On April 11, 1899, the United States Navy purchased its first-ever submarine, the U.S.S. Holland, which was stationed in the nation’s first submarine base, in New Suffolk on the North Fork, from 1899 to 1905.
Back in 2000, the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Long Island Base, which is based in Bohemia, placed a monument to that first submarine base at the New Suffolk Beach, not far from the site of the base, which was on the property that was once the Goldsmith & Tuthill Shipyard and is now owned by the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund.
Members of the base have returned on the weekend of April 11 every year for the past 16 years to honor members of the submarine service who lost their lives in the line of duty, and this past Sunday, April 12, they gathered once again, tolling a bell for each submarine that never returned from the deep sea.
This year’s ceremony was conducted in conjunction with Southold’s 375th Anniversary celebration.
At 184 members strong, the Long Island base is one of the three largest submarine veteran bases in the country, other than in Groton, Conn. and at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, said Base Commander Michael Zemser at Sunday’s ceremony.
In the parking lot, many of the veterans’ cars bore special license plates paying tribute to their participation in what’s known as the “Silent Service.”
American submariners are deployed all over the globe, on missions that they can’t discuss, in nuclear-powered ships that never need refueling. The length of a mission is only limited by the amount of food on board for the crew.
Mr. Zemser, who served on the U.S.S. Barbel (SS-580), said the casualties suffered by the submarine service during World War II were the highest among all the armed services during the war. Fifty-two ships were lost, and one in five submariners — more than 3,500 men — didn’t return from the war. But, he said, submarines were responsible for the sinking of 70 percent of the Japanese boats sunk during the war, even though submariners made up less than 2 percent of Navy forces.
Two World War II veterans — Clarence “Mike” Carmody and Ken Jacobs — were on hand for the ceremony.
“People always ask, how did you do it? What did you eat? Where did you go to the bathroom?” said Mr. Zemser. “Most people don’t know anything about the submarine service.”
Submarine veteran Larry Hanna of Southold takes care of the New Suffolk monument on behalf of the base.
“We all knew of the site, and we figured it would be an appropriate place to put a monument,” said Mr. Zemser. “Larry takes care of everything here. I think he was out here with a vacuum cleaner before, vacuuming the beach for us.”
In true submariner fashion, the veterans were at the beach for less than half an hour before they all quickly disappeared, leaving the New Suffolk residents who happened upon the ceremony scratching their heads about what had just transpired on the beach.
They weren’t off to some secret mission, though. They were headed to the Soundview Inn for a celebratory luncheon, leaving behind just the haunting words of the following poem:
There is a port of no return, where ships
May ride at anchor for a little space
And then, some starless night, the cable slips,
Leaving an eddy at the mooring place…
Gulls, veer no longer. Sailor, rest your oar.
No tangled wreckage will be washed ashore.
—Leslie Nelson Jennings