WWII veteran gets his wish, tours modern submarine
KINGS BAY, Ga. — World War II Navy veteran Dan Edwards has fond memories of his time serving aboard submarines.
He enlisted as a physician examiner in 1944 and went to diving and submarine school. He went to Pearl Harbor, where he worked as a submarine and diving medical officer. He also served aboard submarines during the Korean War on multiple tours of duty.
He left the Navy in 1954 to earn a medical degree and worked as a general practitioner.
But the lure of the sea kept tugging and in 1984, at the age of 57, Edwards tried to re-enlist in the Navy. He was rejected because he was considered too old.
So, he joined the Air Force, where he served 10 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Now, the retired physician is struggling with early onset of Parkinson's disease. He uses a cane to walk and is becoming more dependent on his wheelchair.
But his memories of serving aboard submarines remain strong.
He applied to the Wish of a Lifetime organization in August 2011 with a request to tour a modern submarine. The organization, which tries to grant wishes for aging seniors, contacted Navy officials in Norfolk, Va.
They denied the request, citing his mobility issues and age. It didn't deter Edwards.
He asked a maintenance man at the assisted living facility where he lives in Nashville, Tenn., to set up a ladder so he could practice climbing up and down.
"We thought he was crazy," Edwards' son Palmer Edwards said.
Then, Wish of a Lifetime officials told Edwards' story to Scott Bassett, public affairs officer at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, in Camden County.
"The buy-in for me was showing he could go up and down a ladder," Bassett said. "There was something about this guy that was special."
The ability to navigate a ladder was crucial to allowing Edwards inside the submarine.
Thursday, Edwards's wish was granted. He made the rigorous climb down two vertical flights of ladders with a little help from the crew of the USS Maryland, an Ohio-class submarine at Kings Bay.
Once inside, Edwards showed his knowledge of submarines when one of his first questions was about the boat's periscope depth. The answer, he was told, is classified.
But most of Edwards' questions were answered as he met with individual crew members. He asked about the ballast control system that allows the boat to submerge, hover at different depths and return to the surface.
He also learned how much more difficult it is to earn a Dolphins badge, than when he served aboard submarines. All sailors serving aboard submarines are required to earn Dolphins, which show a sailor has knowledge of all the boat's systems, which are considerably more complicated than when he served on diesel subs.
He showed special interest when he met with the Navy corpsman responsible for taking care of the crew's medical needs at sea. Edwards asked about the types of ailments the corpsman treats and how he deals with specific problems, including how the crew handles emergency medical evacuations at sea.
He was accompanied on the tour by his son, Palmer Edwards of Winston-Salem, N.C., and grandson, Michael Rieser, of San Francisco. During the tour, they had lunch in the officers' stateroom with the boat's captain, Cmdr. Gregory Kercher.
After the tour, crew members snapped crisp salutes to Edwards as he left the boat. Kercher presented Edwards with a plaque designating him an honorary crew member and an officer's ball cap from the boat.
"I truly am honored you were able to come on board today," Kercher said. "The legacy you set allows us to carry on."
Edwards said modern submarines are impressive, complicated machines compared to ones he served aboard.
"It's much bigger and more complicated," he said. "It brought back memories sitting in the board room."
One thing hasn't changed, however. Today's sailors have the same qualities as those he served with when he was in the Navy.
"The submarine personnel have always been a different cut," he said. "I'm really glad they trusted me to go on."
After he left Kings Bay, Edwards toured the St. Marys Submarine Museum. Today, he will tour Naval Station Mayport and attend a small ceremony at the Veteran's Memorial in Kingsland where an engraved brick with his name will be placed to honor him.