Los Banos sailor lost in WWII battle finally gets honors

Louis McMullen remembered his father, a man he never met, in a very special way Friday afternoon.

His father, Louis Robert McMullen, a U.S. Navy torpedoman’s mate, died near the end of World War II after his submarine, the USS Growler, was lost during battle and no survivors were found.

Louis Robert McMullen on Friday received a memorial marker at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella. He was given full military honors by members of the Los Banos Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Post 2487 and the American Legion Post 166.

It was the first and only time he had received such honors. Those honors included the reading of ceremonial rites, the playing of Taps by bugle, and the folding and presentation of an American Flag to the family.

Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta began the ceremony with a short history of the man’s life and work as a serviceman. “Welcome home Louis,” Villalta said.

Louis McMullen called the remembrance ceremony emotional. He drove from Pioneer to finally see his father have a proper memorial in a national cemetery. “It feels good, very good,” he said. “I’m proud of the people who (helped).”

Louis McMullen had tried getting a marker for his father before, but was unsuccessful. Now that a marker has been placed, he said it was the right thing to do. “I wanted to do something like (this) but it never happened,” he said. “It did now, and I’m happy about it, and am very thankful.”

Villalta and Los Banos VFW member Rick Toscano learned of Louis Robert McMullen three years ago when Toscano was helping Villalta prepare a speech at the national cemetery on Memorial Day. Villalta read the names of the 15 servicemen from Los Banos who died in battle.

Villalta, his wife Leslie and later a Los Banos high school class, did extensive research on all of the men and the circumstances of their deaths. Louis Robert McMullen, it was discovered, was not honored in Santa Nella. Toscano in recent months, through an extensive search by the cemetery staff, discovered there was no marker for the sailor anywhere in the world.

“It’s very very, very dignifying,” Toscano said of Friday’s ceremony. “Overall better than I expected it to be. We’ve never done anything like this before.”

Toscano had the honor of playing Taps and said he was extremely nervous. “I want it to be perfect every time,” Toscano said. “The people you play Taps for deserve it. It really brings it home for us too.”

Louis Robert McMullen’s granddaughter Dana (McMullen) Rawls of Los Banos, said the service was wonderful. “I think it was a fine tribute (to) bring him home and give him a final resting place,” Rawls said. “Everybody deserves that.”

Louis Robert McMullen joined the U.S. Navy when he was 22 years old. When he came home for leave at the end of 1943, he was married, and expecting a son. He went back to Pearl Harbor, where the boat was stationed. The U.S.S. Growler, 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 same 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. According to records, it was presumed lost in action. “He was on that boat. His son was born in September. He never even met his son,” Toscano said.

McMullen died at age 24. “It’s closure for veterans to put another veteran in his final rest,” Toscano said of the remembrance ceremony, “and the family appreciated it.”

According to cemetery staff, every American veteran who receives an honorable discharge is authorized a burial plot or a marker in a national cemetery.