Mannert Lincoln “Jim” Abele
Lt. Commander (Commanding Officer)
Birthplace: Quincy, Massachusetts
Marital status: Married
Acknowledgements: Brad Abele, The Jim Book; The Abele Family; Daniel E. Black, Newton Life; Bob Dotson, The Today Show; Chrissie Long, The Sub
Mannert Lincoln Jim Abele was born to Doctor Francis Abele and Lou (Tupper) Abele on July 11, 1903, in Quincy, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on August 12, 1920, and after completing training at Newport, Rhode Island, was assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Utah (BB-31) until December 1921. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1922, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign on June 3, 1926. He was assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Colorado (BB-45) where he served until November, 1928 when he requested and was granted transfer to Submarine School New London, Connecticut for submarine training. His first submarine assignment was aboard the U.S.S. S-23 (SS-128) from December 1929 to April 1933, followed by service at the Office of the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, D.C., until June 1936. Jim’s next assignment was aboard the U.S.S. R-11 (SS-88) from June 1936 to January 1937, before taking command of the U.S.S. R-13 (SS-90) in February 1937. On June 23, 1939 LCDR Abele became Assistant Professor of Naval Science and Tactics at Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts. He then returned to the sea where he served as Commanding Officer of the submarine U.S.S. S-31 (SS-136), followed by service as Commanding Officer of the submarine U.S.S. Grunion (SS-216) from her commissioning on April 11, 1942.
Approximately one year after graduation from the Academy, on June 8, 1927, he married Catherine Abele in Brookline, Massachusetts. On October 14, 1929, their first son, Bruce, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, followed by their second son Brad on January 25, 1933 born in Honolulu. Their third son John was born in New London, Connecticut on February 2, 1937.
Still today, some 70 years after the loss of the Grunion, the Abele family continues to receive letters, e-mails and telephone calls from people who knew Jim at one time in their life, or from letters they had received from those who knew of him, and most importantly, from Grunion families.
In the summer of 1939 when Jim was Assistant Professor of Naval Science and Tactics at Harvard University, Cambridge MA, one of his pupils, Endicott Peabody, who was an all-American football player, later became governor of Massachusetts. Before Governor Peabody died in 1997 he wrote to the Abele family saying that LCDR Abele was the best teacher he ever had.
Among the Abele archives is a letter 11 year old Jim wrote to a schoolmate’s father who was in the Navy stationed at the Navy Yard in Boston. Jim wanted to sail with him to Africa on the USS Chester. His reply to Jim was, “I think you are a very brave boy to want to go to Africa. I should like very much to take you and my boy, what a fine time you would have. But, Mannert, Uncle Sam does not permit me to take boys, much as I would like to take them. Some day when you are older, I hope you will have the opportunity of seeing Africa and other parts of the world. When we come back to Boston, you may visit the ship and I will answer all the questions you want to ask about the Arabs and Turks and the old old city that is being dug up. Good-bye my brave and bright boy. I am sorry that we cannot take you, but Uncle Sam must be obeyed.”
In one of the last letters Lt. Kornahrens wrote to his wife “The more I see of the captain, the more convinced I am that he is a remarkable individual. He has bottomless energy and talents galore — wood carving, poetry, storytelling — and most important of all, he’s a wondrously cool, competent skipper. It’s going to be a real pleasure to go to sea with anyone of his caliber at the helm. I only hope that I won’t let him down — and that I can continue to please him as far as my work is concerned.”
In a letter dated June 15, 1942, Lt. Millener Thomas wrote to his wife, “Did I tell you that I think Jim Abele is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. I think any experience I gain from him will be of great help later. He has let me take charge at times with full confidence.”
Fireman Second Class Ernest Carl Miller’s Mother, wrote in a letter to Catherine: “My son wrote, ‘Mom the fellows are swell and our Commander is tops’.”
George F. Drew, one of the survivors of the USAT Jack, having read the news of Grunion’s loss in the New York Sun and hearing it on the radio, in May, 1943 wrote to Catherine Abele and said, “I am sure had it not been for the care Captain Abele and his Pharmacist Mate Paul Sullivan gave us, quite a few of us would not have survived. Paul treated our severe sunburns, salt water poison, and bruises that had become infected. He couldn’t possibly have done more for us while we were on board the Grunion.”
Catherine felt it her duty as the Commander’s wife to reach out to the families of her husband’s crew. Lt. McMahon’s wife, Fran, and Catherine Abele remained good friends and corresponded until Catherine died in 1976. In a letter Fran wrote to the Abele children she said, “I keep remembering all the difficult things Kay was called on to do as the skipper’s wife in 1942 when Grunion was lost – all the letters she wrote to every single next-of-kin of the crew. I will certainly miss your mother though we saw each other seldom over the years; we shared an enduring and sustaining friendship. Thus in some small measure we all share our great loss. All of you have a lot to be proud of – and a lot to live up to – raised by a sterling mother. It was certainly my pleasure and privilege to be a friend of your mother and I send my deepest sympathy to you all in your loss…. Fran.”
A recent email from RADM Richard Breckenridge he declared “Your father must have been an incredible warfighter and leader – his leadership in our submarine force was instrumental in winning the war in the Pacific and continues to inspire those of us who have followed him today.”
Most likely July 24, 1942 was the date of Kay’s last letter to Jim: “Darling sweetheart – We have been thinking about you dear and do so wonder where you are. When the news of the sinkings off the Aleutian Islands came along, Bruce said I bet Jim sank them all. Well, anyway, he has perfect faith that you know just how to get out of the way yourself.”
The day before the Memorial Service in 2008 this tribute appeared on the Grunion blog “Lt. CMDR Abele’s contributions to his country are evident in his fine sons. Good work gentlemen. May your children be so blessed.”
A memorial marker is placed at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.
Copyright © 2012 Mary Bentz. All Rights Reserved.