Friday, June 14, 2013

When they were boys...

The first nuclear submarine was commissioned in 1953 by President Truman. The USS Nautilus, which is on permanent display in Groton, Connecticut.

The tents for the ceremony were set up on the Nautilus dock....and that huge submarine is a very impressive thing to be in the shadow of.

John served on the USS Haddo SSN604.

The Haddo was the same class of submarine as the Thresher and the Scorpion -- the two nuclear submarines that went down with full crews. What those Cold War sailors did during those tense days when both sides had nuclear weapons locked and loaded  was extraordinary. And dangerous. And historic. And most of those men never, ever talked about it.

After their Navy enlistment was up -- they walked off the boat and spread out across the country.  They were eager to get regular jobs and live the American Dream. 

John became an electrician in Washington D.C.. His friend Pat McGovern became a Illinois State Patrolman. Joseph O'Hara was an insurance man in Pennsylvania. Their friend Matey worked construction. They blended back into society -- by simply putting one foot in front of the other. They were deliriously happy not to be under water for 90 days at a time. Maybe ANY job looked good...

For 30 years, John rarely talked about what he did in the Navy.  He was too busy doing all the stuff that makes up a normal life. Working, paying bills, golfing when he could, arguing with his wife. The usual highs and lows...

But in recent years -- and especially on this special day -- these men seemed eager to talk. And this Admiral enjoyed listening.  He had a lot of questions about a particular Mediterranean patrol...

NOW -- 50 years later -- when these men get together -- THEY ALL KNOW WHAT THEY DID. Only with the benefit of time do they really understand that they were a part of something extraordinary. The Navy provided them with schools, experience and training that served them throughout their adult lives. But beyond that -- being a sailor on a nuclear submarine was a measurement in so many ways. It was a daily test that required brains and strength, quick-thinking and patience. They learned who they are and what they were capable of. They relied on one another because their lives depended on it.

Like many other people that morning, I watched the ceremony through tears. Because the men being honored are old now. Their submarine service happened 50 years ago -- when they were young men. Kids, really...

I wonder if all the men being inducted that day felt the same way John did.  With the pictures of them as young sailors, and the speeches, and the music -- nobody does it up like the Navy.  But, at the end of the day -- it was bittersweet.  Because John felt like he was attending his own funeral.

When he said that, I realized that was EXACTLY why I'd been crying all day.  Then I told him it was actually a pretty good way to look at it.  Because, for the record, this deal was WAY better than his Iowa funeral is gonna be...


  1. Please thank you husband for me. I am grateful for his service.
    Thanks for posting this story. It is an important reminder that I live in a great country because of the service and sacrifices of so many others.

  2. And for me.....Thank You, John, for your Service and Thank You, Rita for telling us a little of their story.