First Wartime Christmas Submarine Story

This moment from submarine history is brought to you by the USS Bremerton SSN 698 group sponsorship of The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor.


First Wartime Christmas Story


-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 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.”

  • end excerpt

We’re thankful for Mel and his story of the sacrifices made by the silent service.


698 approaches Bremerton in 1982 (image courtesy of RMCS/SS Don Jones)

698 Sponsorship Update –



It’s been a real sensation taking part of this donation drive to secure recognition for the Bremerton while sponsoring the work of The Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum.

The generosity of shipmates in our group’s cause continues and I am pretty thrilled to report to you that our giving total as of Christmas is $9300!

That’s right, as of Christmas, we’re at NINE-THREE-HUNDRED Dollars !!!

We positioned the group sponsorship boat in firing position and we fired all tubes with one remaining for a clean sweep of the $10K target. Maybe it’s not going to be a torpedo, maybe it’s going to be small arms fire, but in any case, only $700 of target remains to be claimed by one or several donations or pledges.

The achievement of the near imminent goal of $10K is a milestone, no kidding, a real honest milestone. But we’re not there yet.

With another $700, it could very well be time to head back to Pearl Harbor, and start the stand-down…yet… I would be remiss if I did not mention…


…There’s another week on this patrol

With  one week on this run remaining, the next PFSM INSIDE THE MUSEUM target is $25K.

What I know of opportunity, the 698 Group wolf-pack is sitting in the middle of a large convoy of donation targets and tonnages.

Some personal financial preferences call for the classic end around to gain optimal firing position with a sure lead to the target while others may take it more along the lines of Captain Sam Dealey, with mainly bow to bow duels with an attacking destroyer, 5 times over.

And yet, for the Mush Morton financial types out there, you may see the whole convoy as part of your personal objective.

There is opportunity at ALL levels, large and small to help support this effort, as part of your multi-mission or your personal and diverse philanthropic efforts.

No matter what, It is all good, it is all good. Whoever is ready, willing and able.

Everyone is skipper of their own finances and calls the shots. If it’s time to head back, it’s time to head back to port. There may still be a those who feel they have more fish left to complete the next clean sweep.

The option to stretch a pledge out over 5 years is like using a MK48 ADCAP instead of a MK14 torpedo. The MK14 can definitely get the job done, it’s just that there is a lot more ways to make the MK48 work out a solution for you in this effort.

Explosion and sinking courtesy of USS Bremerton SSN 698 (image source Google).



It is imperative now, that we not lose sight of the target in the cross hairs, RIGHT NOW. That last bearing, range and angle on the bow, it is beckoning to ensure we take out the $10,000 target and secure Bremerton’s recognition on the INSIDE of the museum.



Donations can be made DIRECTLY to the museum for our USS BREMERTON SSN698 Group donation efforts. Just mention USS BREMERTON SSN 698 in your note to the museum.


Click on the Image to go to the Bowfin Museum/Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum donation page


End of update

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