New London, 1939
The reassuring warmth and smell of freshly baked bread greeted me upon my arrival home after the hurricane in 1938. Since that time, I equate that pleasant smell with home.
We toured the eastern seaboard from Maine south to the Carolinas numerous times during our tour of duty. The first weekend we visited my mother’s birthplace of Woodsville, New Hampshire also introduced us to the Lake Morey country club/resort in Fairlee, Vermont where my aunt Corinne was born. The two towns seemed to be separated by just a cow-path, but that may be my faulty memory.
The resort was first built by my great-grandfather George Kendall and cleverly named The Kaulin. From the beginning it had golf course, tennis courts and country club amenities showing great foresight in a country gentleman.
“Gone With The Wind” was being shown in Hartford, and we treated ourselves to new clothes. Mine was a pink wool coat and the ubiquitous hat with streamers, this time a pink one. Yet again it shows my absolute shallowness to remember what I wore instead of Scarlet O’Hara’s plight.
My Dad was studying hard these days, bringing home piles of books, and we often studied together. Since he was often annoyed by my complete brain vacancy in math, I began reading some of his papers hoping to impress him with my memorizing skills. As we sat down I brightly asked “What is the definition of a limberhole?” Without giving him time to answer I replied “A hole in the bulkhead of the doublebottom which facilitates the flow of water and lightens the weight of the metal.” I had the answer in case he ever needed it.
The diving gear in those days consisted of Men from Mars suits, with a large round helmet bolted to it. In his training, my father was dressed in this heavy confining outfit and lowered into the tall narrow tower on the Thames River, working at whatever skill he was perfecting.
“On the morning of May 23, 1939, the submarine USS Squalus slipped beneath the storm-tossed surface of the Atlantic on a sea trial. Minutes into the maneuver, she began flooding uncontrollably. The boat sank to the ocean floor nine miles off the New Hampshire coast, trapping 59 men on board.”
For some of the crew this date would be carved on their headstones. For others it would mark a 39 hour ordeal they would live with the rest of their lives. And for a hastily-assembled Navy rescue team rushed to New Hampshire, it would be remembered as the date they launched an unprecedented rescue mission that stretched their abilities.
No submarine rescue had ever taken place below twenty feet of water–the Squalus was 240 feet down resting on the bottom. The rescue methods had only existed in theory before this time.
In the end, there would be four Medals of Honor, 46 Navy Crosses and one Distinguished Service medal awarded to officers and men of the submarine rescue and salvage team. There would be a glorious new chapter written in the history of underwater rescue.
My father was part of this rescue mission, with a change of rank and uniform, and a new appreciation of the unforgiving power of the sea for those who choose to challenge her depths.