Keeping legacy, memory of those lost on submarines alive

By CHESLEY OXENDINE | Muskogee Phoenix | Published: May 12, 2019

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (Tribune News Service) -- As Ken Recoy worked his way down a list of 65 U.S. submarines lost in action, a bell tolled for each.

Amidst the mid-morning chill at the Muskogee War Memorial Park, the mood was solemn as the bell punctuated the name of a submarine, the human toll, and how each craft and its crew were lost.

Many submarines lost entire crews, a fact noted by a somber recounting by Recoy, "All hands lost," and the communal bowing of heads as he read the numbers lost -- 76 men, 80 men, 129 men. Members of the U.S.S. Batfish volunteer crew placed flags on podiums dedicated to the lost boats after the names of each were read.

The Saturday morning Tolling of the Bells served as a memorial to those lost at sea while serving on submarines. It's a ceremony World War II Navy veteran Nick Guagliardo has seen time and again since the late 1960s.

"The first time I ever heard that bell it really tore me up," Guagliardo said. "It doesn't bother me now."

Retired Navy submariner Alan Nahs served as the morning's bell-ringer. He described the opportunity an honor.

"These are the men who came before us and paved the way before us," Nahs said. "It's just a way to honor their memory, their legacy, and keep that alive."

The ceremony concluded with a three-shot salvo by the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Honor Guard and a prayer.

After the ceremony, the crowd departed to explore the War Memorial Park's museum. Ruben Hayes, an Army vet, said he traveled from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to visit the day's events out of a respect for his fellow comrades.

"I have family in Muskogee, so I thought we'd come out and visit this," Hayes said. "It's really humbling to hear how many men gave their lives on these boats to keep us free."

Hayes' wife, Susan, said the event made her tear up a little.

"You just don't really think about it until you hear the numbers, and you think of all those families," she said. "It just makes you really think about how much these men sacrificed -- they gave everything."

War Memorial Park director Brent Trout said the Tolling of the Bells isn't the best attended event at the Batfish. It remains, however, one of his favorites.

"The Tolling of the Bells was established by the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II. It has been an occurrence out here for over 40 years as a way to honor those who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom," Trout said. "I preserve and interpret wartime and peacetime history every day, but to watch these submarine veterans pay tribute to their brethren is amazing."

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