Capt. Slade Deville Cutter, 93, Navy football and submarine hero

June 11, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Capt. Slade Deville Cutter, a renowned Naval Academy football player and boxer who later as a World War II submariner was credited with sinking a record number of Japanese ships while earning four Navy Crosses, died of heart failure Thursday at the Ginger Cover retirement community in Annapolis. He was 93.

"He was clearly one of World War II's great submarine heroes and compiled a magnificent record. He was a top-flight person and an outstanding athlete, and there is no question that he is a genuine hero," said retired Rear Adm. Charles Minter, a friend, and member of the Naval Academy Class of 1937.

"His achievements are the stuff of legend," wrote Carl LaVo, associate editor of the Bucks County Courier Times, in his book Slade Cutter: Submarine Warrior.

Captain Cutter was born in Chicago and raised on his family's farm on the Fox River, near Aurora, Ill., during the start of the Depression.

Discouraged from playing sports by his father, who had been injured playing football at the University of Illinois, Captain Cutter studied piano with his mother. After injuring a knuckle, he gave up the piano for the flute, hoping to play with the Chicago Symphony.

After attending Elmhurst College in suburban Chicago for a year, through the help of several family friends, he was sent to the Severn School near Annapolis, which was a preparatory school for those entering the Naval Academy.

At Severn, he learned boxing and was a fullback on the school's 1930 MSA A League football championship team. He continued playing after entering the Naval Academy in 1931; in the Army-Navy game on Dec. 1, 1934 during a driving rain at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, he kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 victory.

"It took a heavyweight flute player who also goes in for boxing and field goal kicking to end Navy's losing streak in football against Army and cause the sea-going forces of Uncle Sam to celebrate, wherever they gather tonight, the first Annapolis triumph in 13 years," reported The Sun. In those days kicking tees weren't allowed, so Captain Cutter built a little mound of mud.

"The football I kicked for the field goal was lopsided and the stitches were torn. I asked the referee if we could use a new ball. He just laughed," he recalled in a 1979 Sun article.

"It was thrilling because of the presence of mind he had. He kicked off his shoe because it was filled with mud and then kicked the ball," said his second wife, the former Ruth McCracken Buek.

During his years at the academy, he won 22 heavyweight bouts without a defeat, earned three letters in boxing and football and two in lacrosse. He was inducted in 1967 into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After graduating in 1935, he served on the battleship USS Idaho for three years, and was assistant football coach at the academy while attending submarine school in 1938 and 1939.

His service aboard submarines began shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and continued until the last day of the war. He was executive officer of the USS Pompano and then executive officer and finally commander in 1943 of the USS Seahorse.

He was in Pearl Harbor and about to take the USS Requin on its first wartime patrol when the war ended Aug. 15, 1945.

It was as skipper of the Seahorse that Captain Cutter compiled one of the most impressive records of the war, when he and his crew were credited with sending 23 enemy vessels to the bottom of the Pacific In addition to his four Navy Crosses, he was awarded two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and a presidential unit citation for "Extraordinary Heroism."

"I know it's a horrible thing to sink ships and kill all those men, but it was wartime and that was our job," Captain Cutter said in the 1979 Sun interview.

"Sports makes you offensive-minded. That's the big thing," he explained in a 1943 interview with The Sun. "After all, this war is much like a game; it's you against the other fellow. ... Take a submarine crew. It's nothing but a big team, each doing his job, all working together."

"He had a ferocious and aggressive attitude but was not reckless. He was a magnificent warrior, and a humble one at that," Mr. LaVo said yesterday. "He also realized the way to win the war was not by sinking aircraft carriers, but to cut off the enemy's lifeline by sinking oil tankers, troop ships and other vessels carrying natural resources."

After the war, Captain Cutter held various naval assignments, including commander of a tanker, the USS Neosho, and commanding officer of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. In 1957, he returned to the academy as director of athletics and played an important role in the building of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

He could be an outspoken critic of Navy policy and technology, which some speculate might have blocked his chances to advance. He retired in 1965.

In 1965, he took a job as a math teacher at the Southern Arizona School for Boys in Tucson. Two years later, he was named headmaster; he retired in 1971. After living in San Antonio, he returned to Annapolis.

He remained vigorous despite a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease three years ago, and until being confined to a wheelchair, he regularly enjoyed swimming. He also liked reading biographies and history.

Captain Cutter was married for 45 years to the former Frances Leffler, who died in 1980.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Slade D. Cutter Jr. of Austin, Texas; a daughter, Anne McCarthy of Santa Fe, N.M,; a sister, Louise Woodard of Portland, Ore.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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