The deactivation of DSRV-1 (MYSTIC) on 1 October 2008 is a time for me to reflect on my involvement with this program over a considerable period of time.
It is well documented that the two DSRVs were the product of a heart-rending study on submarine safety which commenced after April 1963 when THRESHER (SS593) sank off Portsmouth, NH during her builder’s trials. I was on duty in Washington in the Office of Naval Intelligence when I received orders as Commander Submarine Squadron TWO in New London shortly after the sinking. I reported to New London on 21 June 1963 during the early stages of the search for the remains of THRESHER using such assets as the Navy had at that time, led by the bathyscaphe TRIESTE.
In 1963, a command reorganization took effect in N cw London which made me Flotilla Commander which included not only Submarine Squadron TWO, but also Squadrons EIGHT and TEN and Submarine Development TWO under which THRESHER search was being prosecuted .
In June 1964, on short notice, I was ordered to Submarine Flotilla EIGHT in Naples, Italy where our only submarine rescue capability resided in 1he assigned Submarine Rescue Vessel. Thus, I had knowledge of progress in the SubSafcty studies then ongoing.
We can fast forward to 1969 when I established the Office of the Deep Submergence Program Coordinator in the Pentagon (Op03 U , later changed to Op23). There I became the sponsor for all deep-diving submersibles including the DSRVs, which were then under construction by the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California.
In May 1971, DSR V-2 was flown from Sunnyvale to San Diego to the Lockheed Ocean Laboratory where it was prepared for its official launching. My wife, Sylvia, was invited to christen DSR V-2 and I to be the commissioning speaker. The accompanying photographs show her traditional smashing of the bottle of champagne, not on the tender plastic nose but rather on a one-inch pipe affixed for the purpose (not an easy target). Elmer Wheaton, Lockheed Vice President, is an interested observer.
The commissioning crew of AVALON comprised:
OIC LT Frederick Merrick
AOIC Steven Rush
COB Bob Grogan
Crew Merle Vogle, Corky
Palmer, Barney Bakara
My remarks have not been preserved, but I am sure I commenced with THRESHER sinking, then described the exhaustive SubSafety study which included recommendations for the construction of the two 5,000 foot capable rescue craft. I must have concluded with the fervent hope that these two craft would never have to be utilized in a full-fledged emergency, but that they would remain on call 2417, as they say today. Indeed, that is what transpired, even though the DRSVs each made more than 1,000 dives and participated in many realistic rescue exercises with U.S. and foreign submarines around the world.
Sometime after my retirement in 1972, a proposal was made that DSRY·I would be named for RADM Waller N. (Buck) Dietzen who was then Commander Submarine Flotilla Five in San Diego; and DSR Y-2 named for me. Fortuitously, this did not come to pass, and MYSTIC, a whaling port near New London; and AVALON, a major tourist attraction on Catalina Island in California were selected.
Perhaps AYALON and MYSTIC received more publicity in 1984 than at any time before or after in their entire careers. They were featured in Tom Clancy’s first and most famous novel Hunt for Red October. They were transported to the scene by USS DALLAS (SSN700) and PIGEON, one of two catamaran Submarine Rescue Ships. They transferred Clancy’s hero, CIA operative Jack Ryan, to RED OCTOBER and removed all her enlisted personnel prior to the defection of the Soviet submarine. Later AVALON helped engineer the sinking of PATRICK HENRY (SSBN599) to simulate the destruction of RED OCTOBER. In a discussion with Clancy shortly after the book was published, he asserted that the DSR V could land and mate with the Soviet submarine as easily as with a U.S. submarine. If that were in fact true, it is unfortunate that the Russian Navy never sought assistance from the Norfolk Rescue Command when KURSK went to the bottom. MYSTIC might have saved the day.
AVALON was deactivated in 2000 and used as a source of spare parts for MYSTIC over the rest of her service. Together, they were a part of my legacy during my 34 years in the Navy.