Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. ft is a great privilege to be here at the Beaverton Veterans Memorial Park this morning to dedicate USS ALBACORE (SS 218) memorial. Commander Marv Doty and the membership of American Legion Post 124, your motto is “For God and Country,” and your organization has thus served with distinction for nearly 90 years. Thank you for your effort, with the United States Submarine Veterans Incorporated (USSVl), to build this magnificent memorial to the crew of USS ALBACORE (SS 218).
To the BLUEBACK Base of United States Submarine Veterans and all the submarine veterans with us today: gentlemen, perhaps later today we can head on down to your namesake submarine, the 581 boat1• Once below decks, let’s tell sea stories that would amuse a submariner and no one else (of course, the story that always gets told is the one about the time so-and-so ignored the sign that says “head secured, blowing sanitaries”). We’ll act like we own the place-which we do-and, in general, behave in that obnoxious but loveable way that distinguishes us as qualified in submarines. By the way, if, after all these years, you still don’t believe you’re obnoxious when you act that way, just ask your wife.
Mr. Hawthorne, your Southridge High School Choir has added much to the solemnity and majesty of this event. Many thanks to you and your very talented students.
I am in the company of my family today-my wife, Mary Jane, also a Navy veteran, and my children Melissa, Jennifer, and Christopher-because this is the ideal event for a family to experience together. Ideal because we gather to remember real Americans who served the highest ideals and paid the ultimate price for those ideals. Today is a day of remembrance for those who served, as I do, and sacrificed, to an extent that I have not.
In a very profound way, I really had no choice but to be here today. Certainly, when CAPT Enloe2 extended the invitation, there would have been no hard feelings had I declined. But then to meet so many of the fine people of this great American city, to stand among veterans and former submariners, and, most of all, to meet the families of the crew of ALBACORE as I have the privilege of telling the story of the noble accomplishments of those courageous submariners: nothing at all could keep me from being with you today.
The submarine ALBACORE that we memorialize today had a fabled but all-too-brief history. She was a beautiful boat, the kind any submariner would be proud to call his own, made even finer when her sail was taken down, the periscope fairings were cut away, and she was given a wartime Pacific paint scheme to make her more difficult to spot on a close horizon. She was trimmed for combat and ready to fight, which she did-magnificently.
The entire story of ALBACORE can be told within the time span of World War II: a long time as far as war goes, but tragically short for such a gallant ship. But consider what ALBACORE accomplished in those two years, five months, and six days, from her commissioning on the first day of June, 1942, to her untimely loss on the 7•h of November, 1944.
As one of our best boats-then, now, and forever-she and her crew were run hard by all four skippers, LCDR Dick Lake, Oscar Hagberg, Jim Blanchard, and Hugh Rimmer. For the ten war patrols from which she returned, in each case, her crew engaged the enemy with resolve and vigor: She sank a total of thirteen ships-one of them an aircraft carrier-totaling 74,000 tons, and severely damaged five more, taking out of war’s service another 29,000 tons.
That was the war that no American asked for, but the very bravest knew had to be fought and had to be won. That was the kind of war that, when you left home to serve, you did not come home until the war was won if at all.
I have at home a group photograph of probably every ALBA-CORE officer and Sailor taken in May 1944 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where the boat had gone for overhaul. This occasion was the rarest and last respite from the fatigue and horror of war, a welcome break that allowed the boat to get all the way back to the American mainland. No surprise, then, that the picture included not just the officers and crew, but so many of the ladies, the sweet hearts, of the men of ALBACORE. The photograph is probably the one last time they were together, devoted husband beside beloved wife, or the many young Sailors who thought themselves the luckiest in the world to be in the company of a future bride. One last time before returning to the horrible business of war.
I’ve studied all ten war patrol reports. Let me say this: I’ve served on seven submarines, and not a one would I trade; but as I read of ALBACORE’s exploits, page after page, I truly wish that I had gone to sea with those submariners.
I wish I had been so blessed as to go to sea with Signalman First Class Morris Keith Kincaid, 28 years old, of Waukegan, Illinois. He was borne and raised so close to the Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois, that he could have stood up from the breakfast table and walked to boot camp. He probably did.
And like John Wilber Culbertson, an electrician’s mate third class from Los Angeles or Electrician’s Mate Second Class Elmer Weisenfluh, from Taylor, Pennsylania, they were probably true leaders among ALBACORE’s blue jackets. At 30 years old but so junior, they probably left their jobs right after Pearl Harbor to become submariners because they believed their country and the cause of freedom needed them.
They were probably much like Charles Lee Carpenter of Wabasha, Minnesota, a Mississippi river town of population 2400. He was a first class motor machinist’s mate what I would have liked to have been had I enlisted back then. At age 32, he was the oldest man on board, older than the chief of the boat, older even than the captain. He was probably the kind of hard-working, no-nonsense Sailor that every captain wants in his crew.
This crew of ALBACORE, they really were a perfect resemblance of the American experience. Four of them were from right here in the Pacific Northwest:
Scaman I” Class James Ernest Rowe from Baker, OR
William Henry Gibson, as the leading ship’s cook, the most important man onboard, from Zillah, WA.
Motor Machinists’s Mate 2″d Class Allan Rose Brannam from Caldwell, Idaho.
And Chief Torpedoman ‘s Mate Elmer Harold Peterson from Everett, Washington, a recipient of the Silver Star.
And this was a boat filled with lively characters. I’ve stared long at a photograph of Ship’s Cook First Class Robert Daniel Hill, age 20, from Beaufort, North Carolina. As a ship’s cook, his shipmates were likely to call him by the nickname, “cookie.” Take a look at the photo, and you’ll sec that he had that look in his eyes that said, “If you call me cookie, I’ll break your nose.
But Petty Officer Hill never had to make good on that threat, because always standing right beside him in the galley was Ship’s Cook 2″d Class George Maurice Sisk of Follett, Texas. A huge man standing 6’4″, you have to wonder how George ever fit into a submarine.
And as that genial kidding occurred across the mess decks, maybe Radio Technician First Class Herbert Hodge Burch, age 22 from Austin Texas, another giant of a man at 6’3”, stood up, wondering if the unthinkable could happen: submarine shipmates come to blows.
But then the Chief of the Boat, Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate Arthur Lemmie Stanton of Wauchula, Florida, steps through that water tight door just forward of the galley and says, “get me a fresh cup of coffee, would you, cookie,” and sure enough, everyone is a shipmate again. What a remarkable man Chief of the Boat Stanton surely was. Take a Jong look at his picture, as I have, and you ‘II know this was a man born to lead on the deck plates.
ALBACORE’s crew comprised young men who were raised in the farm lands, the coal fields, or the cities of these United States, many of whom had never even seen the ocean until they joined the Navy. Young men like:
Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Philip Hugh Davis, age 26, from Hamilton, Ohio
Seaman 1st Class Charles Chester Hall, age 22 -the median age for an ALBACORE Sailor-from Bedford, IA.
Seaman 1st Class Patrick Kennylcss McKenna, age 23, an orphan from Boy’s Town, Nebraska, who probably thought of his ALBACORE shipmates as the family he always wanted.
And Scaman 1st Class George Kaplafka, still a teenager and the youngest Sailor onboard, from the coal mining town of Shaft, Pennsylvania.
Let’s talk for a moment about Scaman First Class George Kaplafka. That obviously ethnic name Kaplafka probably originates from an immigrant family that has contributed much to American history. But aboard ALBACORE, a shipmate’s ethnicity-more specifically, race, color, and creed-did not matter. Aboard ALBACORE, a person was judged only by how hard he worked to earn these dolphins that denote he is qualified in submarines. And that made ALBACORE home to great Americans like:
Saaman 1st Class Encarnacion Nevarez, age 24, from Los Angeles.
Fireman 1st Class Pasquale Charles Carracino from Newark, New Jersey.
And Steward 2nd Class James Louis Carpenter, from Washington, DC.
Aboard ALBACORE, most of the crew had just left home when they joined the Navy and volunteered again for submarine duty, very young men like:
Seaman 2nd Class Arthur Star Kruger of Louisville, Kentucky, whose promising life ended the day before his 20th birthday,
Seaman 1st Class Frank Robert Nystrom of Bessemer, Michigan, who had turned 20 years just a few weeks before.
They were among so many stalwart young men, like Yeoman 2nd Class Maurice Crooks Strattan, age 25, whose family founded the town that still bears his name, Strattanville, PA.
And the officers, they, too, were very young.
LT JG Henry Forbes Bigelow, Jr., only 22 years old, he had just graduated from Harvard and left his home in Clinton, Mass.
LT JG, John Francis Fortier, Jr., also 22 years old, a Cajun from New Orleans, LA, he was so culturally different from Henry Bigelow, yet they were likely the deepest of friends.
And LT Walter Emery Lang, Jr., age 27, from Philadelphia, PA. He bore a striking resemblance to Clark Gable, even wore the same style of mustache, and so Walt Lang probably came across as quite the ladies man.
I would have been awe struck to serve with LT Theodore Taylor Walker,3 only 23 years old, from Mitchell, Kentucky. So very young, yet Ted was already a submarine Executive Officer, and already a hero who had earned Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for gallantry in combat.
And of course, LCDR Hugh Raynor Rimmer, 30 years old, from Manhasset on the north shore of Long Island, Naval Academy Class of 1937, and already a recipient of the Silver Star. As a submarine Captain, he sought to engage the enemy relentlessly in battle and to make every engagement a decisive victory. But he did not fight to cam glory; instead, he led with all the energy he had because he wanted to put an end to that terrible war so all of his 85 shipmates could return home and live simple, idyllic lives.
As you can tell, I’ve gotten to know the lost men of ALBA-CORE. And I’ve been to the place where these men died. As part of a modern submarine operation, I cannot tell you when and I cannot tell you why, but I have been to that eastern approach to the Tsugaru Strait, near the island of Hokkaido, where ALBACORE brushed against an unexpected mine. Perhaps just moments before, Quartennaster 2″11 Class Sheridan Patrick Jones, age 22 from Altadena, CA, a Sailor whose smile never left his face, was shooting a running fix to the light house at Esan Misaki, the same light house that I’ve used to fix a ship’s position.
In the moment ALBACORE struck the unforgiving mine that every intelligence source told Captain Rimmer could not be there, the once mighty ship was instantly destroyed in a calamitous explosion. Over 64 years later, we still ask, what happened on that day? What happened when the hull of that magnificent ship, the preserver of life for all aboard, was tom asunder?
I ask you to look to the words of King David in the 2nd Book of Samuel
“The breakers of death surged round about me, The floods of perdition overwhelmed me. In my distress I cried out to my God; And From his temple he heard my voice, The Lord reached out from on high and took me; He drew me out of the deep waters. And He saved me.”
The men of ALBACORE did not escape their earthly end. Instead, God chose them to give what has been called the last full measure of dcvotion And though we might never understand, their salvation was in the grander, spiritual sense.
Short days ago5 They lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow Loved and were loved, and now they lie In God’s perfect tomb Their earthly dust doth hide.
How tried their valor, we must tell As from their failing hands they threw The torch; be ours to hold high.
What is this torch that we must now hold high? It is the memory of the 86 men of ALBACORE. It is for us, the families they left behind without father or husband, the veterans who survived that war, my family and me, and all the beneficiaries of this better world the ALBACORE Sailors made for us, to remember these men, noble in heart, pure in purpose, and in their youth wanting nothing more than to lead meaningful and loving lives.
Their memory is a torch that illuminates the path of our lives because we are citizens of a great nation that is free, secure, prosperous, and just because the men of ALBACORE sacrificed to make it so.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been the greatest honor of my naval career to be with you today and speak for the men of ALBACORE. Thank you and God bless.