Gremlin disappeared during a short stay on the Midway Islands. Rumor had it that one of the submarine crewmembers had picked up the dog and took him to their base on a neighboring island.
“This was all we had to go on,” said George “Moe” Sathre. “The skipper, Lt. Cdr. Jay B. Yakely, realized this would be a great loss and morale would no doubt suffer. He sent three squadron aircraft crews over to find him. I remember the feeling of hopelessness. The submarine had left—probably with Gremlin aboard.”
But the men kept searching and calling for their beloved friend. Hope dwindled with each passing moment.
“Then I saw a small mass huddled under a park-like bench,” remembers Sathre. “I yelled `Gremlin, come here boy!’ but he didn’t come and was shaking as if he were scared. I quickly gathered him up and yelled to the rest of the searchers, ‘I found him! I found him!’”
The men came running. It seemed too good to be true, but there he was, in Sathre’s arms. They stroked the frightened dog and spoke softly to him, and finally Gremlin began wagging his tail. He was back where he belonged—with the VPB-128.
In addition to loving female companionship, Gremlin also discovered the wonderful world of beer drinking at picnics and parties. The men were very generous, offering a nip or two of drink to the dog, which often resulted in a hangover.
“This was about the only time he avoided companionship and loud noises, and searched for a quiet place to sleep it off,” said Forrest with a chuckle.
Gremlin’s extra curricular activities earned him an official court martial. The reasons were listed as:
A. neglect of duty
B. absent for muster
D. affairs with lady dogs not on approved list
E. frequenting Marine beer halls
F. failing to report to “pro station” after spending night on adjoining island
G. out of uniform
The court martial was signed by Lt.(jg) H.E. Hilton and Lt. V.H. Larson. But Gremlin didn’t seem to mind the court martial, nor the threat of demoting him by a rank, so long as he got an occasional beer, a good scratching, and a chance to fly on another mission.
Gremlin had several primary caretakers, some of which lost their lives, but another sailor was always ready to take over tending the dog.
When the squadron was sent to Samar, a hot spot in the war zone, the Navy had to spend more time concentrating on the enemy, but Gremlin didn’t seem to mind. It was almost as if he understood their purpose for being there, and he was content so long as he was with the sailors. It was here where an enlisted man by the name of McKirdy assumed primary care of Gremlin. McKirdy was in Lt. Cdr. Bill Tepuni’s crew. Tepuni was ordered on a follow-up attack on a Japanese submarine tied up to the dock at Cebu City. The plane was shot down.
“Tepuni’s plane went down in flames,” Gustafson remembers, shaking his head. The pain and horror of the war still shows in his tired blue eyes.
PV-1 bomber’s carried so much gasoline that even a slight crash or hit would cause the plane to burst into flames. Several planes went down and members of the VPB-128 lost their lives. There was a lot of confusion in the days that followed the loss of Tepuni and his crew, but someone finally noticed that Gremlin hadn’t been seen for a while. They finally realized that Gremlin was on that plane and had gone out on his last mission.
The squadron members hold a reunion about once a year. Those who returned home still remember the horror fifty some years later, but they have lived a lifetime since the war, married, had families, retired from careers. When these men get together, they can still recall the good and bad times they had during World War II. Members of the VPB-128 are not just old Navy buddies—they are a family, and they all remember Gremlin with gratitude, fondness, and love.
“He was rescued from a life of hunger and abuse in the slums of Cuba,” says Forrest. “and brought into a world filled with love, unending attention and adventure.”
The young men who had been called to duty during World War II came from different walks of life, and they needed a common denominator. The old saying, “dog is a man’s best friend” goes a long way for the members of the VPB-128. Gremlin provided that friendship and common denominator with his love and devotion to the squadron.
“He may not have been aware of his sacrifice, but with the devotion, loyalty, and love he gave, I am sure he would have gladly given his life for any member of the VPB-128,” says Forrest.
Gremlin, Dog First Class, died for his country and the men he loved on March 21, 1944. He accomplished his mission with the highest degree of loyalty, compassion, and love.