Friday, August 24, 2012

Forty Men Dead At Sea

For John, with thanks for the visit; when tour-guiding I get to be a tourist too.

This memorial, in the meditation garden at St. Mary of the Harbor Episcopal Church in Provincetown, is dedicated to the forty men who lost their lives when the Submarine S-4 was accidentally rammed by the Coast Guard Destroyer Paulding on Dec. 17, 1927. The bronze plaque attached to the cross lists the names of the lost men. A sealing ring from the conning (observation) tower of Submarine S-4 encircles the base of the cross.

Rescue efforts were undertaken. Life boats were lowered in case any men surfaced, but nothing rose from the sea's depths except small amounts of oil and air bubbles.  Eventually divers discovered that six men, still alive, were trapped in a torpedo room at the ship's front. Messages between the trapped seamen and the divers were exchanged, using the Morse Code, by tapping on the hull. The divers were ordered to attach oxygen hoses but a storm rose before this could be accomplished. The sea heaved mightily. Gale-force winds whipped hither and thither. The temperature fell to a point below freezing. The rescue operations were stymied for ten days by the severe weather. It was now too late. A second-from-last message was tapped on the hull from inside the stricken submarine: "Is there any hope?" I've read various accounts of the tragedy but can find no record of that message being responded to by the divers. And, at last, a somber final message from the trapped men: "We understand."

My nephew John and I sit on a bench near the memorial. To our left is a koi pond. Any which way one turns there are lovely beds of flowers and shrubbery and ornamental grasses; and to the south, across the greensward, a narrow view of the bay, the water looking vaguely blue in the late-afternoon sun. A row of grape vines along the east wall of the church rise twistingly (seemingly tortured with twist) to the eaves.

You can, as John and I eventually did, rise from the bench, lift the latch of the garden's gate, and instantly find yourself amongst the hustle and bustle of Commercial Street, in an atmosphere of carnival, tourists traipsing east, tourists traipsing west. You can walk to a great place called Karoo Kafe and ponder the South African-themed menu. One of you may eat a mildly-curried meatloaf, and the other of you may have salmon patties and, because the patties taste so like hers, you may remember your mother.

You will have left the garden, but you will not forget.

1 comment:

  1. A great post Uncle George. I was familiar with the S-4 tragedy but it really brought it home that it was only about a mile or so from where we were standing. They saved the sub but not the crew but not without a lot of brainstorming and tireless effort from all involved. Love, Johnny