William Bower II feared he would never know where his father’s final resting place was, but he hung on to hope for decades.
On Thursday, the Missouri retired aerospace engineer fought back tears as he was notified that a submarine wreck, discovered off the coast of Japan last year, is what remains of the USS Albacore – one of 52 Navy submarines lost during World War II, according to Naval History and Heritage Command, or NHHC.
According to Navy records, the submarine is believed to have been struck by a mine on November 7, 1944, and sank off the coast of Hokkaido.
Days before Christmas that same year, the Navy assumed the Albacore, along with at least 85 sailors onboard, were lost at sea, including Bower’s father, Lt. William Walter Bower.
“My mother received a telegram from the Navy on the 21st of December 1944 that my dad’s submarine was overdue in returning to port and he was missing in action,” Bower, 78, told CNN.
He was born nearly two months after the Albacore sank and only knows his father through photos and stories.
“He was a good engineer and liked the Navy and wanted to serve his country, as all the men who were lost in the submarine wanted to do,” Bower said.
Bower says he formed bonds with other families who lost sailors on the Albacore. Like him, they have been haunted for decades not knowing the exact location where their loved ones perished nearly 78 years ago.
“I know that he was lost somewhere off the coast of Japan,” said an emotional Bower. “But to actually know the spot where the remnants of the submarine are is much more meaningful. That to me was a major step in having better closure for his life.”
Discovering the Albacore
NHHC says their archeologists used underwater imagery provided by Dr. Tamaki Ura from the University of Tokyo to positively identify the wreckage of the Albacore this week.
Researchers say Japanese records guided Ura to the suspected shipwreck site in May 2022 where he made the initial discovery of a wreck. Ura used a remotely operated vehicle to capture images of the submarine’s remains, which showed unique modifications made to the Albacore just before its final patrol. After months of analysis, NHHC researchers were finally able to confirm their suspicions.
“As the final resting place for Sailors who gave their life in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” wrote NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, a retired US Navy rear admiral.
The wreck is considered a war grave and protected by US law, according to an NHHC spokesperson.
According to the Navy, the Albacore was commissioned on June 1, 1942. During its relatively short service it earned nine battle stars and four Presidential Unit Citations, awarded for extraordinary heroism, quickly becoming one of the most successful World War II submarines used in combat.
Telling the stories of the MIA submariners
To contact the families of the Albacore’s submariners, Navy historians enlisted a network of volunteer researchers working with the Pearl Harbor-based group On Eternal Patrol. The non-profit says it has been able to find at least one relative for 76 of the 85 sailors.
Charles Hinman, the group’s director of education, says he started On Eternal Patrol in 2005 to put a face to each of the names of the men lost while serving in the US Submarine Force since 1900. The organization says it has been able to memorialize roughly 93%, or over 4,500 lost submariners, with biographies and photos.
“Whenever a lost submarine is found, we use our database to assist the Navy and the host of the ceremony to contact the families of the crew,” Hinman told CNN.
As his father’s only child, Bower says he finally has the peace that his mother and grandmother never knew.
“I do tear up because I know this is something that my father’s mother never fully recovered from,” said Bower as he prepared to toast his father’s memory. “And you know how grateful she would have been to have learned this. And my mother unfortunately did not learn as well. So, I’m just very grateful that someone in his family was able to learn his final resting place.”
As the child of a service member missing in action until this week, Bower shared a message to military families who continue to wait for the same peace he finally found after a decades-long wait.
“Never give up,” he said. “Always keep the hope that their final resting place will be found, and you’ll have some sense of full closure and not just have that sense of not knowing, forever.”