There were quips and jokes, plenty of good-natured ribbing and lots of laughter, the easy camaraderie that comes from shared memories of a special time and place.
This past weekend several crew members of the USS John Marshall, a nuclear-powered, fleet ballistic missile submarine, gathered on the Huntington campus to honor the sub’s bell, which now sits in a place of honor in the John Marshall Room of the Memorial Student Center. The silver bell was presented to Marshall in 1994 by the U.S. Navy and Virginia Military Institute and is one of only two remaining pieces of the sub.
It was the first time in nearly 40 years that many of the veterans had seen one another and although the hair may have been grayer, there was still plenty of it and the stories and reminiscences flowed freely.
Doug Smith, of Frederick, Md., said the reunion came about
through Facebook. “We found each other on Facebook and that’s how we connected.
Even though we’ve aged our feelings for each other and the boat haven’t changed.
It was the best boat I ever served on,” said Smith who served aboard the John
Marshall for nearly seven years.
Smith coordinated the Huntington visit with the help of a fellow submarine veteran, coincidentally named Doug Smith, of Ceredo, who did not serve on the John Marshall but was familiar with the university and the Huntington area.
The Maryland Smith said a submarine crew is often closer than a family because during long patrols the crew literally eat, sleep and work together for months at a time in a space no more than 33 feet wide.
The 7,000-ton submarine was commissioned in May, 1962, served as a special operations platform during Operation Desert Storm and was decommissioned in July, 1992. It had a crew of 110 enlisted men and 12 officers.
A high point of their visit came when the Maryland Smith presented a painting, which he had commissioned, of the sub done by the U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc. national artist Tom Denton, to Lisle Brown, curator of Marshall Libraries’ Special Collections. Smith also gave the university a John Marshall coin from the U.S. mint and CDs with footage of the crew in action aboard the John Marshall.
And although the veterans may differ on a lot of issues, on point they are absolutely unified and adamant—submarines keep the country safe.
Sailors volunteer to serve on a sub and it’s a life not for everyone, the men agreed. Not everyone can live for months at a time in a space that, as Tim Crum of Wyandotte, Mich., said, “was so small that if you extended your arms you would touch something.” Rigorous and intensive training took place before the men stepped aboard a sub and it was designed not only to thoroughly train sailors for duty but to weed out those that couldn’t cut it.
The claustrophobic conditions weren’t a problem for David King of Damascus, Md., the “baby” of the bunch who joined up when he was only 17 and went on to spend 21 years in the Navy. He said he’s frequently asked about the close quarters of a sub, but they never bothered him. “I was very comfortable, I never felt closed in. But of course you’re screened to make sure you can do it.”
Boredom could be a factor as well. There were long stretches of
time when they were not on duty, so the men generally read, played board and
card games and just hung out. One of the vets remembers a crew member who read
through the Encyclopedia Britannica. But a first-run movie was shown every
night, which helped fill the time.
Before serving on a submarine both enlisted men and officers had to earn their “dolphins,” a coveted silver medal of intertwined dolphins that signified the recipient had learned every aspect of the 410-foot-long sub, inside and out, completing training that requires extensive study of all onboard ship systems. It was such a big deal the awarding of the dolphins had its own hazing ritual.
It was the custom for crew members to land a vigorous punch on the medal, and Smith said his was hit so hard it was dented. Then came the “drinking of the dolphins.” To celebrate, crewmembers went to a bar and passed a beer pitcher with the dolphins in it down the bar with each sailor adding a shot of some kind of liquor. The newly decorated mate had to chug it, catching the dolphins in his teeth. “I was fuzzy for three days,” Smith recalled ruefully. “They don’t do that anymore,” another man said, shaking his head regretfully.
David Gofourth of Murfreesboro, Tenn., got a kick out of hearing the shared stories and even though the crewmates served at different times, they share a common bond, experiences that are unique to this particular "band of brothers." Gofourth, who worked in the IT field after leaving the Navy, said the rigorous training helped mold the young men who served aboard subs. “There are no slackers among these guys,” he said, gesturing around the room. “They were in the submarine service and they went out and accomplished much. They did amazing things in their civilian careers.”
Dieter Rosellen, of Cedar Knolls, N.J., who went on to work in electronic industries after leaving the service, agreed. Teamwork was everything aboard a sub, he said. “Everyone had a job to do and we all came together to do our jobs. Your life depended upon everyone doing their job and being good at it. Our chief mission was to stay undetected. We were our nation’s number one deterrent.” And he is very grateful for the Facebook connection that brought this crew together. “If it wasn’t for Facebook, I would have had to reminisce by myself,” he said, laughing. Rosellen also had the distinction of being one of three certified divers assigned to each sub in case repairs had to be made or someone went overboard.
The boat’s bell is smaller than might be imagined, perhaps a foot or so tall, but still in good working order with a very loud clang. And according to Robert Adler of Naples, Fla., although the bell was primarily ceremonial, it did have a functional purpose as well. The bell sounded when the commanding officer left and returned to the sub and it heralded the boarding of visiting dignitaries.
George Diehl came from Brighton, Mich., to meet up with old buddies and he agreed that the camaraderie and exchanges of stories and old memories was like reconnecting with old friends. “It’s been a very special time,” he said.
“I served on four subs, so I’m very close to several hundred guys, Gofourth confided. “I love these guys; they’re my brothers.”
And Smith added he’d be ready to patrol again if called. “I would go to sea tomorrow with those guys if the Navy would have me.”
Then after almost two hours of exchanging stories, loads of fond memories laced with some good old Navy humor, the crew members of the USS John Marshall gathered around the bell one last time. They gave the bell’s rope several vigorous swings and then, as the last tinny sound reverberated off the walls of the John Marshall Room, they trooped out together, another successful mission accomplished as usual.
Photos: (Above) Several crew members who served on the nuclear submarine USS
John Marshall, reunited this past weekend on the Huntington campus to visit the
sub’s bell which was presented to Marshall University in 1994. Pictured from
left are: Doug Smith of Ceredo, W.Va. a submarine veteran, who although he did
not serve on the John Marshall, helped coordinate the visit; Dave Gofourth,
Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Doug Smith, Fredericksburg, Md.; Robert Adler, Naples,
Fla.; Dieter Rosellen, Cedar Knolls, N.J.; George Diehl, Brighton, Mich.; David
King, Damascus, Md.; Tim Crum, Wyandotte, Mich. (Below) The submarine's bell is
now located in the John Marshall Room in the Memorial Student Center. Photos
by Bernie Elliott.
|Return to newsletter front page.|
The Office of University Communications publishes the e-newsletter, "We Are...Marshall" for the university community.
To suggest a story idea, please contact the editor, Pat Dickson, on the South Charleston campus. The current issue contains the deadline date for the next issue.
To read the newsletter online for issues prior to May 6, 2010, you need the Adobe Acrobat Reader.