Good evening, and let me start off with a big “Happy Birthday, U.S. Submarine Force!!” 114 years and going strong and from my viewpoint up here—you’re looking mighty fine tonight! What a turnout! Very impressive.
Melanie and I are very grateful and deeply honored to celebrate this important Sub Force milestone with you tonight – and I would especially like to add emphasis on here with you tonight, here at this most spectacular venue.
This is special. Take a minute and let it soak in. We have celebrated this event at many awesome settings over the course of our career, but never at one as elegant and luxurious as the Del Monte Hotel ballroom. You can’t help but imagine the grand parties that have occurred within these walls over the past century, where the wealthiest of Americans came to vacation- in style… At times I wonder what the railroad barons would think about their prized resort by the sea becoming home to a post graduate school and a naval one at that! What would be their reaction to a group of scrappy, undersea warriors invading their grand ballroom? Would they sound the alarm? Call in the authorities to toss out these vagabonds? Well, deep down in their hearts—I think they would be pleased. These great Americans were very patriotic and well understood the value of a strong military. Among all the warfighters who sacrifice much for our country, they would be downright proud that it was the Submarine Force that commandeered their prized ballroom for an occasion like this tonight.
They among all Americans, know that what you do matters so very much for our national security and global prosperity. Like the rail lines, they can appreciate the vital importance of keeping commerce safe and flowing on the ocean routes, to and from major ports around the world.
I think they would deeply appreciate the way you wield your power from the deep – as an instrument that deters aggression and holds in-check the bad behavior of our adversaries.
So close your eyes and picture them looking down on us tonight—lifting their glasses in a toast. “To the intrepid prowlers of the deep—we salute you! Enjoy our ballroom! Just make sure you don’t get too out of control”—knowing we’re submariners after all.
This is a special venue for Melanie and me—our absolute favorite shore tour by a dramatic margin. Our 29-year old navy lieutenant son was a toddler during our time here—and he still speaks of Dennis the Menace Park and the “quarium.” Our 26-year old daughter takes special pride in being born a Californian—a Carmelite, no less!
Today we drove around to visit the old haunts 25 years later.La Mesa, Fishermans Wharf with the sea lions and the playful sea otters, and then Cannery Row and the eye-popping beauty of the Pacific Grove coastline. Although we were short on time, we couldn’t pull away as we were drawn further around the bend down Sunset Beach. As though a powerful and compelling force had gripped us and would not let us go; captivating our longings as we soaked in the most spectacular vista’s anywhere in the world—onto Pebble Beach and 17 Mile Drive.
You may have grown numb to it—seeing it as often as you do—but for us, we nearly wept in the face of such incredible beauty—pure rejuvenation. This place has that kind of effect on your soul.
And we’re not alone. This same allure has enchanted other visitors within its spell over the decades. There is one distinguished guest in particular I would like to speak of tonight. He stayed at the Del Monte Hotel over 100 years ago. In a display case adjacent to the Trident Room in the basement below us, there is a photo of a ruddy man on horseback with an accompanying quote below his picture:
“This is a beautiful hotel with gardens and a long 17-mile drive beside the beach, the rocks and among the pines and cypresses. I went on horseback. My horse was a little beauty, spirited, swift, sure-footed and enduring. We had some splendid gallops.” Can you guess who I am talking of? These words came from one of our great presidents, Teddy Roosevelt. He visited in May, 111 years ago next month.
Well, tonight I want to tell you a story about Teddy Roosevelt that occurred less than two years after his exhilarating horseback ride from the grounds of the Del Monte Hotel. The story involves the President, our young (5-year old) Sub Force, and a 10 dollar bill. This story early in our history went on to define our identity, our DNA if you will. The thing that makes submariners stand apart from the rest—the powerful, enduring trademark quality that best characterizes this special group of warfighters who ply the oceans from the depths of the sea.
The year was 1905, our Submarine Force had just passed its fifth birthday. We were the navy’s toddlers, the new kids who stumbled and struggled and fought to find our place. The promise of USS HOLLAND, delivered to the Navy just a few short years before, had materialized as the mighty A-Class of submarines: PLUNGER, ADDER, GRAMPUS, PIKE, SHARK, and PORPOISE. Oh, and MOCCASIN. Now, SHARK and ADDER sound formidable. PORPOISE and PIKE are appropriately fishy. And GRAMPUS is an old-school name for an orca or killer whale. I really don’t want to talk about MOCCASIN.But the lead ship of the class, PLUNGER? Well back then, plunger had two meanings, and both were apt. A plunger was another word for a diver…but it is also synonymous with a gambler who takes extraordinary risks. And these were times filled with extraordinary risk for our Sub Force.
These marvels of modern technology, with their top end speed of 8 knots; and 60-foot test depth, were held in such awe and fear and high regard by their battleship brothers… that submarine duty was classified as… shore duty, and submarine sailors received 25%… less pay… than the men on destroyers, cruisers, and other surface ships. John Holland, the inventor and designer of the A-Class, is quoted as saying, somewhat bitterly, “the Navy doesn’t like submarines because there is no deck to strut upon.”
But little more about PLUNGER. She was propelled by a 4-cylinder gasoline engine, a very close relative to the exact model that was pushing Henry Ford’s model-t Tin Lizzies on American streets. Her atmosphere monitoring system was a cage of mice kept near the engine when it was running. If the mice collapsed, it was time to think about heading topside. Her periscope was anchored by four guy wires fixed in one position… yes, it could not rotate. For targeting purposes, the ship would porpoise to the surface, where the conning tower could look around through dead light windows to spot an enemy ship. Navigation was conducted via a magnetic compass… attached topside and viewed from below through a mirror. Pretty ingenious and yet pretty primitive and shall we say, outright scary!
These pioneers of submarining were the bravest of men, given the history of submarines to that point. Instead of an outright death sentence, assignment to a submarine had just enough of the tantalizing possibility of actually returning from a dive to attract an odd collection of mariners—like adventure-seeking outcasts from the traditional straight lines and sharp corners of the great white fleet. PLUNGER’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Charles Nelson, was no exception. LT Nelson was in command of PORPOISE a year before, and had lost depth control and sunk to the bottom of Narragansett Bay, in waters twice the ship’s rated depth. The ship was saved through extraordinary and heroic action, making it to the surface with a mere 10 minutes of good air remaining.
So there must have been some misgivings at fleet forces a year later, when the impetuous LT Nelson was picked to demonstrate PLUNGER’s capability to none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, he himself not known as a model of self-restraint or timidity. The demonstration was set in Long Island Sound for August 26, 1905. The President would observe from a surface ship while the submarine was put through its paces.
There would have been far more trepidation had Navy leader-ship known what would happen on August 25th. Gale-force rains lashed Oyster Bay, where PLUNGER was tied up alongside her support ship APACHE, while Roosevelt rested comfortably ashore, waiting for the next day’s events. And all would be well if we could just leave the story here, but that rarely happens when submarine LT’s are the central characters in a story. For LT Nelson had other ideas on this rainy night—taking matters into his own hands. I could almost hear him chanting under his breath “Fortune favors the bold; fortune favors the bold” as he hiked up Sagamore Hill in the torrential downpour. Well he located the President, and asked him if he would be interested in a private tour of the ship. And it’s easy to imagine the enthusiastic President and the earnest young LT, scampering through the driving rain and clambering down through the hatch.
And it may have ended there if this was one of your run-of-the-mill VIP tour kind of stories… but it hardly ever does, does it? PLUNGER split off from APACHE into the teeth of the gale, with a LT of questionable judgment, a President of apparently superhuman courage, and a crew that included a cage of rodents.
The trip is well documented, and afterwards, two things came out of it. Roosevelt publicly proclaimed, “never in my life have I had such a diverting day.” Horseback riding on pebble beach was a “splendid day.” Underway with LT Nelson in a fierce storm—a “diverting day.” To make his impressions unambiguously clear to current and future Naval leaders, the President also set the following declaration: “submariners have to be trained to the highest possible point, as well as, to show iron nerve in order to be of any use.” And then Roosevelt immediately established submarine pay at the staggering sum of… ten dollars per month.
Roosevelt’s Presidency is enshrined in textbooks. LT Nelson became Admiral Nelson. PLUNGER was loaded onto the top of a derelict surface ship and sold as deck cargo scrap. I am not sure what happened to the mice. But I do know this: that $10 investment stands as one of the greatest bargains of all time!
For what Roosevelt purchased in 1905 for a sawbuck a month has endured through time to this very day and is none other than the service, dedication, and enduring loyalty of the people who make up the Submarine Force.
It is pure, inexplicable magic, this bond between people and machines, in distant places and the harshest environments, far from home, far from family, far from support with the constant threat of the danger outside finding its way inside. It’s the best kind of magic, and it has happened over and over, it comes through when we need it most, and continues today as it was for the past 114 years.
And yet, ten dollars a month cannot explain the remarkable tenacity and fighting spirit of our long-ago brothers. A key part of our gathering tonight is to pause in remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price in defense of our country. These pioneering days of Submarine Force history were especially risky as we learned the harsh and unnatural business of operating warships submerged at sea. SKATE sank with all hands in 1915. PIKE sank at the dock in Manila Bay in 1917. SHARK exploded and burned in 1918, killing 7. CARP was rammed and sunk with all hands off Point Loma in 1919. It is tempting to believe that dedication like that has something to do with the importance of our mission, the mastery of our environment, the quality of our training, the marvel of our technology. And it does, a little. And so does ten bucks a month. But none of those existed in our early days, when we struggled to find our place and our meaning, when the limitations of our machines frequently let us down and occasionally cost us our lives, and when we did not have the rich legacy of success that came later.
Before we had been heated red-hot in the crucible of WWII, forged in thirty years of Cold War skirmishes, and quenched in post-9/11 combat actions. Before all of that, something happened and something stuck. But what?
When Roosevelt squeezed down the hatch of PLUNGER and shed his damp oilskin and peered through those little round spectacles, the only thing he saw was…us. And it was enough. Enough to tell him that the challenges would be overcome, the tragedies would be borne, the lessons would be learned, and the promise would be delivered. TR did not see that in gage faces or dark bilges or out a periscope. He saw it in the eyes of those long-ago crew members, with their hats tipped back, and their uniforms filthy with grease. It was only a glimmer, but it was enough. And Teddy anted up with one of the greatest long-shot bets of all time…for ten bucks.
It was enough, that promise, to draw our greatest warriors.Gene Fluckey, Red Ramage, Howard Gilmore, and dead-eye Dick O’Kane. They saw the same promise in the eyes of the crews of BARB, PARCHE, GROWLER, and TANG. To a man, each of them would proudly state their finest moment, their hour of glory, their long years of training and sacrifice that culminated in extraordinary heroism under the enemy’s fiercest fire… was built on the indomitable spirits of the sailors on their ships.
It was enough, that glimmer, to surround our fighters with the enduring love and support of the families that wait on the shore. For you, no paycheck can be big enough, no medal shiny enough, no citation thorough enough to make up for lost birthdays, long nights, lonely vigils. It has to be the same something else that lives in your hearts and keeps you at our sides.
So ladies and gentlemen, tonight we gather to reflect about this uncommon courageous adventurous spirit; the unique identity and heritage we share with those who have gone before us, that we continue to uphold—day-in and day-out while it is our turn to roam the undersea with the best crews in our Navy. As we begin the process of transferring this sober responsibility onto the next generation—so that they in turn operate these incredible submarines to continue to defend America, support our friends and allies, and to restrain the over-reach of our adversaries for yet another prosperous 114 years.
This uncommon ethos, this special bond we share, is at the same time both splendid and diverting. And like the railroad barons—I salute you tonight and thank you for your honorable and most-meaningful service. Here’s to you; you intrepid Prowlers of the Deep! Happy Birthday.