Billy Grieves enlisted i11 the Navy April 13, 19 39 at the age of 18. After Submarine school and duty in USS-R-10 he was assigned Jo USS THRESHER (SS-200) which went Jo Pearl Harbor in April of 1941.
This year marks the 46th. birthday of the United States Submarine Veterans of WWII. And, just as in all those other years, we submariners gather together to celebrate the true purpose of our organization with our memorial service. It is fitting that this continuity be preserved because if there is one word which is synonymous with the very foundation of our organization that word is remember. And that is the theme of our service today.
Clare Booth Luce is a very distinguished American. And on the eve of her retirement from public service she opened her farewell address with these words, “With age comes the appreciation of old things; old wine, old books, old pictures … but most of all, old friends.” For old submariners, those words ring with a haunting persistence. Our lives have spanned what is unequivocally the most eventful, the most productive, the most terrible yet the most glorious period in American history. And now in our twilight years as we enjoy all the comforts of this modern, pampered life brought about by such amenities as jet-travel, television and microwave ovens, many of us can still remember the old times, the ones we look back upon with nostalgia; when an automobile was a rare sight on the streets of our town, and if one did appear it frightened the horses; when the summer ice box had a drip pan underneath, and the winter ice box was an orange crate attached to the outside of the kitchen window sill; when milk was delivered to the door step by a horse-drawn wagon and in the wintertime the cream expanded up out of the neck of the bottle, like a popsicle, when it froze; when the weekly laundry was done on a scrub board in an open tub; and when the carpet needed cleaning, it was hung on a clothes line and beat with a wire carpet beater. And when it was time to get out of bed in the wintertime, the entire house was awakened when father shook the stove. But on these occasions, when we are looking back, it is the old friends who dominate our recollections.
Today we are living in a time when nostalgia is in vogue. It has become fashionable to remember. Vintage cars, antique furniture, silent movies … even patriotism is enjoying a comeback. Old fashioned is modem again. But nostalgia should preserve more than old wine, old books and old pictures. Nostalgia should also preserve the old traditions! Patrick Henry once said,
“The voice of tradition, I trust, will inform posterity of our struggles for freedom.
If our descendants be worthy of the name Americans, they will preserve and hand down to their latest posterity the transactions of the present times.”
But today tradition is a word that fits uncomfortably into our modem, computer age language. The fascination now is in new ideas and bold changes.
And many of our American traditions have become lost and forgotten in the archives of time. Such as the display of our country’s flag in our school class rooms along with the saying of prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance. And playing our National Anthem in our public theaters at the start of the evenings program. Many of the values which you and I grew up with are no longer in evidence. When you and I were kids going to school back in the twenties and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month rolled around, at the teacher’s command that we put our heads on our desks and we kept still. For a full minute we kept still. Everybody kept still. People stopped in the streets and men took their hats off. People in stores paused and stood there silently. And the church bells began their symphony. All over the city they rang out. They called it ARMISTICE DAY then and it was in memory of those men who gave their lives in World War I. Such practices have long been abandoned. World War I was supposed to be a war to end all wars .. .it wasn’t. It was supposed to make the world safe for democracy .. .it didn’t. And subsequent wars have long since over-shadowed the impact and magnitude of World War I. But to the veterans of that war, remembering those men on their special day was an important tradition.
When we were young we looked upon tradition as something old, something that happened centuries before our time. But tradition has no time frame.
At the gates to the modem Trident Training Facility at the submarine base in Bangor, WA, there is a sign bearing these words, “Pride in the past runs deep in the present.” Pride in the past? How far in the past? Our modem nuclear submarine sailor has a motto: “Submarines may change … but not the men.” He is proud of his heritage from the past. And proud to consider himself a part of it now.
But American submarine tradition did not get its start from John Holland; it didn’t start with David Bushnell and the Turtle; it doesn’t go back to Simon Lake. American submarine tradition was born with the Fleet Boat and the S-Boat and World War II.
Time ran out for our Fleet Boats and our S-Boats. They were part of a glorious victorious era that is no more. And they hold an exalted place in our history.
You and I, speaking collectively, have erected memorials all across this country: Monoliths of stone and bronze; cadavers of aging submarine hulls and torpedoes. We erected these memorials to serve as reminders to future Americans of an heroic moment in our country’s history. But old submarine hulls and torpedoes are biodegradable. This means that in time they will all be reduced to the dust from which they were created … and so will you and I. And some day you will attend your last convention; you’ll sit at your last banquet; and then wilt come your last day, your last hour, your last breath. And when you are gone what will be your legacy? What will you leave behind as evidence that your were ever here? Your estate? All that you have worked for and accumulated throughout your life time? It is an immutable fact of life that within an incredibly short time your estate will be assimilated into those of your survivors and will no longer be recognizable as ever having been a part of you. Your memory? Oh, it will hurt to lose a husband, a father, a friend. But inevitably the pain will subside, and like your memory it too will fade. But there is something more that you leave behind. Something more significant than your estate, something more durable than your memory, some-thing which sets you apart. You leave behind a TRADITION. A tradition of honor. A tradition of loyalty. A tradition of courage. A tradition which should live and endure because it has been paid for with great suffering … and tremendous sacrifice. Fifty-two of our boats, one out of every five that put to sea on war patrol, did not come back. And there is a large group of men who cannot be present today to hear these words of tribute and honor; valiant men who lie within those hulls wherever they rest. These are the men we remember today.
For those of us who went to sea aboard submarines, death was a very real and close companion. And there are times today when we still wonder at the vagaries of fate which spared us but claimed so many of our brothers. And it leaves us who remain to carry on with a sacred obligation: The responsibility to make heard the voices of more than 3,600 of our shipmates who paid such a severe price for the freedoms we enjoy. Voices, which if they could speak out, would plead, “Do not forget us. Your memories are our greatest monument.” Their sacrifice is the legacy of our generation to every American who cherishes liberty and freedom and our American way of life. It is the inspiration which has preserved our honored submarine tradition in our submarine men to this day.
Now may the souls of our valiant shipmates rest in peace in the blue depths of the oceans of the world which they made safe … and free … for all men.