Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 24, 2014
Blue Hill man dedicates wall to submariners
Dave McGraw, of Blue Hill, Maine talks about his submarine service and the reasons why he built a 312-foot wall in 2014 to honor submarine sailors who had died in war and peace time serving their country.
by Rich Hewitt
The USS Jallalo was just shy of 312-feet long like most of the World War II era submarines. That’s why Dave McGraw of Blue Hill had his wall built to just that length.
The Jallalo was McGraw’s submarine. He served on board from 1958-62 sailing around the world and under the seas, including a 56-day submersion off the coast of Murmansk in the former Soviet Union. As he was clearing the property on the Grindleville Road in Blue Hill, he decided to build the wall along the road. McGraw has battled MS for the past 29 years, so he turned to his neighbor Kevin Piper, who provided all the heavy lifting for the project.
“I asked him if he knew how to build a wall and he said ‘no.’ I said ‘I don’t either, let’s get started,’’’ McGraw said.
It wasn’t long after the project got started almost three years ago that McGraw, who had always wanted to do something to recognize the submarine service, decided that the wall would be the right way to do that.
“I wanted to use it as a memorial, as a wall of honor for the submarine sailors who lost their lives either in war or in peace time,’’ he said. “They all served our country. I wanted to make this wall special. I think we’ve achieved that. I think Kevin did a heck of a job.’’
Piper, himself an Air Force veteran, indicated that the work on the wall meant more after McGraw decided to create it as a memorial.
“I’m him,’’ he said referring to McGraw. “I’m just doing what he would have done if he could.’’
During the two-and-a half to three years he spent working on the wall, Piper said, he’d spoken to a number of people who would stop.
“I’ve spoken to so many people just because I was there by the side of the road,’’ he said. “Now, to be sitting here in the field, with the wall, I was holding back tears the whole time.’’
With friends and neighbors and a contingent of former submarine sailors from the USS Maine Submarine Veterans, McGraw organized a quiet ceremony on Saturday, July 19, to dedicate the wall. A sign set just inside the wall notes that it was privately built “to honor all U.S. Navy era submarine sailors who lost their lives while serving our country. God Bless them. God Bless America.”
Pastor Max Merrill, a Vietnam-era veteran who was assigned to the chaplain’s service, noted that the wall resembled a submarine in many ways. Build below the level of the road from stones found on McGraw’s property, the wall is barely visible from the road, almost invisible, like a sub. Each of the stones in the wall was placed there by hand.
“Like submarine sailors, they are all different sizes, shapes and colors,’’ he said. “And each one was individually hand-picked.”
Capt. Robert Slaven, USN Ret., spoke of the high rate of loss among submarines during World War II. About 400 subs were built during that war and about 312 of them completed their trials and went to sea.
“Of those, 52 didn’t come home,” Slaven said. “And about the same percentage of submarine sailors didn’t come home, because, when a sub goes down, it usually goes down with all hands.”
Slaven added that since the submarine service was created in 1910, a total of 23 subs have been lost during peace time operations.
He also spoke of another local submariner, Sydney Jones, a 1932 graduate of George Stevens Academy, who served as quartermaster aboard the USS Tang, which earned a reputation for its deadly accuracy as it harassed and destroyed Japanese convoys along the Japanese coast. The Tang had completed a particularly effective mission when one of its own torpedoes missed the mark, circled back to where it came from and hit the submarine, sinking it. Just a handful of the crew survived, including the captain, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Among the dead was Sydney Jones, who was posthumously honored with his second Silver Star, becoming the most decorated sailor serving on the Navy’s most decorated sub.
“It seems appropriate today to remember that 70 years ago in October, a sailor from Blue Hill lost his life in battle,” Slaven said.
The contingent from the USS Maine Submarine Veterans brought with them a scale model of a submarine which serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that submariner sailors have made.
John McCutcheon of Fairfield, who served about the USS Bluegill from 1959-63, said it was important for the submarine veterans to be present for events like the dedication because there is a brotherhood among submariners.
“No one else understands what we went through,” he said. “We shared the same experiences; we went through the same things together. We all understand each other. There’s a bond between us that is not breakable. This wall represents that bond.”