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Closure found at the bottom of the ocean

Ruth Taylor.jpg

Ruth Anders Taylor, then 17, remembers waving farewell to her brother, Floyd, as he headed back to his Naval base at Pearl Harbor.

She was so proud of him - and of her other brothers, too - for volunteering to serve in World War II. She had loved every minute of having Floyd home on his first leave since being assigned to the submarine USS Wahoo.

Already looking forward to his next leave, she waved and waved as Floyd's train steamed out of sight.

Weeks later, she sat down to write to Floyd, four years her senior. She told him all the news from home, including a surprise: She was baby-sitting his favorite niece, Frances, while their brother and sister-in-law welcomed a new baby boy.

But Floyd never learned of his new nephew.

Before the letter reached him, the Wahoo and its crew disappeared somewhere in the vicinity of Japan in October 1943. The sub was lost at sea - truly lost, as the Navy knew neither its location nor the reason it went down.

Ruth and her mother were putting up Christmas decorations when the knock came on their door.

It was Western Union. In staccato telegram language, they learned: "Corpsman 1st Class Floyd Anders missing in action."

So began almost 63 years of wondering.

Where was Floyd? Had he been captured? Was he dead? Did he suffer?

Some of those questions remain for Ruth and the rest of her family.

But a few weeks ago, the McMinnville woman learned some answers, when the Wahoo was located after all these years. "I had a good cry when I found out," she said.

She still wonders why the Wahoo went down. But she's glad to finally know where.

"Now I have some closure, because I know Floyd and his crewmates are all resting at the bottom of the sea together," she said

From the start, their mother believed her gregarious third-oldest son had become a prisoner of war. She tacked a gold eagle, denoting that someone was lost, over one of the two service stars that hung in the family's window.

"But she would never sew it down, because she thought he would come back," Ruth said.

She wishes their mother hadn't died wondering. And yet ...

"Of course, she knew before I did what really happened," Ruth allowed. "They're all in heaven together."

Floyd and his 79 shipmates remained on the MIA list until well after the war ended. More than two years after the Wahoo disappeared, they were officially declared dead.

Floyd's family received his personal effects from his locker at Pearl Harbor - his Purple Heart, submarine battle star and other service medals; his diary, in which he remarked about having spent his 22nd birthday at Midway; letters he received, but never got to open, including the one with the news about his new nephew.

Ruth still has those precious mementos. And she proudly displays several photos of Floyd, including one of him in his Navy whites, grinning an even-whiter smile.

Her handsome black-haired, blue-eyed brother was famous for those teeth, she recalled. "He brushed with salt and soda," she recalled.

Ruth has a certificate signed by President Harry S. Truman and clippings from the Miami Herald, their hometown newspaper, telling of the disappearance.

Launched in 1942, the Wahoo had sunk more enemy ships than any other vessel in the U.S. Navy by the time it disappeared. It had received a presidential unit citation for sinking an entire unescorted but armed Japanese convoy during a 14-hour sea battle.

The famous ship and its mysterious circumstances have been featured in a film and a book.

A crewmate who was not on board during that fateful voyage wrote "Wake of the Wahoo." The book features Floyd, identified by his Navy nickname of Andy, in several stories about the sub's earlier missions.

The movie "Destination Tokyo" includes footage shot on one of those missions. "When it was released in '44, I went to the movie theater by myself and just cried," Ruth recalled.

Ruth was 15, the baby of her family, when the Japanese drew the U.S. into World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor.

She recalled that Sunday morning, when their pleasant meal was interrupted by the news on the radio.

"We couldn't believe it," she said. "Our father had been in World War I, and we thought that was 'the war to end all wars.'"

The dreadful news became more real to her, she said, when she and a friend went to the movie theater for a matinee of "Carmen Miranda South of the Border." A newsreel confirmed what the radio had announced.

Her three older brothers, Ernest, Roy and Floyd, were eager to fight for their country. They enlisted in the Navy on the advice of their dad, a veteran of the Tennessee National Guard.

"He told them they would have a bed and not have to sleep in a foxhole," Ruth recalled.

Ernest was willing, but couldn't serve because of health reasons. Roy became a crewman on the destroyer escort USS Doherty. And Floyd, who volunteered to be a submariner, became a fireman on the Wahoo, charged with loading torpedoes into firing tubes.

Ruth did her part as well. She dropped out of high school and became a Rosie the Riveter.

Her civil service job took her to several airplane plants, where she worked on the B-29 bomber, among other planes. "I was so small, I could fit in all the holes to do the work," she said.

When she started, she wasn't legally old enough for the job, she said. So she fudged her age on the application and told her bosses that she couldn't find her birth certificate, so couldn't document her age.

Later, Ruth went back to school and earned a degree in accounting. She worked as a secretary in hospital emergency rooms for 35 years and spent additional years as a doctor's assistant.

"I love the medical field, especially the ER," she said. "It's a joy to be able to help people."

She retired in 1988.

"I miss it. There are days when I wish I could go back," she said.

Ruth also has been an ombudsman advocating for nursing home residents.

Ruth was born in Virginia and grew up in Florida. She moved to McMinnville with her dog, Jackson, in 2004.

Her daughter, Alice Black, lives here. So do some of her three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Her offspring, and those of her brothers, grew up knowing all about Uncle Floyd. At every family dinner, grace includes, "God be with Floyd, wherever he is."

Ruth knows now where her brother died 63 years and one month ago, though.

The Wahoo left Midway in September 1943, heading for the Sea of Japan.

The sinking of a Japanese ship on Oct. 5 has been attributed to the sub, although the Wahoo itself did not report it. Historians believe it also sank three other Japanese ships between the time it left Midway and the day it was lost.

Historians think the Wahoo was hit by antisubmarine rounds on Oct. 11, even though it was not officially listed as missing until Nov. 9.

In August 2006, Russian explorers looking for one of their own submarines found the remains of an America sub in the La Perouse Strait. The strait connects the Sea of Japan with Sea of Okhotsk, north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido and south of the Russian island of Sakhalin.

On Oct. 31, the U.S. Navy confirmed the wreckage was that of the 1,525-ton, Gato-class Wahoo. The Navy is planning to drop a wreath at the site and install a plaque there.

Since being notified, Ruth's daughter has been helping search for surviving relatives of the ill-fated crew. Many of them are memorialized on the website OnEternalPatrol.com.

A museum in Hawaii, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, is planning a memorial service next summer. Ruth and her family plan on going.

"After 63 years, I still cry," she said. "I guess you always feel bad when you don't get to tell somebody goodbye."

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