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Keyport hosts ‘tolling of the boats’

Guests bow their heads at a tolling of the boats ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum, Keyport May 22. The tolling of the boats ceremony is a time-honored tradition that pays tribute to the dozens of Navy submarines that have been lost during war and in peace.  - Photo by Eric Harrison
Guests bow their heads at a tolling of the boats ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum, Keyport May 22. The tolling of the boats ceremony is a time-honored tradition that pays tribute to the dozens of Navy submarines that have been lost during war and in peace.
— image credit: Photo by Eric Harrison

The Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport hosted a traditional ‘tolling of the boats’ ceremony May 22.

The “Tolling of the Boats” ceremony was originally established by the U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII. Custom has established this ceremony be formal as it honors the memory of submariners who lost their lives in the line of duty, especially those who perished during World War II.

Capt. Murray Gero, commanding officer of the USS Ohio (SSGN 726) Blue Crew was the guest speaker for the event.

“Some submariners lost their lives individually, but by far the greater number died on boats that never returned from patrol,” Gero said. “In most cases, ‘submarine overdue — presumed lost’ was the epitaph for the submarine and its men. A few were picked up by the Japanese and imprisoned until war’s end, and only then, after they were returned to us, did we learn the fate of their ship.”

The U.S. submarine force suffered the highest percentage of losses of any branch of the Armed Forces during World War II. Following the war, Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz recognized the value of the submarine force.

“It was to the submarine force,” he said, “that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely need to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.”

One retired submarine veteran found significance in the ceremony taking place as an opening to Memorial Day weekend.

“I think it’s very important to remember all the people that have been lost,” said retired Senior Chief Fire Controlman Gary Kaiser, who left the naval service in 1976. “Not only in the submarine force, but all the military.”

Kaiser also took note of the formation of active-duty sailors at the event, ranging from senior to junior sailors.

“It’s important for them to realize that there are a lot of good men that went before them and a lot of good men have died,” he said.

Retired Cmdr. William Ridley read the names of the U.S. submarines that have been lost. Ridley’s service began in 1953 as a seaman recruit and included serving on three submarines, a destroyer and a submarine tender.

Retired Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Harry Gilger tolled the bell for each lost submarine. Gilger served tours on eight submarines, including a tour as chief of the boat aboard the USS Alabama.

Gero also thanked everyone in attendance for honoring those who paid the ultimate price.

“Today’s ceremony is mostly about the heroes,” he said. “But it’s also about these shipmates who are able to be with us today to honor the heroes.”

Gero also noted there are about 40,000 men actively serving in the submarine force with 72 submarines in commission.

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