The Navy Toilet Paper Letter

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Editor's note: Thanks to Adrienne for sending this in. You can find the original blog at the Seattle USSVI Base blogspot, the blog for the Seattle Base of the US Submarine Veterans, Inc., located in Seattle, Washington. This particular entry, from June 11, 2011, discusses something that I would think we Poopreporters should know about, and yet I do not ever remember reading about this. Good to hear from, Adrienne!

"While in Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Lt. Cmdr James W. Coe, captain of USS Skipjack (SS-184) sent a letter to the yard's Supply Officer regarding the cancellation of his requisition for toilet paper. This letter became known as the “Toilet Paper Letter.”

"Here is the text of the letter: "


June 11, 1942

From: Commanding Officer

To: Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California

Via: Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific

Subject: Toilet Paper

Reference: (a) USS HOLLAND (5148) USS SKIPJACK req. 70-42 of 30 July 1941.

(b) SO NYMI Canceled invoice No. 272836

Enclosure: (1) Copy of cancelled Invoice

(2) Sample of material requested.

1. This vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper on July 30, 1941, to USS HOLLAND. The material was ordered by HOLLAND from the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.

2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941, cancelled Mare Island Invoice No. 272836 with the stamped notation "Cancelled---cannot identify." This cancelled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 10, 1942.

3. During the 11 ¾ months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, the SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, especially during depth charge attack by the "back-stabbers."

4. Enclosure (2) is a sample of the desired material provided for the information of the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The Commanding Officer, USS SKIPJACK cannot help but wonder what is being used in Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.

5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period have become accustomed to use of "ersatz," i.e., the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for the reduction of paper work is being complied with, thus effectively killing two birds with one stone.

6. It is believed by this command that the stamped notation "cannot identify" was possible error, and that this is simply a case of shortage of strategic war material, the SKIPJACK probably being low on the priority list.

7. In order to cooperate in our war effort at a small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action be taken until the end of the current war, which has created a situation aptly described as "war is hell."

J.W. Coe

"And here is the rest of the story:

"After writing this letter, Coe gave it to the Yeoman and told him to type it up. Once typed and upon reflection, the Yeoman went looking for help in the form of the Executive Officer (XO). The XO shared the letter with the Duty Officer and they proceeded to the captain's cabin and to ask if he really wanted it sent. His reply [was], 'I wrote it, didn't I?'

"On a side note, twelve days later J.W. Coe was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions while in command of USS S-39 (SS-144).

"When the toilet paper letter reached Mare Island Supply Depot, the officer-in-charge immediately called out his men and a member of the Supply Office remembers that all officers in the Supply Department 'had to stand at attention for three days because of that letter.' Additionally, the letter was copied and spread throughout the fleet.

"When Skipjack came in from her next patrol, captain 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.

"It was the custom for returning boats to be greeted at the pier with cases of fresh fruit/veggies and ice cream, but Skipjack was thereafter greeted with her own distinctive tribute: cartons and cartons of toilet paper.

"The letter became famous in submarine history books and even found its way into the movie Operation Petticoat (click this link to hear how the letter sounded in the movie). (Another intrusive Editor's note: This link takes a minute to load, but the audio is kind of funny.) A copy eventually came to rest 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!' The original letter is at Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.

"James W. Coe was considered an able and successful submarine officer. He had previously made three war patrols as the commanding officer of S-39 and completed three patrols as Skipjack’s commanding officer. Unfortunately, Coe was lost on USS Cisco (SS-290) in September [of] 1943. However, his humorous letter will live forever in the submarine history and serves as a reminder to all veterans of the bureaucracy that can be involved with service to one’s country. "

Has anyone heard of this?

Below is a picture of the USS Skipjack.

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4 Comments on "The Navy Toilet Paper Letter"

ChiefThunderbutt's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatorf 5000+ points

Unfortunately Commander Coe was captain of the USS Cisco when it was sunk and the entire crew perished on September 28,1943. They were on patrol in the Sulu Sea west of Mindanao, Philippine Islands, when the disaster occurred. Seventy-six good men were lost that day including an able captain with a sense of humor even in time of war.

RIP Commander Coe and crew, your sacrifices have not been forgotten.

If I had two faces do you think I'd be wearing this one?

MSG's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points

Excellent post! Sailors and soldiers must reckon with all the factors present in military life, including such humble ones as wiping after pooping, whether at home, on base, or out in combat. The captain's job includes thinking of all these things and providing for needs as he can. I am so thankful for heroic and ingenious persons serving in our military branches. Thanks for posting this story!

Anonymous's picture

Other than the above I do not know of Commander Coe however, from the above, he seems to have been a great commander. May we never forget him.

the thin brown line's picture
j 1000+ points

"familiar materials"....what a nightmare.

Somethin' mysterious made an exit from the gift shop.

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