Matthew Milsop: Remembrance at the N.J. Naval Museum

Memorial Day service at the Ling

The unofficial beginning of summer is also a day to honor our beloved war dead. Many people have made a weekend retreat from their homes in the suburbs and cities, running to the beach, to lakes, to countrysides, to relatives, while others have this day to remember and honor their lost ones. It is easy to think of the rest as ungrateful or as ignorant, but it must be remembered that many people have jobs, families, other commitments and their only window into war is the television, the internet or whatever media they can call up on their phones.

Yet, it is so saddening for a veteran, a man or woman, who has sacrificed so much for the country they loved to meet people, children in particular who do not understand or appreciate the wars this nation has survived, wars that have taken so many lives. It is even more painful if someone has never heard of their war, say World War II, which is perhaps one of the most defining wars of this nation and the “Greatest Generation.”

This is the purpose of a museum such as the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack. We are home to the World War II submarine, USS Ling (SS-297).

The service of the US Submarine Force is not often recognized or remembered in media and unheard of in schools. The submarine is one of the most secret military vehicles. Their designs are carefully guarded secrets. Many of the men who served aboard them did not have high school diplomas, unheard of in today’s submarine force, yet by the time they qualified, they were capable of performing every job at every station aboard the vessel, and were truly some of the most intelligent men on the battlefield.

On December 7, 1941, six Japanese carriers launch an air raid, the largest ever launched from a carrier, which succeeded in surprising and crippling the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. At the same time, they succeeded in beginning a brutal invasion of the Philippines, crippling our forces there, and invading the rest of South East Asia.

Aircraft carriers were too few and precious to wage the kind of war we needed to wage; the only weapon available was the Fleet Type Submarine, a vessel capable of traveling over 10,000 miles and hitting targets at a low cost to the United States Navy. Only days after the attack on Pearl, the submarines were out on war patrol with orders to kill. These first boats are remembered especially by the WWII submariners: Gudgeon, Plunger, Pollack, Pompano, Dolphin, and Tautog. They would be followed by others, brand new construction, launched to fight the Japanese. These would include Wahoo, Growler, Silversides, Tang and many others.

For the New Jersey Naval Museum, Memorial Day is about remembering the lost boats of the US Submarine Force. We recall the names of those boats for over three thousand men were killed. Many left with a feeling of invisibility, many with a fire to defend their nation. All went to war under the Stars and Stripes and deserve a day of remembrance, Memorial Day.

Matthew Milsop is a writer and volunteer who gives tours and edits the newsletter at the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack. 

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