USS Batfish reunion continues tradition
By E.I. Hillin | Muskogee Phoenix, Okla. | Published: May 11, 2014
Rick Dennis passed the “last man standing” bottle of whiskey on to Ed Kaminskas at the USS Batfish reunion.
Kaminskas served on the Batfish from 1955 to 1957.
None of the remaining World War II veterans who served on the Batfish could attend the reunion. Dennis, a former crew member who is the director of the USS Batfish Memorial Park and Museum, said he felt it was time to pass the bottle on to the last survivor.
With the passage of the bottle to Kaminskas, 76, the tradition lives on.
Batfish crew members traveled from all over the United States for the reunion, which concluded Saturday.
“This is kind of a big one to me,” Dennis said. “I got to spend time with the veterans from 310.”
The SS 310 crew is the submarine that can be seen at the Batfish park. World War II veterans served on the SS 310 Batfish from 1943 to 1945.
In honor of those last survivors, the naval tradition of passing the bottle to the last man standing took place after the reunion dinner Friday evening.
Kaminskas, known as “Drac,” was the reunion coordinator. He is from Grand Rapids, Mich.
He said he got his nickname from his shipmates because he was so skinny.
“If you don’t like the one you get, they’ll give you another one that’s worse,” he said.
Kaminskas was one of the many who spoke on behalf of the men who served on the Batfish.
“You appreciate your fellow shipmates, because your life depends on them doing their job,” he said.
Tom Speer, 79, came to the reunion from Evansville, Ind.
“It’s wonderful to re-unite with my shipmates and meet the ones from Batfish 681 (crew),” Speer said.
Speer worked in the engine room on the Batfish from 1955 to 1956. He said he recalls the engine room was “hot and noisy.”
Returning to the submarine can be emotional for the veterans.
“It causes lots of memories, and meeting all the shipmates brings back lots of memories,” Speer said.
During the dinner, many men and women took turns speaking about the Batfish and those crew members who have died since the last reunion.
Chris Sultana of La Mesa, Calif., who served from 1979 to 1983, gave an emotional speech to the attendees, whom he referred to as family.
“This truly is a brotherhood,” Sultana said. “Time has no boundaries.”
Many spoke about Batfish crew member Dennis Gilbert, who died this year. Rick Dennis said Gilbert, who was a supporter and volunteer at the Batfish, will be missed.
Batfish board member and Navy veteran Pat Davis stood and addressed the room on behalf of the board.
“It takes a special person to be a submariner,” Davis said. “You can take off the uniform off, but you can’t take it out of your heart.”