of the story while I lead tours of Flier’s sister USS Silversides, and got a ton of people asking where could they buy the book, so I knew there was the interest.

The first draft was finally finished in 2007.  It had taken two years of research and there were some large holes in the narrative, where I had been unable to find enough records to satisfy my accuracy standards.  Sometimes, I had accidentally make Al sound like a girl (my husband would point this out, usually after laughing) but it was done, and I intended to start editing it while looking for a publisher.

But things kept getting in the way.  We had to move out of state, away from the museum.  The museum, which had been intending on doing an exhibit about the Flier, put that on the back burner to concentrate on the capital campaign for the new (now current) building.  My husband and I had our first child, I was working evenings at my alma mater as their Archivist in order to make enough money to pay down debts we had built up while my hubby had been out of work (the museum had not been full time employment for me).  The worst blow of all, (at least to me) was a book on the Flier WAS published, and a part of me wanted to give up.  Who was going to listen to an untried author in the face of a WWII scholar?

Occasionally, I would go through and edit the book, and sometimes made headway on it.  It was different from the Sturma book on Flier, since mine was a novel written from Al’s point of view rather than a pure non-fiction.  Sometimes, I realized I was enjoying the story again for its own merits, and thought, ‘Why not?’ After all, if the Wahoo and Tang can have multiple books written about them, there was no law that there cannot be two written about the Flier.

Then Al died.  The last survivor was gone, and I hadn’t finished soon enough to let him see it in print.  I felt incredibly guilty and depressed, and then, more determined than ever to finish.

Things started to fall into place.  The records I needed in the National Archives either were posted online or arrived weeks after I stopped looking for them.  The museum got a new executive director who was interested in the Flier story and the exhibit and project were tentatively put back on schedule, and I no longer had writer’s block.  Then the exhibit got green lighted, publicity was hinted at, and now the Flier has been found.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll start posting excerpts from the book and let you know how things are going.  We’re going to self-publish at least to begin with because no one will take a manuscript from here to published as fast as we need it done, but that’s all right by me.  Still, getting the book to print and the exhibit up in time could be really… interesting.


The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally posted on Jan 30, 2010

Ever wonder what goes into building a museum exhibit, or writing a book?  Here’s your chance to find out, and all at mach 9!

The USS Flier was a United States Submarine that struck a mine and sank in thirty seconds in 1944.  Fifteen of her crew who had been on deck or just one deck down managed to survive, and started swimming for land.  By morning, only eight were left.  They had to forage for food, build rafts to explore other islands, were taken by guerillas and smuggled to American spy bases deep in Japanese-held territory.

They drank arsenic-laced water, traveled in boats laden with newlyweds and all their worldly goods, (including baskets of live chickens and bags of rice), hunted wild boars in the rain forest, found survivors of the Battles of Bataan and Corrigedor, and became the only submariners during WWII to escape their sinking sub, elude capture, and make it back home.  The people they met and systems that helped them get out of danger were so top-secret that they were sworn to secrecy for decades.

Alvin E. Jacobson was 22, a member of the ROTC and left behind his education at University of Michigan to fight for his country.  By August 14, 1944, he was the youngest of the officers to survive.  By 2005, he was the last surviving member of the Flier’s crew, the only one who remembered the long-classified story.

He served his country during WWII, and after, operating a business that employed many, sitting on boards of museums and hospitals, and trying to make his community a better place.  One of those museums was the Great Lakes Memorial and Museum (GLNMM), where I work.  We take care of Flier’s sister, USS  Silversides, the most successful surviving submarine of WWII.

This year, we are opening a new exhibit about the USS Flier, her lost crew, and the eight survivors.  Though Al passed away in 2008, he sat down with me on video and audio tapes for many interviews for over two years, recalling this story.  I and many at the museum miss him greatly, but are looking forward to building this exhibit, which was his greatest dream: to tell the story of the Flier so his lost crewmates would be remembered.

So how does one fill nearly 3,000 square feet of space with an exhibit that is (hopefully) interesting and interactive while being accurate?  How does one publish a novel based on his tale at the same time?  Come with me and we’ll find out.  I have published only very small pieces before and I designed the Main Exhibit Hall in the same museum, so I’m not a complete novice….

But if this goes the way the last one did, it’s going to be one wild, amazing ride.