By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Swink, Submarine Force Pacific Fleet Public Affairs
PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- Submariners past and present gathered at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki May 8-9, to celebrate 115 years of distinguished U.S. Navy Submarine Force service.
This year's milestone birthday galas recorded the largest crowds ever in the storied history of the event. With enlisted submariners celebrating on Friday and the officers attending Saturday, a combined crowd of nearly 3,000 guests packed the ballroom during the weekend's festivities.
Speakers during the two-day event included Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and retired Navy Capt. Bruce Smith, a former commanding officer of the most highly decorated vessel in U.S. history, the submarine USS Parche (SSN 683).
Smith said because of the rich naval history of Pearl Harbor, it is the ideal setting to celebrate a submarine birthday ball.
"Pearl Harbor is and always will be the heart and soul of our Navy's submarine force," said Smith. "The war in the Pacific began with a crushing surprise attack on Pearl Harbor; our submarine force survived the blow and took the fight to the enemy."
Smith continued, quoting Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, "It was to the Submarine Force that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of peril."
"Let's be mindful of our legacy and of the cost," said Smith. "We do know that freedom isn't free, many of our submarine force men and women stand the watch this evening."
During the balls on each evening, ceremonies honoring 65 boats and crew lost at sea during war and peacetime reminded attendees of the sacrifices and courage of undersea warriors.
"Tonight is a celebration about us, it is a time for us to spend with our friends, with our shipmates and our loved ones," said Sawyer. "It's a chance for us to tell sea stories and remember the past, and just as importantly to celebrate the present."
Sawyer recognized the submarine veterans in attendance and said although submarine force accomplishments remain largely unknown to the public, their contributions over the years have molded the force into what it is today.
"The nation expects the military and the submarine force to be ready," said Sawyer. "Ready for whatever, whenever, like our predecessors were. You can be justifiably proud of what you have accomplished this last year."
Pacific Submarine Force Master Chief Russ Mason, expressed his appreciation for the Sailors and the year they have had, including the stand-up of Submarine Squadron 21 in Manama, Bahrain, and the missions executed by submarine crews stationed here and in Guam.
"It's been a great year," said Mason. "You have done a lot of awesome things; I am truly proud of each and every one of you and appreciate your families."
Retired Rear Adm. Lloyd "Joe" Vasey was honored as the most senior qualified submariner in attendance, having earned his dolphins in 1942.
"Dolphins" are the submarine warfare insignia worn by both enlisted personnel and officers signifying proficiency in using all on-board submarine systems.
Vasey was honored by Sailors and spouses throughout the evening. A pioneer in the submarine force, Vasey served as a submarine officer throughout World War II, including the invasion of North Africa and later in the Pacific theater.
Submarine Ball events commemorate the anniversary of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Force. Since April 11, 1900, when the U.S. Navy first purchased John Holland's revolutionary submarine and dubbed it America's first commissioned submarine, USS Holland (SS-1), submariners have been patrolling the depths of our oceans, taking the fight to enemies and providing maritime security around the world.