Los Banos sailor finally laid to rest

mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.comNovember 9, 2013 

A Los Banos sailor lost at sea with the sinking 69 years ago of the USS Growler will be honored today at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.

Louis Robert McMullen, who died near the end of World War II, will receive full military honors at 2:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend, said Mike Villalta, Los Banos mayor and organizer of the ceremony. It’s a fitting prelude to Veterans Day.

McMullen will receive full military honors, including the ceremonial folding of the flag presented to his family.

“All this is is bringing home a man that died 69 years ago to the day, on November eighth, 1944,” Villalta said. “Nowhere could Rick (Toscano) or I or my wife (Leslie Villalta) find a military-issued marker for this man.” The death and honor, both on Nov. 8, are coincidental and were not planned.

The Villaltas and Toscano became aware of McMullen three years ago when Toscano, a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, helped Villalta with a speech at the national cemetery on Memorial Day. That’s the holiday in the final Monday of May set aside to remember the men and women who have died in the armed forces in service of their country. Villalta read the names of the 15 servicemen from Los Banos who have died in battle. The Villaltas, and later a high school class, did extensive research on each man and the circumstances of his death. McMullen, it was discovered, was not honored in Santa Nella. Toscano, in the last few months, through an extensive search by the staff in Santa Nella, discovered there was no marker for McMullen anywhere in the world.

McMullen joined the navy when he was 22 years old, according to Villalta and Toscano, and assigned to the Growler.

When he came home for leave at the end of 1943, he was married, and was expecting a son. McMullen went back to Pearl Harbor, where the boat was stationed, and left for patrol Feb. 20, 1944.

“They went to the South China Sea and commenced a patrol sometime in October of 1944,” Toscano said. “Along with two other submarines, they engaged the enemy.”

These two submarines heard what they thought was a torpedo explosion followed by several more explosions, Toscano said, “and no one heard from the Growler.”

Searchers looked for three days for the Growler. It was presumed lost in action, Toscano said.

“He was on that boat. His son was born in September. He never even met his son,” Toscano added.

McMullen died at 24.

Toscano said every American veteran, if discharged in anything other than dishonorable conditions, is authorized a burial plot or a marker in a national cemetery, depicting their service. After consulting with the family, McMullen will be honored today. “We’re bringing a Los Banos man home (in spirit),” Villalta said, “and remembering him and giving him a remembrance marker at a place of honor.”

Reporter Marina Gaytan can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6562 or mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.com.

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