World War II Submarine Veterans fade into history, intentionally

For many World War II submarine veterans the end of an era will occur in September 2012 when the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II will end its charter and vanish into the waters of history.

The organization had its earliest beginnings in 1955 when founding member Bud Trimble and other submarine veterans organized a national convention in Atlantic City in September of 1955.

The group then incorporated in 1956 in New Jersey and after multiple attempts received its federal charter in 1981 during the Reagan administration.

During World War II, submarines comprised less than two percent of U.S. Navy forces, but have been credited with downing 55 percent of all Japanese ships sunk. During the war 52 submarines were lost at sea as well as 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted men.

Although the  USSV WW-II served its members well, Robertson said it was its initial purpose to serve men who had fought within a window of history that had ultimately led to its demise.

“The organization was distinct. But that distinction, from that time on, made us a dying organization,” he said.

Although the group will cease to exist in September, Robertson said another group will forward its legacy.

United States Submarine Veterans Inc., of which Robertson is also a member, another submarine veteran’s group incorporated in 1964, welcomes members from the World War II group and seeks to perpetuate the memory of all who have served America in the silent service.

The loss of subs during World War II and the combat mortality rate associated with the service was a deciding factor in the formation and perpetuation of USSV WW-II and is outlined in a section of the group’s original motto which reads, “To perpetuate the memory of those shipmates who voluntarily gave their lives in submarine warfare; to further promote and keep alive the spirit and unity that existed among submarine crewmen during WW II.”

In many ways retired Navy Commander Robbie Robertson epitomizes the spirit of the men who served on submarines during the war as well as the men who founded veteran groups.

Robertson was among the earliest of veterans to join the group, being assigned membership No. 408.

Enlisting in the U.S.Navy in 1943 as World War II cut a violent swath of darkness and devastation across the globe, Robertson volunteered for submarine service from boot camp.

He said for himself, and for many who joined the submarine service during the war, there was an air of danger and adventure that accompanied the service, and like many veterans of the submarine service, Robertson experienced his share of combat and experiences with the dangers involved in serving in submarines.

During the war, Robertson was assigned to the U.S.S. Tirante, and served under Medal of Honor recipient George L. Street III during the actions that awarded Street the medal.

“He said his crew had earned the medal,” Robertson said. “But he carried it around for us.”

The Tirante and its crew, like many submersible war vessels of the era, prowled the waters of the Pacific ocean and the coasts of Japan and Korea among other dangerous waters engaging in multiple victorious sea battles.

Robertson said these experiences were reflective of the perils of the submarine service and therefore the pride many in the USSV WW-II felt.

Robertson, who has served as treasurer for the Seattle Base USSV WW-II, and remained a life-long member of the group said he felt the organization had served its purpose and offered many members, not only a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, but also other benefits through its existence.

Although founding members of the  USSVI included members of the World War II group, the two groups never merged. Robertson said there were various reasons for this including charter status limiting the number of veterans that did not serve during World War II, but also a sense of identity held within the name and purpose of the World War II group.

Fred Borgmann, National Office Manager for the USSVI, said the World War II organization continued to see a decline in membership through age and death, but said the USSVI continues to see a rise in membership in submarine veterans as the World War II group sees its inevitable decline.

He said the USSVI was proud to perpetuate the memory of World War II vets as well as all who had proudly served America on such vessels.

Borgmann, who served in the submarine service  during the Cold War, said as a member of the USSVI and a submarine veteran himself, he was among many submariners who carried the spirit of the original group forward through association with World War II veterans during his own service.

“There were still a lot of veterans of World War II around who mentored us and passed on their standards and their discipline,” he said.

Borgmann said the original organization had captured a particular time and place in American history, and that initial exclusiveness had limited the time the group would exist, but the USSVI had envisioned a group that would forever remember and serve all submarine veterans.

Borgmann said there had been occasional tensions between the two groups, but, to his experience, the groups had more often found common ground in service to their country.

“I have never personally seen any friction,” he said. “Both groups feel they did their duty.”

Borgmann said membership had continued to increase in the USSVI and encouraged members from the World War II group to join the USSVI.

“They are all welcome,” Borgmann said.