NEW JERSEY (FOX5NY.COM) - The World War II-era submarine USS Ling has been docked in the Hackensack River in Bergen County, New Jersey, since the 1970s. But this past weekend, vandals apparently boarded the vessel and opened the underwater hatches, flooding it with 10 feet of water.
"How could anyone desecrate a memorial," Joseph Mangiello, a Navy veteran of World War II who visits the site almost daily. "I cannot understand it for the life of me."
Navy veteran Jack Brown, a trustee of the Submarine Memorial Association, was a training officer on the Ling in the 1940s. On Sunday, he was at the New Jersey Naval Museum, which sits on the land adjacent to the ship, when he noticed something didn't look right.
"I noticed the boat looked very low in the water," he said, so he called the police,
When cops got out to the vessel, they noticed the flooding.
"[Vandals] cut through with bolt cutters, I guess, got in and opened all the hatches," Brown said. "The equipment and artifacts inside are ruined."
He also noticed four bronze plaques had been stolen.
"They were to commemorate the 3,000-plus officers and men who lost their lives on submarines—the 52 submarines lost in World War II," Brown said.
As word of the incident spread through Hackensack and beyond, veterans and others with ties to the memorial and museum stopped by to express outrage.
"Taking those plaques, dedicated to people who never came back from war, lost in submarines, is just deplorable," Army veteran Joe Schuler said.
"People today aren't recognizing the value of artifacts that represent our history," museum president Gilbert De Laat said. "3,000 lives were lost in submarine service—it was really the thing that changed the outcome of World War II."
The flooding of the submarine and theft of the plaques came as the organization was packing up its artifacts to move off-site. Developers who plan to build condos and retail purchased the property and evicted the museum on Monday.
While a future home for the Ling still hadn't been determined, now De Laat and the museum volunteers have to figure out how to clean it up. De Laat said draining the submarine will cost thousands of dollars.
Members of the Submarine Association think whoever flooded the ship knew what they were doing.
Hackensack Police are investigating.