The greatest joy, the deepest sorrow.
As we approach the anniversary of the loss of the USS Thresher, I am once again reminded that the world of Submariners and their families are consumed with the greatest of joys and the deepest sorrows.
The joy comes when a boat has completed her mission and returns safely home. As the small black object on the horizon starts getting bigger and bigger, you can almost feel the joy of the wives and children. Dad has been gone for so long and so many things have changed. Holidays were missed, special school events were not seen and so many of life’s little blessings were passed by. But in this moment, that magnificent hull is coming closer and closer. Maybe there is a band. Certainly there is anticipation. What will they say to each other after so many months of long separation?
There is the tug now, sidling up next to the boat. A hatch opens and men come out to help with the lines. Is that Dad? Does he see me? My God his beard is shaggy. That will have to come off right away. Closer and closer the boat pulls in as it approaches the pier. Hearts are beating faster and faster as the loneliness is about to be forgotten. Tears of joy. Suddenly every little problem of the world is forgotten.
That is how it is supposed to be. But on a day long ago, there were no homecomings. Just emptiness. One minute, there were thoughts of a husband far away on a submarine, just doing what he wanted to do, and the next minute… well the next minute goes on forever. A phone call. Questions about what is going on. Hope against hope that it is all just a mistake. Haven’t boats lost communications before? But they always came back. Not this time.
Tears of sorrow burst from their eyes. Crying and emptiness that never ends. Souls that are never reunited. No bands will play. The pier is empty. So are their lives.
Everyone is brave until they actually have to be. Everyone is sure they will see each other again until they don’t. Everyone is sure this is just another routine operation until it isn’t.
The loss of any submarine is a sad reminder of how un-routine this business will always be. The sacrifices of those men will always be felt by the families and the brothers who wear the dolphins on their chest. The world moved on. But in the world of Submariners there will always be that moment. That Gertrude check. That empty sea filled with no response.
God rest their souls. God Bless those who still mourn their loss.