By Andy Weddington
Saturday, 13 April 2019
Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner. - Winston Churchill
Last evening in an historic building (once a hotel) ballroom in downtown Omaha I was among a small crowd of about 125 celebrating the 119th year of the U. S. Navy's submarine service.
I've not been aboard a submarine.
But the ballroom atmosphere, occasionally interrupted with a blaring (boat) horn to signal a ceremony sequence, gave (me) the imagined sense of one.
Ceremonies opened with colors and our national anthem. The NROTC detail representing the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) precise.
Once a Marine Officer Instructor (NROTC, Ole Miss), I thought how much time the gunny must have spent with them. Both rifle bearers uniform sported the eagle, globe, and anchor (indicating Marine option).
The Sailors ...
The oldest qualified submariner present was so designated in 1962.
The youngest an active duty lieutenant so designated 52 years later.
She, wearing flag aide loop, sat immediately to my starboard during dinner.
In casual conversation, she hails from New York, graduated from the Naval Academy, and earned a Masters in some sort of acoustics.
And, her younger brother is a Marine (too, an Academy graduate) soon to be promoted to captain and assigned to 2d Tanks at Camp Lejeune.
She, bright and sharp.
Rounding out our table ... an admiral not a submariner and her retired Marine spouse, spouse of an active duty submarine admiral and their daughter, and a submarine captain and his wife.
Never had I seen 'Tolling the Boats' - a traditional salute to lost boats and crew. A three-slide per boat presentation summarized boat and crew, date of incident, and life lost. Haunting background music perfect in tribute.
Fifty-two of the 59 boats tolled were lost during World War II. With rare exception crew went down with their boat. Black and white photographs of bright-eyed, confident Sailors made their sacrifice(s) real.
From explosions to implosions those washed overboard in heavy seas lingered in my thinking. Imagine what was going through their mind. Sobering.
Living shipmates consider them "On Eternal Patrol." Of course!
Did you know there are eight Medal of Honor recipients in the submarine service? They merit by-name mention: TM2(SS) Henry Breault; Captain John Cromwell; Commander Samuel Dealey; Commander Eugene Fluckey; Commander Howard Gilmore; Commander Richard O'Kane; Vice Admiral Lawson Ramage; and Commander George Street.
Vice Admiral William R. Merz, guest speaker, spoke to history though focused on current events, readiness, competitors, and that submarines must ever be on the edge.
His easy, sometimes humorous, way did not betray a serious message.
"Anarchy" he stressed a couple of times - a demand of boats and wardrooms.
My takeaway from that word was his expectation of Sailors to think, challenge, take risks, and move things forward - all to stay ahead of our enemies.
That may be simplistic. But there was no question readiness and warfighting and winning his commitment.
Soon the admiral heads to 7th Fleet.
From cocktails to departure in conversation with some, eavesdropping on conversations, and contemplating whom amongst, it was clear submariners are brilliant, brave people.
I wondered if courageous or crazy or a necessary complement of both to board a tube that submerges and stalks while being stalked. But thankful they are on our side.
And secretly wondered if they had figured out as I felt - to be the proud representative of mental group IV.
Privileged was I to ask all to formally toast the United States Marine Corps (an outfit that shares the traits of courage, crazy, and the complement of both).
Thank you, Admiral Houston, for the invitation and honor.