JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii – Submariners celebrated the 116th birthday of their force at the Coral Ballroom of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, April 15 and 16.
More than 2,000 Sailors and their guests tied their bow ties or neckerchiefs and put on their best dinner dress to celebrate the Navy’s purchase of its first modern submarine.
Admiral Scott Swift, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the guest speaker at the officers’ ball on the 16th where he asked the submarine force to remember its history.
“I can’t overstate how much the submarine force means to me as the fleet commander, and to the Navy,” said Swift. “I challenge each and every one of you to remember the legacy, heritage, professionalism, and values that make you a submariner.”
Rear Adm. Fritz Roegge, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, spoke at the enlisted ball on the 15th and at the officers’ ball. Roegge remembered those who have served before as well as deployed Sailors who could not attend.
“It’s appropriate tonight that we honor submariners, past and present, who selflessly served our great nation with pride, professionalism and bravery,” said Roegge.
He went on to thank the families of those who serve. “Without your tremendous support, we could not be successful,” Roegge said.
The officers’ ball was graced by the posterity of Lt. Cmdr. John Wesley Harvey who was the final commanding officer aboard USS Thresher when she was tragically lost at sea with all hands in 1963. The family presented Pearl Harbor’s newest qualified officer a pair of gold dolphins worn by the late commander.
All submarines lost at sea, including USS Thresher, were honored by a bell-tolling ceremony performed by submarine veterans.
Later, attendants were asked to “charge” their drinking glasses to make them ready in all respects for a series of toasts. Each military service received a toast and a flourish from the Pacific Fleet band’s Harbor Brass Quintet. When the ultimate toast was given to the submarine force, cheers were punctuated by a dive alarm.
The Coral Ballroom’s dive alarm was used liberally throughout the celebration to remind the spirited crowd exactly which force was being celebrated.
Both balls were organized by officer and enlisted committees and funded by the sales of challenge coins, admission tickets and fundraising events.
Cmdr. Gregory Booth was the chairman of the officers’ submarine ball committee and Chief Yeoman Joshua Lynch was the chairman of the enlisted submarine ball committee.
Booth said one of his favorite parts was the attendance of Rear Adm. Lloyd R. “Joe” Vasey (Ret.), a 99-year-old World War II submarine veteran. “It was amazing to see the respect and admiration of all who made their way to meet this American hero,” said Booth.
The reverent and festive birthday gala gave each submarine crew an opportunity to show their camaraderie.
Crews performed well-practiced, or at least enthusiastic, entrances to music. Commanding officers and chiefs of the boats, were carried by sedan, pulled by sled, or surrounded by a dancing entourage.
“Everything came together to create a night to be remembered,” said Lynch for whom one entrance was notable. “USS North Carolina had four break dancers dance when their chief of the boat was introduced.”
The commands also crafted center pieces for their tables which competed for a variety of light-hearted awards. Many dispensed libations or resembled their boat’s mascot.
Other than ceremonies, dinner and music were included with an admission ticket. Guests were treated to a three-course meal with an entrée of red wine-braised ribs, mustard-crusted chicken, or quinoa.
After dinner, the historic Pacific Fleet Band stopped playing march excerpts and opened up the dance floor. The band’s pop ensemble, Pipeline, covered artists such as Maroon 5 and Michael Jackson.
Submariners celebrate their force with dance, dinner, and pomp every April because it was in that month the Navy acquired USS Holland (SS 1). John Phillip Holland, an Irish immigrant, synthesized an internal combustion engine, battery, ballast tanks, windows, and a three-bladed propeller to build the first modern submarine for the Navy.
“Remember our history but remember as well that the history of our submarine force didn’t end with WWII. It didn’t end with the Cold War,” said Rear Adm. Roegge at the enlisted ball. “You are making the history of the submarine force and adding to our legacy every day with everything you do.”