By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Brown, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Northwest
KEYPORT, Wash – More than 200 Sailors, veterans and civilians attended the “Tolling of the Boats” ceremony hosted by members of the U.S. Navy Bremerton Base Submarine Veterans (SubVets) at the Naval Undersea Museum’s Jack Murdock Auditorium, May 23.
The ceremony honors the memory of the submariners who lost their lives in the line of duty, especially those during World War II. In the ceremony, the names of every U.S. submarine lost, along with the fate of its crew, are read aloud as a ship’s bell is tolled for each in turn.
Cmdr. Jeffrey S. Smith, commanding officer of USS Kentucky (SSBN 737), delivered the opening remarks at the ceremony and said to everyone in attendence, “Why do we remember?”
“This ceremony is a glimpse into the soul of the submariner … courage, sacrifice, duty, honor, humility,” said Smith. “ We remember because it would be shameful beyond words not to. We will remember … we who dive the ocean depths, who brave its icy grasp, who silently guard our nation’s freedom.”
Today, the Navy has 72 submarines operating around the world, around the clock, performing missions to protect and defend American at all times.
“The fact remains that our brothers and sisters in the submarine force, just as in the days past, are ready to make sacrifices in the defense of our nation,” said Smith. “The young men and women proudly wearing their dolphins today have inherited the legacy of our ancestors. To our submarine fathers, you taught us well, we have the watch and rest assured it’s in good hands.”
In attendance were several Sailors from submarine commands stationed at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.
“If we ignore our past, we are doomed to repeat it,” said Command Master Chief Kevin F. Staub, Submarine Group 9. “If we understand who we are and where we come from, we can better understand our role. Just as our submarine fathers passed history on to us, we need to pass the history on to the younger generations.”
Submarine Veteran Richard Litscher, a member of the former Balao-class submarine USS Trumpetfish (SS 425) attended the ceremony to remember his friends and shipmates who passed away.
“We are the only ones who know what we did behind enemy lines, so we can be there for each other,” said Litscher. “Everyone leans on everyone for help.”
At the end of the ceremony, the names of the 52 submarines lost during World War II, along with the fate of its crew were read by retired Chief Electrician Robert Paul followed by a ceremonial bell rung by retired Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Harry Gilger.
“These boats are forever on patrol,” said Paul.
The “Tolling of the Boats” ceremony has been held on Memorial Day weekend since 1977.