As a former Submarine Officer, I look back at the jokes and bravado of my submarine brethren regarding those that were not as fortunate as I to be selected for submarine service. “There are two types of ships, submarines and targets!’ we would joke. Then, I would watch “Das Boot” and know that wasn’t always the case. But on my ship, USS PITTSBURGH SSN 720, we were “King of the Ocean.”…. But then I would remember the scene in the movie “The Deep” where the USS MONTANA is struck and a wall of water crashes across the Control Room…..chills….
Flash forward as our Patriot Scuba divers dove upon the wrecks of Truk Lagoon, 75 warships in all at the bottom of the ocean. It was a mystical, eerie and awesome site. Both a historical site and a marine park. How many perished? An amazing place to dive for a diver, an explorer or a historian. A monument to those who fought for what they believed in.
For a while, I have avoided those type wrecks as they would raise deep emotional responses in me. Whether it was an adversary’s warship, transport or merchant, or a US vessel, the thought of those who gave their lives would envelop me. I could identify with them. Like the scene in “The Deep,” my heart skipped a beat when I saw them. I could hear the cries of the men, see them, making heroic efforts to save the ship….Sometimes successful, sometimes not. Those that were not, became a monument that only the diver could experience.
I no longer avoid those wrecks. I still have the emotions and the visions when I see them. But like the wrecks themselves, the veteran gives hope and opportunity for others to develop and flourish. The wreck becomes a reef. Life, color and activity abounds from death and sacrifice. Many times, life comes back stronger than it was before. When I dive these monuments, I stop and hover in silence for a moment. Partly out of respect and thanks, and partly to observe the miracle of nature that has begun…life, hope, beauty.
So the next time you have the great fortune to dive a historical wreck, a monument to the men and women who manned it, take a moment to pay your respects, but do not mourn those who perished. Rather, give thanks for their sacrifice and marvel at what it has made possible.