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WWII submarine veterans honored at Kings Bay

By GORDON JACKSON | The Brunswick News | Published: November 7, 2020

ST. MARYS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) -- This could have been the year when no World War II submarine veterans would attend the annual ceremony held Friday in their honor at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

But the COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop three WWII submarine veterans and three widows from attending.

Unlike other years when as many as 1,500 submarine veterans from all eras have been present at the event, health and safety was a strong consideration.

Masks were required and social distancing limited the audience to 45.

Rear Adm. John Spencer, commander of Submarine Group Ten and keynote speaker, called the ceremony at Kings Bay the nation's best to honor submarine veterans.

Spencer said it was his third WWII ceremony at Kings Bay. It took a lot of work and planning so it could be held this year.

"It's important to them we have this ceremony," he said.

Spencer said WWII veterans set the high standards held by today's sailors serving on submarines.

"It's an honor to carry on that legacy and an obligation to carry it on," he said. "Their legacy is legendary."

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Spencer said submarines were considered a secondary asset and battleships the most important line of defense on the seas.

"We weren't considered a factor," he said. "The Navy thought battleships would play a major role."

A major mistake during the attack by the Japanese was not attacking the submarine piers at Pearl Harbor. That enabled the Navy to use submarines as a tactical weapon.

"It was the submarine force that went to the fight immediately," he said.
Though the submarine fleet made up less than 2 percent of the Navy, the boats were responsible for sinking more than half of the enemy's fleet during the war. The submarine force also suffered the highest casualty rate of any other military group during the war.

"We inherited this legacy from you. We are honored to carry on that tradition," Spencer told the veterans.

Submarines still play a vital role in security across the world because of their stealth. The base is making preparations for the arrival of the first Columbia-class submarines. Spencer said the first four will be ported at Kings Bay.

"We're excited about another class of submarines," he said.

Spencer praised the current generation of sailors serving on submarines for the hard work and creativity needed to ensure they remain healthy during a pandemic.

"We had to keep up with submarine deployments in the midst of a pandemic," he said. "We didn't have that option. We had to make it work."

After Spencer's speech, a wreath in memory of the Navy veterans who have lost their lives aboard submarines since 1915 was carried to the front of the stage as the audience stood.

The ceremony continued with the "Tolling of the Boats" ceremony, where the names of every lost Navy submarine was named, along with the number of casualties, and, if known, the cause. In most instances, the only information was all hands were lost with no idea how the boats sunk.

A bell was also tolled for the 83 Royal British Navy submarines, and the 3,142 crew members who died during WWII.

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