Verne Leslie Skjonsby of Hickson, North Dakota is remembered in the US Naval Academy Virtual Memorial Hall with words written upon his graduation. In part is reads: “…wherever he may wander to, he will radiate a warmth of friendship and a strength of character that success is sure to follow.”
Skjonsby graduated from the academy in 1934, and he would go on to serve aboard the USS Wahoo, the most famous American submarine of World War II. His captain was the gutsy “Mush” Morton, whose aggressive tactics led to the Wahoo’s legendary reputation. Morton would become known as an “undersea ace.”
Skjonsby was 32 years old and serving as Morton’s executive officer when they embarked on the sub’s 7th patrol in September of 1943. They sunk four enemy ships, but Japanese records and eyewitness interviews form a picture of what happened next.
On this date, Japanese manning 6-inch shore batteries spotted a surfaced American submarine making a dash through the Cape Soya Strait. The Japanese opened fire and the submarine submerged. Within a short time, four Japanese planes arrived and spotted a trail of oil. They soon located the Wahoo and began dropping bombs. By now, the entire coast was on alert, and two submarine chasers joined the battle using depth charges. After a multi-hour sea and air attack, the Wahoo finally went down.
63 years later, in 2006, the Navy announced that a sunken submarine discovered by divers was indeed the Wahoo. The wreck was intact, about 213 ft down. Photos revealed that a bomb strike near the conning tower had been a direct hit.
No plans were made to salvage or enter the wreck. Naval tradition has long held that the sea is a fitting final resting place. In 2007, the U.S. Navy conducted a wreath-laying ceremony at the site.
In 1944, Captain Morton was posthumously awarded a fourth Navy Cross. And the President of the United States bestowed the Silver Star upon Morton’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Verne Leslie Skjonsby of Hickson, North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm and Skip Wood