Birthday: June 16, 1925
Birthplace: Auburn, Iowa
Family: Walter and Vera Hunziker
Occupation: Worker in a power plant and as a truck driver for thirty years
Branch: Navy, U.S.S Grouper
Lee Hunziker joined the navy at the age of seventeen. The war started when he was sixteen and the day before his seventeenth birthday he enlisted. He trained in the Great Lakes. "Actually, we had no training in the Great Lakes; I was in boot camp for three weeks. One of those deals were they went around, `Oh you guys volunteered to go to a certain school, well we need submariners real bad.' You volunteered and if you passed you go to New London, Connecticut, if you didn't pass you'd get your choice of schools. You have to be in perfect physical condition. Hey, I got it made, I was missing six teeth, I can't get in. I'll volunteer. And you know what happened, I passed and you go through a battery of tests, medical, physical, psychological, everything, and then I was shipped out of there and I went to San Francisco for a short time and then right out to San Diego and Pearl Harbor. Part of March I was in Pearl Harbor. Being a sub tender you worked on the subs and replaced the crews and repaired the boats. I was assigned to the Gato, we went off for a couple training runs on that and I transferred then to the Grouper."
"Now on the Gato which was my first time ever on a sub, we went outside the diving area to test it and they had me on high periscope watch and that's way up there. Now we're gonna dive and the Officer on Deck (O.O.D.) says now don't bother with the safety belt, just grab it and jump, cause we only have a few seconds to get down. Well to make a long story short I panicked and I tried to unstrap the belt. The crew was already down and ready to close the hatch when I got there and the quartermaster had to come back up and let me down and the water was coming near the hatch. The executive officer had a heart to heart talk with me and things were fine after that. But the interesting thing was I didn't have a lifebelt on and I couldn't swim. [It] could have been a long swim back."
Lee's main ship, the USS Grouper was launched on October 27, 1941 from the Electric Boat Company. "Now I got on the Grouper and that was in May and headed out to Midway Island, and the Battle of the Midway. Now the morning of June 4th we were on the surface and seven submarines on the northwest corner of Midway spread out in a fan. We had to dive as we were being bombed and strafed by a plane. We dived the boat, and the depth gauges stuck and we assumed they were right until we got down and there was a lot of creaking and water leaks; with a water pressure test from the outside we discovered we were down about 700 feet. Our final depth was 745 feet and the boat was built for 300, give or take 100 feet. They found out later in the war this was fine, but being the first one, it's not a good feeling. After that we came up at night to repair damage and headed for damage repair at Midway Island. The first dive, you're not scared, you're apprehensive"
The living conditions on a sub were tight. "We slept three men to two bunks, we had three watches; one on, two off. We didn't have much free time, between cleaning and studying for qualification. Food was great until your ran out of fresh stuff, the dehydrated stuff wasn't too pleasant. I've never liked powdered milk, or powdered eggs."
The crew of the sub did have arguments while they were in port, but Lee had things to say about that. "You had to get along with everybody. I don't mean you wouldn't have a squabble here and there. If you had a disagreement with another shipmate in port, and you went back to the boat that was wiped out. If you got stuck in a scrap with some army guys or whatever you just holler out the name of your boar and your crew that was there would come wading in. We did have a lot of closeness, we still do today, because we believe once a submariner, always a submariner."
The USS Grouper was launched October 27, 1941 and displaced 1526 tons of water. The ship could travel 20.25 knots surfaced and 8.75 knots submerged. The range of the sub was 11,000 nautical miles or about 12658 miles. The sub was tested at a depth of 300 feet, although the crew found out that it could go well past 700 feet. The submarine carried 24 torpedoes, 5 officers, and 54 enlisted men. The Grouper was of the Gato class of submarines. The Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut laid the keel on December 28, 1940. The boat was sponsored by Mrs. Albert T. Church and was commissioned February 12, 1942. Claren E. Duke commanded the sub. The USS Grouper received 10 battle stars for WWII service. It was decommissioned December 2nd, 1968. The Grouper sank the following Japanese ships:
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104