A year ago today, USS San Francisco (SSN 711) ran aground on a seamount near the Caroline Islands, resulting in the death of MM2(SS) Joseph Ashley. A lot of words have been written about who was to blame for this grounding, and what the Sub Force can do to prevent it from happening again, but today, I'd like to focus on what I think is important: the professionalism of the crew of the San Francisco in bringing their stricken ship home, and the brotherly love that they've demonstrated for each other throughout this trying year. As an example of this, here's a picture from "Cooter" Ashley's memorial service that the crew put together:
A San Franciso crewmember who was onboard for the grounding recently wrote: This is not a time for recriminations, but a time to honor Cooter's ultimate sacrifice, and the brave efforts of those who tried to rescue him - both on the ship and off. It's a time to remember that when we lost one of our own, we did the right thing and came together as Submariners.
No better example of the way submariners from all over came together is to read the 200+ pages of on-line "Guest Book" entries in honor of MM2(SS) Ashley, and consider that Cooter was the 8th most eulogized person on-line in 2005, right behind Peter Jennings.
What brought the rest of the submarine crew safely home? I submit that it was love of family and love of shipmates, but also, love of their ship. This is a difficult concept for many to understand, and I know that even many submariners don't like to admit it. A ship, believe it or not, has a soul; this soul comes from the blood, sweat, joy, and tears contributed by everyone who works on a ship, exults in her successes, and despairs from her shortcomings. You may want to toss some parts of her overboard, but the feeling a Sailor feels, deep down, for the home away from home that protects them from the elements while they sleep, and brings them to safe harbor, can only be described as "love". The closing speech in a recent movie said it best, in describing how the wounded ship was able to bring her crew home (change "in the air" to "under the sea" -- the meaning's the same):
"Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her home."
I've collected most of the ~70 posts I did about the San Francisco grounding in chronological order over in the May archives of our group submarine blog, Ultraquiet No More. Some of the links are broken, but as you read these posts, written between January and May of last year, I hope you'll understand one retired submariner's perception of the wonderful brotherhood that exists between shipmates on a submarine. I know the crew of USS San Francisco understands this.