Walter Mazzone, notable WWII submarine officer and Sealab leader, dies

SAN DIEGO - Retired Navy Capt. Walter Mazzone, a decorated submarine officer in World War II and later a key figure in the development of deep-sea diving and submarine rescue procedures during the Cold War, has died at age 96.

Mazzone died Aug. 7 at his home in San Diego of congestive heart failure, according to his son, Robert, also a retired Navy captain.

As a submariner, Mazzone was involved in two of the war’s most harrowing undersea missions.

He endured more than 30 hours of depth-charging by Japanese destroyers in the Makassar Strait off Borneo in 1943 after his ship, the Puffer, attacked a Japanese merchant ship. It was considered the longest such assault in submarine history.

In 1944, Mazzone was torpedo and gunnery officer aboard the submarine Crevalle when it was ordered to retrieve secret documents from a Japanese-held island in the Philippines.

Along with getting the documents, the sub was charged with rescuing more than 40 women, children and missionaries who had been hiding from the Japanese. One of the women was pregnant.

Mazzone is credited with bringing a goat aboard the submarine to provide milk for the children, including the newborn.

On the way back to Australia, the Crevalle was assigned to torpedo a Japanese convoy. A Japanese depth-charge attack damaged the Crevalle but Mazzone’s expertise kept the submarine under control and allowed it to escape.

The incident - not including the goat - was later made into an episode of the 1957 television show “The Silent Service,” which dramatized submarine missions of World War II.

For his war service, Mazzone was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V, and a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V. He went on seven combat patrols.

Walter Francis Mazzone was born Jan. 19, 1918, in San Jose, Calif. He attended San Jose State University, where he was a boxer and football player and graduated in June 1941. He had planned to become a doctor but instead joined the Navy in the early days of the war.

After the war he remained in the Navy reserves and received a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Southern California before going to work in his uncle’s pharmacy in San Jose. In 1950, he was re-called to active duty and sent to Japan.

Later he was assigned to the Naval Medical Research Laboratory and joined the effort to enhance the Navy’s deep-sea diving capability. With the Cold War underway, U.S. officials believed that maintaining superiority in diving and submarine capability was key to thwarting the Soviet Union at sea.

He became project manager for the Sealab program that sought to test how humans could adapt to long periods on the seafloor. Tests were done at sea-bottom locations off Bermuda, La Jolla, Calif., and San Clemente Island, Calif.

Mazzone retired from the Navy in 1970 and worked at the Navy’s Ocean Systems Center in Point Loma, Calif., for a decade before becoming program manager for Navy contracts at Science Applications International Corp., a military contractor in La Jolla. He retired from Science Applications in 2002.

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