Ever since returning home from Vietnam in 1970 Memorial Day has held a different perspective in both my heart and my mind, I have found that as the years pass many emotions come to the fore, some good, some not so and many bitter-sweet, especially now that I have been told my Mantle Cell Lymphoma is now active again, this was written a few years ago but the thoughts are the same for me.
It's Memorial Day weekend again. To many Memorial Day is the official launch to summer, to veterans, and others, it has a distinctively different meaning.
In 1868 Decoration Day was proclaimed on May 30th as a day to place flowers on the graves of those who had died in the recent battles of the Civil War, or as out southern brethren refer to it "the war of Northern Aggression" . By 1882 it was often referred to as Memorial Day but was not officially recognized as such until 1967.
Many of you here know I am first generation born here. I have always been aware of what this day meant even though most of the folks I knew growing up had been in the service it was not in service to this nation with the exception of my uncle Michael Capone who was one of the marines in the third wave in the battle of Iwo Jima.
My uncle never talked about his war experiences but did on occasion speak about the men he served with and I can remember the tears filling in his eyes as his speech slowly was replaced with silence. I never really understood this until I returned from Viet Nam in 1970 and visited my uncle and the looks we exchanged at that meeting were more powerful than words.
Memorial Day for me after my service changed, I no longer went to the parades which had taken on a more celebratory tone to welcome in the summer, instead I would usually find myself in my sports room in quiet reflection.
Many here also know I've been quite ill since being diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma (a form of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma) last year which has been associated with 6 months of spraying while serving in the Danang area in Viet Nam 1969-1970. Much of my thoughts the past year have been in wondering what, if any, legacy I would leave since I have no children to remember me and the end of our family in this country is nigh as my only living relative is my sister who has never had children as well.
A lot of this was actively in my mind when I decided to give up the website I had owned and nourished, the Classic Fly Rod Forum, and I knew that, at least for a little while, I would be remembered there but what about a lasting legacy?
I was gifted a book by Robert Whitaker recently entitled "Land of Lost Content" which is about the history if the Isles of Shoals and the surrounding area including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where I was employed for over 30 years prior to my retirement in 2005. It's an excellent book and I learned some things I did not know specifically about the shipyard.
As well as it being Memorial Day weekend yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Squalus on her 19th test dive off the Isle of Shoals. At 0840 hours 23 May 1939 on it's 19th test dive the order was given by her captain to "Blow Main Ballast" which the Squalus failed to do and it sank at 243' in the Atlantic killing 26 of its crew.
At 1130 hours her sister ship, Sculpin, set out to sea for her own testing and followed the course of the Squalus. At 1241 hours the telephone buoy of the Squalus was sighted by the Sculpin who notified the shipyard that Squalus was in danger. It took 2 days and the McCann Rescue Chamber 4 trips to to rescue the remaining 33 crew members, the first time in history anyone had been rescued from a sunken submarine. In September 1939 the shipyard made history again when it successfully brought the Squalus to the surface where it was towed to the shipyard, repaired, renamed Sailfish and recommissioned.
Sailfish made history in WW II becoming the first US naval vessel to sink a Japanese ship, the Chuyo, unbeknown to the crew of the Sailfish the Chuyo had 21 POW's aboard all who were survivors of the sinking of the Squalus only to have their lives taken by that very ship under its new name.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has a long and glorious history, founded privately in 1798 in Kittery (a town in Maine which was a territory of Massachusetts until becoming a state in 1820), it became a Naval Shipyard in 1800 and built sailing ships for the US Navy and it's motto "Sails to Atoms" is a part of its legacy.
Portsmouth is the site of many firsts, it built the first government submarine in 1914 which was the only US submarine to serve in WW I. The first submarine to circumnavigate the world was built there, as was the first to travel around Cape Horn South America. As I already mentioned the Sailfish was the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel using a torpedo and the USS Archerfish, a Portsmouth sub, was the first to sink a Japanese aircraft carrier. Other notable firsts include, longest submerged run by a diesel powered submarine, first all welded hull, first with a torpedo bubble eliminator, first to have onboard air conditioning, first whale shaped vessel, fasted submarine in the world (still maintained), first nuclear submarine built by government workers and the first nuclear submarine to sail into the western Pacific.
The last nuclear submarine built by Portsmouth was the Sandlance which was commissioned and launched in 1971. It became a member of Submarine Division 42 (Sub Div 42) a division of Submarine Squadron 4 in Charleston South Carolina which I was attached to in the Operations Office and served as the Admiral's driver
As I said earlier I worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and retired in 2005 and the past year I've reflected about those years and what I did. I became the first Nuclear Fire Watch as part of the ManRem program (I was the ManRem coordinator for the welding shop (Shop 26), ManRem signified the radiation dosage taken by individuals while working in a radiation area and the task was to minimize annual exposure and maintain excellence in completion of the job) which is still used today. I later became an apprentice in the Maintenance and Repair Shop (Shop 06) and was a nuclear and radiological worker there in support of Refueling/Defueling submarines.
During my tenure in Shop 06 I worked on the Reactor Security System which was very problematic and constantly sending off false alarms which activated our Marine Cadre with live weapon response. I later became an Electrical Engineering Technician in Production Engineering (Code 380) where I designed a new security system for new and spent fuel that was accepted by NAVSEA and is now utilized at all 4 US Naval Shipyards.
While attached to Code 380 I also made site visits to other naval facilities and was asked to design a Radiation Alarm System for a radiation processing barge in CT, they only needed it to show an alarm when airborne contamination was present but I provided them with visual as well as audio detection with the ability to silence the audio portion while maintaining the ability to monitor airborne visually until levels had returned to a safe condition which won them an award for excellence in safety and I a monetary award.
Handling new and spent fuel was a tedious task especially when moving to and from the reactor building since the weight of the fuel had to be accurate to within 10% from point of lift to the reactor enclosure and due to the hystersious of the mechanical strain gauges used in handling in excess of 100,000 lbs it could take up to 10 hours for the gauge to settle for the reading to be taken. I was tasked to find some weight gauges which would reduce the time to settle and found a company that had some gauges that used piezio electric strain regulators that produced a 20 Ma signal which could be processed by a digital readout +/- 0.02% at 200,000 lbs. I made arrangements to rent 2 of the devices with readouts for testing purposes. The tests went exceptionally well and the original devices were purchased and introduced as Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) for refueling handling gear and required a total rewrite of Chapter 25 Lifting and Handling Manual. Again, a monetary award was received.
Naval Research Vessel 1, known as NR1, was the Navy's deep diving test submarine and was schedule for its last refueling at Portsmouth and I was assigned to the NR1 project. My assignment was to design, and manufacture, the lifting and handling devices for the reactor source, i.e. the source had to be removed from the reactor vessel, stored while it was being refueled and replaced when refueling was completed. The device I designed, and supplied, was unique as it handled both applications being it monitored weight and stress. Once again I received a monetary award and a Sustained Superior Performance Achievement Award.
Our Production Engineering Dept. (Code 380) had been absorbed by the Nuclear Engineering Dept. (Code 2310) as consolidation measure and duplicity was being downsized within the government so I was now assigned to Code 2310. I had completed the captivation and inspection for the RAE (Reactor Access Enclosure) on the latest submarine we had in for refueling and we were awaiting refueling to start on Monday. It was late Friday afternoon and I was about 15 minutes from leaving for the day when my boss came to my desk.
My boss asked how long it would take to rebuild the RAE power system. I figured he asked me this since I had completed the testing and captivation of the building for the present refueling and he was looking ahead for when refueling was complete to see if there was enough lead time to modernize it for the next refueling. I told Bruce 6 months to complete the tear down and construction paperwork and have it approved and 3 months lead time to write the paperwork ordering the parts, getting them funded and received so 9 months to 1 year for completion. Bruce looked at me and said "we have less than 3 days".
I was sure I misunderstood him stating that refueling was to start on Monday. Bruce stated that there had been a fire in the RAE and the total electrical power system had been destroyed and we had 96 hours to come up with an alternate means of being able to refuel the sub or it would be defueled and decommissioned, a loss of a 24.5 million dollar ship. After a few moments to digest what he had just told me I told him to give me 15 minutes to come up with some ideas and we'd talk.
As part of the design team for this refueling package I was well aware of the electrical requirements of this refueling as I designed the umbilical cords that feed the rod mechanisms to remove and install the fuel rods. I spent the next 10 minutes on the phone finding out what the smallest penetration was between several enclosures and the reactor compartment and with those numbers I called the Temporary Electrical Services Supervisor who I had requisitioned the cables I used, and reconfigured, for the umbilicals. I asked how many temporary dockside power packs he had in working condition (we called them 6 packs as they had 6 power feeds with circuit breakers and used the cables I reconfigured on the output end to feed the rod mechanisms and the power side used the same interface in the RAE) he told me he had 10 and I told him I needed 6 of them and would send documentation shortly with instructions.
In just under an hour I had put together what I called the Emergency Refueling Temporary Power Supply with instructions on how to use it and wrote the necessary paperwork to have it built, tested and deployed.
Refueling was to begin at 1000 hours on Monday and we still had not heard a word from the Refueling Coordinator nor the Production Dept. Refueling Manager (PDRM) as to how things were proceeding, at 1100 hours my boss received a phone call telling him refueling was proceeding on target and expected to meet, or exceed, completion, we were ecstatic.
Upon completion of refueling operations the PDRM requested the gear be given YFE status (Yard Furnished Equipment) to be added to the standard refueling gear available for future needs. As with most refuelings a NAVSEA representative was present as an overseer and was impressed by the immediate response to the loss of the RAE power and the ability of the shipyard engineering staff to begin, and complete, refueling without interference, he recommended the emergency system to be built and maintained by all naval refueling facilities as GFE gear and this was a rather large monetary award............
As I reminisced my 30 plus years and the things I have accomplished at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard I found I'd left my legacy, not as a named individual but as a part of a long, and historical, part of the finest shipyard in the Navy, may she live and prosper for a long time.
To those who hold the traditions of Memorial Day and its meaning my thoughts are with you. To those who see it as a celebration of the summer ahead, Happy Memorial Day................