Marine describes being on sub hit by ship
Carson City resident Ed Small, who knows what it’s like to be aboard a submarine that surfaced underneath another ship, doesn’t think the Navy should be blamed in Friday’s collision between the USS Greeneville and a Japanese fishing vessel.
The attack submarine hit the180-foot fishing vessel while conducting a rapid-ascent drill. Twenty-six people from the fishing boat were rescued; nine are still missing.
“They’re blaming the Navy for not stopping,” Small said Monday. “It’s not right.”
Small points out that the only way to see in a submarine is by periscope and sonar. “You’re in a vehicle with no windows or way to see out,” he said.
Small was a Marine attached to the USS Perch, a World War II submarine modified as a troop carrier, on March 22, 1949, when the ship surfaced beneath the USS Orleck.
Small had joined the Marines the year before, when he was 18, and had been assigned to a battalion that worked with the Perch in the year before the Korean War.
“We were doing rubber boat training,” he said. “We would land at Pendleton and Catalina Island and we were supposed to go to Hawaii.”
Commissioned Jan. 7, 1944, the Perch served out the war and was decommissioned in 1947. While decommissioned, the Navy pulled out two of her four diesel engines and all her torpedo tubes. With both torpedo rooms and an engine room removed, there was room for the Marines.
Small said he and his fellow Marines had been training through the winter of 1949 and were scheduled to land at Coronado as an exercise before going to Hawaii.
“We were surfacing in our landing zone and we hit something,” he said. “We started going down and then the buoyancy caught and we went up and hit a second time,” he said.
Rather than hit the destroyer a third time, the sub crew set negative buoyancy and went 300 feet to the sea bottom.
“They blew the tanks and went to the bottom,” Small remembered. “We spent two hours, maybe three down there before they did something.”
The sub crew sent a buoy to the surface which had a phone attached, so they could communicate with the surface.
Accommodations aboard the Perch were cramped under the best of circumstances.
Small said the bunks in the Marine’s quarters were canvas stretched across tubes about 13 inches apart.
“If one guy wanted to get up, we all had to get up,” he said. “If one of us rolled over onto our side, then we all had to roll over.”
The sub crew resurfaced to find they had hit the Orleck’s propellers, knocking them off.
“There was damage to the snorkel and the periscope and some water in the conning tower,” Small said. “We took the screws off the Orleck. We had to give her a chance to drift away before we could surface.”
The Marines disembarked at Coronado, where they were kept in seclusion while the Navy investigated the accident.
“They isolated us, so we couldn’t talk to anybody,” he said. “We ate at odd hours so we didn’t come in contact to anyone else. When they turned us loose, we went back up to Camp Pendleton and into the infantry.”
Both the Perch and Small ended up in the Korean War, which began June 25, 1950, but not together.
“I found other ways to get to Korea,” he said.
Small spent from Aug. 1, 1950, until the middle of March 1951 on an anti-tank crew, driving a Jeep-mounted 75 mm recoiless rifle.
He was sent home to instruct classes in auto mechanics and stayed in the service until 1957.
Small has lived in Carson City for two years, having married a woman who was his neighbor in Virginia 40 years ago.
He will be 71 in June, and his wife, Claudia, is retiring from the Lyon County School District in June.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.