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Bell ringing honors lost Navy submarines, crews

Ray Chavez, 104, the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, rings the Freedom Bell during the Freedom Bell Opening Ceremony and Bell Ringing at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 6, 2016.

WESLEY TIMM/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By ALLISON SCHAEFERS | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 11, 2016

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Submarines are known as the Navy’s “Silent Service,” but their contributions to World War II were honored by loud clanging Saturday during a moving tolling of a bell at Bowfin Park.

The nation’s oldest living Pearl Harbor veteran, Ray Chavez, 104, and retired Navy Rear Adm. Lloyd “Joe” Vasey, 99, were bell ringers at the ceremony, a military tradition honoring Navy submarines and their lost crews. They rang America’s Freedom Bell, which contains metal from the twin towers destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and was brought to Hawaii by the Spirit of Liberty Foundation for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

The ceremony began at 12:30 p.m. because at that time on Dec. 10, 1941, in the Philippines, the USS Sealion became the first submarine wrecked by enemy action. Total WWII submarine casualties included 52 submarines and more than 3,500 men, said Paul T. Jurcsak, commander, Bowfin Base submarine veterans.

“During the war, the submarine force represented only 2 percent of the United States Navy, but sunk 55 percent of all enemy ships at sea,” Jurcsak said.

Kiddy DeCoster, 83, and her hanai son Dan DelMonte attended the ceremony to honor DeCoster’s late husband, Richard Ray DeCoster, who served aboard the USS Bowfin during WWII.

“Dan is going to ring the bell for my husband,” said DeCoster, who spent 25 years on the Bowfin board of directors helping to kick-start the sub museum and park. “It means a lot to be here today.”

The ceremony also was meaningful for Vasey, who served on several WWII submarines. A 1939 graduate of the Naval Academy, Vasey said 18 out of 72 of his classmates who signed up for submarine service were lost in WWII.

“But we never worried. We kept charging. We wanted to win,” said Vasey, who lives in Honolulu. “I’m proud to be here. Hell yes, I rang the bell for all my friends.”

Vasey’s experiences aboard the USS Gunnel, where he survived a 36-hour depth-charge attack in 1943, inspired him to promote peace through the Pacific Forum, affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Chavez, who lives in San Diego, accompanied America’s Freedom Bell to Honolulu for last week’s commemorative events.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment,” said Chavez, credited with spotting a Japanese midget sub in the restricted waters of Pearl Harbor in the wee hours of Dec. 7, 1941, which led to its sinking by the USS Ward.

Chavez in January will accompany America’s Freedom Bell to Washington, D.C., where he is slated to ring it during the presidential inauguration.

©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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