Parade down Broadway a salute to U.S. Submariners

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Since 07-04-05


JIM KINNEY , The Saratogian
09/19/2004

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- John Long of Salem, Ore., had a presidential unit citation. His submarine, the USS Halibut, even had its Cold War exploits immortalized in the book 'Blind Man's Bluff'.

But until Saturday, he'd never marched in a parade.

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- John Long of Salem, Ore., had a presidential unit citation. His submarine, the USS Halibut, even had its Cold War exploits immortalized in the book 'Blind Man's Bluff'.

But until Saturday, he'd never marched in a parade.

'You're looking at a bunch of chiefs of the highest rate,' Long said.

His shipmate, Ed Mitchell of Columbia, S.C., added: 'We were there. We did it.'

Long and Mitchell are among the 2,000 submarine veterans in Saratoga Springs this week for the U.S. Submarine Veterans' annual convention. Saturday's parade was the first large-scale parade ever held specifically to recognize the sailors in the Navy's 'silent service.'

The convention began Wednesday and ends this morning with a series of goodbye breakfasts. The group held its grand banquet Saturday night at the City Center.

The 1-hour parade had marchers stretched from Congress Park to Van Dam Street. It featured nine marching bands, including the Union Fire Co. band from Ballston Spa.

Heavy rains fell all morning, but the clouds parted just as the noon step-off approached.

A drill team of active submarine sailors from the base in Groton, Conn., drew cheers when they stopped to shout 'Submarine warriors present!' into the crowd.

Submariners on floats sounded horns that brought to mind the phrase 'Dive! Dive!' for anyone who's ever watched a submarine movie.

Before the parade, a marching band trumpeter warmed up with a few jazz riffs on North Broadway.

Al LaRocca, a sub vet from Long Island, fastened a string of Japanese flag pennants to a trailer-sized model of the USS Spadefish. There were 21 pennants, each representing a Japanese ship it sunk.

'We should have had 32,' said LaRocca, who served on the Spadefish in World War II. 'But the Japanese kept lousy records at the end of the war and we didn't get credit.'

In June, 1945 the Spadefish spent 19 hours underwater weaving its way through Japanese minefields into the Sea of Japan. Once there, it sank six ships in two days.

The incident was later made into a movie, 'Hellcats of the Navy' starring Ronald Reagan.

The model Spadefish lights up, with propellers that spin and hatches that open.

Other groups from around the country brought parade floats out to show Saturday. There was a model USS Saratoga aircraft carrier from Rhode Island, where the real USS Saratoga will one day be a museum. A group from Indiana brought a near-life-size model of a World War II torpedo. Veterans from Pittsburg brought their model of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, on a trailer.

'People slowed down on the highway to take pictures of it,' submariner John Irons said. 'It was pretty neat.'

He said the group often takes the float to local parades for Memorial Day and other patriotic celebrations. This is their first cross-country trip with it.

E.J. Covey, a member of the Pittsburg base who lives in West Virginia, had nothing but praise for Saratoga Springs as a convention host.

'Saratoga's been fantastic,' he said. 'What a nice place to visit.'

Irons pointed out that many veterans spent time in the area as young men, training at the Kesselring site in West Milton.

With 2,000 veterans, this is the largest national convention held in Saratoga Springs since Union Civil War veterans gathered here. Saratoga Springs beat out Orlando, Fla., for the right to host the convention.

Organizers estimated that each conventioneer spent about $2,000 during the week. That means that the sub vets added $2 million to the local economy.

Al Singleman, commander of the Albany-Saratoga Sub Vets, said that many people have told him they will be back to town either on vacation or to have reunions for individual submarines.

'There hasn't been a bad comment,' Singleman said. 'They have never been to a convention that was this well-organized. The community support has been incredible.'

Singleman, who lives in Rotterdam, borrowed one of the city's tourism catchphrases.

'This fall, Saratoga is the submarine place to be.'