September 19, 2011

Maine salutes veteran submariners

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- John A. McCutcheon, who served in -- or, more specifically, under -- the Pacific aboard the 311-foot USS Bluegill as the U.S. Navy submarine monitored Russian subs patrolling hundreds of miles away, said submariners have a bond that extends beyond borders.

click image to enlarge

John McCutcheon of Fairfield, right, joins Norman McLeod of Portland, center, and Lyle Grindle of Dedham, left, in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during an induction ceremony into the Holland Club for having attained 50 years since first qualifying to serve on submarines at the American Legion Post 205 in Augusta on Sunday.

Staff photo by Jeff Pouland

click image to enlarge

Keynote speaker Vice Admiral George Emery, Ret. of Kennebunkport addresses veterans and guests during a ceremony to induct five Mainers into the Holland Club for having attained 50 years since first qualifying to serve on submarines at the American Legion Post 205 in Augusta on Sunday.

Staff photo by Jeff Pouland

The honor roll

Five Mainers honored Sunday for their service on U.S. Navy submarines:

* William F. Hale, Augusta, 1951, USS Sablefish;

* Lyle W. Grindle, Dedham, 1961, USS Tiru;

* James W. King, Milford, 1961, USS Piper;

* Norman T. McLeod, Portland, 1961, USS Toro and;

* John A. McCutcheon, Fairfield, 1961, USS Bluegill

"When you put these on, every other submariner in the world, no matter what you do or even what country you're from, you are bonded together by something that the average person has never done," McCutcheon said of the "dolphins" insignia awarded to those who have qualified to serve on a submarine. "It means you've gone right to the edge, if not over, of what can be done."

The Fairfield resident and four other Maine submariners were honored Sunday, each having first qualified to serve on the underwater crafts at least 50 years ago. They were inducted into the Holland Club, which was created to honor those who have reached the 50-year milestone since first qualifying to serve on submarines.

Also joining the club were: Lyle W.Grindle, of Dedham; James W. King, of Milford; Norman T. McLeod, of Portland, and William F. Hale, of Augusta, though Hale was unable to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Their service was acknowledged, in a ceremony at American Legion Post 205 in Augusta, by the USS Maine Base chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans, a group formed, according to its creed, "To perpetuate the memory of our shipmates who gave their lives in the pursuit of their duties while serving their country. That their dedication, deeds and supreme sacrifice be a constant source of motivation toward greater accomplishments."

Gov. Paul LePage and Vice Admiral George Emery, of Kennebunkport, who served on five nuclear submarines and was the 24th commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force, were among the speakers on hand to honor the submariners.

"You're a shining example of what our nation is built upon," LePage told the new Holland Club members.

McCutcheon, who served on the USS Bluegill for three years after first getting his dolphins in 1961, gave LePage a firm handshake.

The well-over six-foot-tall McCutcheon said he banged his head occassionaly on the submarine, but said the confines weren't as tight as one might think.

He served as an electrician, working on the propulsion system of the World War II era submarine which, when he was on board, received a then cutting-edge "super sonar" system which allowed it to monitor foreign watercraft from "hundreds, if not a thousand, of miles away."

Their missions included a trip up the Saigon River.

He said he was never scared during his time on the submarine, despite thin walls being the only thing seperating him and his fellow sailors from certain death in deep water.

"You realize what you're doing had to be done," McCutcheon said. "Everyone stepped up to do their job. It's a team effort."

John S. Starbird Jr., of Arrowsic, commander of the Maine chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, read proclamations from the certificates awarded to each honoree, finishing with the statement, "Pride runs deep."

A ship's bell was tolled twice, once each for the two submarines sunk in the month of September -- the USS Grayling and USS Cisco -- both in 1943. Both subs went down with "all hands lost."

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)