Tony Faella of Venice, Fla. made five combat tours in the Pacific aboard the submarine USS Spearfish (SS-190) during World War II — from 1942 until war’s end in ’45. He served as an electrician’s mate 1st class.
Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur, commander of Philippine troops on Corregidor, had just been ordered off the island by President Franklin Roosevelt. He escaped in a PT-boat that took him to safety in Australia from where he launched his campaign to take back the Philippines.
The rescue of 13 nurses and 14 civilians took place just after Mac Arthur escaped and just before the Japanese captured Corregidor during the early months of the war. Ann Bernatius, a Navy nurse who became the first American to receive the Legion of Merit for heroism at Bataan while caring for military casualties on the island, was among those rescued.
“The Spearfish was patrolling off Corregidor when the submarine got a call to rendezvous with a boat in the harbor while the Japanese were trying to take the island,” the 93-year-old former Venice sailor recalled. “They didn’t know they were getting nurses on board the sub. One of the sailors reached up and grabbed a leg sticking through the forward torpedo room hatch. When he realized it belonged to a lady he said. ‘Oops,’ and let go of her leg.
“The nurses took over the chief’s quarters on the Spearfish. They took turns sleeping in any bunk they could find,” Faella recalled almost 75 years later. “The rest of the sub’s crew and the other civilians slept anywhere they could.
“The nurses were on the boat three or four weeks. They sailed aboard the Spearfish all the way to Fremantle, Australia. Two of the nurses wrote books about their adventures during the war. One was called: ‘Angels of Mercy’ and the other was ‘Warriors in White,’ I think. They both included a chapter on their submarine ride.
“Years later several of these nurses came to our submarine reunions after the war. Ann Bernatius was 104 the last time we heard from her,” he said.
The crew of the Spearfish went on a secret mission to Iwo Jima before U.S. Marines hit the black volcanic beaches of that eight-square-mile island.
“The Navy needed information about Iwo Jima they didn’t have. They sent our sub to check it out,” Faella said. “We had a photographer aboard who took pictures through the periscope. He shot pictures of enemy fortifications visible on shore from our boat.”
Another sub adventure that impressed Faella was the time the Spearfish rescued seven members of a B-29 bomber crew who had crashed into the sea off Japan late in the war. The U.S. stationed a series of submarines just of the enemy coast to do exactly what the crew of his sub accomplished.
“We got a call that a B-29 bomber had gone down. We got their coordinates and our skipper got the sub moving. The next day we found seven members of the crew floating around in little yellow rafts off the Japanese coast,” he said. “We picked them up and they spent the rest of our patrol with us. Shortly after we took them aboard they had Christmas dinner with us on the Spearfish.”
After the war a couple of members of the bomber crew attended our annual submarine reunions. Faella particularly remembers C.B. Smith, the navigator aboard the 29 bomber dubbed “Peewee.”
“He was from St. Louis, Mo. and he drove his big motorcycle to our conventions,” Faella said. “Smith would stay with us a couple of days and take us out to dinner and pay for everything.’
“‘If it weren’t for you guys I wouldn’t be here’ he would tell us.”
The last few weeks of the war the crew of the Spearfish spent most of their time around Pearl Harbor.
“We were there when they dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima,” he said. “Three days later, when they dropped the second bomb we were still there.
“Then we got orders to sail the Spearfish to San Francisco. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and I was discharged from the Navy on Dec. 15, 1945.
“I hitch-hiked my way across the country on military aircraft. I flew from San Francisco to New Jersey in a couple of days. I went from there by train to Providence, R.I. I was thumbing my way in uniform along the side of the road and a guy stopped, picked me up and took me to my parent’s front door in Wakefield, R.I.
Faella took the G.I. Bill got a teaching degree in elementary education and taught third and fourth grade in a three-room school in his hometown—Matunuck Grade School. A few years later then became the principle of much larger grade school in the area. For 34 years he thought kids their ABCs.
He and his wife, Betty—his high school sweetheart—have seven children: John, Stephanie, Tom, Charley, Christopher Mary and Helen. They vacation during the winter in one of their children’s Venice homes.
Name: Antonio William Faella
D.O.B: 8 Sept. 1922
Hometown: Providence, R.I.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 27 May 1942
Discharged: 15 Dec. 1945
Rank: Electriians Mae 1st Class
Unit: USS Spearfish (SS-190)
Commendations: Asiatic Paciiic Medal 1-Star, American Area Medal, WW II Victory Medal, Submariine Combat Pin 3-Stars, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Pacific, Corregidor, Iwo Jima.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 9, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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