Their underwater mission is often called the most silent military service. It was certainly the most hazardous of World War II, when half their torpedoes failed them. Fifty-two submarines and 3,500 sailors were lost in the war. That's a staggering casualty rate of 22 percent, the highest of any military branch.
Such a sacrifice prompted an unusual remembrance Monday, at one of only two submarine veterans monuments in the country. (The other is in Groton, Conn., where the same 52 subs and crews are memorialized).
Just inside the gates of the , a moving ceremony unfolded at 11 a.m.
They call it "the tolling of the boats." After each sunken vessel's name was announced, the fate of its crew followed: "All hands lost." A bell rang out for each submarine, in a ceremony that took about an hour.
Several hundred people, including widows and wives of surviving veterans, usually attend.
At Monday's observance, some of the women placed flowers in a reflection pool.
"Now and then, we have the opportunity to choose to do something that will make a difference to the world around us," Vice Adm. Patrick J. Hannifin, U.S. Navy retired, told a standing-room-only crowd during the 1999 ceremony.
"Surely these men made that choice when they volunteered for duty," he said. "They came from large cities and small towns and villages, from ranches and farms, from pueblos and reservations. They were from all of the families of America, and ...we will not forget them."