A new concept approach from ARGunners present you with a teaser of one of our favorite books and author, Nick Jacobellis’s – A Special Kind of Hero
BASED ON THE SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY THE AUTHOR- Nick Jacobellis
Some Additional Historical Background
1 The War Comes Home To
East Hampton N.y. 1
2 Like Shooting Fish In A Barrel 9
3 Turning Point 21
4 Enemy Agents 40
5 This Damn War 54
6 The Homefront 84
7 Sea Duty 123
8 Behind Enemy Lines 162
9 It Truly Is A Small World 211
Author’s Comment: 260
vi Nick Jacobelis
A Special Kind of Hero is a slice of Mom, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.
This story is best described as an action packed wartime drama, that
embodies all of the fine qualities of Hollywood’s greatest World War
II movies. This story is set in 1942 when the United States was deeply
embroiled in a world war.
While the United States prepared to fight on multiple fronts, the last
thing the country needed was to expend its limited resources, protecting merchant shipping along the east coast, from maraudingGerman
U-Boats. The threat of enemy agents committing acts of sabotage was
also of grave concern, for the nation that was serving as the Arsenal of
Democracy. The threat that was posed by marauding U-Boats was also
serious enough, for the U.S. Navy to convert privately owned yachts
and other suitable vessels to serve as sub chasers. Once these civilian
vessels were drafted into service and equipped with the necessary combat
equipment, these “sub chasers” were sent to sea, to help locate and if
necessary, engage U-Boats.
Like every other patriotic American family, the Gundersons are
deeply involved in the war effort. Even 17 year old Danny Gunderson,
the youngest member of the clan, works in a boatyard that has a War
A Special Kind of Hero vii
Department contract, to convert civilian vessels for military applications.
Disabled at birth, Danny walks with a slight limp and has a speech
impediment. As such, Danny Gunderson is unfit for military service.
With his father, Commander Steve Gunderson, a decorated U.S.
Navy destroyer captain, and his two brothers serving as commissioned
officers in the Navy and the Coast Guard, Danny lives in a frustrated
world, where he wants to do more, but he can’t because he’s disabled.
As we all know from history, the worst fate to befall any red blooded
American male during World War II, was to be rejected from military
Danny’s life centers around a small town on the eastern shore of
Long Island, where the local defense industry converts private yachts
and other suitable vessels, for use as patrol craft for the U.S. Navy.
While working after school and on weekends, Danny Gunderson is
employed as a janitor at the East Hampton Town Marina, where he
spends his time dreaming of the day, when he can engage the forces of
evil in mortal combat.
Even though Danny has been deemed unfit to serve in the U.S.
and the Canadian Armed Forces,he investigates his limited options and
decides to try and serve in the Merchant Marine. Danny decides to
consider this option, because the Merchant Marine has more flexible
recruiting standards and is in desperate need of men, who are willing
viii Nick Jacobelis
to serve on ships in time of war. However, before Danny can try to do
so, he needs his father’s approval. This issue becomes a challenge for
father and son, when the destroyer commanded by Commander Steven
Gunderson USN is sunk by a German U-Boat.
As a result, Commander Gunderson finds it hard to allow his youngest son to volunteer to serve, in such a hazardous wartime occupation.
Commander Gunderson has good cause to feel this way, because large
numbers of Merchant seamen were dying miserable deaths at sea, after
their ships were attacked by German U-Boats.
As far as Commander Gunderson is concerned, Danny has a legitimate reason not to serve, because he is physically disabled. Even when
Commander Gunderson tells his youngest son that he is gifted in
other ways and that he should take advantage of his scholarship to the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Danny remains determined to
serve in some type of meaningful capacity. Danny Gunderson proves
that he is a resourceful young man, when he develops an alternative
plan, that will enable him to get more directly involved in the war effort.
Danny’s Plan B is to join the Civil Air Patrol, also know as the CAP.
Danny Gunderon’s character reminds us that it’s possible to live our
dreams in life, as long as we NEVER give up. Danny wasn’t an Eagle
Scout, or the star quarterback on the high school football team. Quite
the contrary, Danny Gunderson is like many of us, different, but very
A Special Kind of Hero ix
special. Danny’s gift is his intelligence and he used that intelligence
to investigate every possible option, that would allow him to live his
dreams in life.
Danny’s character also proves that every human being can make a
valuable contribution and that “accepted practices” are meant to be
broken. This story emphasizes the point, that those who are handicapped in any way, shape, or form, can serve in a much wider number
of capacities, if they are allowed to do so.
A Special Kind of Hero is a smorgasbord of all of the wholesome values
that were once captured on the silver screen, by some of Hollywood’s
most successful studios during the Second World War. The plot of good
versus evil transcends time and will always capture the hearts and minds
of the general public. Who other than the crew of a German U-Boat
and a team of Nazi spies can best represent the forces of evil? Likewise,
who can better represent the “good guys,” than a cast of brave American
servicemen, a loving mother, a wise grandfather and a handicapped teenager from small town USA? Bracketed between the swing music of the
1940s and the classical favorites made popular by the Third Reich, this
story is a heart rendering, action packed, tear jerker that is reminiscent
of the movies that were made in the “good old days.”
In order to bolster the authenticity of certain scenes in this story,
footnotes are included to site the reference material that was used, to
x Nick Jacobelis
describe the combat actions that took place in 1942 along the east coast
of the United States. While the overall story line is fiction, certain scenes
are loosely based on the types of events that actually occurred during
World War II. Enjoy!
A Special Kind of Hero xi
When you read this book you will step back in time, to a period
in history when the world was at war and the end was in doubt.
In early 1942, the United States was woefully unprepared to fight a world
war. As history documents all too well, the Axis Forces (Germany, Japan
and Italy) took advantage of this fact and wasted no time in launching
offensive operations. In the Pacific, the Japanese continued their reign of
terror, by conquering and occupying one country after another. The Nazi
run German war machine was equally as aggressive in Europe and would
eventually fight alongside the Italians in North Africa.
It is also important to note, that before the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor, and Germany declared war on the United States in December
of 1941, German submarines were attacking Allied merchant shipping
in the Atlantic Ocean. They did so, to prevent Great Britain from receiving aid from other nations. Even when U.S. vessels, including naval
escorts, were sunk, the United States refrained from declaring war on
Germany. This all changed once formal declarations of war were signed
in December of 1941.
Once the United States and Germany were officially at war, the
German Kriegsmarine (Navy) expanded their Atlantic Ocean operations,
xii Nick Jacobelis
to include the eastern seaboard of North America. The Kriegsmarine
accomplished this, by sending German submarines known as U-Boats to
sink merchant shipping in American and Canadian waters. While some
of these attacks took place further offshore, the U-Boats were extremely
successful in the first few months of the war, when they operated in and
around U.S. coastal waters. In fact, many of the merchant ships that
were sunk, were transporting passengers and all types of cargo to ports
in the United States.
The sinking of merchant ships was such a priority, that U-Boat
Captains were ordered to avoid engaging enemy naval vessels (whenever
possible) and concentrate their limited time on station by attacking
freighters and tankers. This was done, because Germany knew from their
experience in World War I, that destroying Allied merchant shipping
was critical to achieving victory.
The German Navy was emboldened to take such aggressive action at
the outbreak of war, because they knew that the United States in particular, was unprepared to protect its east coast. This made it even easier
for U-Boats to concentrate on sinking merchant ships, without having
to be as concerned, about having an armed encounter with American
military aircraft, or vessels.
U-Boats were able to achieve an initial level of success for several
reasons. The fact that the United States Navy had to prepare for a war in
A Special Kind of Hero xiii
the Pacific, prevented more combat vessels from being assigned to protect
the east coast on a permanent basis. In the early months of the war, the
United States also failed to implement an organized convoy system,
that compelled merchant vessels to operate in groups under military
escort. Instead, merchant vessels traveling alone were easy prey for the
marauding U-Boats. Allowing cities and towns along the east coast to
keep their lights on at night, also enabled U-Boat crews to operate with
an extra margin of success in U.S. waters. In the early stages of the war
there was also a shortage of military aircraft, that could be used to search
for and attack German submarines.
In order to become more familiar with the above mentioned issues,
this story includes various incidents that are based in some way, shape,
or form, on actual events that occurred. These incidents include, the
sinking of different types of merchant vessels and the valiant efforts
that were made by a small number of U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard
crews, to challenge the presence of German U-Boats, along the eastern
seaboard, in the first half of 1942. The numerical designation assigned to
the various U-Boats depicted in this story, includes the actual numbers
used by certain submarines, as well as fictitious numbers.
While you read this story, that is enhanced by a certain amount of
historically accurate information, bear in mind, that the tide of the war
was eventually turned, because of the efforts made by a relatively small
xiv Nick Jacobelis
number of American military personnel, American and Allied merchant
seamen, members of the Civil Air Patrol and defense plant workers.
It should also be noted, that even when U.S. military personnel and
merchant sailors had their ships sunk by U-Boats, the bulk of the brave
mariners who survived returned to sea duty. Even more amazing, is the
fact, that some of these Allied mariners were “torpedoed” on more than
one occasion. This “never give up” attitude is one of the reasons why
the Allies won the war.
A Special Kind of Hero xv
Some Additional Historical
I thought it appropriate to include the following information in this
story, to explain why serving in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) would be
a viable option, for someone who was rejected from “regular” active duty
military service. During World War II, the United States Government
authorized the formation of the Civil Air Patrol, as an official auxiliary
unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Some of the American citizens who
served in the CAP were unable/unfit to serve in the active duty armed
forces for various reasons. Others who served in the CAP, would go on
to serve in the regular armed forces later on in the war.
As an official auxiliary unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps, all Civil
Air Patrol personnel received military ranks, including commissions as
officers and wore the same uniform as U.S. Army Air Corps personnel.
(CAP U.S. Army Air Corps uniforms included a small swath of red
ribbon on the shoulder area of their uniform shirts and jackets.) CAP
personnel also received a daily monetary per diem that was based on
While patrolling the coastline of the United States, as well as the
xvi Nick Jacobelis
designated convoy routes that extended as far as 60 miles out to sea,
this volunteer force of citizen soldiers operated a variety of privately
owned and rented “civilian” aircraft. To show how desperate the War
Department was in 1942, even though Civil Air Patrol aircraft were not
built to fly combat missions, CAP planes were armed with bombs and
depth charges. In order to drop/release explosive ordnance on a suitable
target, a very rudimentary “bomb” aiming mechanism was installed in
all armed CAP aircraft.
During their WWII wartime service, the Civil Air Patrol conducted
86,685 missions, that covered 24 million miles. CAP aircrews also
located over 363 survivors from sunken ships, 17 enemy floating mines,
91 Allied vessels in distress and performed 5,684 special convoy missions for the U.S. Navy. The CAP also reportedly attacked 57 German
submarines, dropping 82 bombs on suspected enemy vessels, with two
U-Boats confirmed to be seriously damaged or destroyed. Because of
the distinctive markings and paint scheme on their planes, German
U-Boat crews respectfully referred to CAP aircraft as “those damned red
and yellow bees.” Historians also document, that CAP aircrews were so
devoted to their duties, they flew missions when regular military pilots
were grounded because of bad weather.
CAP personnel were known as “Flying Minutemen” and performed a
variety of duties under combat conditions, with very little recognition at
A Special Kind of Hero xvii
great personal sacrifice. During the war a total of 90 CAP aircraft were
lost, with 26 crewmen killed in action and 7 seriously injured. In 1948,
the United States formally recognized the wartime contribution of 824
CAP Pilots by awarding them the U.S. Military Air Medal, for their
service during the war. Fifteen of these medals awarded posthumously.
Believe it or not, with all of the war movies that have been made,
Hollywood has somehow overlooked the contribution that was made
by the Civil Air Patrol in World War II. This untold story is even more
relevant today, because Americans in the 21st Century also know what
it is like to be attacked at home, by a very determined and elusive
enemy. This is such an important topic, I am seriously considering
converting the screenplay that I wrote about the CAP during WWII,
into a historical military fiction book.
After the savage attacks on 9/11/01, our first reaction was to challenge the forces of evil that declared war on our nation. Back in late 1941
and 1942 there were a number of avenues open for patriotic Americans,
who wanted to join the fight and help the war effort. For those who
were too old or unfit for military service the choices were limited. With
war on the horizon, a new opportunity to serve was created, when the
President of the United States signed an Executive Order establishing the
Civil Air Patrol in December of 1941. Anyone who wanted more action
than a job in a defense plant could offer, was now able to volunteer and
xviii Nick Jacobelis
serve in the newly formed Civil Air Patrol. Others joined the merchant
marine and served on freighters, Liberty Ships and tankers.
Simply put, the CAP came along at just the right time.
During World War II America was literally under siege, by the
German U-Boats that attacked Allied shipping with impunity. Many
Americans in the 21st Century have no idea, exactly how unprepared for
war we really were in early 1942. With less than 200 military aircraft
and a small number of ships available to patrol the east coast, the United
States Navy and Army Air Corps was forced to rely on a group of civilian
pilots, to increase the anti submarine warfare capability of the “Arsenal
The Civil Air Patrol filled the gaps in our national security, while the
defense plants produced enough combat aircraft and naval vessels to
do the job and the military could train the men needed to fight. Even
when the strength of the U.S. Armed Forces was increased, the CAP
continued to serve throughout the war.
It is also important to note, that censorship during the war kept the
exploits of the Civil Air Patrol from being made public. This is one
reason why very few people are aware of the contribution made by the
Civil Air Patrol during World War II. Clearly, the fact that 800 CAP
veterans who survived the war were decorated with Air Medals, while
others died horrible deaths in plane crashes, should have enabled the
A Special Kind of Hero xix
Civil Air Patrol to receive more attention than it did.
Much like the Minutemen who left their homes and farms to fight
during the War of Independence, those who served in the Civil Air Patrol
during World War II did so because the enemy was operating within
sight of our shores. The fact that CAP aircraft were armed with bombs
and depth charges is proof, that what CAP personnel did during their
national service, was no different than the job performed by regular
military personnel. CAP personnel were also registered as combatants
with the Geneva Convention. This was done to provide CAP aircrews
with the same protection as regular military personnel in case they were
captured by the enemy.
As stated above, the threat that was posed by marauding U-Boats
was also serious enough, for the U.S. Navy to convert privately owned
yachts and other suitable vessels, to help deal with the threat posed
by German submarines. Once these civilian vessels were drafted into
service and equipped with the necessary combat equipment, these vessels
were used as sub chasers, for the purpose of locating and if necessary,
xx Nick Jacobelis
This book is dedicated to my wife Paula and our son Michael,
for due to their encouragement I decided to write the book
version of this story, based on the screenplay that I wrote over
twenty one years ago.
This book is also dedicated to all those who served in the
U.S Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, the Royal Navy, the Armed
Forces of Canada, the Merchant Marine and the Civil Air
Patrol during the early years of World War II, when German
U-Boats were operating with tremendous success along the
east coast of the United States and Canada. Their individual
and combined efforts helped to turn the tide of war in favor
of the Allied Forces.
A Special Kind of Hero 1
THE WAR COMES HOME TO
EAST HAMPTON N.Y.
t was a beautiful sunny day on the eastern shore of Long Island in
April of 1942, when Danny Gunderson rode up to the entrance of
Main Beach on his bicycle. After parking his bike up against the wooden
fence, Danny walked onto the beach and stood facing the ocean.
As a 17-year-old American teenager Danny was frustrated beyond
belief, because he was unfit for military service in the armed forces of
the United States. Even though Danny had a birth defect, that caused
him to limp and a speech impediment that caused him to stutter, he was
determined to find someway to get directly involved in the war effort.
After being turned down by the U.S. Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps
and the U.S. Coast Guard, Danny decided to run away, so he could try
and enlist in a Canadian military organization.
In order to try and make himself an acceptable candidate for
Canadian military service, Danny tried speaking more slowly. Even
when he managed to stutter a bit less, it was virtually impossible to hide
the fact that he walked with a limp. Regardless, Danny was determined
2 Nick Jacobelis
to try, after all, our Canadian allies had been involved in the war since
it began and would likely need every available man.
With the money that he made working after school, at the East
Hampton Town Marina, Danny had enough cash on hand to pay his
expenses when he carried out his plan. All he needed to do was leave a
note for his mother so she wouldn’t worry.
After removing a pencil and a notebook from his jacket pocket,
Danny sat down in the sand facing the surf and began his note by
writing Dear Mom. Just as Danny ended the letter, Abigail Stratton rode
up to the entrance of Main Beach and parked her bike next to Danny’s.
After looking to the right, Abigail turned to the left and spotted Danny
sitting by the water’s edge. When Danny heard his schoolmate calling
his name, he turned to his right and waved to the 17 year old girl, who
considered herself to be Danny Gunderson’s girlfriend.
After passing a large piece of driftwood, the teenage girl known as
Abbey spoke as she sat down next to Danny. “When I returned the
history book that you loaned me to your house, your mom said you
went for a ride on your bike to Main Beach. Your mom also invited me
to Sunday dinner and my folks said I could stay, as long as I was home
before it got dark.”
When it appeared that Danny was preoccupied, Abbey remarked,
“You haven’t heard a word I said.”
A Special Kind of Hero 3
If there was anyone in town that Danny trusted with a secret it was
Abigail Stratton. Danny proved that when he turned to his right and
said, “The the there’s som som something I I wa want to to ta tell u you,
A Abbey, ba but it it it’s a a sa secret…wa one tha that yu you ca can’t ta
tell a anyone a a about.”
Ever since they met, Abbey had the kind of feelings for Danny
Gunderson that was best described by 1942 era standards as one hell
of a crush. As a result, Abbey felt honored that Danny would trust her
with any matter that he considered to be a secret.
Once Abbey remarked, “This sounds serious,” Danny reaffirmed the
need for Abbey to keep what he was about to tell her between them.
Without hesitating Abbey said, “I promise.”
Now that Danny knew that Abbey was on board, he continued
explaining what he planned to do. “I’m I’m ga gonna ga go to to Ca
Ca Canada to to try try an and en enlist in in the the Ca Ca Canadian
Ar Army, an an if if tha tha they da don’t ta take ma me, a a I’m ga ga
gonna tra try the the Ca Ca Canadian Na Na Navy an and tha tha Air
Air Fa Force.”
“But you already tried to enlist here at home,” responded Abbey who
quickly added, “If they won’t let you join our army, navy, marines, or
coast guard, what makes you think the Canadians will let you serve in
4 Nick Jacobelis
Danny proved that he was upset when he jumped up and blurted
out, “I I ga ga gotta tra try, Ab Abbey. I I ga gotta ga get in in into tha
tha this wa war!”
Abbey knew Danny ever since they were both kids growing up East
Hampton. In all the years they knew each other, Abbey never saw Danny
get this upset, except for when he tried to enlist in every branch of
the service and was rejected. In addition to being a typical patriotic
American teenager, Danny came from a military family, where his father
and two older brothers were serving as commissioned officers in front
line units. Even Danny’s grandfather was a Retired Marine who was
serving as the Police Chief in East Hampton. As a result, Abbey knew
that Danny of all people felt that he had to serve.
When Abbey repeated that she would keep his secret, Danny
remained standing when he continued explaining his plan and what he
wanted Abbey to do. “I’m I’m na not a a asking ya you to to la lie, A A
Abbey. A a all a a I’m ask asking ya you ta ta do is is na not ta tell a a
anyone tha tha that I I wa wa went ta ta to Ca Ca Canada, un un until
a a after my my mom fa fa finds tha tha the la la letter I I wa wa will la
la leave fa for ha her.”
Danny then removed the letter from his jacket pocket and handed it
to Abbey to read. After reading the letter, Abbey stood up and handed
the note back to Danny as she said, “Your mom is gonna be worried
A Special Kind of Hero 5
sick when she finds this letter.”
“I I na know, A A Abbey, ba ba but tha this is is sum sum something
I I ha ha have ta da do,” responded Danny.
Just as Danny finished speaking Abbey looked as if she spotted something and pointed toward the ocean and said, “What’s that?”
The moment Danny turned around and he spotted what Abbey saw,
he was glad she wore glasses and didn’t have the 20/20 vision that he did,
when he spotted what was being tossed around in the surf.
No one was more surprised than Abbey, when Danny moved fast,
stepped in front of her and instinctively pulled her close to him as he
said, “Da da don’t la look, Ab.”
When Abbey asked what it was, Danny responded as he walked her
back to the entrance to Main Beach. “La la listen to to ma me, Ab. I I
wa want yu you ta to ride ha home an and ca call my my gra gra grand
fa father at at the the pa police sta station, an and ta tell ha him to to
ca come qwa quick.”
The moment they made it to the entrance to the beach, where their
bikes were parked, Abbey remarked, “Was that what I think it was?
Because if it was, I’m glad you did what you did, to keep me from seeing
a well you know.”
After Danny repeated his previous instructions and Abbey assured
him that the message would be relayed, she went to get on her bike,
but stopped, leaned closer to Danny and kissed him quickly on the left
side of his cheek. Abbey then faced Danny and said, “Only a gentleman
would do what you did, to keep a girl from seeing what was washing
up on the beach.”
While Danny held the handlebar on her bike, he said, “Yu you ba
better ga go, Ab.”
Once Abbey was on her way, Danny returned to the section of the
beach where he and Abbey had their recent conversation. By now the
body had washed up on the beach, along with some debris from a
merchant ship that was sunk by a German U-Boat.
As Danny knelt down by the water’s edge, he ignored the fact that
he was kneeling in cold ocean water. Fortunately, the body was face
down, for had Danny turned the dead merchant seaman over, he would
have seen that part of his face had been eaten by fish and what wasn’t
consumed by the sea, was badly burned.
When a piece of flotsam washed up on the beach, Danny retrieved
the wooden plank that was part of a raft, that partially identified the
name of the vessel that was sunk. By the time, Danny retrieved several
other pieces of flotsam, the sound of a siren off in the distance meant
that his grandfather was on the way.
While Danny stood up and he looked out to sea, he was more determined than ever to find a way to get into this war. The United States was
A Special Kind of Hero 7
under attack and every male member of the Gunderson family, except
him, was serving in uniform.
The second Police Chief Pop Gunderson arrived on Main Beach, he
wasted no time in joining his grandson by the water’s edge. Once he
arrived by Danny’s side, Pop spoke as he sized up the situation. “I came
as soon as Abbey called. She told me what you did. Good work, Danny.
This is not something that a young girl should have to see.”
When Pop knelt down next to the body, he looked up and said, “You
might want to step back a bit while I turn him over, to see if I can find
some ID on this sailor.”
Under the circumstances, Danny figured that anyone who felt as
determined as he did to get into this war, should be able to see what
a dead man looked like from every angle. “I’m I’m O OK, grandpa.”
Of all people, Pop Gunderson knew that his youngest grandson
was busting at the seams to get himself into this war. As a Retired U.S.
Marine, who fought in a number of armed conflicts including in WWI,
the man who was now pursuing a career in police work, understood
how Danny felt. As a result, Pop decided it was time to let his youngest
grandson get a glimpse of the ugly side of war.
After Pop slowly turned the dead merchant seaman over and he
glanced up at his grandson he said, “You OK?”
When Danny responded in the affirmative with a nod of his head,
8 Nick Jacobelis
Pop continued as he began searching the deceased for ID, “Let’s keep
this between us, Danny. The less we tell your mother about this the
better. After all, she already has a lot to worry about with your dad and
your two brothers off to war.”
While Danny remained standing over his grandfather, as he searched
the corpse, he knew he would never forget what his observed on this
day. This incident was proof that the war had come home to Long Island
and in a very small way, Danny Gunderson had a much better idea of
the cost that this conflict would have on the world.
A Special Kind of Hero 9
LIKE SHOOTING FISH IN A
After crossing the Atlantic, U-63 began its war patrol by sinking
an oil tanker off the coast of New York. Twenty four hours later,
the crew on U-63 got lucky again, when the German sub headed further
south and sunk another tanker. Within seconds of the first torpedo
striking the starboard side of the oil tanker, the sky was illuminated by
a huge fireball. The intensity of the explosion increased exponentially,
when a second torpedo blew the bow off the tanker.
As a chain reaction of explosions ravaged the stricken vessel, the crew
members who survived the attack began to abandon ship. Sadly, many
of the men who jumped overboard landed in a slimy oil covered ocean,
that was hard to swim in. The fact that this top layer of oil was catching
on fire, further endangered the survivors and caused a number of them to
perish. Those who managed to survive did so, by diving under sections
of the oil filled sea that was on fire and surfacing in locations that were
not engulfed in flames. The recovery of these men was made possible,
by the use of a lifeboat and a single raft, that was lowered and jettisoned
10 Nick Jacobelis
into the sea, before the fire engulfed the ship.
Due to the time of year, the water in the Atlantic was cold enough to
cause hypothermia, for the surviving merchant seamen. Even the men
who managed to get into the lifeboat and onto a raft were not protected
from the elements. The situation was especially worse for the oil covered
and burned merchant seamen, who were in need of medical attention.
Despite their injuries and overall condition, the survivors in the
lifeboat banded together and tossed a line to the men on the raft. While
the only surviving officer of the attack manned the tiller, he instructed
the men who made it into the lifeboat, to row hard and pull the men
on the raft to safety, as their ship began to sink. As the survivors in the
lifeboat used every ounce of strength, to pull the overloaded raft away
from the sinking ship, the tanker slipped under the ocean, that was still
filled with patches of burning oil. When the tanker did so, the sinking
vessel let out an eerie sound, that was more more like a very scary
scream. A split second later, all that could be heard were the moans of
the wounded and the sound of the waves, that were lapping up against
the side of the lifeboat and the square shaped wooden raft.
Despite the massive size of the Atlantic Ocean, the German U-Boat
that just sunk the tanker, surfaced close enough to a lifeboat, to almost
swamp the overloaded vessel. Even the men on a nearby raft had to
hold on as best as possible, when the wake produced by the surfacing
A Special Kind of Hero 11
submarine sent a ripple of water cascading their way. While the unarmed
merchant seamen waited to see what was in store for them, they observed
several armed German sailors take up positions on the submarine,
while their Captain and two other officers remained on the bridge
While speaking English with a heavy German accent, the Captain of
U-63 looked down into the lifeboat and addressed the only man wearing
an officer’s cap. “The name of your vessel?”
As soon as the Merchant Marine Officer relayed the name of his
tanker, the Captain of U-63 spoke as he looked down through the open
hatch and repeated the name to one of his non commissioned officers.
After the non commissioned officer quickly flipped through pages of a
Lloyd’s of London Registry of Ships, he looked up into the open hatch
as he called out and said, “I have it, Capitan.” 1
Now that the Captain of U-63 confirmed the identify of the tanker
and the vessel’s tonnage, he ignored the sight and the cries of the badly
burned oil covered merchant seaman and gave order to prepare to submerge. As soon as the U-Boat Captain and the crewmen vanished from
sight, the ocean around the lifeboat and the raft began to swirl once
again, as the submarine submerged with no concern for the survivors
of the vessel that they just sank.
12 Nick Jacobelis
The unit known as The Eastern Sea Frontier was based in New York
City. This command and control center was established, for the purpose
of protecting the east coast of the United States from marauding German
U-Boats. This was a critical mission that needed to be accomplished, to
insure the safe passage of merchant shipping, that was needed to supply
the United States, as well as Allied nations.
After being summoned to report to the Admiral’s Office at 90
Church Street in Manhattan, Commander Steve Gunderson arrived a
few minutes before the meeting that he was directed to attend. As a U.S.
Naval Academy graduate, who saw combat on a destroyer during World
War I, Commander Gunderson had experience protecting convoys and
attacking German submarines.
After being invited into the Admiral’s office, the usual pleasantries
were exchanged between Commander Gunderson and the commanding
officer, of one of the most demanding and important missions of the
Second World War. As soon as the Admiral told Steve to have a seat,
Commander Gunderson sat in front of the large wooden desk and
listened, as his superior officer explained the reason for this late night
meeting. “When I asked for you and your crew to be assigned to the
Eastern Sea Frontier, I was told that I could only have you and your
destroyer on a temporary basis.” Then, after a split second pause, the
Admiral sounded like a veteran naval officer, who was very concerned
A Special Kind of Hero 13
about the current status of the war, when he continued and said, “We’re
spread thin, Steve. Thinner than most folks realize. In fact, what I am
about to ask you and your crew to do, will not be an easy mission to
accomplish. I say that because you’ll have to perform this assignment
with very little, if any, assistance.”
“You know what they say, Admiral. Ours is not to reason why,”
responded Steve, who sounded more serious when he quickly added,
“My crew and I will do whatever needs to be done, Sir. We’re ready
When the Admiral stood up, Steve did as well, as the Admiral
motioned his guest to join him as he said, “Let’s take a look at your
assigned area of operation.”
While Steve stood facing the large map, the Admiral used a wooden
pointer to indicate where he wanted Commander Gunderson and his
destroyer to operate. “After you top off with fuel in Norfolk, I want you
to cover this area around Cape Hatteras. According to the work that’s
been done by Naval Intelligence, the U-Boats seem to remain submerged
during the day along the 100 fathom mark, where the water is deeper,
but close enough to the coast, to launch attacks at night. Your orders are
to patrol further off the coast during the day and move closer to shore at
night, so you can intercept U-Boats, before they start sinking merchant
ships. After examining all of the attacks to date, Naval Intelligence also
14 Nick Jacobelis
believes that the U-Boat Captains are setting up their attacks along the
lighted buoys that are located all along the coast. The fact that the lights
are on in cities and town along the eastern seaboard is also aiding the
U-Boats to navigate and identify targets. As a result, the likelihood exists,
that you’ll end up engaging a U-Boat in much more shallow water, than
when we protected convoys to Europe in the last war.”2
As soon as the Admiral finished speaking Steve spoke up and said,
“Just how short handed are we, Sir, and who can I count on for help, if
we end up tangling with a U-Boat?”
Without hesitating, the Admiral responded and said, “In the area
where you’ll be operating,you’ll have a handful of Coast Guard vessels
that range in size, with the largest and most formidable being a 165 foot
Coast Guard Cutter and one of the British trawlers, that was sent over
by the Royal Navy to give us a hand.” 3
When Commander Gunderson asked about air support, the Admiral
remarked, “We’re short on aircraft as well at this time, but we do have
a few planes that can respond from time to time, but only during
While sounding like a team player, Commander Gunderson took a
quick look at the large map before facing the Admiral and saying, “You’ll
know where we’ll be if you need us, Sir.”
After putting the wooden pointer down, the Admiral walked
A Special Kind of Hero 15
Commander Gunderson to the door of his spacious office. As the two
men who served together, during and after World War I, walked to the
door, the Admiral asked Steve how his wife and sons were doing. “Mary’s
still teaching and plans on working with the Red Cross, once school is
finished for the summer. Peter is flying a fighter off the Yorktown and
Gary graduated the Coast Guard Academy and is an Ensign assigned
to the cutter Icarus. Last I heard, he was patrolling off the coast of New
York and New Jersey.”
“Your son Gary doesn’t know it yet, but in early May the Icarus is
being transferred from its home base on Staten Island to Key West,”
responded the Admiral who quickly added, “And your youngest?”
While sounding like a proud father, Steve responded and said,
“After getting straight A’s in math and science for four years in high
school, Danny got himself a scholarship to study engineering at MIT
After complimenting Steve’s son Danny for his scholastic achievement, the Admiral asked about Commander Gunderson’s father. As
soon as the Admiral did so, Steve responded and said, “Pop got himself
promoted and is serving as the Chief of Police in our hometown out
on Long Island.”
“When you see that Retired Marine turned Chief of Police tell him
I said hi,” said the Admiral.
16 Nick Jacobelis
“Will do, Sir,” responded Commander Gunderson.
As the Admiral extended his hand and the two men shook hands,
the Admiral sounded both concerned and dead serious when he said,
“Be careful out there, Steve. We’re in one hell of a shooting war and
right now the enemy is winning. You and your crew are gonna help buy
us the time that we need, to get enough ships, planes, guns and well
equipped men in the field, to take the fight to the enemy. Your sons Peter
and Gary are doing the same thing in two different parts of the world.”
As Steve saluted the Admiral and the superior officer returned the
salute, Commander Gunderson remarked, “Anchors away, Sir.”
The third merchant vessel sunk that night by U-63 was a small
freighter, that was heading north along the North Carolina coast just
beyond Cape Hatteras. Due to the relative small size of this vessel,
combined with the fact that there were no other vessels in sight, the
Captain of U-63 ordered his crew to surface the boat and use their deck
gun to sink the enemy freighter.
As soon as the submarine surfaced, with its bow pointed at the
starboard quarter of the freighter, the deck gun crew came topside and
prepared to go into action. Once the deck gun was manned and ready,
the Captain of U-63 confirmed the distance to the target and relayed the
command to commence firing. As soon as he did so, the deck gun crew
A Special Kind of Hero 17
opened fire and continued to fire round after round into the freighter
with tremendous precision.
After inflicting serious damage the stern of the vessel, which forced
the freighter to come to a stop, the German deck gun crew then
destroyed the wheelhouse with a single shot. Now that the small freighter
was dead in the water, U-63 came to a stop a bit closer to the starboard
quarter of the enemy merchant vessel. After making a quick adjustment
to the elevation of the deck gun, the crew continued to engage other
parts of the ship. While doing so, crated cargo on deck was turned into
splinters and a lifeboat that was filled with survivors was destroyed, as
it was being lowered into the water. Once the vessel caught on fire, the
gun crew went to work along the water line and before long had pumped
an additional dozen shells into the now sinking freighter.
As soon as the Captain relayed the order to cease fire, the extremely
disciplined gun crew remained at their post, until they were ordered to
do otherwise. While U-63 sailed slowly closer to its prey, the lookouts
scanned the area around their location for any signs of other vessels.
Meanwhile, the freighter they just pumped over 30 shells into began
to list to the starboard side, as additional fires broke out and several
explosions erupted below decks.
After glancing around and being satisfied that there were no threats
to his boat in the area, the Captain of U-63 turned to his First Watch
18 Nick Jacobelis
Officer and remarked, “Once again, the American Navy is nowhere
“Perhaps they are off fighting the Japanese, Sir,” responded U-63’s
First Watch Officer (IWO).
After cracking a devilish grin, the U-Boat Captain patted his IWO
on his back as he remarked, “Bring us alongside of those survivors. I
wish to speak to their captain or one of their officers.”
Once again, U-63 came along side the survivors of their most recent
attack. In this case, two lifeboats survived the shelling. The fact that
both lifeboats were overloaded was evident, by the presence of several
crewmen and male passengers holding onto the sides of both lifeboats,
from their positions in the cold Atlantic. Even the sight of three women
and two young children in one of the overcrowded lifeboats didn’t phase
the Captain of U-63, when he asked the only merchant marine officer
to survive the attack, to identify the name of his vessel and explain why
civilians were on board his freighter.
After refusing to identify the name of his ship, the surviving merchant marine officer did relay his vessel’s tonnage and explained that the
women and children passengers were seeking passage back to a port in
Canada. Since German U-Boat Captains were interested in documenting
the tonnage of the ships they sunk, to establish their combat record as
sub commanders, the Captain of U-63 was satisfied enough with the
A Special Kind of Hero 19
exchange, to order his deck gun crew to go below in preparation of
While the deck crew secured their gun and the ammunition that
they had on hand, the Captain ordered all hands to clear the bridge.
Once everyone else in his crew made their way into the submarine, the
Captain of U-63 did so as well and secured the hatch. Within a mater
of seconds the German U-Boat ignored any potential danger to the
survivors, as the submarine proceeded forward and submerged under a
wave of foaming salt water.
While a downtrodden Danny Gunderson sat in a Canadian Navy
recruiting station, the last thing he wanted was for the Canadian
Policeman who was standing nearby to be handed the telephone.“Chief
Gunderson…this is Constable Ferring of the RCMP. We located your
grandson. Yes Chief, he’s fine. He was in the process of trying to enlist
in the Canadian Navy, when I received a call from the recruiter after
he read your flier. It seems that he also tried to enlist in the Canadian
Army as well,” said the policeman.
After checking his watch Constable Ferring went on to say, “I’ll
personally see to it that your grandson gets on the noon train to New
As soon as Police Chief Pop Gunderson thanked the Canadian
20 Nick Jacobelis
Policeman, the Constable added, “Your grandson is a fine young
man, Chief. It’s our loss that we are unable to use his services in these
After hanging up the phone, Constable Ferring looked down at the
young man who ran away from home, to try and enlist in two different
branches of the Canadian Armed Forces and said, “I know how you must
feel, son, but it’s time we got you on that train to New York.”
As the respectful young man who walked with a slight limp and
stuttered stood up, he responded and said, “Ya Ya Yes, Sa Sir.”
After opening the door to the recruiting station, the recruiter
extended his hand and said, “I’m sorry that I had to call the RCMP,
but your grandfather was worried about you.”
After merely nodding his head, Danny limped out the door followed by the Canadian Policeman. Once the door was closed, the older
recruiter turned to his assistant and said, “It tore my heart out to tell
that young man that he was unfit to serve in the Canadian Navy. And
I’ll tell you something else. I’d give my right arm to have a hundred
young men with that boy’s enthusiasm walk through this door to enlist.