Lost Boats Memorial
drawing by: Stephen Petreshock

1993 MEMORIAL SERVICE SPEECH by: Billy Grieves at Anaheim, CA

There is a story...a story not easy to tell. And yet one that must be told.
There was no one in the entertainment field more admired and appreciated by the American G.I. than Bob Hope. Bob was once asked why he did it; why he continued to travel all over the world, giving so much of his time and energy to entertain our troops. And his answer was this: “Because you’ve got to be there. You can read about it in the press, or you can see it on the screen, but if you really want to know what our boys are going through, you’ve got to be there.” And so it was with us.

World War II has been well documented; stories, books, movies but the full story of the submarine service has never been told... nor can it be. Can gut— wrenching fear be recorded by a camera? Can interminable fatigue and discomfort that goes on for days and weeks on end? And what about dedication to duty.... and the deep fraternal bond that was forged only among men who took our submarines to war? We know they can’t.. and this was the story of the submarine service.

And now as we look back on it all it’s like an observer of a darkened stage; all the players are gone and the huge theater is empty. And yet, out of the emptiness, there still echoes the excitement, the laughter, and the sadness that was part of the play. But supposing our observer should leave the theater and step out onto the busy street. Would a passing stranger be able to understand his faint half-smile as he recalls some cheerful part of the story? Or would that stranger be able to hear the haunting melody of the theme that keeps echoing through the background of his mind? To understand it you had to be a part of it, you had to be there.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many of our Navy men were left with a feeling of deep, PERSONAL loss. For several days after the attack a heavy pall of gray smoke hung like fog over the entire harbor and the Navy shipyard. And as we sailed slowly past Battleship Row and viewed the horrifying destruction: The Arizona, on the bottom; the Oklahoma, capsized and keel up; the West Virginia; the California; the Maryland; the Pennsylvania; the Tennessee; and others, all heavily damaged and some still burning with smoke pouring from their bowels, the men just stood at the rail, most did not speak. These were not ships that belonged to some remote population back in the States who just happened to have built them and paid for them with their tax money. Many of the men felt, “This is MY Navy and these are MY ships and the Japanese have destroyed them.” It left a sense of fury that for some has never entirely abated.

And then the war progressed... and one by one, 52 of our submarines were sent to the bottom. And now the sense of loss became even more personal and we said, “Those were MY shipmates.” And this is the story that must be told. It is a story of great suffering, a story of tremendous sacrifice, a story of heroic achievement. To that end, we have erected memorials all across this country.

There is a tiny island out in the Pacific. It’s one of a small group of islands known as French Frigate Shoals. And it lies about half way between Pearl Harbor and Midway Island. Those of you who were involved with the navigation of our boats; you who were officers, or quartermasters, or signal men, will remember them clearly because we passed them either to port or starboard whenever we put in or out of Pearl on war patrol. And on this tiny island is an abandoned Coast Guard Station. One of it’s former occupants was so taken by the beauty and serenity of the place that he left a note in a wooden box which was subsequently recovered and recorded. The message of this note, with some modification, would make an appropriate addition to each of our memorials. It would impress upon future generations our purpose in putting them there. Here is the message:

Walk softly.
Walk softly stranger.
You stand on holy ground.

As you journey across this broad and beautiful land from sea to shining sea, you cannot help being moved by the wonder of the things you see:
Historic New England with it’s rocky coast and frothy surf, still breathing an aura of whaling ships and sailing days; The majestic mountains of the west with their towering peaks and pink spires and the sun gleaming off granite cliffs rising shear for thousands of feet; The grandeur of the old south with it's flowering trees and scented air and golden beaches that dazzle the eye; The dynamic west coast with it’s cloud-piercing mountains looming over the shore and curving roads that overlook the sea.

This is the beauty that is America, the wonder that is America. It is your God-given inheritance to use and enjoy at your pleasure. But these pathways to the good life did not come free of charge. More than a million Americans down through the yellowing pages of history have sacrificed their lives for your irreplaceable legacy and your American way of life. For more than 3,500 of these who gave their lives on American submarines in World War II, there can be no rows of polished markers. Their tombs are buried in the silent depths of the oceans, forever rocked by the eternal tides of history. It is to them this place and this moment in time are dedicated.

Walk softly,
walk softly stranger.
You stand on holy ground.

Every country owes an enormous debt to those heroes who have given their lives to protect the freedom of its people. No country recognizes this more than Australia. The city of Melbourne is a city world famous for it’s many beautiful parks. More than 20% of this city is comprised of parks and gardens. In one of the most prominent of these located on the south side of Melbourne, they have erected a war memorial. They call it ‘THE SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE” and we have nothing in this country to compare with it. This shrine is really an edifice, a broad-based building seven stories tall constructed of white granite in the architecture of the ancient Greeks. The outside of this building is embellished with huge marble statues and fluted columns that cause the eye to sweep upward. The roof of the building is a truncated pyramid made of cascading layers of stone. And mounted on the top is a large bronze “Symbol of Glory”. But herein lies the crowning distinction of this memorial: On one side of the roof, one of the stone’s is removable. But I’ll get back to this later.

As you step through the massive bronze doors into the sanctuary, even the little children are admonished to speak in whispers. And you will notice that, except for an enclosed balcony around the first floor, this entire building, floor to roof, is completely hollow. And mounted in the very center of the marble floor is a large bronze plaque surrounded by a low carved-stone railing, about a foot high. But the plaque, itself, is depressed about a foot below the floor level. It is depressed so that anyone reading the words on that plaque must bow his head in reverence.

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is known as “Armistice Hour” in Australia. And it is on this day that the stone is removed from the roof. And at exactly 11:00 A.M., and for a period of four minutes, the sun’s rays shine down through the opening and beam like a laser right on that plaque. The words on that plaque read “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN”. Just seeing it is a tremendously moving experience. It has a presence about it which seems to say, “THIS IS A HOLY SPOT WHERE VALOR PROUDLY SLEEPS”.
Walk softly, walk softly stranger.
You stand on holy ground.

The final curtain on the play has fallen. And all that remains is for you and I to close the show. But, for us, there will always be the memory of the glory, and the triumph, and the tragedy that was part of the play. And if some day some stranger should ask,
“What was it like living and going through an attack on that submarine you were on?”
There's just one answer you can give
“You had to be a part of it. You had to be there”.
The last page of a booklet obtainable at the Melbourne “Shrine of Remembrance” contains only these four lines of an Australian poem:
They were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
Bravely they died. In proud remembrance we salute them.

Will you stand please?
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