7 SEPTEMBER 2012 NORFOLK, VIRGINIA
It all started on December 7th 1941, the Day of Infamy. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many of our Navy men were left with a feeling of deep, PERSONAL loss. For several days after the attack a heavy pall of gray smoke hung like fog over the entire harbor and the Navy shipyard. And as veterans sailed slowly past Battleship Row and viewed the horrifying destruction: ARIZONA, on the bottom; OKLAHOMA, capsized and keel up; WEST VIRGINIA; CALIFORNIA, MARYLAND; PENNSYLVANIA; TENNESSEE; and others, all heavily damaged and some still burning with smoke pouring from their bowels, they just stood at the rail and did not speak. These were not ships that belonged to some remote population back in the States who just happened to have built them and paid for them with their tax money. Many felt, “This is MY Navy and these are MY ships and the Japanese have destroyed them.” It left a sense of fury that for some never entirely abated.
And then the war progressed .. . and one by one, 52 of our submarines were sent to the bottom. And now the sense of loss became even more personal and many said, “Those were MY shipmates.” This is a story that had to be told. It is a story of great suffering, a story of tremendous sacrifice, a story of heroic achievement. To that end the US Submarine Veterans of World War II was established in 1955.
There is a tiny island out in the Pacific. It’s one of a small group of islands known as French Frigate Shoals. It ties about halfway between Pearl Harbor and Midway Island. Those of you who were involved with the navigation of our boats; you who were officers, quartermasters, or signal men, will them clearly because you passed them either to port or starboard whenever you put in or out of Pearl on war patrol. On this tiny island is an abandoned Coast Guard Station. One of its former occupants was so taken by the beauty and serenity of the place that he left a note in a wooden box which was subsequently recovered and recorded. The message of this note, with some modification, is an appropriate addition to each of the submarine memorials. It would impress upon future generations your purpose in putting them there. Here is the message:
Walk softly. Walk softly stranger. You stand on holy ground.
As you journey across this broad and beautiful land from sea to shining sea, you cannot help being moved by the wonder of the things you see:
Historic New England with its rocky coast and frothy surf, still breathing an aura of whaling ships and sailing days; the majestic mountains of the west with their tower- ing peaks and pink spires and sun gleaming off granite cliffs rising shear for thousands of feet; the grandeur of the old south with flowering trees and scented air and golden beaches that dazzle the eye; the dynamic west coast with its cloud-piercing mountains looming over the shore and curving roads that overlook the sea.
This is the beauty that is America, the wonder that is America. It is your God-given inheritance to use and enjoy at your pleasure. But these pathways to the good life did not come free of charge. More than a million Americans down through the yellowing pages of history have sacrificed their lives for your irreplaceable legacy and your American way of life. For more than 3,500 of these who gave their lives on American submarines in World War II, there can be no rows of polished markers. Their tombs are buried in the silent depths of the oceans, forever rocked by the eternal tides of history.
Every country owes an enormous debt to those heroes who have given their lives to protect the freedom of its people.
You, our Submarine Veterans of World War II helped our great Nation understand the sacrifice, professionalism, and the camaraderie that come with being a Submariner in the Great War. You kept the flame burning bright by establishing the Submarine Veterans of World War II.
In September 1955, approximately 60 of you registered for the first meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The actual attendance was about 25. You decided then to establish an annual reunion to perpetuate the memories of all submarine veterans who served in World War II. The organization was granted it’s first incorporation papers on February 15, 1956 in the state of New Jersey. The name of the papers was Submarine Veterans of World War II. The title caused some initial concern as it attracted men who had served in submarines from other countries. The name was changed to include U.S.
At the San Diego reunion in 1960, the first application was made for a Federal Charter. After 21 years of hard work, a Federal Charter was granted in November 1981. At that time you had United States President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush to thank for approving the Federal Charter. Following the sixth annual reunion, membership grew rapidly. Each state, to commemorate the loss of at least one submarine during World War II, was designated a lost-boat to represent their state in setting up a Memorial to their lost Submarine Veterans.
As a result, memorials have been erected throughout the country in various forms. There are plaques, torpedoes, WWII Submarine Conning Towers, and actual restored submarines for visitors and gravestone markers for families of deceased; all providing a wonderful history of the sacrifices of our World War II Submariners.
In closing, there is a story … a story not easy to tell. And yet one that must be told.
There was no one in the entertainment field more admired and appreciated by the American G.I. than Bob Hope. Bob was once asked why he did it; why he continued to travel all over the world, giving so much of his time and energy to entertain our troops. And his answer was this: “Because you’ve got to be there! You can read about it in the press, or you can see it on the screen, but if you really want to know what our boys are going through, you’ve got to be there.” And so it was with you.
World War II has been well documented; stories, books, movies but the full story of the submarine service has never been told … nor can it be. Can gut-wrenching fear be recorded by a camera? Can interminable fatigue and discomfort that goes on for days and weeks on end? And what about dedication to duty …. and the deep fraternal bond that was forged only among men who took our submarines to war? We know they can’t… and this was the story of the submarine service.
And now as YOU look back on it, I suspect it’s like an ob- server of a darkened stage; all the players are gone and the huge theater is empty. And yet, out of the emptiness, there still echoes the excitement, the laughter, and the sadness that was part of the play. But supposing our observer should leave the theater and step out onto the busy street. Would a passing stranger be able to understand his faint half-smile as he recalls some cheerful part of the story? Or would that stranger be able to hear the haunting melody of the theme that keeps echoing through the background of his mind? To understand it you had to be a part of it, you had to be there.
You, Shipmates, were there! You were in the theater! You experienced the horror, you lost 3,500 Shipmates; you defeated the enemy!
We all owe you great homage. As you close the US Submarines Veterans of World War II Charter, please know that we who have followed you will never forget your valor, camaraderie, or professionalism. Your exploits will only grow in stature. You have taught succeeding generations well regarding patriotism and taking care of others. If it is true that you can define leadership by authenticity and community support- then you need to know that your organization truly invented what we call leadership.
Thanks to you Submarine Veterans of World War II, thanks to your Spouses and families for what they endured, you were there! God Bless you and God Bless America.
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW is a quarterly publication of the Naval Submarine League. It is a forum for discussion of submarine matters, be they of past, present or future aspects of the ships, weapons and men who train and carry out undersea warfare. It is the intention of the REVIEW to rector not only the views of Na vol Submarine League members but of an who arc interested in submariner.
Articles for this magazine will be accepted on any subject closely related to submarine matters, Article length should be no longer than 2500 to 3000 words. Subjects requiring longer treatment should be prepared in pones for sequential publication. Electronic submission is preform:d with either MS Word as an acceptable system. If paper copy is submitted, an accompanying CD will be of significant assistance. Content, timing and originality of thought ore of first importance in the selection of articles for the REVIEW.
A stipend of up to $200.00 will be paid for each major article published. For shorter Rejections, Sen Stories, etc., SI00.00 is usual. Book reviewers ore awarded SS2.00, which is that special figure to honor the U.S. submarines lost during World War IL Annua1ly, three articles arc selected for special recognition and additional honorarium of up to S400.00 will be awarded to the authors. Articles accepted for publication In the REVIEW become the property or the Naval Submarine League. The views expressed by the authors ore their own and arc not to be construed to be those of the Naval Submarine League. In those instances where the NSL has taken and published an official position or view, specific reference to that fact will accompany the article.
Comments on articles and brief discussion items ore welcomed to make THE SUBMARINE REVIEW a dynamic reflection of the League’s interest in submarines. The success of this magazine is up to those persons who have such n dedicated interest in submarines that they want to keep olive the submarine past, help with present submarine problems and be influential in guiding the future of submarines in the U.S. Navy.
Articles should be submitted to the Editor, SUBMARINE REVIEW, P.O. Box I 146, Annandale, VA 22003.