PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - The USS Bowfin launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In combat the submarine lived up to its nickname the "Pearl Harbor Avenger."
"With her attacks of 44 ships, that was a very significant blow to Japan," retired US Navy Capt. Chuck Merkel said.
A former submariner himself, Merkel's in charge of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and an expert on what made the Bowfin unique..
"This class of submarine during the war could not run her diesel engine submerged. So she had a very limited endurance underwater and had to spend most of her time on the surface," he said.
The Bowfin engaged the enemy in nine war patrols in the Pacific. The US fleet of more than 200 subs sank a third of Japan's naval fleet and merchant ships and turned the war at sea in America's favor.
"That came at a tremendous price," Merkel said. "We lost 52 submarines and over 3,500 submariners.during the war."
In the 1970s the Navy towed the Bowfin to Pearl Harbor for disposal. It was saved from the scrap heap and turned into a museum ship in 1981.
The submarine still looks much like it did during the war. Most of the machinery and many of the items on board are original.
It's a popular visitor attraction at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument with self-guided tours above and below deck. This year more than 400,000 people will tour the vessel.
"Next spring our nine millionth visitor will cross her brow," Merkel said.
Of the more than 200 men who served aboard the Bowfin during WW II only a handful are still alive.
Last year Merkel met Walter Beyer, shortly before his death.
"He was a quarter master on Bowfin for the last three patrols. I'll treasure those moments I got spend with Walter," Merkel said.
The USS Bowfin is both a memorial and educational tool. On December 7, the historic submarine celebrates her 75th anniversary.