William "Red" Hugh Cuthbertson, Jr. was born in Denver, Colorado on 30 April 1915. He was the son of William Hugh and Anna Deborah (née Knight) Cuthbertson. He had two older sisters. In 1920, the family had moved to Ludington, Michigan where his father worked as a grocery salesman and Ludington branch manager for E.R. Godfrey & Sons Co., a commission and wholesale grocery business. William Sr. was then appointed as postmaster in 1934.
William was a graduate of Ludington schools and in 1938 he graduated from Albion College. Prior to enlisting in the U.S. Naval Reserve V-7 Program on 9 July 1941, he worked in the office of Malleable Iron Foundry Co., at Saginaw, a subsidiary of General Motors. He went on active duty in the Navy on 16 October 1941. William completed his officer training at the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman School at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on 16 January 1942.
William attended Submarine training aboard the submarine USS R-19 (SS-96) at Groton, Connecticut, from January to March 1942, followed by service aboard the submarine USS S-1 (SS-105) during March 1942. He was then transferred to the submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) during her fitting out at Groton in March 1942 where he became the Duty Officer.
On 18 April 1942 he married Dorothy Nuechterlein in New London, Connecticut by candlelight at a military wedding. Fellow crewmember and the Grunion's Engineering and Diving Officer Lieutenant John M. McMahon and his wife Fran were the best man and matron of honor. The Grunion's Executive Officer Lieutenant Millener W. Thomas and his wife Laura were also attendants to the bride and groom.
The USS Grunion (SS-216) was a Gato-class submarine and the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the grunion. Her keel was laid down by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut on 1 March 1941. She was launched on 22 December 1941, (sponsored by Mrs. Stanford C. Hooper, wife of Rear Admiral Hooper), and commissioned on 11 April 1942 with Lieutenant Commander Mannert Lincoln "Jim" Abele, United States Naval Academy class of 1926, in command.
Grunion began her post-commissioning work-up in the waters off New London on 13 April 1942. The boat conducted her first submerged training operations the next day in company with the submarine rescue vessel (ex-minesweeper) Falcon (ASR-2). After several more days of training, the submarine test-fired her 3-inch gun on 21 April, followed four days later with her first test planting of a naval mine. She conducted her final weapons testing at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island, on 28–29 April.
Three days after Grunion returned to New London on 1 May 1942, she underwent sound, ballistic dive, and maneuvering trials. On 7 May, during a descent to 315 feet 65 miles off Montauk Point, New York, minor leaks developed in the sub's hull, forcing her to return to New London. Unable to dive, the submarine performed her final surface trials from 11–18 May.
Once those trials were completed, Grunion entered the marine railway at Electric Boat on 20 May 1942. After two days of post-commissioning repairs, the submarine returned to the water and was declared ready for duty on 23 May. The next day Grunion stood out to sea.
At 1355 on 31 May 1942, Grunion sighted and closed on a lifeboat and sixteen survivors from the USAT Jack, , which had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-558. After taking the survivors on board, the submarine set course for the surface vessel’s last known location. She arrived in the area several hours later and began searching for additional survivors at that position. Unfortunately, her search proved unsuccessful and she resumed her planned course for Coco Solo, a United States Navy submarine base and naval air station near the Panama Canal, on 1 June. Arriving at Coco Solo on 3 June, the Grunion landed the survivors and the next day continued on to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.
The Grunion arrived at Pearl Harbor on 20 June 1942, reporting for duty from the west coast. She engaged in the pre-patrol training given to all submarines reporting from new construction yards. Lieutenant Commander Abele was ordered to proceed to the Aleutian theater and patrol westward from Attu on routes between the Aleutians and the Japanese Empire. Departing Hawaii on 30 June after the ten days of intensive training, the Grunion touched Midway Island before heading toward the Aleutian Islands to patrol the shipping lanes between Attu in the Aleutian Islands and Japan.
On 10 July, Grunion began patrolling north of Kiska. Five days later on 15 July, she reported firing four torpedoes at an unidentified destroyer, which responded with an unsuccessful counterattack on the submarine. According to a post-war investigation, the submarine engaged an anti-submarine patrol later that afternoon, sinking two Japanese 460-ton submarine chasers Ch 25 and Ch 27.
The Battle of Dutch Harbor took place on 3-4 June 1942, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched two aircraft carrier raids on the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island, opening the Aleutian Islands campaign of World War II. The bombing marked the first aerial attack by an enemy on the continental United States.
On 6 June 1942, the Japanese No. 3 Special Landing Party and 500 Japanese marines went ashore at Kiska as a separate campaign concurrent with the Japanese plan for the Battle of Midway. The Japanese captured the sole inhabitants of the island: a small United States Navy Weather Detachment consisting of ten men, including a lieutenant, along with their dog. One member of the detachment escaped for 50 days. Starving, thin, and extremely cold, he eventually surrendered to the Japanese. The next day the Japanese captured Attu Island. The military importance of this frozen, difficult-to-supply island was questionable, but the psychological impact upon the Americans of losing U.S. soil to a foreign enemy for the first time since the War of 1812 was tangible. As a result of these actions, there was a strong concentration of enemy vessels at Kiska.
The U.S. Naval vessels patrolling the area were told to watch particularly on the afternoon of 22 July 1942 for departing enemy naval vessels, since American surface forces were scheduled to bombard Kiska that afternoon. The bombardment did not occur as planned, but an operation was scheduled for 28 July and Grunion was told to guard the exits from Kiska Harbor during darkness on that date.
Grunion would report an attack on unidentified enemy ships six miles southeast of Sirius Point, Kiska. She had fired two torpedoes, made no hits, and been depth charged by a Japanese destroyer, but sustained no damage.
Grunion's last transmission was received on 30 July 1942. She reported heavy anti-submarine activity at the entrance to Kiska, and that she had ten torpedoes remaining. On the same day, Grunion was ordered back to Dutch Harbor. She was not contacted or sighted after 30 July, despite every effort to do so, and on 16 August, she was reported lost. Air searches off Kiska were fruitless, and on 5 October the Grunion was reported overdue from patrol and assumed lost with all hands.
The Grunion was never heard from again. She had simply vanished.