By Adm. Bill Moran
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
This past weekend aboard Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia, there was a small but powerful reminder of what it means to honor and remember our veterans. This remembrance event honored WWII submarine veterans. For years now, the numbers of vets attending this special event have been sadly decreasing, and this year 15 Sailors from as far away as California and Rhode Island made the pilgrimage.
When these veterans – most in their 90’s – entered the ceremony, the packed crowd instantly rose to meet them with affirmation. Standing there, I was struck by a great sense of pride, honor and duty. Not only are their stories filled with unbounded courage, they are some of the most humble people you’ll ever meet.
Tony Faella was at home with his cousin, listening to the radio when his show was interrupted with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. They both decided right then and there that they were going to join the Navy and went the next morning to a recruiting station to enlist.
Fred Richards, who already had two brothers in the Navy, joined when he was only 15 years old. He said he was called to submarines after watching the movie Destination Tokyo. After enlisting, he learned about submarines on a school boat, S-28. But, while he was on a training break away from the sub, S-28 went down with his best buddy, Petty Officer First Class Anderson, on board.
These incredible Sailors, and many more like them, joined the Navy submarine force during a period of great danger and great complexity. Like the young men and women joining today, they raised their right hands, and were scattered all over the world, to the cold waters of the North Atlantic, and throughout the Pacific from Australia to the coast of Japan.
Collectively, these 15 Sailors represented 59 war patrols and 190 years in the Navy. Patrick Zilliacus made four successful war patrols with the USS Spot, sinking 17 enemy ships in the Pacific and surviving a harrowing surface gun fight with an armed minelayer.
Paul Casavant was an 18-year-old shipbuilder in Groton, Connecticut, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Not long after, he went from building submarines to patrolling the Pacific aboard USS Narwhal. He completed nine war patrols and retired from the Navy with 30 years of service. When asked how he made it through nine dangerous patrols, he said he was “very lucky.” Keep in mind that serving on submarines during World War II was the most dangerous duty a Sailor could be assigned – 52 submarines were lost during the war. One in five submariners never made it home.
In both November 1943 and November 1944, we lost three submarines each month. Imagine that– for all today’s Sailors, three submarines on patrol that would never come back. 500 Sailors on eternal patrol – It’s unthinkable.
Legacy is an important word in our English language – to some it refers to age, to others more importantly it refers to the enduring and meaningful lessons of example. Some of the men honored in Kings Bay paid the ultimate sacrifice for generations to come. They never gave in, even when the prospect for success or survival seemed dim. That toughness, that determination to serve the guy next to them became part of their legacy and part of our DNA. Their sacrifices helped build the greatest maritime power in the world.
As we get ready to enjoy a day of liberty and remember our veterans, let us reflect on the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, and strive to live up to their example. The DNA of this greatest generation is built into our character as a Navy – every Sailor, every oath. So as we look to future challenges, let us again rise to meet these amazing men and honor their past by our actions and deeds in service to our country.