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U.S. Survivors Recall Sub Ordeal

August 15, 2000

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ When Dan Persico heard that a Russian submarine manned by more than 100 sailors had sunk in the Barents Sea, his thoughts flashed back more than six decades, to when he endured a similar ordeal.

``It brought back instant, unpleasant memories,″ said Persico, now 82, of Amsterdam, N.Y., one of the survivors from the USS Squalus, which went down 13 miles off the New Hampshire coast in 1939.

Six of the 33 survivors of the Squalus tragedy are still alive. Twenty-six crewmen died when the sub sank in 250 feet of water during its trial run.

Persico and several of the other survivors held out little hope Monday for the trapped Russian sailors.

``I would say these boys are in some real trouble,″ said Gerald McLees, 85, of Portsmouth, N.H.

The drama of the Russian sub also kindled memories for another former submarine crewman. Kimo Ward, a retired sonar technician, helped search for a pair of U.S. nuclear subs lost at sea _ the Thresher in 1963 and the Scorpion in 1968. No one survived either disaster.

Ward, from Montville, Conn., served aboard the Thresher until 1962 and was scheduled to be on the sub during its last voyage in April 1963 _ but had been delayed. He knew half the men on the doomed sub.

``You wake up and 60 of my shipmates that I had been with for two years, all of a sudden they were gone,″ he said. All 129 men aboard perished.

The Squalus sank when water inlet valves opened without tripping alarms in the control room. Investigators later blamed a mechanical malfunction.

The crew waited 23 hours before another sub arrived carrying a nine-ton diving bell. The bell was lowered to a hatch on the Squalus to rescue the survivors.

McLees was one of the first to ride up; Persico and Allen Bryson, then a 21-year-old machinist’s mate second class, were in the last group. The other remaining living survivors are Carlton Powell of Lompoc, Calif.; Carol Nathan Pierce of Louisville, Ky.; and Warren Smith of Livingston, Texas.

``During the initial hustle and bustle of activity, you don’t have time to think, you have to stop the water from coming in,″ recalled Bryson, 82, of New London, Conn. ``Then you have to worry about air.″

``We didn’t have enough,″ Bryson said. ``We had very little oxygen.″

``We were given orders to lay down and take it easy on the oxygen,″ added McLees, then a 25-year-old chief electrician’s mate.

The shortage of oxygen was not the only menace they faced on the Squalus.

Water had shorted out one of the ship’s two batteries, creating a rapid voltage drain. One crew member wedged himself into a narrow crawl space to shut off the power.

``It’s probably a little colder out there (in the Barents Sea) than what we had, but we had no lights,″ McLees said.

Despite growing doubt that the Russians can be rescued, Persico, a seaman first class aboard the Squalus, offered reason for optimism. Despite being one of the last seaman rescued, ``I never gave up hope,″ he said.

``All submariners are like a brotherhood,″ said Ward. ``We’re a very small group. Even though we were enemies at one point, we all share something most people don’t.″


On the Net:

U.S. Submarine Memorials: http://www.1000islands.com/(tilde)cny/history/all.htm

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