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A Docent’s dream tour: The Hartley Story

Updated: Apr 24

Written by David Anderson

The USS Cavalla sits quietly at waters edge, bow pointed to seaward, as hundreds of boats and ships pass in front of her every year. She’s retired and resting, earning that privilege after more than 20 years of service to her country.

Last year, over 60,000 people trod her deck and walked her inner passageway, marveling at the complexity of her machinery and the electronics crammed into unbelievably tight quarters. A docent can walk through and describe the functions and abilities of the Cavalla and tell how the crew made all that work, but most visitors will never grasp that the “crew” was a group of very young, very intelligent, very brave, and highly motivated men. These men crewed submarines even though there was a 1 in 5 chance that they would not come back…the highest percentage casualty rate of any service in WWII.

One of those young men was Vernon “Red” Hartley of West Frankfort, Ill. Vernon was supporting his family of three children and a wife by working in a coal mine, but in January of 1944, he answered the call to duty and joined the Navy. After boot camp, he volunteered for submarines and was accepted into sub school after going through stringent tests. That started the journey that eventually saw him become a crewman on “The Avenger of the Pacific”, the USS Cavalla (SS244). Vernon travelled to the Philippines and joined Cavalla for her 5th war patrol. On that patrol, his experiences included a jammed hatch that was flooding the conning tower as she dove, a fire in a fuse panel requiring six hours to repair, and six days on the surface while escorting the badly damaged HMS Terrapin to Freemantle, Australia. (He loved and enjoyed his time in Australia and his family has a picture of him riding horses while he was there.)

The war ended during Cavalla’s 6th war patrol, and Vernon was with her when she proudly sailed into Tokyo Bay to join 11 other submarines invited to witness the official surrender of the Japanese.

Vernon left the Navy as an Electrician’s Mate 1st Class on Oct. 22, 1945, and returned home to his family and the coal mines. In 1954, he moved to Indiana where some of his family still resides today. A few weeks ago, Vernon’s son Andy and his wife Mary, and his grandson Rodney with wife Pam, visited the Cavalla and walked the same decks he had walked almost 80 years ago.

Rod and Pam’s visit was every

I had the honor of walking them through the boat while sharing stories and pointing out the various systems. The highlight of the walk-through was seeing Rod seated in the Maneuvering Room, sitting on the same seat with hands on the same controls as Grandad Vernon had done many years ago.
This is why we do what we do!
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