The Infamous Toilet Paper Letter
(Posted by Ron Martini on his Submarine Message Board on 3/26/2004)
I have had the pleasure of reading a new book, hopefully to be published soon, entitled; "Full Fathom Five." The book is written by the daughter of James Coe, who was the CO of S-39, Skipjack and was lost on the Cisco's first patrol.
Lt. Cmdr Coe was CO of the USS Skipjack when he wrote his famous "toilet paper" letter to the Mare Island Supply Office. Read it and then the new material follows which the author graciously gave me permission to post.
Here is the rest of the story:
The letter was given to the Yeoman, telling him to type it up. Once typed and upon reflection, the Yeoman went looking for help in the form of the XO. The XO shared it with the OD and they proceeded to the CO's cabin and asked if he really wanted it sent. His reply, "I wrote it, didn't I?"
As a side note, twelve days later, on June 22, 1942 J.W. Coe was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the S-39.
The "toilet paper" letter reached Mare Island Supply Depot. A member of that office remembers that all officers in the Supply Department "had to stand at attention for three days because of that letter." By then, the letter had been copied and was spreading throughout the fleet and even to the President's son who was aboard the USS Wasp.
As the boat came in from her next patrol, Jim and crew saw toilet-paper
streamers blowing from the lights along the pier and pyramids of toilet paper
stacked seven feet high on the dock. Two men were carrying a long dowel with
toilet paper rolls on it with yards of paper streaming behind them as a band
played coming up after the roll holders. Band members wore toilet paper
neckties in place of their Navy neckerchiefs. The wind-section had toilet paper
pushed up inside their instruments and when they blew, white streamers unfurled
from trumpets and horns.
This letter became famous in submarine history books and found its way to the movie ("Operation Petticoat"), and eventually coming to rest (copy) at the Navy Supply School at Pensacola, Florida. There, it still hangs on the wall under a banner that reads, "Don't let this happen to you!" Even John Roosevelt insured his father got a copy of the letter.
The original is at Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.