ST. MARYS, Ga. -- A capacity crowd stood spontaneously when 15 WWII submarine veterans entered an outdoor pavilion Friday at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay for an annual ceremony in their honor.
They are among a dwindling number of submarine veterans who served during the war who make the trip to Kings Bay every year to remember the 52 American submarines lost and the more than 3,400 crewmen killed during the war.
"I stand in awe of each and every one of you," said Capt. Brian Lepine, commanding officer at Kings Bay.
He praised the WWII submarine vets for their courage and tenacity in what was the most dangerous duty in the military during the war. One in five submarines was lost during the war, most with no survivors.
"The report, 'submarine overdue, presumed lost,' was the epitaph of the sub and crew," he said.
The submarine force comprised two percent of the Navy, but was responsible for sinking more than half the Japanese vessels sunk during the war, including 30 percent of the Japanese navy and eight aircraft carriers.
Lepine said those men set the standards today's sailors try to achieve.
"May we live up to what you have done," he said.
Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, described his invitation to be keynote speaker a "tremendous honor."
He said the veterans honored have left a lasting legacy.
"It is what we all hope to have someday," he said.
Moran met with some of the veterans prior to the ceremony who told their stories about why they enlisted. He met one veteran who lied about his age to enlist when he was 15 years old.
"You weren't supposed to do that," he said, as the audience burst into laughter.
Sailors serving aboard submarines knew their duty was dangerous but they were willing to take the risk because of the high stakes.
"It's difficult to comprehend what they went through," Moran said. "They never gave in, even when the prospect of success was unlikely."
He told the veterans that today's sailors strive to reach the high standards they set.
"You should feel good, very good, about the people who have picked up the torch," he said. "They want to live up to your example. They want to be part of your legacy."
Moran said the submarine force's role continues to be important.
"The mission the U.S. Navy has provided has never gone away," he said. "There are those who would challenge us on the high seas but don't because of our sailors."
The audience stood for the Tolling of the Bell, when the bell rang once for each American submarine lost during the war, as well as nine sunk in accidents prior to the war, three lost after the war and the 83 submarines lost by the British navy during the war.
(c)2016 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)