Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying Down from Chicago

A comment was made to me about Belize and why were people flying down there from Chicago.  So a little side note here.  At the time the country was called British Honduras (renamed Belize in June 1973).  Those cargo planes mentioned in my previous blog were being flown by pilots hired to provide supplies to a recently purchased piece of property located on the eastern side of British Honduras - the side facing the Caribbean.  Bob Woll was one of those pilots, flying his twin-engine Beech Baron.  He and other pilots were working through Fred Keller of Keller Caribbean Sports in British Honduras - now out of business.  Bob Woll was hired as a “marine engineer.”  They were actually flying for Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley and stocking up a resort area planned to be a secluded hideaway for Daley and his friends.  The person running the hideaway, named Spanish Creek Lodge for its proximity to Spanish Creek (today the Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve), was a retired Chicago judge.  The property was a steal.  One estimate was that it was 10,000 acres purchased on a long-term lease at $10 an acre, nestled around a secluded bay away from the media and the world.  It was reputed that the property had been purchased by the Democratic Organization Party.  The construction company was named Elard Realty Company which was a company supposedly owned by Mayor Daley.  At the time, Elard (a composite of the names “Eleanor and Richard Daley”) and the Democratic Organization Party shared the same building in Chicago.  Those who want to research this any further can start with the Chicago Tribune's article dated July 13, 1974, entitled "Defunct Construction Firm Tied to Probe of Daley Assets." 
As with any research, there are always items of interest that sidetracks one from the main body of research.  This was only one.  Another is the mystery of DORADO's bell.  It was removed from the submarine by the DORADO's Commanding Officer and handed over to his father for safe keeping.  He later donated it to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and they subsequently lost it - so somewhere out there sits the bell from the USS DORADO.  Another is the story of John Thonen who claimed he was the sole survivor of the bombing and sinking of DORADO - and the confiscation of all known copies of a hometown newspaper that had reported on his survival.  Another is the post card mailed from Key West by a DORADO crewmember postmarked just days after DORADO was depth-charged in the Caribbean.  Another is the loss of DORADO's original Board of Investigation and Court of Inquiry transcripts by the Navy's Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Office (luckily after this author had requested their declassification and obtained a copy for his own files).  But all in good time, all in good time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How It All Began For Me

It seems, as it usually does, that life's adventures always begin by some off-handed remark or some serendipitous meeting between people who all have different pieces of information in common to share.  So it was, I believe, around 1985, at a barbeque on my back deck in Fairfax, VA.  Invited were my old University of Kansas college roommate Tom Sherman (who was at the time working at American Watersports - a dive shop located in Oxon Hill, MD); Mike Freeman, the owner of American Watersports; Robert "Nick" Woll, a business associate that I hired from time to time for consulting on aviation matters; and a couple of others who I have since forgotten and failed to write down anywhere (sorry!).  Later, sitting around the picnic table with full bellies and empty beer bottles, Mike Freeman was talking about his latest trip to North Carolina to pan for gold, a recent hobby of his.  He pulled out a small baby-food jar that was nearly full of small nuggets of gold that he had been collecting from his recent trips.  He passed it around for us to look at and feel the weight of such a collection and his off-the-cuff remark was that, in all his years of diving for treasure, he wished he had found one of those German U-boats that had escaped at the end of World War II stuffed full of gold bullion, jewels and paintings looted from countries overrun by the Germans.  Oh yeah, wouldn't we all like to find something like that!  Then came that other piece of information from Nick Woll. 
He said that back in the early 1970s he and other pilots had flown cargo planes on several occasions to and from Chicago to Belize, stopping in Texas and Cozumel along the way.  From Cozumel to Belize he remembered them flying over something underwater in the Caribbean, sticking up out of the white sand, that looked like the conning tower of a submarine.  They had seen it enough times that they actually began calling it the Gray Ghost.  By radioing those in Belize when they passed over the wreckage, anyone working on the runway had time to remove any equipment off the landing strip in preparation for their landing.  They all believed it to be the remains of a U-boat.  Possible one of those full of looted treasure.  At the time there was no Cancun full of tourists - just swamp and jungle.  But one pilot from the group took an exceptional interest in wanting to find this U-boat.  That one pilot knew the exact position of the conning tower and was amassing a library full of books on U-boats and Germany in World War II.  Unfortunately he later flew his plane into a mountain and killed himself; his widow eventually threw away all the research he had collected in attempting to identify the wreckage.  There were no doubts for those pilots who saw the wreckage - it could only have been a U-boat, even though they had failed to identify which one.  My thinking was that it could be something besides a U-boat.  American, French, Italian and Japanese submarines also visited the Caribbean during World War II.  My research came to discover the loss of DORADO in the Caribbean.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My first blog

Not even sure that anyone will even find this site, but here goes nothing!  Researching and possibly finding the remains of the USS DORADO (SS-248) somewhere in the Caribbean has become my most expensive hobby.  Yet as the son of a 30-year career Navy enlisted man and 23 years as a Naval Officer myself (before retiring in 1999), I find this effort the most rewarding.  I grew up around diesel and nuke submarines, my father being stationed in those ports of call - Holy Loch, Scotland; Rota, Spain; Charleston, SC - back in the days of Polaris missiles.  At 6-foot 3-inches and not having the best of studying habits going through NROTC at the University of Kansas, I woke up one day, buckled down and found myself serving as a Naval Reserve Intelligence Officer for 19 of my 23 years.  Good enough to continue working around subs, just not ours!  SO... in later blogs I will describe how it came to pass that the story of DORADO came across my desk and why I picked up the guantlet to pursue her history, her mysteries, and to search for her remains.  Along the way I have had the great pleasure of having been contacted by many relatives of those lost on DORADO.  They have blessed me with personal photos and memorabilia of their fathers and in some cases their great-grandfathers.  We shall not forget them.  In this very first blog I would like to give thanks to Robert "Nick" Woll who started me on this journey some 20 years ago, continuing the same journey he started in the early 1970s.  Other thanks to people who have helped me over the years will be forthcoming.  Again, the official USS DORADO website can be found at  Thanks and goodnight on my first blog.