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Remembering the silent

Submariners, submarine veterans and community members stand as Navy Band Northwest plays the National Anthem at Friday’s “Tolling of the Boats” ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport. - Rachel Brant/staff photo
Submariners, submarine veterans and community members stand as Navy Band Northwest plays the National Anthem at Friday’s “Tolling of the Boats” ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport.
— image credit: Rachel Brant/staff photo

Memorial Day event at Keyport honors lost submariners.

The United States Navy’s submarine force sank hundreds of Japanese merchant ships during World War II.

But that high success rate did not come without a price.

The Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport and the United States Submarine Veterans Inc., with national headquarters in Silverdale, joined together May 23 to host a Memorial Day “Tolling of the Boats” observance in the museum’s auditorium.

Active duty and retired submariners gathered together Friday morning to pause and remember shipmates who have died in the line of duty and are on permanent patrol.

“This ceremony is a wonderful way to commemorate the lives of these heroes,” said Cmdr. Ben Pearson, commanding officer of the USS Kentucky, Gold Crew, who spoke at the ceremony.

While the United States has lost about 65 submarines, 52 of those boats were lost in World War II, the highest number of lost vessels in the Armed Forces during that time. One in five submarines did not return home and the United States Silent Service lost 3,500 men during the war.

“It is true that the sea has always taken a toll on seamen. This is especially true for United States submariners,” Pearson said.

The United States Navy’s submarine force was comprised of only 50,000 men during World War II, but the small fleet accounted for more than 55 percent of Japanese shipping losses during that time period.

“Seldom in history had such a small fleet done so much,” Pearson said.

During Friday’s “Tolling of the Boats,” retired Chief Electrician John Clear and retired Cmdr. Fred Borgmann called the roll of submarines lost and tolled the bell in remembrance of the vessels and crews lost at sea.

The crowd of active duty and retired submariners as well as family and friends stood as Clear read off the names of each lost submarine, date lost and the number of men onboard at the time.

Navy Band Northwest closed the “Tolling of the Boats” observance by playing “Taps” in honor of the submariners who are on permanent patrol.

“We shall not forget them,” Pearson said.

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