Years Later, Unearthing Answers to Submarine's Loss
Growing up in Southeast Washington in the years before World War II, Michael Francis "Moe" Collins was the apple of his mother's eye.
He was the fourth child of John and Marie Collins, who operated a plumbing firm in Anacostia. Moe was the thoughtful kid who did chores and accompanied his mother to the store. "It was a family thing that he was the best of them all," recalled his niece, Mary Anne Marino, of Fort Washington.
Collins enlisted in the Navy Reserve and was called to active duty in 1940.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served as a fireman second class aboard the USS Grunion, a submarine that disappeared in summer 1942 somewhere in the Bering Sea between Japan and Alaska. Collins, 23, and the rest of the 70-man crew were eventually declared missing in action.
The news hit hard at the Collins home on Valley Place in Anacostia. Marie Collins was devastated.
"When he died, it was like her whole world closed up," Marino said. "She was never the same."
What was particularly hard was not knowing for sure what had happened. "She believed he was coming back, because they didn't find him," Marino said.
The Collins family was not the only one hoping for answers. A search effort has been underway for five years, funded by the three sons of the submarine's skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. "Jim" Abele.
In August, a team working in waters near Kiska, one of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, found the mangled remains of a submarine that searchers think is the USS Grunion.
"This is the most incredible experience you can possibly imagine," Bruce Abele, the skipper's eldest son, said in a phone interview from his home in Newton, Mass. "It was a sequence of events as improbable as you can imagine."
Family members representing many of the Grunion's crew members, including relatives of Collins, are gathering today in Newton to meet one another and see photos and video footage of the sub's wreckage.
"This is going to be a very emotional time," said Mary Parziale Bentz of Bethesda, whose uncle, Torpedoman's Mate 3rd Class Carmine Anthony Parziale, was lost aboard the Grunion at age 21.