To all who sailed on the USS Thornback and to those who have expended their time and effort in putting together an
excellent website . . .
My name is Erwin "Ed" Buffum, GM3. I served on the Thornback during its patrol off Japan and through its
decommissioning in '46. The e-mail correspondence collected and preserved by Norm Hammond between himself
and Bill "Ski" Filakovski brought back memories that somehow had become suppressed in the business of building a
life after WW2. In reading his accounts, the memory of Bill and those events, suddenly surfaced. My best memory of
Bill Filakovski occurred while we were submerged and at our battle stations. I was at the helm when the Captain
called for silent running. At that moment I was unable to make the switch to manual steering. Bill who was assisting in
the conning tower at the time, swung around, put me in manual mode, and never did he then, or thereafter, bring up
my mistake or my ineptitude.
He was truly a great person and I regret his passing. After having read Bill's accounts, my wife and family kept
insisting that I put some of my thoughts and memories to paper, as they might be of some interest to others, as Bill's
were to me. So please bear with me and feel free to correct any errors in my memory that may not seem correct in
their detail. For that I find the advancement of age an excellent excuse.
I went through Submarine School at the base in Pearl Harbor (which wasn't hard to take). I completed Radio and
Sound schools only to find out that there wasn't much demand for those ratings at the time. I spent a couple of
months on the old S41 which was being used as a school boat working with Destroyers out of new construction
practicing detection techniques. "Ski" mentioned his problems with the conning tower hatch, It brought back the
memory of my first dive on the S41. I was assigned lookout and was told that when the klaxon went off you get your
butt down that hatch as fast you can or run a good chance of being left topside. I recall that the thought of being left
topside made a deep impression on me and an alternative I found to be unacceptable. As you might guess, I was the
first man down the hatch and the last into the control room. After that no one had to tell me that you don't use it like
a step ladder. Even more disconcerting at the time was that the hatch, over many years, had become warped and
didn't seal tight until you reached some thirty-five or forty feet. The routine on a dive was to throw back the deck mat,
allowing any incoming water to flow into the bilge. This too left me with a few anxious moments. Of course, having to
blow sanitary direct to sea after each use was a harrowing thought for a young kid still soft behind the ears. Have
you ever gone a week without using the head? The blowing of sanitary even, on the Thornback, was not void of
disaster or close disasters.
When I was assigned to the Thornback it was like moving into the Executive Suite at the Waldorf. My recollection is
that as we were leaving the channel to go on patrol, we were crowded into shallow water by incoming ship traffic,
damaging our underwater sound equipment. At that point we were put back into dry dock for repairs. It was then, as
I recall, that we picked up the tag "The Reluctant Dragon". If my memory serves me correctly it was even considered
at one time to become one of, or part of, our battle flag. Ski's account of his encounter with the "Pink Lady" or
torpedo juice was accurate. On one occasion I shared it with two or three of the crew as we sat on the slip at Pearl.
One cup full, cut with juice, only to find that I was already loosing the feeling in my legs. Needless to say I came close
to God that evening and didn't have any problem with leaving it alone, even on VJ day.
I came aboard the boat under the guise of a photographer. The Navy and Hollywood were planning to put together a
film similar to "The Fighting Lady" a great film about our Carrier Force. It was to be called "The Silent Service". I
came to the conclusion that if I was ever going to get an assignment on a boat, this might turn the trick. It did. After
completing a two week crash course on the use of an 8mm movie camera I was assigned to the Thornback.
Somewhere out there in Navy Never-Never Land is a 300 foot can of 8mm film taken on the patrol with one shot taken
through the periscope of either an inter-island trawler or a large sea going tug. I have no idea why we did not set up
for a shoot. Probably not worthy of a torpedo. I had the opportunity only once to view the film after which it
disappeared into some black hole.
My duties on the boat, as I was not rated or qualified at that time, was as a lookout, helmsman or bow and stern plane
operator. Bill was right in his assessment that the best job aboard was that of the lookout. My fondest memories of
being at sea are of watching the sun come up and go down over the horizon. I still can't think of anything more
beautiful or inspiring as that moment. Sunup brought hope of a successful day, sunset brought peace and calm one
can only experience at that moment.
The shelling of Urakawa on the island of Hokkaido certainly helped to pep things up and break the routine. As I recall
we were running about 300 yards off the beach. People seemed to appear on the beach as if they were surprised
and mystified by the sight of a submarine. Only after the first round out of the deck gun did they start to scatter.
Some thought we hit a small switch engine while others thought it was a truck Either way the Captain didn't feel it
worthy of the paint or the space on the superstructure. His polite way of putting it was to say "that the kill could not
be confirmed". He convinced me.
~ Diesel Boats Forever ~
My Best Regards to all my old shipmates . . . Ed