After consulting with Titanic explorer Robert Ballard, the brothers hired an ocean surveying firm and chartered a crab boat whose captain knew his way around the Bering Sea. Using sophisticated sonar, the 2006 expedition discovered an oblong object on the sea floor 10 miles north of Kiska Island that looked like the remains of a submarine.
The brothers financed a second expedition in the summer of 2007 that deployed a remote operating vehicle with lights and a high-definition camera to videotape the wreckage. It was this tape that the Navy used to verify that the wreckage was indeed the Grunion.
"We hope this announcement will help to give closure to the families of the 70 crewmen," Rear Adm. Douglas McAneney, of the Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet, said last week in confirming the Grunion's discovery.
The Grunion still has not revealed all her secrets. Bruce Abele said it remains unclear why the sub sank, despite the claims of the Kano Maru's military commander. The wreckage captured on the tape shows no evidence of a direct hit or an explosion.
"The tape is being analyzed. A number of people are trying to figure out what happened," he said.
In the meantime, the families of the crew members plan to join for the first time to pay tribute to the men of the Grunion, at a memorial next weekend in Cleveland where a sister ship of the Grunion, the USS Cod, is docked.
For the two surviving Abele brothers – Brad died last spring – it has been an emotional journey of discovery. Bruce Abele said they feel fortunate to have solved the central mystery of the Grunion – not only for themselves, but also for the families of their father's crew
"Our mother taught us that way," he said. "She felt a responsibility for everybody when she wrote those letters, and we followed that lead."