Lest We Forget: Idawalley Zorada Lewis; USS Gurnard (SS-254)

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Eric Wertheim

Ida Lewis’s fame spread, and she came to be known as the “Heroine of Newport.” When asked where she found the strength to perform her amazing rescues, she replied, “I don’t know. I ain’t particularly strong. The Lord Almighty gives it to me when I need it. That’s all.”

After her father’s death, she was officially appointed to keeper in the U.S. Lighthouse Service, one of the predecessors to the U.S. Coast Guard, serving until her death. She was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, was given the title “The Bravest Woman in America” by the Society of the American Cross of Honor, was written about in the New York Tribune , and appeared on the cover of Harper’s Weekly . The citizens of Newport presented her with a mahogany rowboat with gold oarlocks, red velvet cushions, and gunwales decked out in gold braid, and she was honored by a visit from President Ulysses S. Grant.

Lime Rock was renamed in her honor, as was the lighthouse, the only time this honor had ever been given to a keeper. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ida Lewis (WLM-551) is homeported in Newport, Rhode Island, a fitting tribute to a woman whose Lifesaving Medal citation described her as having “unquestionable nerve, presence of mind, and dashing courage.”
 

—Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

USS Gurnard (SS-254)

Commissioned on 18 September 1942, the Gato -class submarine USS Gurnard (SS-254) was built at Groton, Connecticut, by the Electric Boat Company. She underwent shakedown training off New England’s coast, and her first war patrol began on 28 November 1942. On this patrol she sailed the waters off Spain. The Gurnard was unable to find or attack any German blockade-runners, and her patrol in the Bay of Biscay ended on 27 December 1942. She soon sailed for Pearl Harbor and the naval war in the Pacific.

The Gurnard ’s second war patrol commenced out of Pearl Harbor in late spring 1943, and within days she damaged two Japanese merchant vessels and survived a 29 June depth charge attack. On 11 July, she sank a Japanese cargo ship. She returned to Hawaii on 26 July, ready to refill her torpedo tubes.

In October 1943, the Gurnard happened upon a five-ship enemy convoy. The submarine was able to sink a cargo ship and a troop transport off the Luzon coast, and she sailed for Pearl Harbor to ready for her next war patrol.

In late December, off the Japanese Home Islands, the Gurnard sank two cargo ships and barely escaped a withering barrage of nearly 100 Japanese depth charges. She was able to damage another enemy cargo vessel before sailing back to Hawaii and undergoing repairs.

She started her most successful and fifth war patrol on 16 April 1944, when she sailed in the eastern Celebes Sea. On 6 May, the Gurnard was credited with sinking a 6,900-ton cargo ship, a 7,000-ton troop transport, and another 5,800-ton troop transport. Some estimates of the casualties inflicted on the Japanese forces that day range near 20,000 enemy soldiers. Though targeted by Japanese naval vessels with scores of depth charges, the Gurnard went on to sink a 10,000-ton tanker on 24 May before completing the patrol in June at Fremantle, Australia.

The Gurnard ’s sixth, seventh, eight, and ninth war patrols were successful as well. The submarine underwent refit in October 1944, and she sent another enemy cargo ship to the bottom in November of that year. She subsequently performed reconnaissance of enemy units and patrolled with several other U.S. submarines during the spring of 1945.

Following the end of hostilities with Japan, the Gurnard was decommissioned in San Francisco on 27 November 1945. From July 1949 through June 1960, she functioned as an armory for naval reserve submarine training, initially in Pearl Harbor and later in Tacoma, Washington. The Gurnard was stricken from the Navy list on 1 May 1961 and was sold for scrapping on 26 September of that year.
 

—Eric Wertheim
 

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