Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hughie speaks after 22 years

This is a recording of my grandfather's actual voice. I found it on an old analog tape dated 1971. This man passed away in 1995 when I was 10 years old, and I could not even remember what he sounded like. He's talking on his ham radio and repeating his call sign.  "K2CP" was his radio callsign. "CQ" means "is anybody out there" and "seventy five" means he was transmitting on the 75 meter waveband. 

So awesome to hear him speak after all these years. From a time before I was born, in another decade and another century. Calling out to me from the other side...

This is the tape player I used. The tape was rescued from his house when my Grandmother passed, and sat in my closet for five years as I was trying to find equipment to play this severely outdated form of audio storage. I finally found a working model, it's a Sears portable Silvertone with a serial number dated 1962. I got it at a flea market for $10.

This is him inside his "radio shack" scanning the airwaves....as I remember him. In 1992.

and a younger version of him in 1970, around the time he made this recording:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

USS Darter Wreck from Space

Location of the Wreck of USS Darter
Bombay Shoal
09°27′21.7″North, 116°55′57.3″ East
Latitude 9.4560255, Longitude 116.9325918

Nothing remains of the wreckage anymore, probably scattered by typhoons.  As late as 1998 there was still visible wreckage above the water.

Hugh's hand drawn chart showing the exact spot, traced from a map of the period.
This was how I was able to find it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What Really Happened to the Darter?

So far in this journal (online museum?) I have provided all the evidence I can find about the Darter-Dace incident, and my grandfather's and his crewmates' gripping story. I even found what could be the last surviving copy of an eyewitness account, written by a Lieutenant-Commander aboard the USS Dace, about how they rescued the Darter's crew. The full text of which can be found in an earlier post. I have put these 70 year old documents online and made them fully searchable, in the hope that some other descendants of these brave men want to know more about 'what grandpa did in the war.'  

But even after absorbing all this technical information, we still cannot know what these men were feeling or what they were thinking during this ordeal that changed their lives forever. The only way to really find out is to ask a veteran, and there may not be any left. Which is why we must preserve their memories. We must retell their stories or they will fade away. 

There are two ways you can learn more about the Darter-Dace incident if you want to know more.  A US Navy veteran named John G. Mansfield published a book in 1997 called Cruisers for Breakfast: War Patrols of the USS Darter and USS Dace. Mansfield interviewed my grandparents, and many other surviving crewmembers to write this book. It was the product of lengthy discussions and old sea stories swapped over dinners at reunion meetings in the 1980's and 1990's.  I have a signed copy of this book, with a note written by Hugh's wife to anyone who wants to learn his story.  Hardcover copies of this book are still floating around and can be obtained at the Amazon.com link above.

But, for the sake of my family (and because not everyone has the time or the interest to read a 300-page book) I wanted to attempt a novelization of the story. A more condensed account that can be read in one sitting, and has enough excitement to keep a reader interested.  This is the kind of untold story that could easily become a movie, if enough people cared about it.

Since he has been gone for 20 years now, I figured his story is ready to be told again for posterity, lest it be forgotten. As I explained to my parents, "If I don't do this to remember him, nobody ever will." And I believe that.

So, on October 23 2014, the 70th anniversary of the USS Darter incident,  I decided to publish my own narrative of what he experienced in the form of a 45 page short story. After half a year of writing and more months of careful research, cross referencing and fact-checking, I think it is ready to be revealed to the world. I want my children someday to know what a remarkable man their great-grandfather was. But I also wanted to present the chain of events as the men experienced it...a tense, nail-biting drama of a miracle rescue that played out on the open sea, thousands of miles away from home and safety. 

So if you have read everything on my site and still wish to know more, if you want to see these events as they unfolded, told as vividly as if you were there...look no further. I have electronically published the story on a site called Scribd.com, and you can download and read it for yourself at the link below.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Grandpa's Favorite Movies About Submarines (Post in Progress)

Here's a list of some submarine movies my grandfather really liked when he was alive, and a few more that he unfortunately didn't live to see but would have enjoyed if he had.

(These are not in any particular order)

1. Operation Petticoat (1959)

Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) is in charge of the submarine "Sea Tiger," which was badly damaged at a Philippine shipyard by a Japanese air raid. Seeking to make sail before an oncoming invasion, Sherman enlists the help of newly transferred Lieutenant Nick Holden (Tony Curtis) to use his talents as a con artist to procure the needed supplies. Once they're underway, Sherman evacuates a group of beautiful nurses, along with some island natives, a few children and a goat and some chickens, but can't find anyone who will take them off his hands. The sub barely functions on the surface, much less submerged, and its tendency to backfire loudly and emit clouds of black smoke is a running gag throughout the film. The Naval yard is out of grey paint, and so the crew has to mix red primer and white primer to coat their submarine, which results in an amusing shade of pink. 

One of my favorite scenes is very early on in the film, when the boat is being strafed by a Japanese Zero fighter. The men see the plane diving towards the sub, and they all hit the deck as the plane blows up just about everything on the deck.  One man gets up and his shirt is covered in red. "Oh no I knew it I'm dead!!" he wails...until he looks down, sniffs his shirt and licks it and says with a laugh, "...Cranberries..."  This kind of absurd thing really happens during a war....

This movie is even more hilarious than it sounds, and if you can find a good copy of it, it's worth a viewing. (I think it can be rented on Youtube) Check it out!

2. The Incredible Mister Limpet (1964)

The premise of this fun, lovable cartoon/live action film sounds like a Disney movie. Don Knotts plays a young, dorky guy who loves his aquarium and dreams of being a fish, because he thinks a fish's life is so simple and easy ("Oh, how I wish, I wish, I wish I were a fish...because fishes have a better life than people") ...much to the chagrin of his wife, who thinks (perhaps correctly) that he loves the fish tank more than her.  He keeps daydreaming about being a fish, until one day he falls overboard from a slippery pier and, suddenly and inexplicably, he becomes one.  He's a blue Limpet fish (still wearing his dorky thick-rimmed glasses) and he has to quickly get used to his new body and his strange new aquatic environment.  He rescues a very pretty young fish by accident, who he calls "Ladyfish" (voiced by Carole Cook) and they stumble into an awkward relationship while he struggles to explain to her that he's already married, to a human lady. Of course being a fish, she doesn't understand at all.  Meanwhile on dry land, his Navy sailor friend is convinced he has drowned, and starts to put the moves on his heartbroken wife.

Soon "Mister Limpet" wanders into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where the German and American fleets are at war. He accidentally discovers that when he "sneezes" (apparently fish have allergies too), he makes a very loud noise that travels for miles underwater, and not only does it scare away bigger fish, but it confuses the sonar and torpedo homing of the German U-boats. He uses this as his secret weapon against the Germans, and finds a way to talk to the American boats by speaking into their hydrophones.  Thus, he becomes a "war hero" by successfully confusing the Germans, revealing their location to the Americans and helping to aim their torpedoes and depth charges.  He decides he wants to stay a fish, as he never liked being human anyway.  So the nerdy guy saves the day, and he even gets the "girl" in the end. I always loved this one as a kid, ever since my Grandma showed it to me, and it was one of my favorites.  It's also the earliest film to mix live action and cartoon characters that I think I've ever seen, besides Mary Poppins.

Some clips from this ridiculous movie, including an early TV spot from the 60's:

3. Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Original 1954 theatrical trailer:

Every time I watch clips of this film, I'm just floored by the visuals. The effects can hold their own against some of the best modern sci-fi movies made in the last thirty years.  Just shows how high budget this movie was in 1954 (Walt Disney Studios, even then, had the best talent and creative resources in the world and could do anything they wanted).   This movie very closely follows the old Jules Verne classic science fiction novel... it takes place in 1866, just after the end of the Civil War (and only a year after the Hunley was built). Professor Pierre Arronax (sorry I can't spell French words), and his manservant/sidekick/traveling companion Conseil (acted by Peter Lorry, creepy voice and all) are taking a vacation aboard a whaling ship. Aboard this whaling ship is a salty sailor by the name of Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), who claims to be the best harpooner in the Navy.

The ship is searching for a "sea monster" (a la Moby Dick) that has been destroying vessels in this part of the ocean. Well, sure enough they find it, and it rams the boat, making it sink. The professor and his loyal manservant (okay we'll just admit he's his boyfriend at this point) and Ned Land are the only survivors of the shipwreck.  They have apparently been "rescued" by this "sea monster", which is no monster at all...it's a boat that can sink itself! The captain of this strange vessel is a mysterious man named Captain Nemo, who welcomes the Professor aboard his futuristic ship, which he calls the Nautilus. They embark on an adventure that takes them several times around the world, under the surface of the ocean (hence the title 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea). When I was a kid I thought that meant they go to a depth of 20,000 leagues, which is of course preposterous (That would mean the ocean would have to be 69,046 miles deep)...kid imagination. 

I have gone back and re-read the original book as an adult, and interestingly enough, Jules Verne does vaguely describe the mysterious power source of the boat, which fuels it and provides its electrical power. Brighter than the sun, with almost infinite and inexhaustible energy supply, an endlessly replenishable fuel...seems like an amazing glimpse of nuclear power, something nobody had any grasp of in the 19th century. How fitting that the United States Navy decided to name the world's first operational nuclear submarine the USS Nautilus!

Jules Verne was an author a century ahead of his time, and this movie is appropriately also way ahead of its time.

Anyway, getting back to the visuals.  This movie set new groundbreaking standards for visual effects in 1954, much the same way as The Matrix did in the year 1999.  Despite the total lack of computers, matte composites or any modern film technique, this movie still looks pretty dang good, even by today's standards. The giant squid scene during the thunderstorm is still scary. 

A solid classic from the golden age of 20th century cinema (and Walt Disney's heyday), this movie is timeless. It's so purely imaginative and original that I think any attempt to remake or "reboot" it would only detract from this classic story, and not add to it.  If this movie is not out on DVD, I hope Disney will release it from their vault soon. I really want to watch it again, and own it to enjoy with my kids someday.  The movie was so successful and memorable that the movie-themed ride of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is still  one of the most popular attractions at Disney World, over sixty years later! As well as being one of the park's oldest attractions.

4. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)


This exciting survival drama film is loosely based on a true story.  A cruise ship called the S.S. Poseidon is celebrating New Year's Eve, when the ship is hit by a tsunami and goes belly-up as it slowly begins to fill with water and sink. A few survivors of the passengers have to struggle their way upward through the flooding decks of the crippled ship, until they reach the lowest upended deck at the bottom (now the top) of the ship, and then figure out a way to cut a hole in the hull to escape to fresh air and freedom. 

The sense of claustrophobia in this movie is spine-tingling and its suspenseful moments will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering from minute to minute if anyone will survive.  This movie is not as suitable for children or younger audiences, as there are some gory and graphic scenes. (One scene has the passengers carefully crawling through a deck which is on fire, surrounded by dead burnt bodies of the ship's crew) There is also some adult language in the film, so I think it would only be suitable for ages 14 and older.

Fear of death by drowning or suffocation is one of the most basic human instincts, and this film really pushes that fear as far as it can go.  I remember trying to imagine myself in the victims' situation, and wondering if I'd be able to survive or not.  (As a kid I also used to hold my breath when people in a movie were underwater, just to see if I could really last that long without air...don't ask. maybe all kids do stuff like that. Or maybe I'm just weird.) 

This drama was remade in 2006. I haven't seen the new version, but a review and comparison is here:

Grandpa Hugh liked survival stories, being the star of a real one himself. So it is not hard to imagine him enjoying this real adventure of a movie.

5. Das Boot (The Boat) -1981

German Trailer:

Wikipedia entry:

"Das Boot (German pronunciation: [das ˈboːt], German meaning "The Boat") is a 1981 German epic war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, and in several different home video versions of various running times.
An adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim's 1973 German novel of the same name, the film is set during World War II and tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The screenplay used an amalgamation of exploits from the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat.
Development began in 1979. Several American directors were considered three years earlier before the film was shelved. During production, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96 and one of Germany's top U-boat "tonnage aces" during the war, and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as consultants. One of Petersen's goals was to guide the audience through "a journey to the edge of the mind" (the film's German tagline Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes), showing "what war is all about".

Produced with a budget of 32 million DM (about $18.5 million), the film was released on September 17, 1981, and then re-released in 1997 in a longer director's cut version supervised by Petersen. It grossed over $80 million worldwide from these two theatrical releases and was a critical and financial success. Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. It was the second most expensive up until that time, after Metropolis."

I know I said this list was in no particular order, but I should have put this one at or near the top. Das Boot (The Boat) is one of the highest-grossing and highest-budget German films of all time. And one of only two German-themed war movies I have ever seen, the other one being All Quiet On The Western Front. 

The Boat shows World War II through the experience of the "bad guys," which is a very different and rare perspective.  Just to give some idea of how dangerous and deadly life in the German Navy was, during the years 1939-1945, Der Kriegsmarine lost 734 boats in the Atlantic Ocean alone, and about 28,000 crew men lost their lives. Those kind of losses are difficult to imagine, but they were passed over in this country because we must remember that history is written by the victor....

This movie is SCARY.  I would say it is suitable for audiences of age 18 and over.  If you want to experience how terrifying it was to be in a submarine under an enemy depth charge attack, look no further than this movie.

Das Boot/The Boat is pretty much non-stop carnage, under water in tight spaces where there is no escape in a life-or-death situation.  As I have explained to many people in living history, "In the Army you can run away from danger... In an airplane you can bail out with a parachute...on a boat you can jump overboard and swim to safety...but on a submarine there is NO escape. If something goes wrong, you're sealed and buried in a cold metal coffin."  Being on a submarine is honestly one of the scariest jobs I can imagine, second only to being an astronaut in space.  But in orbit you get a great view before you die...under the ocean there's only a few inches of metal between you and cold dark oblivion, and there's no windows to look out of.

Watching this movie, you can only feel bad for the hapless crew, knowing their lives meant so little to Hitler and the rest of the Nazi government.  If they died, there would be no burial, no funeral, no memorial service. They were sent on these missions inside these steel deathtraps which were basically suicide, the survival rate was so low among U-boat crews. And if they surrendered to the enemy, they would be dishonored as cowards and the Nazi government would likely murder their families, so they would have nothing to come home to even if they did.

"Das Boot" was the most intense naval war film ever made up to its time, and to this day it is still considered a classic in the genre.

Iconic picture.
The next few films are ones that sadly he did not live to see, but would have really enjoyed if he did.

6. Down Periscope (1996)

Theatrical Trailer:

I know for sure that Grandpa would have LOVED this movie, because it features both WWII and nuclear subs and it's HILARIOUS!  The premise is goofy from the start. 

Full IMDB synopsis:

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Dodge (Kelsey Grammer), a capable--if somewhat unorthodox-- US Navy officer, is about to be denied command of his own submarine for a third time because of his unconventional ways (not to mention a widely known tattoo on his d*** reading "Welcome aboard!' that he'd gotten after getting drunk due to brushing his sub against a Russian trawler off Murmansk). Failure to secure a command will result in him being dropped from the command program and be assigned a desk job, and he is particularly opposed by Rear Admiral Yancy Graham (Bruce Dern). Vice Admiral Dean Winslow (Rip Torn) finds the perfect use for Dodge, however, when Winslow launches a war-game to test the Navy's defenses against enemy diesel submarines. For this purpose Dodge gains command of the rusty WWII era Balao-class diesel sub, the USS Stingray. Adm. Winslow gives Dodge the order to "throw the book out" and to "think like a pirate" and advises that if he can win the war-game, including sinking a mock target in Norfolk harbor, Winslow will consider Dodge for command of a nuclear submarine.

Adm. Graham, motivated by his dislike for Dodge and his own ambition (he brags that he has never lost a war-game, and that he is in line for a third star), tries to arrange circumstances to make Dodge's mission even more difficult. Graham handpicks a motley crew for the Stingray consisting of rejects and misfits: hot-tempered and uptight Executive Officer Martin Pascal (Rob Schneider), rebellious Engineman 1st Class Brad Stapanek, sharp-eared Sonar Technician 2nd Class E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli, compulsive gambler Seaman Stanley "Spots" Sylvesterson, shock-prone (and shock-addled) electrician Seaman Nitro, and the not-so-culinary cook Seaman Buckman. Graham also institutes a pilot program for evaluating the feasibility of women serving on submarines, and Lieutenant Emily Lake (Lauren Holly) joins the crew as Diving Officer.

Using unorthodox tactics to offset their technological disadvantage, Dodge and the Stingray crew win their first objective by getting into and setting off flares in Charleston Harbor. Desperate to defeat Dodge, Graham cuts the containment area for the wargame in half without authorization. Running into trouble on their first attempt at Norfolk harbor, Dodge leaves the exercise area. Irate at this lapse in protocol, the zealous by-the-book Pascal attempts to gain command of the Stingray, but no one supports him. Without support, his attempt is considered mutiny and, thinking like a pirate, Dodge makes him walk the plank, straight into the nets of an alongside fishing boat.

During the Stingray's second attempt at Norfolk, Graham assumes personal command of the Los Angeles-class USS Orlando, headed by Commander Carl Knox (William H. Macy). After some risky maneuvers by the Stingray, the Orlando is able to chase her down and obtain a shooting solution which ends the game, but not before the Stingray accurately launched two live torpedoes at the dummy ship in Norfolk harbor.

Adm. Winslow congratulates Dodge on a job well done and advises him that he will not get a Los Angeles-class submarine as requested, but a Seawolf-class submarine, which is a newer and much larger ship. Dodge rejects the notion of getting a "proper crew" with the new boat and requests that he be allowed to transfer the crew of the Stingray. The movie ends with The Village People and the movie cast singing and dancing to 'In the Navy'.  

This movie is PURE FUN.  A motley crew of US Navy rejects in a rusty old World War II sub, pitted against the modern Navy's finest subs in the nuclear fleet! 

The "pirate" scenes are the best by far.

Post in progress...tune in soon for more classic undersea movies!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grandpa Built This Satellite Dome

Today we went to a place in the Adirondack foothills, just a few miles south of Grandmother's house called Starr Hill. It's on a very tall hillside and on a clear day you can see for many miles. (On a clear night you can see millions of stars).  From this vantage point I could see a white dome in the distance, like a giant golf ball perched on a mountain. To reach the vantage point it's on a Starr Hill Road...actually the same road you take to visit Baron von Steuben's memorial. It's where locals go to stargaze.

 I asked what it was and it's apparently a snow dome, covering a microwave satellite tracking dish that my Grandfather built in the early 1960's. He helped to construct it when he worked for the Department of Defense at the USAF base nearby.

Once I got back to the house, I checked the family photo archive and sure enough, here it is under construction. It was sometime in 1964.  The dome was built to protect the dish from weather, because snow and strong wind gales at this high altitude is a concern.

I know I posted one of these pictures before, but here it is again in its proper context.

It's not clear to me how the dome was set up from these pictures. It looks almost like they draped it over the dish and filled it with air like a hot air balloon.

The trees grew up around it in the last 50 years. But it's still being used by the US Air Force to track satellites.

Pretty cool if you ask me!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Time Capsule: Hugh's Radio Room

Since my grandmother passed in 2012, her house has been emptied. But I did manage to take some photos of Grandpa's radio room, which was mostly untouched since 1995. All his radio equipment was still in there, along with his books, awards and certificates. For historical interest, I will preserve it here to give readers another glimpse of what kind of man he was.

This tiny room upstairs was what he called his "Radio shack", after the nickname for the space he occupied on the submarine.

The radio set below is a Heathkit SB-101, a popular ham radio rig from the early to mid 1960's. Heathkit was a company that manufactured mail-order kits allowing you to build a radio with parts and instructions.  In order to do it you had to know soldering, advanced electronics theory and be able to read complicated schematic diagrams.  This rig did not work, as the vacuum tubes were no longer sold as of 1986.  But the style of it looks very vintage, making it desirable to collectors of vintage radios. We donated this piece to an amateur radio museum in upstate New York.

In the corner was a bulky piece called a "Linear Amplifier," also a Heathkit, which allowed him to boost his transmitted signal. Something only licensed operators can legally do. All of his equipment could only be operated by him with his license, unless under strict supervision by him.

A book shelf above his desktop, with his collections of QST magazines. QST was the premier publication for amateur radio enthusiasts, these binders each contained one year of issues. The brown ones shown here were the years 1937-1940 (He first got his license in 1937)  The framed document at top is his actual operating license. When I knew him his call sign was K2CP.  His old call sign was W3GYY, so at some point after the war they were shortened to 4 digits. In front of the books are two photos, left is a picture of him and a fellow US Navy submarine veteran after a reunion, and the right one is him with an unknown friend. There is a license plate for the state of New York that says DARTER. He was very proud of his Navy career all his life.

On the wall was a calendar from 1995. Over the calendar is a barometer shaped like an anchor.  The days marked with flag icons are the dates on which American submarines were lost, from every war. The calendar reminded him to fly his flag on those days as tribute to the lost sailors on these boats. And he did!

There were many other interesting things in this room, which I know I have photos of somewhere. As soon as I find them I will add them to this post.

Most or all of what you have seen here is gone now, donated to museums or distributed to his surviving relatives. My brother still has some of his old radio equipment.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What did Hugh do after the war?

After the war, Hugh remained in the Navy until 1952. Men from the original Darter crew were hand picked to sail a new boat, called the USS Menhaden (SS-377) in 1946.
The USS Menhaden at launch. At some point during the war, they stopped launching the boats straight into the water like the earlier picture of the Darter launch, and instead slid them in sideways like this. I have seen film footage of this being done and it always seems to look dangerously like the boat will capsize and sink.

Hugh patrolled the Pacific in peacetime until just before my mother was born, then he was honorably discharged from the United States Navy. His expertise in telecommunications allowed him to remain in the military and serve within the US government. He moved with his wife up to the Adirondacks so he could be near a military base, and continued his highly skilled engineering with the Department of Defense, working closely with the US Air Force until he retired in 1975.  Throughout this era, as the Cold War tensions were escalating year after year, he was focusing on improving the range of radar systems and also pioneering the field of microwave and satellite communications.  Much of this involved designing, building and testing the large dishes used to detect long range threats and relay the warnings over long distances, coordinating defense across land and sea. He was known to have worked abroad as well, visiting Iceland, Australia and Alaska as well as some spots in Canada.

In the upper Arctic circle of Canada, Hugh was partly responsible for the design and building of the protective domes for the radar dishes of the "DEW Line" (Distant Early Warning Line) which were intended to warn us of an ICBM launch from the USSR. As far as I know, these domes and the radar machinery inside them are still used today, only now they are computerized and automated.  The name has since been changed to NWS (the North Warning System).

I do not know where or exactly when these photos below were taken, but they are from the 1950's or 1960's.

Here we see him and a bunch of other men building a mobile microwave dish of some kind. Judging by the car off to one side, this was sometime in the 1950's.
This appears to be the same dish as it starts to take shape.

And the dish deployed and ready to use.