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Chip & Pam Lambert
Discovery of USS Mississinewa
Interview with Chip & Pam Lambert about the discovery of the fleet oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59). It was sunk on November 20, 1944 in the Ulithi Anchorage by a Japanese Kaiten suicide torpedo. The ship was the only US Navy ship sunk by Kaiten attack alone, and is the grave site of over fifty Americans. After searching from March 27 to April 6 2001, the ship was located - 57 years after its sinking.

What got you and your wife interested in WWII and diving?
We took a dive group to Palau in 1989. The group went home and Pam and I were going on to Yap. A typhoon interrupted air travel. Sitting on the verandah of the Palau Pacific resort consuming adult beverages, we met Dan Bailey, who, with Dave Buller, had just found the 'Helmet Wreck'. Many hours later, trips were planned and information exchanged (or maybe it was the other way around). Next trip, Pam, Dan and I found the Samidare (Pam's picture at the Samidare site is on the cover of his Palau book). Many trips latter, including visits to the National Archives and a bulging personal library, we have never looked back.

My first dive was when a neighbor, in 1961, bought a Dacor double-hose reg. and tank at the local sporting goods store. It came with a book that we read at least 2 pages of before putting the tank on and going down. All I remember was, 'don't hold your breath'. Some things never change. I almost flunked out of University of Colorado because I sat through three showings of the movie 'Silent World' when I was supposed to be taking a final. I became certified during graduate school in 1967, taught for BSAC during my time in Saudi Arabia. In 1984, started a dive shop with 4 others in San Jose, CA, and became a PADI Instructor. I have dived: British Columbia, California coast and inland lakes, Hawaii, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Truk, Yap, Ulithi, Palau, New Zealand, Solomon's, Australia, Arabian Gulf, the inland lake and well of Saudi Arabia, Red Sea, Cypress, Scotland, Maine, Florida, Antigua and the Galapagos Islands.

My late father started for the Western Pacific, but the troopship broke down and floundered at sea for a week before being towed back to Seattle!

Speak about your connection with the veterans of the ship
The USS Mississinewa (AO-59) was sunk by kaiten torpedo on November 20, 1944.

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As we have acquired more knowledge, we have had the opportunity to share it with Mississinewa veteran groups. These folks have truly become family members. We are in constant contact with many of them. They share their stories and first hand information, we try to finalize many of the unsolved events that they vividly remember from the past. They have had an enormous effect on my interest and the willingness of both of us to commit large amounts of money for these trips. They are my heroes. The rewards of these relationships far exceed any short-term pleasure that might be acquired on a cruise ship or other vacation destination.

Mike Mair who is writing a book on the Mississinewa's history. His dad was on board when the ship sunk, and received the news very despondently. Mike is extremely knowledgeable and was the primary reason we found the ship. I can only repeat what Mike has told me about how the crew members are responding. He has first hand interviews.

Elaborate about your first dive on the Mississinewa
Pam describes it as an obsession, I felt I was just "focused". After spending hundreds of hours researching the ship and 6 1/2 days looking for it, when I saw the spike on my bottom finder, I screamed "We found it", but nobody believed me. I turned the boat around and we hit it again. Kenneth Wur, one of the Ulithians helping us, put his mask on and looked below. He claimed he saw it. I asked him three times what he saw, because we had a false sighting 2 days earlier. He kept saying, "something, it must be the ship". At that point, after all the time, I still didn't believe we had found it.

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We donned dive gear. I was the first in and while waiting, reluctantly put my head under while waiting for the others to join me. I didn't see anything. Expecting another disappointment, I sank down about 15' and saw it.

I pegged my ascent rate indicator, yelled at everybody that it was down there and to follow me. It was a slow, ethereal descent. I wanted to see everything, but couldn't believe I was seeing anything. An incredible cloud of fish illuminated by the noon sun rose out of the crystal clear water to meet us.

The surreal scene was overwhelming. We had worked on a dive plan, but after taking pictures of the group, everybody found their own area of interest. I just kept touching it to make sure it was real. Fortunately, Pam wasn't quite as excited, because I had to finish the dive sharing her air.

This is an honest, but I think, an unusual feeling. After our 1st dive, we went to the island of Elipig, for lunch and to video our impressions. I was almost afraid to go back for a second dive because I didn't think it would still be there. Fortunately, it was.

The ship is upside down, with the top side buried in the sand. The depth to the ship is 120 feet. The ship rolled as it sank. The bow went down first and caught on its port side, which lies on the bottom. The ship continued to roll to the port, twisting around the huge area on the starboard side damaged by the kaiten and the explosion in the #2 and #3 wing tanks that contained aviation gas. The majority (~85%) of the ship is completely inverted.

The superstructure is buried or compressed into the sand, which has filled in around the rails. The starboard rail of the bow comes up to ~85'. The deck is vertical and there are some open hatches. The stern, with the rudder and twin screws, is in ~75'.

The Navy was very successful with its anti-fouling materials, because nothing is growing on the bottom. The water is the clearest of any wreck sites I've been on (Truk, Palau, Vanuatu, etc.)

We made a promise to the veterans and the families of the deceased, that, if found, we would not penetrate the wreck. It is a grave site for 50 sailors and it would be the same as going into a cemetery and digging in the plots for remains. We kept our word and hope that others have the same respect and sensitivity for the site. However, of the many interesting things we saw on the exterior, one piece of plating was incongruous with the rest. We felt it might be part of the kaiten and others that have seen the photos, agree.

Did you investigate the other known Kaiten wrecks in the area?
Not enough time. We found this with about 30 minutes of search time remaining before we ended the trip. Fortunately, PMA rearranged the flight schedule so we could have the extra day of searching. Also, the island ran out of gas. Everybody pooled what was left (they couldn't go out fishing) and gave it to us so we could continue the search.

Any other upcoming trips or dive plans?
We are going back to Palau in the fall. We found a number of sites that are potential grave sites that may get more investigation from CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii)

Thank you, Mr. Lambert and congratulations on your discovery

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