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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: USSVI commander looks to memorialize submarine veterans

By JEREMY P. AMICK/MISSOURIAN READER
April 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
The launching of USS Archerfish on January 17, 1971. Ed Irwin served a two-year stint on board the submarine and seeks to keep the submarine memory alive through his work with United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI).

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

Our society is full of examples of the fellowship that frequently develops from a history of shared experiences—and the Navy’s submarine veterans certainly prove to be no exception.

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Shortly after World War II, an organization was formed to recognize and honor the service of submariners who had served during the war.

Many years later, however, a separate organization, the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI), was established to embrace all submariners—regardless of whether they served during war or peacetime.

“The organization has almost 13,000 members nationwide,” said Jefferson City resident Ed Irwin, who retired from the Navy in 1982.

“To be eligible to join, you must have an honorable discharge from the Navy and have been qualified to wear the ‘dolphins’ insignia,” he added.

As Irwin explained, the “dolphins”—an insignia of a submarine flanked by two dolphins—is earned through an extensive qualification process that consists of learning the various systems used on board a submarine.    

The USSVI is headquartered in Silverdale, Wash., and includes a structure with small clusters of membership called “bases.” There are 164 bases nationwide, of which three are in Missouri.

Currently serving as the commander for the Topeka-Jefferson City Base, Irwin notes that the group participates in several activities including a yearly memorial honoring submariners who perished in the line of duty.

“Each November,” Irwin said, “we have an event at Branson called ‘tolling the boats,’ where we honor our shipmates who have made the ultimate sacrifice by reading a list of subs that have been lost in service and sharing the circumstances of each loss.”

Irwin also stated that the group has held a similar ceremony at the state Capitol around Memorial Day each year, but due to diminishing attendance and community participation, is unsure how much longer this local tradition will continue.

In other efforts to share their rich history, the USSVI members often participate in events at local schools to provide students with an overview of what it is like to have served on a submarine.

And although Irwin believes the Topeka-Jefferson City Base’s membership is strong with almost 90 members, he continues to seek out younger veterans to ensure the organization can thrive for years to come.

“Most of our membership is older … with the majority of the group having served during the Cold War,” said Irwin, who has witnessed the transition of the submarine fleet from diesel to nuclear power. 

“We need younger submariners to help us connect to the younger generation so that our mission of keeping the submarine memory alive never fails.

For additional information on the USSVI, please visit the organization’s website at www.ussvi.org

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor Joy Mayer