Families remember WWII sailors lost on submarine U.S.S. Grayback

Families remember WWII sailors lost on submarine U.S.S. Grayback

PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Three weeks ago, the news on Veterans Day stopped some people in their tracks as a story about the discovery of a lost World War II submarine broke across the country.

The Lost 52 Project discovered inaccurate coordinates had been recorded decades ago, and new information led researchers to find the U.S.S. Grayback lying more than 100 miles from where it was believed to have sunk after being hit by a Japanese bomber off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

When the submarine sank in February 1944, 80 sailors were on board including three North Carolinians: Marshall L. George, of Yanceyville, William C. Hooks, of Whiteville and William G. Nicholson, of Jacksonville.

Both Hooks and Nicholson left wives and children behind in southeastern North Carolina where their descendants still live today. Both now have grand or great-grandchildren who bear their name.

Doug Nicholson was William’s son. He was a young child when his father died. Doug’s children, Kevin Nicholson, Kelly Nicholson, and Dave Gardner, only ever heard stories about their grandfather.

“I remember, just as a kid my father, you know, just saying 'well we don’t know what happened to your grandfather. He went out on a submarine and he never came back and we really don’t know what happened to him,” said Kevin Nicholson.

When a Japanese bomber sank the USS Grayback in February 1944, three young men from North Carolina were on board including William C. Hooks of Whiteville and William G. Nicholson of Jacksonville.
When a Japanese bomber sank the USS Grayback in February 1944, three young men from North Carolina were on board including William C. Hooks of Whiteville and William G. Nicholson of Jacksonville. (Source: WECT)

Kevin says the news brought a sense of closure he wasn’t even looking for.

“It’s not something that really worried me, you know, just wondering where [the submarine] was every day but when they said they’d found it, it was, I don’t know, just a good feeling to me,” Kevin Nicholson said.

While the precise location of the U.S.S. Grayback didn’t worry Nicholson over the years, the same cannot be said of the children of William C. Hooks and the wife he left behind.

“My mom, who passed away eleven years ago, she always -- she was 88 when she passed away -- and she always said he was coming home,” said Williams’ son, Kenneth Hooks Sr.

Hooks Sr., and his son, Kenneth Hooks Jr., went into military service themselves, both are now Navy veterans. Hooks Jr. followed in his Grandfather’s footsteps and served aboard submarines

Kenneth Sr. says he and his sibling spent their lives looking for answers as to what exactly had happened to their father. His brothers also served in the military. They believed it would always be a mystery.

When a Japanese bomber sank the USS Grayback in February 1944, three young men from North Carolina were on board including William C. Hooks of Whiteville and William G. Nicholson of Jacksonville.
When a Japanese bomber sank the USS Grayback in February 1944, three young men from North Carolina were on board including William C. Hooks of Whiteville and William G. Nicholson of Jacksonville. (Source: WECT)

The news of the discovery hit Kenneth Hooks Sr., hard. He saw it on the morning news as he was heading out for the day.

“Just as I picked up my keys and was reaching for the remote control, I heard the word Grayback and I turned... and I saw, I saw the bow. And it zoomed in on the plaque...I can’t really describe... my wife was still in the bed, and I went back to tell her and I couldn’t speak,” he said.

For Gardner, the discovery of the U.S.S. Grayback “means everything."

“It was like, the most happiest, joyous feeling in the world and the most depressing feeling all at the same time,” he said.

He hopes everyone will remember those who never came home from World War II.

“These guys saved the planet from the most darkest, most evil tyranny the world has ever seen,” he said.

When the news broke, Kelly Nicholson could only think of their father.

“Just wow, I wish my Dad could’ve lived long enough to see that moment,” she said.

It was a moment of closure 75 years in the making.

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