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TMCNet:  The search is on for Cold War-era, WWII sub's bell

[March 09, 2009]

The search is on for Cold War-era, WWII sub's bell

(Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mar. 9--Two Navy submarines have borne the name Triton.

One sunk 17 Japanese ships before being sunk itself in the Pacific during World War II. The second, nuclear-powered Triton made history in 1960 with a submerged circumnavigation of the globe.

Now the search is on for a ship's bell that links the two -- a bell that has been missing for 45 years.

Retired Master Chief Harold Weston, 77, of Virginia Beach served aboard the nuclear-powered Triton for almost seven years. He was chief of the boat, the highest-ranking enlisted sailor aboard, from 1963 to 1967.

He's determined to find the bell that first went to sea aboard the original Triton, inscribed "USS TRITON SS-201." According to Navy lore, bells were removed from submarines after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Triton's bell was found in storage in San Diego after the war and ended up with Adm. Willis Lent, the SS-201's first commander. His widow, the story goes, passed the bell on to the crew of the new Triton, SSN-586, which was commissioned in Groton, Conn., in 1959.


The old Triton bell was a powerful symbol for the Cold War crew. One of 52 U.S. submarines sunk in World War II, the Triton went down with 74 men aboard.

When SSN-586 reached the Admiralty Islands, near where the first Triton likely was sunk, the crew fired three water slugs, simulating live torpedoes, in salute. They tolled the bell to honor the Triton sailors who never came home.

The Triton's round-the-world trip ended after 84 days of submerged travel. President Dwight Eisenhower personally honored its commanding officer, Capt. Edward Beach, who wrote an article about the trip for National Geographic and went on to author numerous books about submarines.

A few years later, the Triton was overhauled at Electric Boat in Groton. Weston said he thinks the bell went into a storage locker. He's trying to spread the word among retired submariners and shipyard workers, hoping that someone knows where the 14-inch brass bell might be. Maybe it's in the garage or attic of someone who doesn't know its significance.

He'd like to see it on display alongside other Triton memorabilia at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, where a recruit training barracks named for the submarines was dedicated in 2004.

"Now whether a sailor took the bell, or a shipboard worker took the bell, we don't know," said Weston. "We don't know where it is. We'd just like to get it." His quest has ruffled some feathers at General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The company's spokesman, Robert Hamilton, bristled at the suggestion that shipyard workers might have done something wrong 45 years ago and said it would be impractical to look for the bell now.

"There is no evidence that the bell from the World War II Triton was in the Electric Boat shipyard during the 1960s, nor were any bells found during extensive inspections of the shipyard as part of re-engineering efforts over the last several years," Hamilton said in a statement.

Jeanine McKenzie Allen is intrigued by the story of the bell. Allen's father, Lloyd C. McKenzie, was a chief torpedoman's mate aboard the Triton when it disappeared in 1943. The exact location of the wreckage is unknown, but Allen, who was 3 when her father died, would like to find it.

Allen's research on the old Triton put her into contact with the second Triton's crew. She attends their reunions and has seen photos of the historic circumnavigation.

One image clearly displays the SS-201 bell, polished and gleaming.

"It took my breath away," said Allen, who grew up in Norfolk and now lives in Alexandria.

Allen is certain her father, who was a Triton plankowner, or an original member of the crew, touched the bell during his service before the war.

She'd like to touch it, too.

"It would be really exciting to find the bell, and I know it would be to the other families too," Allen said. "It was something aboard the sub in happier times, times they weren't stressed and at war." Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, kate.wiltrout@pilotonline.com To see more of the The Virginian-Pilot, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.pilotonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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