By Iain Martin
Almighty Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
—The Navy Hymn
As we near Memorial Day our thoughts turn to those who have fallen in the service of our country. Connecticut has a long history with the U.S. Navy dating back to 1775. It was right here in Old Saybrook that the first combat submarine, Turtle, was built for use against the British Navy. Not far up the road from Old Saybrook is the town of Groton, “Submarine Capital of the World.” Groton is the home of the Electric Boat Corporation, which has been the major contractor for submarine work for the U.S. Navy since 1889. The Naval Submarine Base New London is also located in Groton as is the Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum, home to the legendary USS Nautilus (SSN-571). On a quiet side street just off the bridge over the Thames River is the U.S. Submarine World War II Veteran’s Memorial. Here one can find the names of 3,617 sailors of the submarine force who died alongside the markers commemorating the names of the fifty-two boats on which they served.
At the center of the inscribed names of the fallen is a stone monument with the following dedication:
In grateful memory of these submariners who died in the service of their country during World War II. They stand in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die so that freedom might live. Their final resting places are known only to the almighty. Their family, friends, living shipmates, and future generations should know they will always be remembered. Walk softly, walk softly stranger. You stand on hallowed ground.
December 7, 1941–September 2, 1945
Alongside these monuments is the conning tower of the USS Flasher (SS-249), a Gato-class submarine built in Groton. Launched on June 20, 1943, the Flasher would make six war patrols in the Pacific, sinking just over 100,000 tons of Japanese shipping to become the highest scoring American submarine. American submariners, who comprised only 1.6% of the Navy, suffered the highest loss rate in the U.S. Armed Forces, with 22% killed. Yet this small elite force accounted for sixty percent of the Japanese merchant-ships sunk and thirty percent of their naval ships. Because their operations were among some of the most closely guarded secrets of the war, they became known as the “Silent Service.”
You can find out more about the American submarine force in the Pacific in World War II in Eugene B. Fluckey’s memoir, Thunder Below!: The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare in World War II, narrated by Corey M. Snow.
Postscript: Since 2005, six lost U.S. Navy submarines have been found
USS Lagarto (SS-371) – confirmed discovery in the Gulf of Thailand
USS Wahoo (SS-238) – confirmed discovery in the La Peruse Strait
USS Grunion (SS-216) – confirmed discovery off Kiska
USS Perch (SS-176) – discovery in the Java Sea
USS Flier (SS-250) – confirmed discovery near Palawan Island
USS R-12 (SS-89) – discovery off Key West, Florida