Crewmembers of submarine USS John Marshall reunite at Marshall University


By ALISON MATAS | The Charleston Gazette | Published: August 12, 2012

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Robert Adler and Dave Gofourth have a lot in common -- they both like horses, guns and conservative values -- and they were both crewmembers on submarine USS John Marshall in the 1970s.

But before Saturday, they'd never met and had only talked via Facebook.

"Even though we served at different times on the boat, we have the common brotherhood," Adler, from Naples, Fla., said about Gofourth, from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Several men who worked as crewmembers on submarine USS John Marshall reunited Saturday in the John Marshall dining room at Marshall University in Huntington, where the bell from their ship is displayed. The university received the bell in 1994 from the U.S. Navy and Virginia Military Institute, and it's one of the last remaining parts of the submarine.

"This is almost like a religious shrine to us," Doug Smith of Frederick, Md., said, gesturing to the bell. "It means that much to us."

On Saturday, Smith also presented a painting of the submarine commissioned by the United States Submarine Veterans Inc. national artist Tom Denton to hang in the dining room. To close the five-minute ceremony, Smith grabbed the braided cord and rang the silver bell twice, filling the room with the sound of tinny dinging.

Afterward, the men took the opportunity to snap some pictures, lining up on either side of the bell with serious faces and their hands clasped on each other's shoulders. But they struggled to maintain their composure as the photo shoot stretched on.

"100 guys went to sea, and 50 couples came back," Smith yelled, eliciting laughter from the other men.

Tim Crum drove in with his daughter for the reunion from the Detroit area. He said Smith -- who was his boss on the ship -- was the reason he came.

"I remember the day he reported like it was yesterday," Smith said.

But neither was keen on admitting how long ago that was.

"Timmy is two years older than I am," Smith said, smiling, "but I look better."

Crum and Smith hadn't been together in almost 40 years, and Crum likened it to seeing a brother he'd been away from.

A husband and wife, he said, spend about eight hours a day together. He and Smith were together for the whole 24 during their time on the submarine.

"We were almost like shadows," he said.

Throughout the room Saturday, the men's shared experiences led to story-swapping, particularly about "drinking your dolphins" -- a practice the men said is now banned in the Navy.

To earn their dolphins -- which were the uniform pins proving they were qualified in submarines -- the men had to learn every system on the boat and be able to explain how equipment worked and the purpose it served. Once they passed the test, the captain pinned on their dolphins, Smith said, but another unofficial step remained to earning them.

To initiate the newly pinned man, crewmembers placed the dolphins in an empty beer pitcher. They'd set the pitcher at one end of the bar and work it down to the man, filling it as they went with condiments and shots of liquor, Adler said.

The goal was for the dolphin-earner to chug the pitcher and catch the pin in his teeth.

On Saturday, a few of the men bragged about completing the task years ago, and about the three or four days afterward they recalled being somewhat blurry.

For Crum, it didn't work out that way. He ended up giving his dolphins to a girl at the bar instead. But a few days later, the other men purchased him a set of sterling-silver dolphins that he still has at home.

That sentiment of friendship was the common element in every anecdote the men shared Saturday, whether they were discussing hiding from Russian submarines or studying to earn their dolphins.

And the sense of camaraderie extends beyond the USS John Marshal: Adler said he's walked into a Walmart or a Sears before and been able to make an immediate connection with a fellow submariner.

"If I see dolphins anywhere," Adler said -- on a belt buckle, a hat or a car, he explained -- "what I see is a brother."