At 1120 on 16 April 1945, a warm and sunny day, the submarine USS Bullhead (SS-332), on lifeguard station off the coast of China midway between Hong Kong and Swatow, picked up a message reporting a downed plane. The boat went to full speed on receipt; she was 30 miles inside the blind bombing zone—where American planes could attack any submarine they sighted—and in just 12 fathoms of water. At noon, the Bullhead reported her intentions to commander, Submarines Pacific. Given the proximity of the enemy, and the shallowness of the water, red-haired, mustachioed Commander Walter T. Griffith, the Bullhead ’s commanding officer, ordered the boat’s coding machine destroyed. Sailors wielding sledgehammers made short work of the equipment, throwing the mangled wreckage over the side.
Shortly afterward, the Bullhead increased speed to flank, and a quarter of an hour later sighted a column of black smoke roughly north-northwest. After altering course, she closed two Chinese fishing junks, and within 30 minutes, within sight of shore, she brought on board Army Air Forces Second Lieutenants Harold V. Sturm and Irving Charnow and Sergeant Robert Tukel, whose B-25 Mitchell bomber had been shot down during an anti-shipping strike. Sturm, the downed plane’s pilot and the lone member of the trio who was conscious, initially was nervous as the Bullhead approached, fearing she was the enemy. But he breathed easier when he spied the submarine’s commanding officer—he had never heard of a redheaded Japanese.