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Memorial Day.

A day of remembrance, a day to honor those who died in military service to their country, a day of remembering…

I’m a veteran. I served in our Navy’s Submarine Force during the Cold War. I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of that fact, because it helped make me who I am, and I appreciate the honor when someone says, “Thank you for your service!”

But today is not my day.

It’s true I held the line, side by side, with my brothers in arms during the Cold War. It’s true we had a fast ship, as our naval forebear Commodore John Paul Jones once asked for, and true to his standard, we sailed her in harm’s way. It’s true we stared into the face of death in those moments of sheer terror, surviving only by our character, our force of will, our iron professionalism, and the everlasting grace of the Almighty God. It’s also true that most of those stories can never be told, save late at night, in the small and exclusive audience of those that earned that right by being there.

All of this we had in common with our brother submariners, a heritage traced back to the beginnings of the U.S. Submarine Service in the first years of the last century, but there is one thing that sets us apart, one thing that makes the difference between being honored on Veterans Day instead of being remembered on Memorial Day.

One thing, and one thing only…

We came back…

Unlike more than 3500 of our brother submariners during World War II, we came back. One in five that served on the boats between Pearl Harbor and V-J day never returned. Unlike our brothers on the Thresher and the Scorpion, we came back. None of those submariners ever saw their families again.

So on this day of remembering, it seems I have more in common with the average American that never served in the military than with those who volunteered and gave up their lives in the end. What I sacrificed pales in comparison with those that never returned.

I came back…

So today, I stand beside you, and remember.

I remember 3131 enlisted men and 375 officers that paid the full price for our victory on the seas in WWII. In fifty-two boats with names like Amberjack, Cisco, Growler, and Harder, carrying the fight to the enemy and sinking nearly 60% of the ships sunk by the U.S. Navy, those submariners gave us victory at sea.

I remember the men of the USS Thresher (SSN 593), lost with 129 submariners and technicians on a test dive off the Atlantic coast in 1963. Those submariners bought us the SUBSAFE program that is the design hallmark of every U.S. submarine built since 1963, and contributes a great deal to the reasons I was able to come back.

I remember the men of the USS Scorpion (SSN 589), lost with 99 submariners, southwest of the Azores in 1968, for reasons that may never be fully understood or made public. The Scorpions knew the risks, knew the cost, and, like us, answered the call and went to sea anyway. They gave us the resolve to face the enemy and the sea herself head on, and do what was necessary to complete the mission.

I remember a young man on-board the USS San Francisco (SSN 711), MM2(SS) Joseph Ashley of Akron, Ohio, who died when his boat collided with a uncharted sea mount, injuring 98 others and nearly resulting in the loss of the submarine.

I remember others, a long list of men who wore the dolphins, before and since, whether lost by enemy action, or the even more fearsome enemy, the indifferent and unforgiving sea, who never came back.

I am thankful that men like that were willing to pay the price that needed to be paid to preserve our lives and our nation. I am grateful that their sacrifice was not in vain. I am humbled when I realize I served beside men as professional and disciplined as these. I am saddened, knowing that their lives ended that mine might be fulfilled, and that they, like myself, did so willingly.

When you look for heroes, look no further than the men who died wearing dolphins, and humble yourself in their memory. We are lifted on the shoulders of these giants.

So we came back…

I am not a hero, as Dick Winters said, but I served in the company of heroes…

I will remember…I will never forget…

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