Sunday, February 12, 2012

When Destiny Became History

When I first told you about finding my father-in-law’s 1942 photograph of his company at boot camp, I mentioned starting to research the men who signed the back of his copy of that picture. The first signature on Frank Stevens’ photograph was that of a Rockford, Illinois, man named Sherwood J. Hanford.

With a name like that, surely I’d find quite a bit of information online. That would be easy to search!

It didn’t take me long, though, to find an entry for him at a website featuring the vessel in which he served during World War II. I even found his picture—bright eyes, great smile, really personable, full of life and potential—and then found out why he was being featured in this site.

The site was for the USS Trout. The first one.

Receiving a Purple Heart for his service, memorialized along with so many others at the monument at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, duly noted in the State Summary of War Casualties from the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Sherwood didn’t leave much of a digital trail of lifelong activities on the Web. The only thing he left behind was the memories of a very short life. And speculation over when, exactly, that short life met its end.

When news of the Trout’s demise hit the papers back home in Rockford, Illinois, I suppose it threw the Hanford family and neighborhood into that moody gray waiting period—that interminable limbo of not being sure in the face of such loss. I’d like to search through the local papers at some time and see what the headlines were for the hometown of the Hanfords. I’m sure the town shared their grief, waited along with them for further news, hoped for the best but knew, deep down, that it probably was not to be, in their case, anything but grim.

From the 1930 US Census and elsewhere, I found Sherwood’s parents names to be Zolmon Duerwood and Marguerite Henen Hanford. Somewhere online, I found a mention that Sherwood had a brother sharing his December 18, 1920 birthday. The pain of that separation must have been near unendurable—though not to minimize the loss his other, older siblings also sustained.

I sometimes wonder how closely my father-in-law, Frank, kept in touch with those comrades from his training days at the beginning of his Navy career. He often mentioned trying to find some of these friends in his wartime letters home to his folks in Chicago. I wonder what thoughts each of the trainees had about their future during those years of such turmoil. I wonder if Frank ever knew about what became of the USS Trout and its entire crew or if news like this was kept from those others deep in the midst of that war.

Whether their friendship was a passing time of camaraderie, never to be picked up again once they parted ways with each heading to his own assignment, his own destiny, their acquaintance has bestowed me with the opportunity to discover Sherwood Hanford’s—and each of these men’s—story and accomplishments, and thus to learn to appreciate their sacrifice that has benefited untouched future generations like mine.


  1. This is a beautifully written tribute to the "Silent Service" member on "Eternal Patrol."

    I don't know how readily the news of ships lost at sea was given to the media. The family could have dangled not knowing for sometime. I looked at the USS Trout's patrol record to see when Sherwood Hanford might have joined the ship. Perhaps just before her fifth war patrol, which took place August-October 1942 or perhaps when she later patroled from Australia.

    And to think, he left behind a twin brother and a nephew that knows the story!

    The submarine arm of the US Navy badly crippled the Japanese fleet, sinking millions of tons of supplies like badly needed food and petroleum.

    And history, ripples like a pond, since the War, Japan moved away from heavy dependence on imported patroleum and into Nuclear energy, and are now struggles with the calamitious diaster at their Fukushima nuclear complex.

    Who's to say what the world would have been like if Sherwood had survived the war, gotten married and had some children?

  2. This is some project! What wonderful information you have unearthed! :)


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