Today is Memorial Day in the US. I wanted to take the time to write a little about a memorial I attended last Friday.
I'm in a new Navy school now and the schoolhouse is part of the Navy's "Submarine Learning Facility". So we, as students, were required to go to a WWII submarine memorial ceremony. There was much whining and moaning about it. But not from me.
There were a lot of veterans there. I sat next to a very nice retired gentleman who was posted in the USS Skate, being honored that day by being inducted into the Norfolk Submarine Hall of Fame. The Skate was the first US nuclear submarine powered by what was going to be the "submarine fleet reactor" and, like all SSNs during the Cold War era, did some really scary things. She was the first US submarine to actually come up through the ice in the Arctic, both in the summer and the winter. The guest speaker was an engineering officer aboard her and told us some good stories about those days.
But the part of the ceremony that I'll always remember was the roll call. It's a tradition of the US Submarine Veterans of WWII to have a roll call of all of the submarines lost in WWII (and the Thresher and Scorpion) read out. Two active duty submariners read the roll: one said the name, and the other read out its disposition. "All hands lost." "All hands lost." "All hands lost." Over and over and over. With each disposition, another sailor rang a bell, and two of the wives of the veterans took a model submarine out of an array of them displayed on a table, until there were no more.
Click on any of the links below to see a picture of the ship and to read more info.
You can also read about the USS Thresher or the USS Scorpion; I highly recommend John P. Craven's "The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea ", which has a riveting account of the attempt to find the Scorpion and determine what had happened to her.
But I digress. The most profound moment came after this roll, when the speakers started talking about rememberance. It was very important to them, urgent even.
It suddenly struck me: what if there's no afterlife? I mean, it's all a matter of faith, isn't it? There's no proof, just (at best) anecdotes. What if, when you die, you just die, and there's nothing more? And the memorial became all that more deep and critical: all those men, "on eternal patrol", and all the other ones who made it back and passed away after -- this memorial was their eternity.
So if you get roped into going to one of these things, don't grumble or moan. Listen. Pay attention. Understand the stories being told. If any name is said, whisper it back. Like it says on the veterans' website: "a man is not dead until he is forgotten."