The National Archives at St. Louis staff extended a special thanks to World War II U.S. Navy Veteran Paul Wittmer on April 14.
During World War II, Wittmer served on six war patrols on the USS Tinosa SS-283. He was part of the crew responsible for the capture of the famed Japanese I-401 submarine taken at the end of the war and returned to Pearl Harbor from Japan.
The I-401 was the largest submarine in the world at the time. It was designed with an air-tight airplane hangar on board so it could surface and launch three torpedo bombers in attacks against enemy vessels or land targets. To prevent this technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets, the I-401 and the only other submarine of its kind to enter service, the I-400, were sunk near Pearl Harbor.
Despite his age, Wittmer has faithfully made his standing Tuesday research room appointment since 2007. His tireless efforts have culminated in a six-volume publication titled United States Submarine Men Lost During World War II, which honors U.S. submariners killed in action during World War II. Each profile contains a small bio with information on dates of service, military photographs, hometown info, and the ship that each man served on until his death. Fifty-two U.S. submarines were lost during the war.
Wittmer, who worked alone for the bulk of the project, combed through thousands of official military personnel files (OMPFs) and collected information on approximately 3,600 submariners lost. These submariners are largely forgotten, except by family and friends. These are veterans who have no white marble headstones in American National Cemeteries. For most, their final resting place is still unknown.
Over the years, Wittmer shared photographs and memorable comments on files of veterans who were personal friends or acquaintances. His six-volume publication is an invaluable asset to anyone studying this part of World War II history. NARA is honored that Wittmer donated a complete set to the St. Louis archival research room for use by researchers from around the world.
Wittmer was also featured in a PBS documentary examining the biographies of persons on Japanese I-401.