We are looking forward to the last few months of the commissioned time of the USS BREMERTON. Due to COVID concerns and the rate at which the state of Washington is slowly opening, I am shifting the Decommissioning ceremony to Tuesday, May 18th. This will be the last shift in the date. My goal is to be completed with all work requiring crew personnel by June 1st. We are planning to have the ceremony available via video recording, but we are hoping for an in person gathering as well. This will depend on the State and Navy requirements for COVID mitigation. I will provide updates as I have more information.
As we move forward, we are also taking a look back at the past year. I have the pleasure to announce our Sailor of the Year is ITS1 (SS) Tony Campbell and the Junior Sailor of the Year is TM2 (SS) Logan Houlot. ITS1 (SS) Campbell was selected due to his relentless drive for excellence in all facets of his support of Bremerton and the combined crew with USS Jacksonville. He led the merger of Radio division and LAN division into the new combined division, providing the blueprint for other commands to follow. His direct involvement and spearheading of establishing the new MWR gym equipment for use by command was vital to maintaining personnel readiness this last year. He is a true leader and consistently improves the command with his constant presence and focus on making the command better every day.
TM2 (SS) Houlot was selected for his command leadership in managing the day-to-day operations of Torpedo Division. He led the way in COVID mitigation of cleanliness of weapons that were handled by multiple watchstanders. His can do attitude and drive to set the example are what we expect and demand from our best.
As we look forward, I understand the importance of the USS BREMERTON in many of your hearts. For almost 41 years this submarine was home to many sailors who will forever have lasting memories of their time serving aboard her. I would like to remind you that, while the HY80 which surrounded you during your time aboard the BREMERTON protected you, the stories you have and share with each other and your loved ones are what will keep her memory alive long after she has been scrapped. Until next time I wish you fair winds and following seas.
On Tuesday February 23rd at 10 am HST, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Association will hold a formal ceremony to celebrate the completion of the renovation of our museum and campus. Due to restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at this ceremony is by invitation only. We regret that we cannot hold a larger event to mark this occasion, but we are hopeful that you will be able to visit in the near future.
We will live stream our opening ceremony on both Instagram and Facebook at the following links:
The heritage we share as members of the US Navy’s Silent Service: The New Year’s submariner story of leadership, teamwork, audaciousness, intelligence, and innovation right before Wahoo’s 3rd War Patrol. Raw nerves required.
Late in the morning on the last day of 1942, without ceremony, Dudley W. Morton took command of Wahoo. Back at the apartment my new captain told of the PCO school he had attended just before coming to Pearl.
“Commander Patterson and Hensel were our underway instructors, and while I was on the scope calling angles on the bow, reading the telemeter scale for the range, giving orders to the steersman for rudder and speed, whirling the ISWAS, and checking plot for the new course, the instructors would be making entries in their notebooks. After the approach, they’d compare my actions that were recorded in the Quartermaster’s Notebook with their recommendations. Because they could concentrate solely on conning, they almost always arrived at better submarine maneuvers and more quickly.”
Captain Morton paused, but only long enough to bring over a bottle of ale, and then continued.
“Now you’re going to be my new co-approach officer, not my assistant. You’ll make all of the approach and attack periscope observations, or on the TBT if we’re on the surface. I’ll conn Wahoo to the best attack position, and then you’ll fire the torpedoes.”
He paused again, and his serious countenance changed to the usual engaging smile as he added, “This way I’ll never get scared.”
This opportunity and sharing of responsibility was new within our submarine forces. I answered with a simple, “I appreciate your confidence, Captain,” and told him I was off to the Sperry to make a lazy susan for our ship models. I would need them to sharpen the ability to call angles on the bow quickly and accurately.
There’d be no fired oysters or tuna delight this evening, for we had all been invited to a New Year’s Eve party….
Regarding the “down the throat” shot, Dick O’Kane writes of the moments surrounding the firing of the final torpedo in Wewak Harbor:
…The destroyer continued her turn, completing three-quarters of a circle, and then headed down the still visible fan that had been left by our torpedo wakes. Their apex marked our firing position, and the enemy would know that a submarine could not have traveled far.
“That’s all right,” said the captain, “Keep your scope up and we’ll shoot that SOB down the throat.”
(a few edge-of-your-seat paragraphs later O’Kane writes)
… the wire was steady on. “Fire!” and we headed for the bottom, rigging for depth charge.
The range on firing had been 750, which was the best, especially since the time for our first torpedo hit had now gone by. The props of our last torpedo had been blanked out by those of the destroyer, which were now roaring through our hull. There was no other noise, only her screws now menacingly close. We were passing 80 feet, and men commenced bracing themselves for the coming depth charges; though still confident, I chose the spot between the scope and the TDC.
The first depth charge was severe, but only to our nerves, and we braced ourselves in earnest for the pattern that would follow. A mighty roar and cracking, as if we were in the very middle of a lightening storm, shook Wahoo. The great cracking became crackling, and every old salt aboard knew the sound – that of steam heating a bucket of water, but here amplified a million times. The destroyer’s boilers were belching steam into the sea.
“We hit the son of a bitch!” rang out in unison from the whole fire control party, and doubtless throughout the boat. Never could apprehension and despair have changed to elation more abruptly. Already, George had an up angle on the boat in anticipation of the captain’s order, and with speed to help, had Wahoo back at periscope depth.
USS Bremerton Alumni participated in a campaign in support of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museumthat was completed in early 2020.
An update from CAPT. Chuck Merkel, Executive Director at the museum:
This is a quick note to update you on our renovation. When we broke ground in January 2019, we knew there would be challenges, but no one envisioned a world-wide pandemic. I am happy to report that we are on track to complete our project early next year. For the latest progress photos, I am regularly updating the drop box at this link:
The final grand-spanking total qualified our group for the $25,00024 inch SSN and it was created in silver to stand out from the crowd. Yes, some killer donations came through on behalf of the Bremerton to bring us up to the highest level. The result is something every BADFISH sailor can take pride in.
The inscription is a composition of several shipmates’ ideas and crafted to fit in the allowable space.
“Dedicated to the USS BREMERTON (SSN 698) Her Officers and Men
Submariners Standing Ready to Defend Our Country”
698 LOOKING FORWARD
USS Bremerton, the most senior not yet de-commissioned submarine in the United States Navy, is currently at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard preparing for her date with destiny. Decom ceremony and reunion in Bremerton are tentatively scheduled for Spring of 2021, that puts BadFish on course for a 40 year run.
SAVE THE 698
Join the Movement. Are you passionate about preserving the USS Bremerton in any way shape or form? Do you wish to be involved before, during and after her decommissioning in whatever works are needed to establish the memory of 698 for the benefit of the public and of naval history? You are invited to a new closed group forum on Facebook “SaveThe698” to be involved in public discussion related to Saving 698. You can see the group site by clicking HERE.
-from “Christmas Retreat” from the Book “Dive!” by Deborah Hopkinson
The story is from Mel Eckberg who served as a radio and soundman in Seawolf (SS-197) as the United States entered World War II
“There wasn’t much we could do about celebrating Christmas,” said Mel Eckberg. The Seawolf had been on patrol since December 8 with no end in sight; the men would spend their first wartime holiday at sea.
Eck felt depressed about being so far away from Marjorie and baby Spike. He would miss his son’s first Christmas. Yet thanks to some of his inventive crewmates, there turned out to be some surprises. “The first inkling I had was when I strolled into the mess hall after my afternoon watch on December 24.”
As Eck and a few others were leafing through magazines, John Edward Sullivan burst in, beaming and red-faced. “Sully” was the chief yeoman, serving as the clerk for the Seawolf, handling files and supply orders, and maintaining official records.
“’ ‘Well boys, she’s finished. Want to take a look at her?’ ” Sully asked.
“ ‘What’s finished?’ ” Eck and the others wanted to know.
“ ‘Why, my Christmas Tree.’ “
Sully led the way into the yeoman’s office. There, Eck laid eyes on a Christmas tree – or at least what passed as a Christmas tree on a submarine at sea. A broom handle served as the tree trunk, with tongue depressors as branches.
“He’d made tinsel by gluing tinfoil from cigarette packages to strips of paper, and decorated the branches with that. He’d painted half a dozen flashlight bulbs green and red and silver and strung them about on a dry-battery circuit, and so his Christmas tree gleamed green, red, and silver a work of art two feet high….
“We liked that little Christmas tree,” Eck recalled, “ The men would look at it, and someone would say, ‘Jeez, isn’t that a pretty little thing,’ and then you’d hear someone else’s voice ‘Sure wish I was home tonight.’ “
That wasn’t the only surprise. A while later, someone hung up some stockings bulging with with what Eck considered “the wildest collection of junk I’d ever seen in my life. A bunch of garlic; a twelve-inch Stilsen wrench; a can of oil.”
Eck lingered in the small messroom, unable to sleep. Just before midnight, crewmates wandered in to wish one another a merry Christmas.
“There was a lump in my throat,” he said. “I had to swallow a few times, sitting there, thinking. Here it is Christmas, and Marjorie and Spike alone at home, not knowing if I’m dead or alive, and we’re off Corregidor, and men are dying in Bataan, and we don’t know if we’re going to be dead or alive ourselves twenty-four hours from now.”
On Christmas Day, the Seawolf’s crew got one more unexpected gift – courtesy of the cook. “Gus Wright came into the mess hall [or mess room, the area where enlisted men eat and relax] and announced what we’d have for dinner that night – mince pies. He’d been up all night baking them, twenty of them. Gus was the hero of the boat that day.
“He was a thin fellow, about twenty-eight, with buck teeth and a pleasant way about him; and the fuss the crew made over his surprise made him so happy that his eyes got watery, and he went back into the galley and banged his pans around until he got it out of him.
“A Christmas tree, mince pies – well, it was a better Christmas than the boys had on Bataan and Corregidor, we thought.”
We’re grateful for Mel and his personal story and honor the sacrifices made by the submariners of the Silent Service.