By Rick Wildman
President, La Jolla Town CouncilOn Columbus Day, 23 La Jolla Town Council trustees were honored guests of the U.S. Navy during a two-hour visit aboard the 375 foot-long nuclear-powered USS La Jolla (SSN 701), the 701st US Submarine, and the premier Los Angeles class boat.
Commanding Officer Jeff Bernard and his 155-man crew could not have been more warm, professional and scrupulously-organized in the way that they welcomed us.
Retired USAF Brigadier Gen. Earl “Van” Inwegen was “piped” on board.
Dr. and Mrs. Walter Munk, our trustees and guests were accorded the greatest deference and respect. The captain and crew unhesitatingly detailed the inner workings of their immaculate boat. They offered each of us clear insight into the too-often unheralded sacrifices that these “Finest Submarine Warriors” daily make for us.
While on patrol the La Jolla cruises at 25 knots per hour at 500 feet beneath the waves, for two months at a time without seeing daylight. Duty, fire drills and combat training take place in six-hour shifts during artificial 18-hour days. The crew live and dine in shifts in tiny compartments connected by 18-inch passageways. Mostly, they have no communications with loved ones and the outside world.
The officers sleep in stacked bunks the size of small coffins. The crew shares “hot bunks” in shifts. Cribbage is the big game on board. Their gym consists of isometric exercises. They man the torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles on constant alert. They listen to the sonar continuously. Nineteen-year-olds steer the boat from the tiny cockpit with an officer sandwiched between them.
They, too, have their seals — Navy Seals — who relish the chance to be shot out of a torpedo tube on the way to a covert mission to protect us. They are handsome. They are modest. They do not complain. They do not argue or disagree. They wear their dolphins proudly. They freely offer themselves up daily as our nation’s finest sacrifice. We are free because they, and their brothers and sisters at arms, living and dead, have never hesitated to bankroll our freedom with their blood, sweat, toil, and unshed tears.
“Bless those who serve beneath the deep. Through lonely hour their vigil keep. May peace their mission ever be. Protect each one we ask of Thee. Bless those at home who wait and pray.”
May God continue to bless our warrior heroes and all those who sleep on eternal patrol beneath the restless waves and sweet earth.