The First World War ended in blood on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
As a silence settled over these apocalyptic battlefields of Europe, the victorious Allied nations moved to honor those who served in the “war to end all wars” with a celebration then known as the name of Armistice Day.
But World War I was not the end of the war and bloody conflicts continue to unfold. The list of battles and war dead goes on. In 1954, Armistice Day disappeared to be replaced by Veterans Day – a national holiday to honor those who had served in all of our country’s armed conflicts.
Iowa should be especially sensitive to the respect due to the military, as the state has long been at the forefront of serving-ready citizens.
It started with the Civil War – when Iowa was the northern state that sent the highest percentage of its young men to the battlefield. This was especially true in 1941 when the distant battlefields of World War II called the young people of Iowa to the flag. And Burlington has not been spared as the global conflict has upended lives.
A review of those who fell in the battles that will follow call some household names. Families who were business leaders, professional pillars and the men and women who moved the community forward saw their sons and daughters step forward. Many who served did not return.
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Frank DeVere Latta belonged to one of these families. The Lattas had long been one of the most prominent families in southeast Iowa. A church along Irish Ridge Road and the station near Sperry bore this name.
But Frank was not to have the opportunity to shine this family name because he had chosen to follow a military career. In 1932, the 23-year-old man from Burlington graduated from the Naval Academy.
Navy was a logical choice for the athletic young man who had grown up rowing and sailing on the nearby Mississippi River. He thrives at the academy. After the start of World War II, Latta was in command of the submarine Narwahl.
In 1943 he conducted six patrols in enemy-held waters and “helped materially in planning a series of extremely dangerous missions.” This service earned Latta the Navy Cross and Silver Star medals.
Latta was then given command of the submarine USS Lagarto, and there his story unfolded to a tragic end.
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The Lagarto was built in Wisconsin and in 1944 floated down the Mississippi River past Latta’s childhood home to join the fleet in New Orleans. The ship was then taken to the Pacific and command given to Latta, who joined a pack of wolves searching for Japanese ships in Leyte Gulf.
On 2 May contact was made with enemy shipping and shortly before 10 p.m. the American ships maneuvered for the attack. The Japanese escort ships used searchlights and 4.7 inch gun fire and chased the American ships.
The next day, the Lagarto resumed the attack. A sister ship of the attacking wolf pack, Baya, was to report that later that afternoon it arrived at an agreed location but was only met by empty seas.
The next day, the Baya sent messages every half hour to Latta’s craft, but there was no response. The Lagarto and her crew of 86 had disappeared.
On August 10, 1945, Lagarto was listed as “overdue on patrol and presumed lost” and was struck from the Navy Ship Register. Shortly after, a telegram was delivered to Frank’s grandparents’ home reporting his loss.
Latta and his ship might have remained among the lost had not a British diver, Jamie MacLeod, examined a post-war review of Japanese records and found mention of a May 3, 1945, attack on a submarine. submerged in the waters where the Lagarto was last reported.
On May 20, 2005, a group of private deep sea divers followed the instructions of this war record and found the wrecked Lagarto sitting in 230 feet of water almost intact and standing on the ocean floor. The mystery of Lagarto’s disappearance was lifted.
Frank Latta and his crew never returned from the war and he never had the opportunity to ride his beloved motorcycle again on the streets of Burlington. Members of the Latta family would eventually leave the community and the memory of the young man who was willing to serve slowly fades.
Veterans Day is one of the few occasions when the nation should pause and remember those who gave so much in its defense.