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Rubin MacNiel Raiford

Rubin MacNiel Raiford
Rubin MacNiel Raiford

Is this a story of extreme patriotism or one of a desperation to get out of the living situation he may have been in?

Born on May 13, 1929, young Rubin MacNiel Raiford, (or possibly Rayford by some accounts in tracing the mothers family), at age 13 managed to get himself enlisted in the US Navy on 13th of October 1942. We don't have any details of his height or weight but perhaps at 13 he looked much older because of his size.

After some basic training he was ordered to the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. On January 31, 1943 Rubin was transferred under verbal orders from ComSubRon Four, from the Submarine Base to the USS Litchfield DD 336 which was the flagship of ComSubRon Four as a Mess Attendant 2/class. Working in the Ward Room and Pantry cooking, washing dishes, serving meals and generally maintaining the Officers quarters. Litchfield's duties involved the escort of U.S. submarines both in and out of port and antisubmarine patrol off the entrance to Pearl Harbor. This probably peaked his interest in the submarine service

On March 9, 1943 Rubin received orders and was transferred to the USS Saury SS 189 for Saury's sixth war patrol. Saury stopped at Midway on May 11 and topped off her fuel and other supplies and departed to her patrol area. After passing through a typhoon, arrived at her assigned area on the 25th. She headed toward Amami O Shima, a naval base some 200 miles south of the industrial port of Kagoshima on southern Japanese Island of Kyushu. On May 13th Rubin had his secret 14th birthday at sea.

At 9 AM the next day a ship was sighted but was too far away to attack. An hour later a five ship convoy was sighted and an attacked was plotted at 1030, she fired tubes 1 2, and 3. One minute and 44 seconds later, a torpedo exploded against the stern of a transport. Nine seconds after that, another hit broke the target's back and sent debris high into the air. The 2,300-ton Kagi Maru went under. This was to be Rubin's first taste of combat. Nine minutes later depth charges were dropped but were not very close.

On the 28th of May, in an attack they used ten torpedoes in two separated approaches sank the 10,216-ton tanker, Akatsuki Maru. The next day she sank two more ships in a surfaced evening attack sinking the Takamisan Maru of 1,992 tons and Shoko Maru of 5,385 tons. On the 30th, Saury headed back to Midway. On 7 June, her number 4 main engine went out of commission. The next day, she arrived at Midway; and, on the 13th, she moored at Pearl Harbor for repairs and refit. Rubin continued his duties as a Steward preparing and serving meals in the wardroom.

A month later, on 13 July, the submarine departed Hawaii on her 7th war patrol. Mechanical problems soon began to plague engine # 4 and it remained out of service the whole patrol. On the night of the 30th of July 1943 while half way between Iwo Jima and Okinawa, she made her first contact of the patrol. During the attack Saury lost depth control and once she regained control she found she was under attack by a destroyer running right down her track. A few seconds later, two jolts shook Saury. She took on a 5 degree list to port. She continued to go deeper, then retired to the east. No depth charges were heard. Saury remained at 175 to 200 feet all day. At 2020, she surfaced. Her periscope shears were bent 30 degrees from the vertical to starboard. All equipment mounted therein was damaged. Both periscopes and both radars were out of commission. Saury had been blinded.

Temporary repairs were made; and, at 0403 on 1 August, Saury headed home, arriving at Midway on the 8th of August and at Pearl Harbor on the 12th. Her patrol had ended before she had reached her assigned area but she was credited with causing damage to an enemy destroyer.

On August 25th Rubin, now a Stewards Mate 1/c is reported to be aboard the USS Spearfish SS 190. After refitting at Midway from 1 to 25 August, Spearfish searched Japanese home waters south of Bungo Suido for shipping. On the night of 10 and 11 September, she made a submerged torpedo attack on a convoy of seven freighters escorted by one destroyer and two torpedo boats. The submarine fired torpedoes at four ships and damaged two. Spearfish was depth charged throughout the day but finally eluded the escorts. On the night of 17 and 18 September, she attacked another convoy of seven ships with their escorts, sinking two and damaging one. Upon concluding this patrol, the ship sailed to Pearl Harbor for refitting.

On September 30, 1943 Rubin is still reported aboard as the Spearfish undergoes a refit. She heads back to sea from November 7, 1943 to December 19, 1943. Spearfish performed photographic reconnaissance of Jaluit, Wotje, and Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, to aid the forthcoming invasion of those islands. On December 5 and 6, she acted as a lifeguard submarine for air strikes on Kwajalein and Wotje.

In the December 31, 1943 crew muster Rubin is aboard the Spearfish but it looks like he is becoming dissatisfied with his job as a Steward. On February 29, 1944 while aboard Rubin changed his rate from Stewards Mate 1/c to Cook 3/c. This got him out of the wardroom and into the crews mess. But he had to take a two rate cut in pay grade to do this. He was now cooking food for the enlisted crew as well as the officers.

Rubin was aboard Spearfish for the next three war patrols where he celebrated his 15th birthday unknown to other crew members. He stayed until she went to Mare Island for a much needed overhaul.

On September 24, 1944 transfer records show that Rubin had orders from from SubDiv 282 to the USS Tang SS-306. Compared to the Saury and Spearfish, Tang was a brand new submarine, a Cadillac in comparison, with all the latest and modern innovations. It must have been a most welcome experience.

Tang stood out to sea on September 24, 1944 for her fifth and last war patrol. After topping off with fuel at Midway, she sailed for Formosa Strait on the 27th. After making a number of spectacular attacks against the enemy, on October 24th.

On the morning of 24 October, Tang began patrolling at periscope level. She surfaced at dark and headed for Turnabout Island. On approaching the island, the submarine's surface search radar showed so many blips that it was almost useless.

Tang soon identified a large convoy which contained tankers with planes on their decks and transports with crated planes stacked on their bows and sterns. As the submarine tracked the Japanese ships along the coast, the enemy escorts became suspicious, and the escort commander began signaling with a large searchlight. This illuminated the convoy, and Tang chose a large three-deck transport as her first target, a smaller transport as the second, and a large tanker as the third.

Their ranges varied from 900 to 1,400 yards. After firing two torpedoes at each target, the submarine paralleled the convoy to choose its next victims. She launched stern torpedoes at another transport and tanker aft.

As Tang poured on full speed to escape the gunfire directed at her, a destroyer passed around the stern of the transport and headed for the submarine. The tanker blew up, and a hit was seen on the transport. A few seconds later, the destroyer blew up, either from intercepting Tang's third torpedo or from shell fire of two escorts closing on the beam.

Only the transport remained afloat, and it was dead in the water. The submarine cleared to 10,000 yards, rechecked the last two torpedoes which had been loaded in the bow tubes; and returned to finish off the transport. The 23d torpedo was fired at 900 yards and was observed running hot and straight.

The last torpedo was fired. It broached and curved to the left in a circular run. Tang fishtailed under emergency power to clear the turning circle of the torpedo, but it struck her abreast the after torpedo room approximately 20 seconds after it was fired. Tang sank by the stern.

Those who escaped the submarine were greeted in the morning with the bow of the transport sticking straight out of the water. Nine survivors, including the commanding officer, were picked up the next morning by a Japanese destroyer escort. They spent the remainder of the war in prison camps. Rubin was not one of the “Lucky Ones”. At age 15 Rubin MacNiel Raiford is probably the youngest submariner in the US Navy to have died in combat. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

By the navy records we have at hand he was a 3rd class Ships Cook and based on the uniform he is wearing in this photo he looks to be submarine qualified. He is listed by the Tang commanding officer, Dick O'Kane, in his book as being a CK2/c. He was probably promoted during this patrol.

Something had to have triggered an investigation of Rubin and his age because it is noted that as of August 30, 1944 his enlistment in the Navy had been canceled due to his age. On this date Rubin shows on a crew muster as being aboard the USS Breton CVE-23 bound for the mainland.

Maybe Rubin had heard of what had happen to Calvin Graham, the boy sailor who joined the Navy at age 12. He was a hero of the battleship South Dakota that was seriously damaged off Guadalcanal in 1942 by saving lives despite being wounded himself. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions and a Purple Heart at the age of 13. Upon learning of his age the Navy had jailed him in a Navy Brig for 3 months and stripped him of his medals and all military benefits. It could be that learning of all this that Rubin decided to not return to the US on the Breton to maybe face worse action as a black person.

At this time Tang was still in port. On September 24, 1944 Tang sailed with Rubin aboard. It is unknown why Rubin as not aboard the carrier Breton. Perhaps he just walked off the ship and went back aboard Tang. The Breton had over 1200 or more crew and riders aboard. He probably just wasn't noticed as being absent since no one knew him.

As it was this was Tang's final patrol and Rubin was to perish with the rest of the crew so unlucky as to not escape the sinking submarine. By best guesses, Rubin MacNiel Raiford was the youngest sailor in the United States Submarine Service to die in WW II at age 15.

These things have been discovered about his family. Rubin, himself is elusive in the records.

The mother, Victoria, was located from 1910 to 1940 in Texas married to William Small and her death in Georgetown in 1998 at the age of 90.

Her parents were Lucius and Maggie, she a homemaker and he a life-long blacksmith in lumber and paper mills. In 1920 he served as a fireman aboard a ship the name of which cannot be made out. In 1930 he does not say he saw service in WWI.

Victoria had at least four siblings; she was the oldest child born 1907-1908. In the 1940 cencus there is a six year-old child named Horace whose mother is unidentified, but Victoria is not enumerated.

In the same census Reuben is listed as being ten years old and so he was definitely underage when he enlisted and should never have been on that boat.. Then again we know such things happened and probably with more regularity than anyone wants to admit.

Many Thanks to Paul Wittmer for bringing this young man to our attention and providing the photo of him.

Many thanks to James Haas for tracing family.

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