Seaman 1st Class Frank Sanborn (1925–1946)

Frank Sanborn (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareMill worker at Continental Diamond Fibre and/or projectionist at State Theater
BranchService Number
U.S. Naval Reserve8151607
Zone of Interior/American (previously Pacific)

Early Life & Family

Frank Sanborn was born in Newark, Delaware, on July 7, 1925. He was the son of Italian immigrants Nicholas Sanborn (who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1883–1979) and Mary Anne Sanborn (née Charamella 1894–1951). He had two brothers and five sisters. The Sanborn family was living at 131 South Chapel Street at the time of the 1930 and 1940 censuses. Sanborn completed two years of high school.

When Sanborn registered for the draft on his 18th birthday, July 7, 1943, he was still living at 131 South Chapel Street, across the street from one of his employers, the Continental Diamond Fibre Company. He had a second job working for the State Theatre on Main Street as a motion picture projectionist. His military paperwork stated that he played baseball and described him as standing five feet, 4½ inches tall and weighing 120 lbs., with brown hair and eyes. He was Catholic.

Military Career

Frank Sanborn (Courtesy of the Newark History Museum)

Sanborn was examined for prospective military service on August 17, 1943. 10 days later, the local draft board classified him as 1A. After he was drafted the following month, Sanborn requested naval service (making him a “selective volunteer” in Navy terminology). He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve on September 22, 1943, in Camden, New Jersey. Apprentice Seaman Sanborn was initially placed on inactive duty until one week later, when he reported for boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station, Bainbridge, Maryland. Upon completing an eight-week recruit training course on November 22, 1943, Sanborn was promoted to seaman 2nd class.

On January 1, 1944, Seaman 2nd Class Sanborn was transferred to the U.S. Naval Air Station, Sanford, Florida. The following summer, when he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Training and Distribution Center at Shoemaker, California, on July 20, 1945, he was permitted five days of leave in addition to travel time before reporting on August 1, 1945. Sanborn’s personnel file does not provide many details about his duties in the military, but the transfer order does note “Special Qualifications – 35 MM Camera Projectionist”—suggesting he may have screened films for sailors.

Shortly after the Japanese surrender, Sanborn reported aboard the U.S.S. New Mexico (BB-40) on September 6, 1945, as a passenger bound for further assignment with ComAirPac (Commander Air Forces, Pacific). On September 24, 1945, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6), the most decorated U.S. Navy ship of World War II. Ironically, the following day, the carrier sailed for the East Coast of the U.S., which Sanborn had only recently departed from. After transiting the Panama Canal, Enterprise arrived in New York City on October 17, 1945.

On October 29, 1945, Seaman 2nd Class Sanborn transferred to the battleship U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63). He was promoted to seaman 1st class on December 1, 1945. On January 12, 1946, he was transferred to the receiving station at Pier 92 in New York for further transfer to the Fleet Boat Pool, Naval Net Depot, Melville, Rhode Island, arriving there the following day.

A 1942 photo of the base at Melville, Rhode Island, taken by Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class Eric Neilsen (Navy History and Heritage Command)

According to his personnel file, on March 22, 1946, Sanborn sustained “an injury to groin caused by catching seat of trousers on a spring when leaping from bunk.” After experiencing abdominal pain for the next four days, Sanborn was hospitalized. Physicians suspected an abdominal infection and drained pus “through a midline incision.  Post operatively he continued to run a septic course but X-rays and physical examination failed to reveal localization of other pockets of infection.”

On April 15, 1946, Sanborn began complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing. The report stated: “He was placed in an oxygen tent, and transfused with some relief.  However, 24 hours after onset of severe pain the patient suddenly stopped breathing.”

Seaman 1st Class Sanborn died at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Newport, Rhode Island, at 0620 hours on April 16, 1946. An autopsy determined that Sanborn’s illness was due to a ruptured appendix leading to “acute toxemia and respiratory failure as secondary complications of generalized peritonitis.”

Traumatic appendicitis is uncommon but not unheard of. It is unclear whether the injury caused when he fell from his bunk in fact caused the appendicitis or whether it simply masked an unrelated illness and delayed its treatment.

An April 18, 1946, article in The Newark Post stated: “Due to be released this week, young Sanborn had been in the Navy for 31 months and saw overseas service in the Pacific theatre. He was a student at Newark High School when he entered the Navy and had served as movie projectionist in Florida and at the State Theatre here.”

After services on April 22, 1946, Sanborn was buried in the St. John’s Roman Catholic Church Cemetery in Newark. He was the last man with a connection to Newark who died while serving in the military during the World War II era, which officially ended on December 31, 1946, by proclamation of President Truman.


Updated Information

I published my first article about Seaman 1st Class Sanborn to Fold3 in 2020, and a slightly updated version to this site on May 27, 2021. However, details about his movements and fate were limited to what was provided by newspaper accounts and Sanborn’s father’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission. Nicholas Sanborn wrote in a letter dated May 9, 1946:

He trained at Bainbridge Md. then he went to [Naval Air Station] Sanford, Fla. Then to Shoemaker Calif. Then by air to Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor he went to sea Duty to these places. [Saipan], Guam, [Iwo Jima], Tokyo Bay – Bougainville – […] we don’t know just where he went first. The war was nearly over when he left for those places.

On May 25, 2023, I was able to digitize Sanborn’s personnel file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. This filled in many details about his movements, though relatively few about his duties. It also showed that Sanborn did not visit any of the places his father mentioned after Pearl Harbor. Although newspaper accounts attributed Sanborn’s death to a fall, the death certificate suggested that the fall led to complications (or distracted from the appendicitis that was actually killing him). With the new details, I completely rewrote this article on May 31, 2023.


Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives and Newark History Museum for the use of their photos.


Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

“Frank Sanborn Dies From Injures Received In Fall.” The Newark Post, April 18, 1946.

Frank Sanborn Official Military Personnel File. Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

“Joseph Sanborn.” The News Journal, October 9, 2013. Pg. B10.

Rees, William L. “U.S.S. ENTERPRISE War Diary for September 1945.” World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

“Sailor From Newark Fatally Hurt In Fall.” Wilmington Morning News, April 19, 1946.

Sanborn, Nicholas. Frank Sanborn Individual Military Service Record, May 10, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.

Last updated on May 31, 2023

More stories of World War II fallen:

To have new profiles of fallen soldiers delivered to your inbox, please subscribe below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s