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Submarine veterans recall 'lonely piers' in wake of USS Scorpion disappearance

The Day - 5/27/2024

May 27--GROTON -- Fifty-six years ago to the day, a dock reserved for the returning USS Scorpion sat empty while Navy wife Mary Gilbert consoled the ones whose husbands would not return.

On Monday, she laid a wreath at the base of the U.S. Submarine Veterans WWII National Memorial East. The Memorial Day ceremony was a tribute not only to the 3,617 submariners lost during the second great war, but also to those who died before and since -- including the 99 men aboard the Scorpion when it was lost to the depths of the Azores.

Gilbert's husband, Michael Gilbert, in 1968 was a young sailor only recently assigned to the USS Lapon. The submarine shared a home port with the Scorpion, a nuclear-powered Skipjack-class boat on a training mission in the Mediterranean set to deliver its men to shore on May 27.

The homecoming that never happened led to a massive sea and air search, according to reports published in The Day at the time. By June 5, the submarine was declared missing and presumed lost.

"We, as the wives of the Lapon, helped take care of the Scorpion wives and their children," Gilbert recalled Monday. "Fed them. Cried with them. The whole thing."

The remains of the Scorpion were found later that year by an oceanographic research ship. Though the exact cause of the sinking has never been determined, the Navy contends equipment failure led to uncontrollable flooding.

Gilbert, of Gales Ferry, was succinct in her recollection of standing by the widows.

"It was a very sad day," she said. "And that's just the way it was."

Michael Gilbert would go on to serve 23 more years aboard the USS Seawolf, USS Scamp, USS George Washington Carver and USS Topeka. He died this April as a retired command master chief.


Construction of the Scorpion began in 1958 at Groton's Electric Boat. The second submarine to bear the name Scorpion, it was sponsored by the daughter of its predecessor's commanding officer.

The first submarine Scorpion went down in the East China Sea during World War II.

Retired Rear Adm. Mike Holland, who served most recently as chief of staff for the U.S. Northern Command, spoke at the ceremony hosted by the Groton chapter of United States Submarine Veterans Inc.

"On this day 56 years ago, USS Scorpion SSN 589 was to return home to Norfolk, Virginia. She did not," Holland said. "On this day, today, we will not ponder what might have happened or lament procedures and equipment. No. Today, we will remember."

While fog rose over the gray submarine tower and periscope dominating the memorial site, two members of the veterans group took turns speaking the name of each man lost on the boat. The crowd of more than 100 was silent for more than five minutes from Keith Alexander Martin Allen to Clarence Otto Young Jr. as the wind whipped at 65 colored flags representing the submarines lost before, during and after WWII.

After the names were read and a bell was rung two times each to represent the lost submarines, veteran Robert Sharpe read a poem by submariner Richard Murphy about the lonely piers and empty berths left in the Scorpion's wake.

"But sleep at peace within the deep, Brothers, rest your oar," Sharpe read. "For we, who now the watch and vigil keep, stand waiting on the shore."



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