Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorializing from Mobile

I’ve never tasted the fear of battle, smelled the smoke of gunfire, or heard the screams of the wounded. You read and hear about this every night on the news. Most Americans cannot conceive of the gore and horror our troops have endured.

Some of them never made it back.
We remember them on Memorial Day.
We should remember them each day that we live in America.

One of the reasons I am fascinated by the living history exhibits of warships is because they allow the on-the-scene experience of being in the confined spaces, seeing the perspectives, and comparing one’s physical inadequacies to the machines of war—those awesome, horrible mechanisms of death and destruction.

These vessels were staffed by mere kids, some of whom were cut down before their lives were ever allowed to begin. Others—officers, leaders—older and more experienced, were still too young for their lives to be snuffed out in the instant of an explosion, or the eternity of an agonizing death.

That’s why I visit places like the USS Texas, USS Alabama, and most recently, USS Drum, a Gato-class WW-2 Submarine now on permanent display in Mobile, Alabama..

The Drum was built in 1941, and was an integral part of the US war effort in the Pacific. 14 patrols included place names emblazoned in American military history: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Leyte Gulf, Truk…plus other locales that have faded from memory. Drum was credited for sinking 15 vessels, sending over 80-thousand tons of shipping to the bottom.

She is 311-feet long, and very cramped.

72 officers and sailors made the USS Drum their home away from home, and it is easy to imagine the tension that mounted when operating beneath the surface, not knowing from which quarter a dealth knell might come.

In November 1943, Japanese convoy escorts got close, with three depth charges which damaged her conning tower so severely it had to be replaced.

USS Drum was one of the lucky ones.
Service in submarines accounted for the highest percentage of casualties of all the armed forces during the war—a loss rate of 22%. Those subs and sailors are perpetually commemorated as being on “permanent patrol.”

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