U.S. Submarine Veterans renovate WWII torpedo

By Jessica A. York
Times-Herald staff writer

Just after noon Wednesday, a 20-foot-long silver- and rust-colored torpedo launched up and out of its 45-year home, a fish out of water in a grassy Vallejo war memorial park.

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For this flight, however, the Mark 14 replica missile was not self-propelled, but rather securely swinging from a Vallejo Public Works crane as the estimated 3,000-pound World War II memorial was moved onto a flatbed truck.

“They don’t make these torpedoes anymore — you can’t just go down to the store and buy them,” said submarine veteran Mike Rehmus as the monument was being trucked away.

After five years of planning, members of the Rehmus’ United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. were able to see their dream of restoring the old monument get a jump-start.

With the help of city transport, the torpedo was set to be driven to a workshop in San Leandro for about 30 to 45 days of repair and restoration, focusing mainly on the torpedo’s rusted-out underbelly where it meets with its cradle.

The monument will return with a new inscribed granite plaque to replace a stolen copper plaque, paid for with volunteer work and a memorial fund, Rehmus said.

“It’s fairly important to us,” said Rehmus, standing with fellow submarine veteran Bill Dornik as the torpedo was removed. “Of course, the submarines in World War II sank 55 percent of all the Japanese ships that were sunk — that’s fairly effective. These guys, they had no idea (if) they were going to come back every time they went out. It was a fairly high chance — 75 percent — that they weren’t.”

The local submarine veterans first thought to restore the monument right as the city was beginning to enter bankruptcy in 2008; The timing, however, was not right to focus attention on the issue, Rehmus said.

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City workers guide a torpedo estimated to be about 3,000 pounds from the World War II war memorial behind JFK Library onto a truck in Vallejo on Wednesday as it is taken to San Leandro for restoration. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Things were a bit different in August, however, when Rehmus approached the City Council post-bankruptcy, now stacked with four military veterans. He said that the amount of insurance his group was being asked to take out to move and repair the monument was prohibitive, and asked for some help.

In response, city officials arranged to transport the monument, a gift originally dedicated to the city in mid-June 1968 by World War II veterans.

The monument recognizes the 52 submarines lost in World War II and an estimated 3,500 submariners who lost their lives, according to a Times-Herald article covering the ceremony.

Rehmus noted that city plans to develop the waterfront included relocating several war memorials in the park across from the Ferry Building and behind City Hall. In his ideal world, Rehmus said he hoped an empty piece of land on Mare Island Way, south of the Ferry Building, could be turned into a memorial amphitheater.

Speaking at the 1968 dedication ceremony, highly decorated Rear Adm. Roy Davenport praised the torpedo monument’s location.

“This really is the proper place for such a memorial, located as it is directly across from the Navy shipyard which has such a large part in the history of United States Navy Submarines,” Davenport was quoted as saying.

Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or jyork@timesheraldonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @JYVallejo.

 

 

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