WWII submarine veteran recalls experiences in Pacific Theater

Mandeville, LA

The doctor's comment, without any reason given or documented, could have sealed Herman Prager's fate in 1942: not fit to perform active duty.

Prager had been at Louisiana State University about a month when he received a recommendation to Annapolis from a local politician, but this physical kept him from attending the Naval Academy. Prager still isn't sure why the doctor made that decision.

"He never did say what was wrong," Prager said. His parents asked him to wait until after the holidays to try joining the Navy again.

On Jan. 2, 1943, Prager did enlist (and was happy, he said, he didn't get the same doctor).

Upon graduation from machinist school, the Navy asked for volunteers for submarines and PT boats. Prager said all the PT boats were taken, so he and a buddy signed up for submarines.

"Heard the duty was good, the food was excellent ... and also you got 50 percent extra pay for submarine duty which didn't amount to a hell of a lot, but more than you usually got, you know."

But the training for submarine duty was very intense. Prager said it took almost two patrol runs to qualify, which required drawing a book with every file system and air system on the boat, then taking an exam.

But this intensity was for good reason, he said.

"Naturally each man's life depended on the other man knowing his position on the boat."

Prager joined the USS Kingfish in September 1944, and would stay on in its cramped quarters for four patrols.

One patrol made for a close encounter of the unwanted kind.

The Kingfish made an attack in the night, sinking two ships and looking for a third. The starboard lookout, John Almquist, saw three torpedoes being fired at the sub. Almquist yelled a warning, cried "full speed."

"The three of them passed right down our starboard side," Prager said. The Kingfish submerged.

"If (Almquist) hadn't caught them in time I wouldn't be talking to you," Prager said. Almquist and Prager still keep in touch.

Between the four patrols he served on, Prager served as an oiler in the engine room, the throttle man, and in the control room. He served in the gun room topside as a 5" deck gun sight setter and trainer. He said off the Kurile Islands in the Sea of Okhotsk they sank two 75-ton trawlers with those guns.

The crew rescued four British aviators who had been shot down near Iwo Jima and dropped them off in Saipan. Prager became a motor machinist's mate 2nd class.

But Prager's most-prized war memory is a familiar one.

"My favorite story was when the war ended, of course," he said.

Meanwhile, Prager's sister had set him up with a penpal. Her friend Katherine saw a picture of Prager in her wallet, and wanted to know who it was. Katherine started to write him. He wrote back. When he pulled into port, he'd sometimes have 10 letters waiting for him.

Prager set foot in Galveston, Texas, in 1945.

"It was the first time I saw my folks since Jan. 2, 1943, and the first time I ever saw Katie."

They were married the following year and adopted two boys. Prager entered the Naval Reserves, serving until 1951, and worked at the family business, eventually becoming CEO. Katherine died of cancer in 1982.

In 1986, he married Jane, who he met through work in 1986. They sold the family business in the early 90s, and have several grandchildren. Prager spends much of his time fishing, golfing and reflecting.

More than 20 percent of submarine veterans were lost in WWII. He volunteers at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

"It’s been a wonderful life as far as I’m concerned.

"I felt it an honor to be in submarines because the fellows that you served with were all top-notch men who relied on the other men, knew each job, and they were very respectful of each other. There was just a camaraderie that you don’t find in other places because you never know when your jobs gonna depend on someone else."

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