As usual I read each copy of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW from cover to cover and find the articles informative technical in nature. and extremely educational for bringing former submariners up to date. I am one those, having served on USS CATFISH (SS 339) in 1953/54.
The reason I take pen in hand is to amplify the interesting article written by Richard Thompson regarding USS TORSK (SS 423), a boat similar in age to CATFISH, and the fact TORSK had now been set aside as an integral part of the Maritime Museum in Baltimore’s inner harbor.
Clearly I was pleased that such a memorial was established and open for the general public so that they may come to see, feel and hopefully acknowledge, understand and respect the sacrifices of the men who served on these magnificent ships, especially during World War II combat patrols.
The only other memorials with fleet boats which I have seen are in Charleston, South Carolina with CLAMAGORE (SS 343) and Fisherman”s Wharf here in San Francisco with PAMPANITO (SS 383).
The saga of PAMPANITO is one of the reasons I have elected to write. I say saga because one would assume that when the Navy gave PAMPANITO to the Maritime Museum she was taken out of the Vallejo moth ball fleet and towed to San Francisco and docked at the pier. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While on business in 1979, I was driving on Highway 5 in the City of Stockton, California through a huge agricultural district and the last place anyone would expect to see a fleet submarine. That is the actual place where I first saw her, docked on a remote dead end slough.
As an ex submariner. I could not believe what I was looking at, but with a little research I found the submarine was docked there as a last resort by the Maritime Museum. It was there because the Longshoremen’s Union, led by the late, politically strong, Harry Bridges, did not want the submarine to become part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum because it was a:
“Weapon of war and had no business in the San Francisco Maritime Museum.”
I was able to gain access to her, only to find all the hull hatches were welded shut. The reason was that people had been coming across the slough in boats at night and stripping all the metal they could extract.
After some effort, I was able to get permission to have the forward torpedo hatch opened and with hand lights we were able to gain access to the forward torpedo room. I was surprised and disgusted with what I saw inside this once wonderful machine. Clearly the midnight raiders had taken their toll. Just about every accessible valve had been taken or cut off with a portable torch or hack saw. Litter was everywhere as was graffiti and even beer and liquor containers. Bunks had been ripped, the helm and diving plane wheels were gone, air manifolds were stripped of their handles, plates were busted and the ship smelled of urine and feces. The SF Maritime Museum, who was the recipient of this wonderful vessel, had the presence of mind to weld her up, otherwise she would probably have been scrapped and scuttled by these vandals at the dockside.
Eventually, Mr. Bridges passed away and the opposition to PAMPANITO waned, but there was still feeling against the so called Weapons of War… from the liberal community typically found in San Francisco. However, between the continuing efforts of the Maritime Museum, the Naval Submarine League, the Navy League, and many individuals who had access to the political powers within the city, PAMPANITO was finally given a home at San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf, where thousands of tourists visit her each year.
Although getting the submarine to San Francisco was a significant task in its own right, getting her into condition to show her off to the public was an even greater challenge because of the wholesale scavenging that took place before the hatches were welded shut.
The Naval Submarine League organized volunteers that served on these boats-officers and enlisted men from all walks of life. They begged, borrowed and, in some cases, stole fleet submarine parts from where ever they could find them. After many years of dedicated work, effort and commitment of the many volunteers, mostly former submarines, USS PAMPANITO gives the appearance she is almost ready to go back to sea. Her volunteer crew of dedicated men have restored her to fighting trim. Virtually every compartment has been restored and every piece of equipment replaced in original form.
In the last year or so, somehow this wonderful crew even found bunks for the after battery, which was sort of the final component. PAMPANITO even has the typical and unique submarine smell which I assume is a combination of diesel, hydraulic and lubricating oils, sweat, and salt air.
PAMPANITO starred in the Kelsey Grammar movie Down Periscope which was a tongue in cheek representation of the submarine service, but the film company who used her, helped to pay for her bottom repair and maintenance and had her hull painted, again recognizing and respecting the fact that the primary party responsible for the boat is the crew which should and must get all the credit.
Probably the most emotional experience that I shared with PAMPANITO was the Recommissioning Ceremony for her some years ago. Aside from the many dignitaries, including Admiral Richard O’Kane, I met several former submariners who served on CATFISH, one of whom was Joel Greenberg, who was the Weapons Officer when she was decommissioned in 1971. Commander Greenberg is now the President of the Northern California Chapter of the Naval Submarine League.
But at that Commissioning Ceremony, what turned out to be an exceptional and emotional experience was the fact that 63 members of PAMPANITO’s World War II crew were present and on deck, plus three of the Australian prisoners of war that she picked up after the unfortunate sinking in 1944.
Needless to say while witnessing and taking a video of the event, I had a tear of pride in my eye, thus the primary purpose of this memo is to share with you the problems, work, and dedication to get PAMPANITO here in San Francisco and what bad to be done to get her in a presentable form, to command the respect that she and all the people who served on PAMPANITO and her sister ships deserve. No words in the dictionary can ever properly express appreciation and gratitude for a job well done to the many people who made this possible.
Mr. Richard Thompson in his memo explained the accessibility and desirability for the public to visit USS TORSK, and I am attempting to do the same thing, but I thought as an added caveat, it would be interesting for your readers to hear of the journey USS PAMPANITO had to experience, from the moth ball fleet in Vallejo to her present home in the great naval seaport called San Francisco.
August 14, 2000
Dolphin Scholarship Foundation would like to express our appreciation for the opportunity to participate in the 2000 Naval Submarine League (NSL) Symposium held June 15th and 16th. This event provided us a forum to share information about our foundation and our scholars with NSL’s many supporters.
Again we thank you for the invitation to attend the symposium and look forward to continuing our relationship with the Naval Submarine League.
Dolphin Scholarship Foundation