“Bless those who serve beneath the deep
Through lonely hours their vigil keep …” — From the Submarine verses, written by
the Rev. Gale Williamson as part of the Naval Hymn
If a sailor has a Dolphin pin among his insignia from the U.S. Navy, it has a special significance. Akin to an airman’s “Wings,” the enlisted sailor’s silver Dolphin (officers’ pins are gold) means that he is “qualified in submarines.”
The Dolphin pin depicts the fish, not the mammal.
Submarine duty is extremely perilous, and it takes rigorous special training, skills, commitment and courage to serve in the depths. The 50th anniversary of Dolphin attainment is celebrated by induction into The Holland Club, named after John P. Holland, the inventor of the modern style submarine.
One such “Dolphin” veteran is Edward Alves, 71, of Pollock Pines, who became “qualified in submarines” in 1961 aboard the USS Corporal SS-346. Alves was honored recently in a special ceremony in Sacramento, where he and two other Sacramento area veterans were inducted into the Holland Club.
Alves is among those who “represent the living historical memory of our rich submarine heritage … they are the pioneers who led the way and set the standards for excellence for the Sailors in our submarine fleet today,” according to Barry Wyatt PAO (public affairs officer) for the Gold Country Base.
“The induction to the Holland Club happens every year as veterans reach their 50th anniversary of getting the Dolphin pin. Basically it means you’re going to die soon,” Alves quipped wryly.
Commanded by Pete Juhos, Gold Country Base is part of the United States Submarine Veterans, a National Veterans Fraternal Organization with some 13,000 members and 150 chapters. Its goal is to keep appreciation alive for some 5,000 Dolphins who have perished in service to their country.
Despite Alves’ dry humor and modesty, his submarine service is filled with fond memories and pride. In fact, he just returned from an anniversary work party with some 16 veterans in the Razorback Association. The second submarine on which Alves served, the Razorback, was decommissioned in 1970 and transferred to the Turkish Navy, where she was renamed the TCG Muratreis.
Submarine becomes museum
The Razorback, though, had a proud history with the United States Navy, where she had profoundly served her country, especially during World War II.
She protected many ships and sailors, keeping them safe and apprised of danger. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, much of the Pacific Fleet was destroyed. But submarines were still intact and their usefulness multiplied.
Subsequently, some 60 submarines were lost during World War II. One third of the Pacific submarine force was destroyed, and some 1,500-2,000 sailors perished, according to Alves. “Qualified for submarines” was a dangerous, but extremely valuable, service to the USN and the USA.
Because of the importance and innovations that submarines represent, many sailors “qualified for submarines” felt that the Razorback belonged in her home country. People in Arkansas, veterans and other benefactors raised the money to purchase the Razorback from Turkey when they decommissioned her in 2001.
Some $39,000 was paid to Turkey for the Razorback. The cost to transport her back to the United States was quite a bit more. She was pulled by tugboats through the Mediterranean Sea, across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Arkansas River to rest in North Little Rock. Many of the parts were scrapped out, said Alves, so some of the cost was recouped to the USS Razorback/TCG Muratreis Association, which later became the Inland Arkansas Maritime Museum Foundation.
When the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum opened on May 5, 2005, it was an exciting event.
“I really felt like I got to see Ed come in on a submarine. The Razorback was towed in with flags, and there was a big crowd,” said wife Janet Alves. When the couple married in 1963, Ed had already been honorably discharged from the Navy.
At AIMM people can appreciate the sacrifices made for democracy, and children, especially, learn first-hand about fascinating submarine lore and technology. The AIMM also boasts of the Beacon of Peace and Hope, a spectacular sculpture with lights whose illumination sometimes forms an arc blending peace and hope together.
A glistening galley
“After all these years, it’s quite amazing that so many come to our reunions. Like this year, 16 people out of 80 in the crew (including officers and enlisted) is a pretty good number,” Alves said. “We work very hard, but we also have so much fun!”
One of the things done during the two week reunion/work party this year was to refurbish the galley, the kitchen area of the Razorback.
During the reunions, the work party is housed on the Razorback, reliving the intimacy of the old Navy days.
“It’s quite a step back in time. Oh sure, submarines are cramped,” Alves noted, “but you get used to it. And back when I was a sailor, I was too young to be scared.”
The galley remodeling was right up Alves’ alley. During his submarine service, Alves became a Second Class Machinist Mate, skills that augur well when he goes back to work on his alma mater. It also served him throughout his life. As a career welder and mechanic, he joined the Operating Engineers union after leaving the Navy, which led to jobs with Caterpillar and Teichert.
“One of the best things this year is that our cook came to the reunion too. We had some wonderful meals,” Alves enthused.
In fact, Alves said submarines had some of the best food in the Navy.
“If you didn’t have a good cook and a good galley on a submarine, you’d be miserable. But we were lucky on both the Corporal and the Razorback,” Alves recalled. “Our cooks were great.”
Besides cramped quarters, many of the veterans, seniors now, experienced cramping of another kind. Sore muscles and weariness rewarded their labor of love. “We thought we were in good shape, but climbing around the submarine was a lot harder than it used to be. We worked really hard, but it was worth it.”
Service sans tie
When Alves joined the U.S. Navy in 1958 after graduating from San Juan High School in Sacramento, there were no wars in sight, except for the omnipresent Cold War with the Soviet Union. There weren’t many jobs around, and joining the service was a good option.
“I enlisted in the Navy because I didn’t want to tie a necktie. Sailors wear scarves,” Alves explained, his hazel eyes twinkling. “Actually, my stepdad had been in the Navy, and it seemed like a good thing.”
At the time, Alves lived in Lincoln, which had a population of about 1,500. “It was all desert from Lincoln to Marysville back then,” he said. “It was nothing like it is now.”
Alves went to basic training in San Diego, then was assigned to a destroyer, where he went on WestPac, a six month journey to the Far East. He visited Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, among other ports of call. Alves was then sent to school in Great Lakes, Ill. He was surprised when he got orders to go to Submarine School in Groton, Ct.
“I didn’t want to go to Submarine School,” Alves remembered. “Apparently, the sailor in my unit slated for Submarine School failed to pass the test or something, and I got his orders.”
The first submarine that Alves served on was the USS Corporal, which was part of the Atlantic Submarine Fleet. Then he served on the USS Razorback, which was in the Pacific Submarine Fleet. The Razorback has quite a heritage and was chosen to be present in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered in 1945.
During the Cold War, though, submarines patrolled off the coast of the Soviet Union and monitored activity, while Soviet submarines surveilled United States coastlines. Alves said that the book “Blind Man’s Bluff” by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence Drew is an exciting account of what submarines did during the Cold War. It is said to be like a factual, true, Tom Clancy thriller.
Alves left the Navy in 1962, before the escalation of the Vietnam War. He feared that he would be called back, but he wasn’t.
Submarines and their crews were instrumental in the protection of the United States and in air sea rescues. Many airmen, according to ussvi.org, owed their lives to the valor of USN submarine crews, including former president George H. W. Bush.
One of the first submarines, called the Nautilus, was developed in 1600, a concept and name used in the 1886 Jules Verne novel “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.” Another submarine, called the Alligator, was built in the early 1800s, and in 1864 (during the Civil War), a confederate submarine, the USS Hunley, sank the USS Housatonic in the Charleston Harbor. The USS Holland was developed in 1900, and the USS Nautilus, commissioned in 1958, was the first nuclear submarine.
One of Alves’ pictures depicts Princess Grace touring a submarine. “I always wondered what she thought of it, the diesel smell and tight quarters,” Alves mused. But Alves also toured a Russian submarine that was anchored in San Diego. “It was very primitive. And I thought we had it bad!”
Anyone who has watched the movie “Das Boot” can imagine the terror of submerged death and hopes. Alves is pretty calm about watching movies about the deep. As a Dolphin, he said, he usually just “picks them apart” for their inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
On dry land
Alves met Janet on a blind date, and they married and lived in the Sacramento area for many years. The couple had four children, three boys and a girl. One child died in a bicycle accident at age 6, something they don’t dwell on. Now they have nine grandchildren, three born to each child. Their grandchildren represent the decades, with three in their 30s, three in their 20s and three young ones. They’ve kept the Alveses young, and a new grandbaby was just born on April 21.
Their cabin in White Hall, some 12 miles east of Pollock Pines on the American River, was found quite by accident. Alves’ work often took him to Loon Lake and Ice House Lake, and he fell in love with the mountains. It was the children who really wanted him to buy a cabin on the river, so he did. Alves sort of wanted to buy property in Nevada, but they didn’t want to be too far from their family. They spent their time between their two homes, finally moving to the mountains when Alves retired.
“Once I got up here, I couldn’t stand the hustle and bustle of the Valley,” Alves said. “Now we don’t go there except to visit the kids. We shop in Pollock Pines, or occasionally South Lake Tahoe when the weather permits. I figure that if we can’t find something in Pollock Pines, we don’t need it.”
Their first cabin burned down in the 1992 Cleveland fire. The Alveses rebuilt it, and it survived the flood of 1997 and subsequent mudslide. The bridge across the American River to their cabin in Randall Tract, however, was destroyed.
The Alveses were evacuated during the flood, but naturally, they wanted to return home. There was an intact bridge downriver, but it was a long trek to get to their house.
Until the bridge was rebuilt, Alves constructed a cage-type structure to cross the river. He used salvage submarine parts, and in fact, the cage was designed after the cages that transported sailors from ships to submarines back in the day.
Now, of course, there is a functional bridge. Alves lives a quiet, somewhat reclusive life on the river with Janet, a dog and a cat.