Saving submarine memorials goal of new group
By ROBERT A. HAMILTON
Day Staff Writer
The USS Torsk, which first saw service as a World War II diesel submarine, later was used in the Cuba blockade, and now is Maryland's Submarine Memorial in Baltimore Harbor, has deteriorated to the point that a group of retired submariners has gathered for several "work weekends" to clean and fix the boat.
Another group is planning a rally Nov. 10 in Galveston, Texas, to support the rehabilitation of another memorial, the USS Cavalla, SS 244, which sank one of the aircraft carriers used in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and later helped develop sonar technologies that continue to be used in submarines today.
Across the country, the American Submarine Memorial Restoration Foundation is working to build awareness of - and support for - the estimated 30 to 40 World War II memorials that feature submarines of that era.
"Even if we can just save one or two boats from the scrap heap, I think we've accomplished a lot," said Ray Stone, who works at the Pentagon and is president of the foundation. "Not just the Torsk, but any boat that is in a sad state of repair once these old diesel boats are gone, there's nothing to replace them. It's kind of like the old steam locomotives - being able to see one or ride on one today is a real thrill."
Although Cavalla and Torsk are in rough shape, Stone said there are others that can serve as an example.
"There are some boats that are very well preserved, they've done a great job at restoration, so I'd like to get some of our members to go up and talk to the people who have been responsible for them and see what they're doing right, and carry the message back to all the others," Stone said.
Dozens of World War II-era and early Cold War submarines have been converted in some form to memorials, including the radar picket submarine Requin, SSR-481, the Becuna, SS-319, Batfish, SS-310, Bowfin, SS-287, and Cobia, SS-245. Fewer than 20, however, including the Cavalla and Torsk, are complete.
In Groton, the Historic Ship Nautilus, SSN 571, might be a little newer than some of the boats that the foundation has focused on, but it is "definitely one of the ones I want to get up and see," Stone said. "The majority of the memorials are diesel boats, but the focus of the foundation will be submarine memorials at large."
Stone lives in Springfield, Va., a little more than an hour's drive from Baltimore. He served on the Torsk as a reservist in the 1970s, shortly before it was decommissioned, and was discouraged to see how it was deteriorating over the years.
He had communicated with dozens of other Torsk supporters via e-mail and electronic bulletin boards when someone suggested a work party over Memorial Day weekend to scrape rust, apply new paint, and generally clean it up.
"We had a great weekend - everybody jumped in," Stone said. "And afterwards, we're sitting around and shooting the breeze, and a couple of us pointed out that the museum is collecting a lot of money off visitors to the Torsk, and very little of it was going back, first because they have other priorities, and second because as non-submariners they don't really know what needed to be done."
The submariners decided to form a foundation that would advocate not just for the Torsk, but for the memorials scattered all over the country. John Zeigler, an ex-torpedoman like Stone who became a corporate attorney after leaving the Navy, volunteered to write up formal incorporation papers.
The groups charter calls for it "To be the premier conservator of our existing memorial submarines in the United States of America, and to preserve and perpetuate the Silent Service Heritage with dedication and honor..."
The day he posted a note about the new organization on a popular submarining bulletin board, he received 20 e-mails from people interested in the project, some of them accompanied by promises of donations. He also me with the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, James Herdt, and expects his support.
"We're coming up on the 100th anniversary of the submarine force, so there's going to be a lot more exposure to the public, and I think a lot more interest in submarines, so this is a good time for the foundation to be doing this work," Stone said. "Also, our cadre of World War II submarine vets is diminishing, and they have been the premier group for supporting submarine memorials nationwide, so we have to do something soon."
For more information about the Foundation, contact ASMRF, Inc., 12107 Gary Hill Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.
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