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James Robert "Jimmie" Ball.



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Home of Record: Newhall, CA (1322 Newhall Avenue)*
Date of Birth: November 18, 1922
*(Old numbering system; 1322 would be 13 blocks from the intersection of Pine Street and Newhall Avenue. North or south is unstated. Best guess: Today's 13th street.)

Service: United States Navy Reserve
Rank: Seaman First Class
ID No: 5541334
Specialty: Machinist
Selective Service Registration Date: (draft card undated; ~1941)
Start Tour: Called up ~October 1942
Assignment: USS Gudgeon (SS-211) submarine

Incident & Casualty Date: presumed April 18, 1944 (Lost at sea)
Location: South Pacific
Casualty Reason: presumed aerial bombardment; submarine sunk
Age at Loss: 21
Official Date of Death: January 15, 1946 (determination)
Remains: unrecoverable
Official Memorial: Name on cenotaph, Honolulu Memorial, Court 5, Courts of the Missing

 


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Submariner James Robert "Jimmie" Ball was born November 18, 1922, to Herbert E. Ball (1890-1954) and Verna Estelle Coe (1891-1972). Although he was born in Santa Monica, the Balls lived in Castaic Canyon at least as early as 1920 and then in Newhall. During the 1920s and 1930s, Jimmie's father ran display ads in The Newhall Signal that read simply: "Herbert E. Ball / Just Remember, I have a few Mules That Will work." When Jimmie was 5, his maternal uncle Homer Coe died in the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster along with Homer's wife Nora and their son Kenneth.

Jimmie attended Newhall School where he played baseball (The Signal, 8/16/1934) and graduated from the 8th grade in 1936. He then attended San Fernando High School and graduated in 1941. (The SCV had no high school of its own then.)

Jimmie's draft card is undated, but at the time he was working at Aircraft Components Inc. in Van Nuys. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was activated around October 1942. After training at Camp Farragut, Idaho, he was assigned to the first USS Gudgeon (SS-211), a Tambor-class submarine.

The Gudgeon was the first U.S. submarine ever to undertake a trans-Pacific patrol and the first U.S. submarine in history to sink an enemy combatant ship (January 27, 1942). During her 11 patrols the Gudgeon sank 25 ships (166,400 tons) and damaged 8 more (41,900 tons).

Exactly what happened during the Gudgeon's 12th patrol remains a mystery. She was last heard from April 7, 1944, when she left Johnson Island, about 750 miles southwest of Hawaii. Orders to undertake a special assignment on May 11 were not acknowledged. Based on intercepted Japanese radio communications, the "best guess" for her loss was an aerial bombardment on April 18, 1944. Where the attack occurred is unknown; the two likeliest locations are southeast of Iwo Jima or somewhere near the Maug Islands in the Northern Marianas.


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The bodies of the 80 sailors on board, including that of Jimmie Ball, were not recovered. Their deaths were determined by a ruling January 15, 1946. They are memorialized in a cenotaph at the Honolulu Memorial, Courts of the Missing.

Further reading: Ostlund, Mike: "Find 'Em, Chase 'Em, Sink 'Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon," Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2006 (rev.2012).

Research assistance from Tricia Lemon Putnam.




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BELOW: U.S. Navy images from the January 24, 1941, launch of USS Gudgeon (SS-211) at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, Calif., and later that same year.

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