MANITOWOC (AP) - Imagine Paul Rutherford's surprise when he was working aboard the USS Cobia and came across a bag that likely hadn't been touched by human hands since World War II.
Rutherford is maintenance supervisor for the Wisconsin Maritime Museum , where the submarine draws thousands of visitors each year.
The Cobia yielded its surprise to Rutherford on Dec. 21. He was on his back, squeezed into a tight space installing a protective cage around a light fixture above upper sleeping bunks in the after torpedo room.
"I had to take off the cover around the light fixture so I could use that to attach the cage to it," he said. "I realized I didn't bring the cages with me. I couldn't reach them and I didn't want to crawl down because it's a struggle, so I called for some help."
During the five minutes or so that he waited, his imagination went to work. He put himself in the mindset of a World War II submariner and wondered if one of them might have stashed something in a nearby nook.
"Wouldn't that be cool if I found something," he thought to himself.
Rutherford reached his hand above an electrical utility box behind the escape hatch.
And there it was. A brown leather zippered toiletry bag, flattened from being shoved into a 2- to 3-inch-high space more than 60 years ago.
"So I pulled it out," he said. "There was actually a lot of dust on it and one edge was spray-painted white," likely from remodeling during the `60s or `70s before the museum acquired the submarine, he said.
Rutherford waited until he finished his work and shimmied out of the tight space to see what was inside.
The bag yielded up a small empty red corduroy pouch, a rubber stamp with a seaman's name, a "100 Cocktails" booklet, and two poems, "Give Us a Drink" and "Navy Wife."
"That thing had definitely been up there longer than I've been alive," said Rutherford, 47. "If I wouldn't have forgotten to bring the cages with me, I would have never have found these items."
Using the rubber stamp as her guide, Karen Duvalle, submarine curator, consulted crew records and identified the objects as being from Seaman First Class Hersey J. Williams, who served aboard the USS Cobia on the submarine's fourth war patrol, which departed from Perth, Australia, on Dec. 12, 1945.
Chances are that one of the two bunks near the area where the bag was found belonged to him, Duvalle said.
"The submarine has been here for 41 years, and to find something that has been there for 66 years . that's exciting," Duvalle said. "It was a tricky area to get to - that's why it has been up there for so long."
While the bag was flattened, everything inside was in good condition, she said.
"It's kind of odd," Rutherford said. "It's not stuff you would usually find in the bag. We thought maybe he left it there as some sort of Navy tradition or something. It was in a place that you wouldn't have put something like that normally. That's why it was cool finding it."
It was typical for submariners to keep personal items in small personal lockers, bunk bags and small lockers in the crew's washroom of the submarine, Duvalle said.
The drink booklet contains recipes for martinis and rum drinks, she said.
The "Navy Wife" poem warned women not to become a sailor's wife unless they could answer yes to the questions it asked, including, "Can you sit home nights just waiting/Until the war is won?"
The other poem was a little salty, peppered with what Duvalle called "sailor talk."
The little red bag might have once held the seaman's razor, she said.
Duvalle plans to scour the museum's archives, talk to veterans and do Internet research to find out more about the submariner who, possibly on a whim, tucked the bag into the bowels of the submarine and maybe even chuckled as he thought of the day that it might be found.
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