, Newburyport, MA


November 9, 2012

In praise of my dad and all veterans

To the editor:

Recently I was speaking to my dad, Robert S. Wilbur, a lifelong Amesbury resident and 88-year-old World War II submarine veteran. For some reason, the conversation became centered on his final wishes. He wanted to ensure we mentioned his U.S. Navy service in his obituary. In his own words, “Other than you kids, that is what I am most proud of.” It occurred to me that no one should have to wait until their obituary to be recognized for their service to this country. So, Dad, this is for you…

Although his stories sometimes now run together, there is no doubt that his recollections are clear and bring him back almost 70 years ago. He was eager to join the Navy and enlisted upon graduation from Amesbury High in 1942. He completed rigorous submarine training in Newport, R.I., and was assigned to duty. My dad served on the USS Flounder, USS Blackfin and USS Perch. Crew members bonded quickly and often relied on their strong camaraderie to help them deal with the peril they faced. Friendships endure and he still receives an occasional call from a former crew member. An oft-repeated quote — “You don’t know scared until you’re under the ocean and being depth-charged by the enemy.” Particularly haunting for Dad at the time was learning a fellow sailor who subsequently manned Dad’s gunnery station (while Dad was injured) suffered fatal injuries from enemy fire.

Duty required that he could not divulge to his family the location of his patrols, but as a young man, he traveled to Australia, New Guinea and Hawaii.

The inherent danger of submarine service guaranteed he and his buddies were afforded special privileges when they went ashore for liberty. He stayed at The Royal Hawaiian when the U.S. Navy took control to use the hotel as a rest and recreation center for those serving in the Pacific Fleet. It was at Pearl Harbor that he got his infamous 8-inch hula girl tattoo on his upper arm ... she hasn’t aged as well as him, but it’s always a conversation-starter during those frequent blood pressure checks now that he is a senior!

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