Posted on

Veteran Spotlight: Spencer Stimler United States Navy

May 2022

Today we are spotlighting Central Coast WWII Veteran, Spencer “Spence” Stimler.

Spence served in the Navy from 1942 – 1946, Electronics Technician’s Mate 1st Class (SS). He was assigned to the USS Pampanito, a submarine where he served as a radio technician from June 1944 until the end of WWII, September 1945.

Spence was born in 1923 in Minnesota, and enlisted in the Navy a year after high school graduation to avoid being drafted into the Army. He wanted to become a Naval Aviator, but he was told he could not fly due to a medical condition.

When asked if he enjoyed math, Spence told his recruiter that it was one of his favorite subjects, so he enlisted in the Eddy program. The Eddy test was the common name for a test given throughout World War II identifying men with the capability and aptitude for being trained in the enlisted ranks as electronics maintenance technicians in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. He successfully passed the test and was immediately promoted to Petty Officer 3rd class.

After boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, Spence completed numerous training schools and was promoted to Electronics Technician’s Mate 2nd Class. Shortly after Spence and two buddies were put on a destroyer to Pearl Harbor. From there, they took a submarine tender, USS Proteus, AS-19, to Midway. Spence was assigned to the Pampanito, SS-383, and qualified in submarines in June 1944.

The Pampanito made six patrols in the Pacific during WWII, with Spence on board for five, sinking six Imperial Japanese ships and damaging four. The Pampanito was at Pearl Harbor when the war ended and returned to Mare Island at Vallejo, California for decommissioning. It is now on display at the San Francisco Maritime National Park with daily tours to the public.

On Spence’s second patrol, the Pampanito sunk the SS Rakuyo Maru, which was transporting British and Australian prisoners of war from Singapore to Japan. The Japanese left the POWs in the water and three days later, Pampanito returned to the area and rescued 73 men. Spence said it was already tight with 92 on board, so taking on an additional 73 made it very cramped.

Spence recalls a story of another Navy veteran, Vic Radcliff, who served on the USS Guavina, SS-362, and was on the same Honor Flight as Spence several years ago. Spence heard Vic describing to other Honor Flight guests the time he was topside on his submarine and watched a Japanese tanker sink. When they compared notes, it turned out that while Vic watched the tanker sink from the Guavina, Spence watched the same tanker sink through the periscope of the Pampanito. They did not know each other at the time but met on the same Honor Flight 70 years later.

Spence became involved with SLO SubVets and received his Holland Club certificate from SLO SubVets Base Commander Bob Baker on July 14, 2007. This award signifies that the person qualified in submarines over 50 years ago. Spence has since been recognized again when he received his 75-Year Holland Club certificate in 2019.

Thank you for your service.