Located just north of U.S. Submarine Veterans Highway on the exterior grounds of Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station sits a "Living Memorial." This tree-lined, World War II Memorial, dedicated in 1977 pays tribute to the 52 lost submarines and 3505 men who perished. The site is also the home of two other monuments dedicated to the Cold War losses of Thresher and Scorpion. Ground level, as you enter the Memorial, a marble plaque is inscribed with these words; "Walk softy stranger, walk softly, you tread on hallowed ground." Indeed U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII National Memorial West is "hallowed ground."
U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII & National Memorial West
To tell the story of the Memorial one must include the historical background of the L.A. Chapter of WWII Submarine Veterans.
The organization; "U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II" was formed in 1955 by surviving members of the U.S. Navy's elite Submarine Service. The First National Convention (Reunion) was held at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 23-25, 1955. Of the approximately sixty that registered only thirty attended but it was considered a success as it was the impetus that got the organization going. The Second Annual Convention (Reunion) was again held in Atlantic City, New Jersey from September 28-30, 1956. This time over two hundred submarine veterans came from all parts of the country, representing every boat active during World War II. That was also the start of special dedications for each individual lost boat.
The organization was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey on February 15, 1956. At the 1960 San Diego National Convention the first application was made for a Federal Charter. Twenty-one years later, after several attempts, a Federal Charter was granted on November 20, 1981 during the Ronald Reagan administration under Title 36 of the United States Code, Chapter 2207.
In 1960 the Los Angeles Chapter began as a spin-off by a number of members of the San Diego Chapter. Early meetings were held at member's homes, briefly at the Hollywood American Legion and eventually ending up at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station (NWS). It was then that the Chapter started to experience rapid growth. The group hosted numerous regional meetings held at facilities such as the Newporter Inn in Newport Beach, Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park and in 1993 they held their first National Convention, the 39th, at the Disneyland Hotel. The Los Angeles group became known as one of the best Chapters within the organization.
Ground Breaking Ceremony
From the beginning, even though small in numbers, the group had a dream of someday constructing a memorial to honor the lost boats and shipmates who courageously made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. During one of the early meetings in 1972 at the home of Chapter President Bill Holland, the veterans decided to start the formal planning for a memorial. First and foremost they needed money, they would also need to obtain a suitable site and another prime need would be a torpedo. Since several Chapters had already erected memorials with a torpedo as the focal point, and not wanting to be outdone, they concluded that their memorial would also need a torpedo.
The committee knew that finding a suitable site was going to be difficult so with gusto they started fund-raising activities and the relentless hunt for a torpedo.
One of the first fundraisers was called "Nite at the Races" held at Los Alamitos Race Track. The event not only created a little bit of revenue they also had a great time and continued the event for a number of years. The members also held monthly brunches, steak fry's, backyard barbeques, pool parties and countless raffles. The ladies also pitched in by conducting rummage and yard sales and constructing and selling Christmas Cheer Baskets.
Several failed attempts were made to obtain a torpedo. Eventually member Harold Ballenger zeroed in on an available Mark 14 Torpedo located at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Since Harold was a determined individual and a two-time past National President, he used his clout and strong will to seal this appropriation.
On 12 March 1973, Louis & Austin Day pulled their truck into Hunters Point, signed for and loaded the torpedo aboard. They left Hunters Point in their wake, and headed south to Los Angeles, their prize torpedo firmly strapped down on the bed of the truck.
The Mark 14 was initially housed at Al Rupp's home in Carson then shortly after moved to the home of Mickey Foster in Manhattan Beach. That move nearly saw the demise of the torpedo when the undersized loading crane came close to collapsing. Weekend work parties gathered at Foster's home to remove the protective finish, sand and polish and return the torpedo to first-class condition. In spite of numerous beer and lunch breaks, filled with traditional sea stories, the project completed in due course. There was no doubt that this was a truly dedicated Chapter devoted to their goal.
The Memorial fund-raising efforts and hunt to find a site moved forward. They also started work on another identified need which was the "Lost Boat - Eternal Patrol Plaque." The plaque was found in Texas and procured with Chapter funds. Progress continued moving at flank speed.
Memorial Walkway Construction
The Chapters next big activity projected to bring publicity to the group and their efforts was the 1974 Huntington Beach 70th annual, 4th of July Parade, and did it ever! Armed with their freshly painted and restored Mk14 the group, by direction of float designer and builder Al Rupp, dressed the torpedo up in all its splendor to join the parade. With its bright and shinny warhead glistening in the sun, a mermaid riding on-top, along with over 65 members, wives and children marching along, it was no wonder it was awarded a first place trophy. That day the parade route was lined with over 100,000 applauding spectators, it made the nightly news and they picked up seven new members.
Since the Chapter had settled in with facilities to conduct meetings at Seal Beach Weapons Station, it seemed like the logical place for the Memorial site. After several requests and appeals to the base officers, resulting in negative responses, they decided to look elsewhere. They contacted Los Alamitos Naval Air Station and were informed that the facility was slated for closure. Back on the search their next target was the Long Beach Naval Base. Several positive meetings were held but when a final site was offered and its location was way off in the boondocks by the hanger for the Spruce Goose the members politely thanked the base for their courtesy and continued looking elsewhere. Next stop was Kings Harbor in Redondo Beach, Costa Mesa Cemetery and they even considered a site next to Independence Hall on the grounds of Knott?s Berry Farm. All requests were either denied or unacceptable options. It was beginning to appear that the Chapter was going to need some divine intervention to find a suitable site for the Memorial. It happened in the form of USS Drum 1975 ships reunion, held in Mobile, Alabama. Many members of the L.A. Chapter attended the Drum reunion that year. It was a special time, as few crewmen who made war patrols ever got the opportunity to board their boat in post war years.
Al Rupp and Son at Memorial Construction
Attending the reunion was Rear Admiral B.F. McMahon, a past Drum Skipper. Sometime during the reunion a few L.A. members were relating the sad situation to the RADM regarding their unsuccessful attempts to obtain a site to erect a L.A. area WWII Submarine Memorial. McMahon listened with interest. Since he had spent many of his post WWII career years at Washington, D.C. he had extensive inside knowledge of the workings of the Navy. He explained that the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station property came under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, not the base command. McMahon promised upon his return home he would assist them and contact the bureau on their behalf.
Prepairing to Raise the Flag
Soon thereafter meetings resumed with NWS officials and potential locations discussed for consideration. After review a desirable site was eventually approved. The Memorial would be on the left side of the main entrance. Not only did the base move the fence to accommodate them, they also ran water, electrical and removed shrubbery. The only obstacle (at the time) was the "unsightly" tree in the center of the plot. Now it was up to the members to plan and start construction, which they did in zeal.
The site would contain 52 Italian Cypress trees, planted in a half circle, to represent the 52 lost submarines of WWII. (These trees did not last and were later replaced). In front of each tree would be a raised concrete slab with a brass plate displaying the name of each lost boat. The torpedo, flagpole, "Lost Boat Plaque", and two other plaques would front the memorial. A small reflection pool would stand directly behind.
On January 13, 1977 a ground breaking ceremony took place to officially get the project underway. Al Rupp (WWII POW, USS Grenadier SS 210) and his son directed the project and Chapter members helped with the necessary labor. The site soon took on the planned look. With the completion date scheduled for Memorial Day the members had a lot of work to do in a short period.
It was a spectacular and emotional day on May 30, 1977 when bugles sounded and Old Glory was raised up the flag pole for the first time to begin the National Memorial West Dedication Ceremony. It was an especially stirring moment when the flag hit the top of the pole and fluttered proudly in the warm Southern California breeze. One interesting phase of the service was putting the time capsule into its place at the base of the torpedo.
Time Capsule at Base of Torpedo Display
Every member of the illustrious Los Angeles Chapter had a lot to be proud of that day for the Memorial truly did and remains as a visual living monument to
Plaque Unvailing at Dedication Ceremony
"Perpetuate the Memory of Our Lost Shipmates". Since that day, numerous improvements and many ceremonies have taken place at this remarkable site. On Memorial Day in 1986 a dedication was held to unveil the newly installed individual concrete tablets with cast bronze plaques embedded with raised letters listing the names of each sailor lost. That year the Memorial Site was also designated as a "Living Memorial" and was adopted and designated by the National Organization by what it is now known; "U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII National Memorial West."
On May 20, Armed Forces Day 2000, hundreds gathered for the dedication of the Thresher-Scorpion Memorial and Submarine Centennial Brick Memorial Walkway.
Raising the Flag
In 2009 a cement walkway was constructed allowing wheel chair accesses to all areas of the Memorial site.
To this day U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII National Memorial West is the site of annual public Memorial Day services. The service which incorporates the emotional "tolling the boats" typically hosts close to 500 guests and dignitaries.
Reflection Pond at Dedication Ceremony
As submarine veterans we owe a sense of gratitude and obligation to the legacy of those that came before us and sometimes need to remind ourselves of the purpose of USSVI.
As Abraham Lincoln once said; "A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure."
The U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII National Memorial West is most certainly hallowed ground. It is up to us and those that follow us, to keep it that way.
Dedication Ceremony Near Torpedo
Dedication Speeches (Navy Band in Foreground)
The Los Angeles Pasadena Base of the USSVI is the officially recognized custodian of the National Submarine Memorial, West.