Have you ever been on a World War 2-era submarine? Earlier this week a group of TC Christian Juniors made the trek to Muskegon to spend the day touring the USS Silversides. First impressions were interesting with comments covering a range of issues: “I don’t really know how I feel about sleeping next to a torpedo”; “I didn’t know submarines had no windows”; “The submarine was nothing like the ones I’ve seen on Spy Kids”; “I didn’t know that people on the sub only showered once a week.”
The USS Silversides was one of the Navy’s most successful subs. Constructed in 1940, she received twelve battle stars for World War II service, and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is officially credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.
After the war, Silversides was used in various training and peacekeeping roles before finally being retired in 1973. After a number of years docked at Chicago’s Navy pier where she was faithfully restored to her original condition, Silversides was positioned at Muskegon to serve as the centerpiece of the new Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum.
After the tour, reactions from the TCCS students were revealing. Said one, “The USS Silversides Museum was quite the experience. It was really interesting to hear the stories of the submarine. The tour was very educational and shocking at some points.” Added another, “Everything in the submarine is miniature. The compartments where the sailors had to keep all of their belongings in a wall locker was hardly big enough to hold a pair of my shoes. It was eye-opening to see firsthand how much sacrifice those guys dedicated in order to serve our country. The tour gave me a greater appreciation for history. Staying on that submarine for so long would make most people want to quit, but these guys kept on going with their lives on the line every day.”
Respect for the sacrifice made by the sailors aboard the Silversides was a common theme among the students. “I was fascinated by how small the sub was, yet almost 80 people were working on it all at once. It must have been so cramped and stuffy in there, and I would go crazy, having to go down for 40-60 days at a time, not knowing if you’re ever going to get shot at or make it up alive. It gave me a really good insight into how scary it must’ve been for all the men working on the machine, and how brave they must’ve been to give their lives for our country.”
And of course, this final insight. “I have a new-found appreciation for submarines. Except for the toilets. They were gross!”
For more on the USS Silversides and the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum, click here.