An overflow crowd gathered Monday at Seawolf Park for the Galveston Naval Museum’s Memorial Day Ceremony, an elaborate remembrance of all soldiers and sailors who lost their lives serving their country, especially those who served on U.S. Navy submarines during World War II.
Flanked by the two decommissioned, preserved and permanently docked vessels that now comprise the museum, the USS Cavalla and the USS Stewart, guests toured the ships and strolled the central plaza dressed in a mix of blinding white Navy uniforms, all manner of military service caps, red and blue T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Flags whipped in a steady breeze.
Two veterans of World War II living in Galveston County, Raymond J. Warren and Ivan Hammond, were recognized early in the ceremony.
Rich Biro of Annapolis, Maryland, son of the last known survivor of the original crew of the USS Stewart, addressed the group on behalf of his father, retired Gunner’s Mate Chief Rudolph Biro.
Rudolph Biro visited the destroyer escort in 2018 at age 95, climbing the long ladder aboard and regaling museum staff and volunteers with stories of his life on the Stewart. A display inside the ship commemorates his time on board.
Biro recalled a time in 1945 when the Stewart, normally a destroyer escort, was used to transport Marines from Pearl Harbor to San Diego, and their joyous, celebratory entry into the harbor.
John Zellmer of Milwaukee spoke on behalf of his father, Capt. Ernest “Zeke” Zellmer, retired U.S. Navy, who served on the Cavalla. Ernest Zellmer died at age 97. His son recalled that his father almost signed up to go on another submarine, the Shark, but gave up his place to another sailor and went on the Cavalla instead.
The Shark was lost, along with its entire crew, on its third patrol during the war.
Shark was just one of 72 names called out in the ceremonial tolling of the boats, a remembrance of all U.S. Navy submarines lost since the U.S. Submarine Force was founded in 1900. Some 4,000-plus crew members died while serving on those ships in war and in peace times.
The bulk of those losses — 52 submarines with 3,506 lost crew members — came during World War II.
In the ceremony, women placed flowers at commemorative plaques laid along compass points on the outdoor courtyard of the museum as the name of each ship was called out with the details of its demise. A bell tolled in honor of each ship named.
Among the names called was the USS Seawolf, namesake of the park, an attack submarine lost during World War II, possibly mistakenly sunk by the U.S. Navy or possibly lost as a result of enemy attack. The Seawolf was on its 15th mission when it was lost, having sunk 27 enemy ships and damaged 13 on its first 14 missions.
The circumstances of many submarine losses were unknown, speakers at the ceremony advised, listed simply as Overdue. Presumed Lost. Their crews Missing in Action.
The ceremony was organized by the Cavalla Historical Foundation, with Executive Director and retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Ross Garcia hosting. The foundation oversees the Galveston Naval Museum, formerly the American Undersea Warfare Center, changing its name in 2018. Garcia thanked the numerous volunteers who provide multiple services on the ships and the grounds, and invited anyone interested to come and join the group.
The museum is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with last entrance at 5 p.m. To learn more about tours and the history of the Cavalla, the Stewart and the U.S. Submarine Force, visit www.galvestonnavalmuseum.com.