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When L. Ron Hubbard commanded a U.S. military vessel during WWII, he almost started an armed conflict with Mexico by mistake

Domagoj Valjak

Certain celebrities, including Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Beck, are active members of the Church of Scientology, a religious and corporate movement founded by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. Scientology has obtained legal recognition as a religion in some countries, but its strange and controversial beliefs remain a hot topic for discussion.

Basically, the Church of Scientology propagates the idea that humans are actually immortal, spiritual extraterrestrials who are currently trapped in mortal terrestrial bodies. The belief system of Scientology resembles the plot of a cheesy science-fiction story, probably because its founder wrote dozens of such stories before deciding to turn one of them into a sacred scripture for his new religion.

The contemporary Church of Scientology teaches its members that L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, was a figure somewhat larger than life. According to Scientologists, he was a child prodigy who could ride a horse before he could even walk, read, or write, all before the age of four. Also, he was a nuclear physicist, a pioneering explorer, and an extremely versatile artist.

Furthermore, Scientology teachings frequently emphasize Hubbard’s military career in World War II. He was allegedly an influential and respected war hero who received 21 campaign medals and a Purple Heart for being gravely wounded in combat. However, the official U.S. Naval Reserve records tell a story that is radically different from such grandiose claims.

L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles, California.

L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles, California.

Hubbard indeed served in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1950, but his military career was not very spectacular. His official record states that “his military performance was, at times, substandard.” He spent most of his service on the continental United States, away from any battlefront, where he was performing administrative and training duties. He was stationed in Australia for several months but was sent back to the U.S. after disobeying his superiors. In 1942 and 1943, he commanded two anti-submarine vessels, the USS YP-422 and USS PC-815, in coastal waters off Massachusetts, Oregon, and California.

While he was in command of the USS PC-815, Hubbard was involved in two curious naval incidents. In May 1943, he reported that his vessel damaged and sank two Japanese submarines that surfaced off the coast of Oregon. His superiors couldn’t find proof that any submarines had been sunk anywhere near the place which Hubbard indicated; his claims were dismissed and it remains unknown whether the PC-815 ever actually encountered a Japanese submarine or if the encounter was fabricated by Hubbard. When Hubbard and his second-in-command were interviewed about their military careers in the late 1950s, they stated that the U.S. Navy officials intentionally chose to cover up the fact that two Japanese submarines were sunk very close to the U.S. mainland. According to them, the U.S. Navy did this to stop panic from spreading across the country.

Lts (jg) L. Ron Hubbard and Thomas S. Moulton in Portland, Oregon in 1943

Lts (jg) L. Ron Hubbard and Thomas S. Moulton in Portland, Oregon in 1943

The second incident for which Hubbard was responsible almost caused an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico. Namely, a mere month after claiming to have sunk two Japanese submarines, Hubbard unwittingly navigated the PC-815 into Mexican territorial waters off the coast of Coronado Islands. He mistakenly believed that the islands were uninhabited and situated within U.S. territory, so he conducted gunnery practice close to the islands.

No people were harmed, but the Mexican Army responded by threatening to attack any U.S. military vessels that would venture into their territory. The U.S. Navy promptly apologized and instantly relieved Hubbard of command. The official incident report stated that he was “unsuitable for independent duties and lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership, and cooperation,” and he was forced to perform administrative tasks for the rest of his years in service.

The USS PC-815, Hubbard’s second and final command

The USS PC-815, Hubbard’s second and final command

Finally, Hubbard was awarded only four non-combat related campaign medals. His alleged 21 medals are a fabrication devised by the contemporary Church of Scientology. Also, since he never ventured close to any battlefield and was never wounded in combat, he never actually received a Purple Heart.

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Hubbard was hospitalized in the late 1940s due to ulcers and severe conjunctivitis. Although a number of people have publicly exposed Hubbard as a charlatan and a pseudo-scientist and presented proof of many fabrications that were concocted by him and his followers, the Church of Scientology continues to thrive and many Scientologists still see him as a messianic figure and a visionary leader.