By Veronica Sandate Craker
A crowd of several hundred made their way to Port of Benton Boulevard and 11th Street in Richland to take part in a dedication ceremony of the USS Triton Submarine Memorial Park exactly 52 years from the day it was first commissioned.
Many “war” stories were swapped during the dedication, including that of a water rescue shared by retired U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Rawlins.
While aboard the USS Triton Rawlins and his crew were ordered to find and rescue two men whose aircraft had gone down. The crew was able to spot the two men floating in a raft near the area the plane had gone down.
According to Rawlins, both men were in bad shape as hypothermia began to be set in.
“(We) took them down below and gave them a shot of whiskey and a cup of coffee, threw them in the bunk and covered them with blankets,” Rawlins said. “An ambulance was waiting on the pier, they loaded them in the ambulance they took off. We never saw or heard from them again, but we know they survived.”
The Triton is one of a number of submarines that have been decommissioned in Bremerton and their nuclear reactor cores unloaded at the Port’s barge slip for permanent storage at Hanford.
The Triton’s sail, a large structure located on top of the submarine, was brought to the Tri-Cities in six pieces and welded together before being cemented into its permanent home.
The sail, which is on “loan” from the Navy, was brought to the Tri-Cities in large part to Port Commission President Bob Larson.
“We believe it’s the largest sail on a nuclear submarine,” Larson said.
Larson thanked the Navy for doing its part to help bring the sail to the Tri-Cities and dedicated it to the sailors who served on the submarine.
Yakima Sub Vets Base Commander Robert Rains made the trip to Richland to attend the event. He brought with him the book “Around the World Submerged: The Voyage of the Triton” by Edward L. Jr. Beach for the Navy officers to sign. The book is a first-hand account of the submarines record-breaking circumnavigation of the world under water.
“This book and two others were instrumental in making me decide to volunteer for submarine service,” said Rains, who first set eyes on the Triton in North Folk, Va. in 1969 while serving in the Navy.
“She was still tied up at Pier 22 when I reported aboard my surface ship,” he said. “She had been decommissioned the year before in 1968.”
Rains was in the surface Navy at the time and was serving aboard a guided missile frigate.
General Dynamics in Groton, Calif. built the 447-foot tall, 5,900-ton submarine. It is the only non-Russian submarine powered by two nuclear reactors.
Retired Cmdr. Al Steele and Master Chief Petty Officer Harold Weston also addressed the crowd.
Steele told the crowd about the Tritons first dive, which caused him much angst after its rocky start. Nevertheless Steele said he had fond memories of the sub and was glad to see if on display for all to see.
“This was my home for three years,” Steele said. “I didn’t have a house, condo, apartment, I didn’t have anything except this ship. This was home.”
After the ceremony the public was invited to take a tour inside the 24-foot tall sail.
“I’ve spent a number of hours standing on the bridge of that sail,” Rawlins said. “I’m glad that it’s preserved for everyone to come and see.”