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Pampanito Moves to Dock for Refit

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Pampanito Moves to Dock for Refit

Postby TMSmalley » Thu Jan 25, 2007 10:06 pm

'Shave and haircut' for famed submarine
Retrofit of USS Pampanito, which saved British, Australian POWs in WWII, steams ahead
By Peter Hegarty, MEDIANEWS STAFF
Article Last Updated: 01/24/2007 09:04:58 AM PST


Click photo to enlargeThe underbelly of the USS Pampanito, a WW II submarine, shows seven years of marine growth as it...«1234»With two tugboats gently nudging her along, the USS Pampanito left the pier at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf Tuesday morning to embark on what would be a two-hour voyage across the Bay to Alameda, where the famed World War II-era submarine will undergo a retrofit.
Or, as the volunteers who keep the engines running and lights working aboard the legendary submarine — now a floating naval museum — like to put it, the Pampanito will be getting a proper Navy "shave and haircut."

Along with removing barnacles, workers at Alameda's Bay Ship & Yacht Co. will fix any corrosion that has developed on the submarine from its constant exposure to the marine air and seawater.

"It brings tears to your eyes," said U.S. Navy veteran Dom Boncare, 77, of San Mateo, as he watched the submarine slip away from Pier 45. "It's like you were 17 or 18 years old again. Unless you lived it, it's hard to explain."

The Pampanito sank six enemy ships and damaged four others during World War II. But her finest hour came

Sept. 12, 1944, when her crew plucked 73 POWs from the waters of the Pacific after the Pampanito and another submarine attacked a convoy carrying war materials to Japan — not knowing hundreds of British and Australian prisoners were aboard.

"I wanted to do something special and I knew that submariners were elite," said San Jose resident Henry Nystrom, 75, who served aboard the USS Greenfish during the Cold War. "They also got paid more."


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Even among sailors, submariners are a special breed: On the Pampanito, for instance, 70 crewmen shared three toilets, two sinks and two showers. War patrols lasted up to 60 days and the threat of depth charges kept everyone on edge.

All were volunteers.

"They asked me if I still loved my mother and crazy things like that," Bob Taylor said about the barrage of psychological tests he underwent after volunteering for submarine service.

Taylor was part of a torpedo crew aboard the USS Queenfish from 1947 until 1950.

"We were known for our weak minds and strong backs," the retired 77-year-old bartender laughed.

A San Francisco resident, Taylor has been volunteering at the Pampanito for more than a decade, stopping by a few days each week to help keep her ship-shape. Boncare and Nystrom also volunteer at the boat.

A Balao class submarine, the 311-foot Pampanito was commissioned in 1943 and displaces 2,415 tons when submerged. She opened as a museum in 1982.

Many parts of the submarine still work, including several engines, a forward torpedo tube, the periscope and its ice cream maker.

Sprucing up the aging vessel happens every seven years and will cost at least $250,000. The work should be wrapped up by Feb. 2.

Along with blasting sea growth from the hull, the crew of about 20 workers at Bay Ship & Yacht will paint the Pampanito and carry out other repairs.

"The work will include fixing some of the sea valves," said David Rasmussen, who is managing the repair project. "That means putting in material that allows the valves to turn but keeps the water from coming into the submarine."

Eamon O'Byrne, executive director of the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, which operates the Pampanito, said more money is needed, especially to make the boat truly pristine.

"We are doing just the basic repairs," O'Byrne said. "Our goal is to keep the boat going for the next 50 years."

To donate to the USS Pampanito's restoration or to get additional information on the floating submarine museum, visit http://www.maritime.org on the Internet.
Tim Smalley
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