Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, John Wayne

Today in 1907, Marion Robert Morrison was born in Winterset, Iowa. Thank you for providing wholesome entertainment during my childhood. We miss ya, Duke.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The USS Squalus, Oliver Naquin and Swede Momsen

On this day, 69 years ago, LT Oliver Naquin, had his hands full. The New Orleans, Louisiana native and Naval Academy graduate of 1925 was in a most unenviable position. His new submarine, the USS Squalus (SS-192), was sunk in 240 feet of cold water off the New Hampshire coast. The rear part of the sub was flooded and 26 of his crew were presumed dead. 33 remained in the forward part of the boat. They all knew that their chance of rescue was somewhere between slim and none. In those days, sitting on the seafloor in almost 250 feet of water, you might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. Rescue was thought to be impossible.

However, a man named “Swede” Momsen had been experimenting with submarine rescue methods for years and his background in submarine rescue and diving were about to come together in one of the greatest sea rescue stories ever told.

CDR Momsen directed the rescue of the surviving crew using the McCann Diving Bell that he had invented 10 years arlier. The trapped sailors were equipped with Momsen Lungs, an escape device that he invented. The rescue bell was rigged by divers using new helium/oxygen breathing mixtures also developed by Swede.

Put yourself back in those times and imagine how these divers must have looked to the rest of world. They used cutting edge technology and weird gas mixtures to go someplace previously unreachable by man. And they did it under emergency conditions. Four Navy Divers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroism in rescuing the sailors of the Squalus. They were:

William Badders, Chief Machinst’s Mate
Orson Crandall, Chief Boatswain’s Mate
James Harper McDonald, Chief Metalsmith
John Mihalowski, Torpedoman First Class

William Badders transferred to the Fleet Reserve in 1940, He died in 1986.
Orson Crandall became a Mustang during WW II. He died in 1960.
James McDonald was also a Mustang in WW II. He died in 1973.
John Mihalowski was also a Mustang in WW II. He died in 1993.

(For you non-Navy types, a Mustang is an enlisted man that becomes an officer.)

The Squalus was salvaged (again by Momsen) and reborn as the USS Sailfish (still SS-192). Her sailors were forbidden to speak the name of the original hull, but they got around that by calling her the Squailfish. She was in Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941 and saw combat in the Pacific, completing 12 patrols and returning safely. She was awarded 9 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. She was sold for scrap in 1948 but the conning tower remains at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as a memorial to the sailors lost on the Squalus.

We next encounter Oliver Naquin near the end of the war. Evidently, he was not given another opportunity for command and had staff jobs throughout the war. He was now a Captain and the Operations Officer on Guam whose office told Captain Charles McVay on the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) that Japanese submarines were not a great concern on his proposed route. He later testified in the court martial of Captain McVay. Not much more is known about Oliver Naquin. He retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral and died in 1989. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery. His quote about the Squalus crew from the accident investigation is on his gravestone.

"My Officers And Men Acted Instinctively And Calmly. There Were No Expressions Of Fear And No Complains Of The Bitter Cold. Never In My Remaining Life Do I Expect To Witness So True An Exemplification Of Comradeship And Brotherly Love. No Fuller Meaning Could Possibly Be Given The Word 'Shipmate' Than Was Reflected By Their Acts."

“Swede” Momsen went on to become a submarine squadron commander during WW II. He was the one who discovered the problem with torpedo fuses at the beginning of the war by firing them into underwater cliffs off Hawaii and then diving to recover the live torpedo for inspection. However, it was after the war, when he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Undersea Warfare, that he made his greatest contribution to submarine warfare.

He took his wartime lessons and gave simple instructions to his submarine designers: “Forget about surface performance. Think only about submerged capability which will provide the utmost speed with minimum of power. When in doubt, think speed”. (It is rare to get a design basis with such clarity.) This was the idea behind the development of the USS Albacore (AGSS 569). He originally had to hide the true intent of the project by calling it a target vessel for anti submarine warfare training, but his real plan was to build a full size submarine that could be used to test various submarine propulsion and control mechanisms. (His slyness is evident in the fact that, being unarmed, the design did not have to receive “input” from the numerous naval design bureaus responsible for such things.) The Albacore was the first submarine to have the hull shape that is now familiar to the world. Between 1953 and 1972 the USS Albacore developed and tested the technology that was then put to use in the nuclear submarine fleet.

She was not very successful as a target. She easily outran or out maneuvered anything that came after her. The Albacore twice set world submerged speed records. She is now on display and open to the public in Portsmouth, NH.

Charles Momsen retired from the Navy in 1955 as a Vice Admiral. He died in 1967 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thumb in the Dike, or in their A**?

On top of the levee wall stuffed with newspaper comes word of another leak near the 17th Street Canal. The Corps representative says: "I personally do not at all believe that this little wet spot is anything that is going to cause a breach or a failure of any kind."

He seems to forget that there was a sand eruption near this spot in the weeks before Katrina that indicated an underground flow of water. This may have weakened the wall which was sitting on top on inadequate sheet piles causing the breach.

Remember - The Corps is NOT your friend.

I offer the following song sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun"

There was a house in New Orleans
It was gone with the Rising Sun
And it's now a ruin like many, many more
Stick a fork in me, I'm done

My mother said don’t go there
Don’t live south of I-10
The levees low and a storm’s gonna blow
And drown New Orleans again

It was built below the flood plane
On a slab of cold cement
And every time it rained too hard
We had to pitch a tent

------ organ solo ------

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Trust your lives to the Corps of Engineers
And levees built of mud.

Well, I got one foot on a ladder
The other foot in muck
I'm working down in New Orleans
Tearing out sheetrock

I had a house in New Orleans
It was gone with the Rising Sun
And it's now a ruin like many, many more
Stick a fork in me, I'm done

Monday, May 19, 2008

Superhero Status has been Bestowed

Friday is our day to pick up the three grandsons from school. We pick up P first from pre-pre K (3 years old) and the other two an hour later. P usually brings along some toys to play with while waiting in the pick up line for his older brothers. On this day he had some Spiderman stuff. My wife asked him who his favorite superhero was. "Grandpa" came the answer with no hesitation. Cute story. So my wife tells it to our daughter-in-law. She then turns and asks P, "Who is your favorite superhero?"


"What superpowers does he have?"

"He's Grandpa!"

And they wonder why he and I are so tight.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day Crawfish

The family tradition is to have a crawfish boil on Mother's Day. This years catch has grown to a good size making the effort to peel the little buggers worth the time. The Bro-in-Laws did an excellent job in boiling the critters. And this time they did an experiment. Some of us like our crawfish with a little more spice so they added a couple of cups of jalapenos to the boil water on one batch. They probably could have added more because the crawfish weren't as hot as you'd expect. The "toxic" crawfish were spread on a separate table for the adventurous.

We brought along a crock pot of chicken etouffe and there are always hot dogs for the kids. My wife has a trick for chicken etouffe. The longest part of making this dish is frying the chicken. In order to short cut that step, she goes to Popeyes and buys the spicy chicken breasts. Chop them up and add them to the roux and vegetables and voila, an almost instant chicken etouffe.

Gotta go. They're cutting the doberge cake!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Victory Day!

Today is Victory Day in Russia. It is their national holiday observing the end of WW II and is celebrated one day later than the traditional VE Day. The senior Russian officer present at the signing in Reims did not have authority to accept the surrender so the Russians organized a second ceremony in Berlin with Marshall Zhukov in attendance. It was 8 May, local time, but 9 May in Moscow due to the time zone difference.

Do not expect ANY stores to be open in Russia today. I have been there over this holiday and it is a day when everything shuts down. There are, of course, parades honoring the veterans. But the Russians take it a step further. Its almost as if they try to honor each and every individual who fought the Germans. There are city wide parties where veterans are fed and feted. The television shows old patriotic movies all day long. The old vets put on their best suits and hang their medals on their lapels. Vodka flows freely. I have never witnessed such an outpouring of appreciation and recognition for old soldiers. We in the US are just now beginning to appreciate them, but Russia has been doing it continuously.

There is another interesting veteran related tradition in Russia. Each company has a large bulletin board at the main entrance. On this board are pictures of the "veterani" who work there.

Being of Finnish heritage, I have a love/hate relationship with Russia, but recognizing veterans is something I have to admit that they do very well.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Trip to the Red Neck Riviera

Wife and I spent the weekend at Son's vacation house near Gulf Shores, Alabama with Son and family. If you want to get to know your grandchildren, take them on a 4 hour road trip. The 2 oldest Grandsons (10 and 7) elected to ride with Grandma and Grandpa on Friday. We spent the entire trip talking about every subject under the sun. I am constantly amazed at the intelligence and awareness of current events that they exhibit. One of the things we learned was that their science teacher fills their heads with dire predictions of global warming and had them "pledge" to be "green". We spent the entire ride in conversation and laughter and the DVD player didn't come on once. And I got a chance to counter the global warming teacher and discuss the Law of Unintended Consequences vis a vis ethanol, environmentalists and food pricing.

They rode back with us as well and we added the littlest Grandson (3) for good measure. If you tried to cut in line at the construction on I-10 west mile marker 3 near the Louisiana-Mississippi line and saw children in a white SUV making faces at you, I apologize, but you really are an idiot for not merging sooner.