Most know about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but few may realize that 19 miles from here, 28 submarines made their last stop before heading into battle in response.
The ships were commissioned in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and cruised through the Chicago River, right under Lake Shore Drive, making their last stop in Lockport before being tugged down to the Pacific to help win the war.
“Initially submarines were supposed to just be used as scouts – to scout ahead of the fleet and report back on enemy fleet location and numbers and stuff like that,” said submariner Frank Voznak. “But because of Pearl Harbor, the mission changed and the submarines actually became the first line of defense. They sent the submarines out then to hunt the Japanese fleet which they did very effectively so the mission changed in that context.”
Frank Voznak is the Vice Commander of a submarine veterans group called Crash Dive Base, whose creed is to perpetuate the memory of their lost comrades who died in duty.
“Through the war, there were 52 submarines that were lost, they were one of the highest percentages of losses in the fleet,” said Voznak. “These guys kept volunteering, as submarine services were all volunteer organization, you can non volunteer at anytime if you choose, and these guys kept going back time after time after time. I think it says something about the character of these veterans at that time.”
While there are plenty of veteran memorials around the country, there are barely any for submariners. To rectify this, Crash Dive Base teamed up with a Pearl Harbor survivor to create a lasting remembrance.
“From there we just kinda thought a simple plaque would probably do to meet our challenge. We had discussions with the City of Chicago and they were first reluctant to give us a spot for just a plaque,” Voznak said. “They kept insisting that they wanted something a little bit bigger, a little more eye catching and to use their words, they were looking for spectacular!”
The group had big ideas but no experience in the design department. But as it turned out, help wasn’t far away.
“When my son heard about the project, he was a little bit interested and he wanted to see what he could do. Through college he had some design experience and he asked if he could take a look at it,” said Voznak. “So I took him up to Manitowoc, WI and the museum allowed us to go through the submarine up there, the USS Colbia. It was through that experience at the Colbia that he developed the concept and the design that we went with.”
The structure, shaped in the form of a submarine bulkhead, would be placed on the south bank of the Chicago River, just east of the Columbus Drive Bridge. It will include several facts, an artist’s rendition of the WWII submarine passing through the LSD drawbridge, and a watertight door that was salvaged from the USS Trout, decommissioned in 1978.
“When we presented that to the City of Chicago, they’re reaction was, ‘now that what we’re talking about! That’s what we want!’ So we used that basic design,” said Voznak.
To make that dream a reality, the Vets have created a GO FUND ME account, in hopes of raising around $250,000 for the cost of their memorial. Once funded, it will take less than six months, sealing their place in history.
“It goes back to there’s just not a lot of submarine veteran memorials and this would be kind of an important thing not only for the Chicago area and the Midwest, but for submarine veterans themselves,” said Voznak.
For all the information about the memorial and how you can help these veterans, visit crashdivebase.com.
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