Staff, Currents Magazine, Winter 2018 Issue
The U.S. Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington hosted former submariners and the public to watch a livestreaming of a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) explore the wreckage of a World War II (WWII) diesel submarine USS Bugara (SS 331). Nearly 100 people gathered in the museum’s theater to watch the ROV exploration. The deep-sea exploration is a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Dr. Robert Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust.
Dr. Ballard is a deep-sea explorer best known for his historic discoveries of hydrothermal vents, the sunken R.M.S. Titanic, the German battleship Bismarck and other shipwrecks around the world. “We are proud to host former Bugara submariners at the live viewing in our theater,” said Mary Ryan, U.S. Naval Undersea Museum Curator, during the viewing party. “They told us what it was like to live and work aboard Bugara.”
Former Bugara crewmembers attending the event included Hal Garland, Tomey Greer, Pete Smith and Dick Holcombe. It seemed like a high school class reunion as the former crewmembers, smiled, hugged and shook hands. While the live viewing was shown on the theater’s screen, the Bugara crewmembers gestured and took pictures of the video and of each other. As live coverage of the dive began, the pilots of the ROV gave play-by-play commentary of what the people in the theater were seeing while the feed was livestreamed around the globe. The ROV approached the ship through the deep green water and the bow came into sharp focus along with the broken cable from the Bugara’s tow vehicle. The video from nearly 800 feet under water was incredibly clear and showed details of the boat like the forward and aft hatch, as well as its torpedo tubes. The 16-foot-long propeller could also be seen— covered in marine growth. During the 46 years since the Bugara plunged into the cold Pacific, just off the Washington state coastline, time, corrosion, sea water and marine organisms have eaten away her skin exposing electrical wiring and metal supports which look like the ribs of the boat. The Bugara is now covered in sea life including many large fish and anemones. The submarine sits upright and intact, with just a slight list to starboard. “I’m glad the old girl sank, before she was blown up,” said Garland, 83, who served on the Bugara from 1967 to 1970, and retired as a Master Chief Torpedoeman’s Mate. “It would break my heart to see her blown to pieces. She went down on her own terms. I like that.” Pete Smith of Bainbridge Island attended with his wife, Betsy. Smith served on the Bugara from 1969 to 1970, when the boat was retired from active service. Life aboard the Bugara gave Smith his first Western Pacific tour. Smith said perhaps the most memorable part of service on the Bugara was the friends he made and kept throughout his life—like his fellow crewmembers who attended the event. Smith visited the museum with his granddaughters this summer. He also enjoys attending submarine reunions. Smith said the saddest day of his Navy life came when he and others were tasked with calling the next of kin of the USS Scorpion (SSN 589). Scorpion was lost with all hands on May 22, 1968. “I was given a script and a list of names and phone numbers and orders to call the next of kin,” Smith remembers. “We called moms, dads and wives. We tried to assuage people’s fears, but it was impossible.” At first the calls were to say that the boat hadn’t shown up as scheduled, but as the days went by the script was reworded to say the crew wasn’t coming home.
“We each took a list and started dialing,” Smith said. “I can remember it as if it were yesterday.” Tom Greer, 71, served on Bugara from 1966 to 1970. “I was a torpedoeman,” he said proudly. “My Navy days prepared me for my life outside the Navy.” Greer worked for Reynolds Aluminum in Rainer, Oregon for 30 years from 1970 to 2000 as a journeyman millwright. “On the submarine, we had to qualify on all the other systems aboard,” he explained. “It’s quite demanding. You had to be signed off on two different systems every week. If not, it’s adios to you.” “Being on a submarine is like being part of a tight-knit family,” Greer stressed. “We had to rely on one another. There is no room for mistakes onboard a ship.” Greer was 19 years old when he went aboard “The Bug”—the nickname the submariners had for Bugara. “My Division Chief Hal Garland was my guide from my first day onboard to my last,” Greer explained. “Hal and I are still good friends.” In fact, Greer stopped by and picked up Garland in Olympia on the way to see the ROV livestream at the museum. “We’ve been friends for 51 years now,” Greer said. “We were in Vietnam together as part of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.” Greer said his Navy days were the best days of his life. “It’s sad to see her on the bottom of the ocean,” he said shaking his head. “In 1969, we fired on an old destroyer and saw her broken in half from our torpedoes. Now, I know how that feels. It’s a little like going to an old friend’s funeral.” Harvey Shaw, 75, served on Bugara from 1962 to 1964 and again from 1969 to 1971. Shaw servedon active duty from 1959 to 1987, retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. His first ship was USS Coral Sea (CV 43). He remembers getting Betsy and Pete Smith together. “We were having a cookout on the beach in La Jolla, California,” Shaw remembers. “I saw Betsy strolling down the beach and I called her over. She came over and I introduced them. Today, they have beautiful grandchildren.” “Harvey introduced me to my wife,” Smith explained. “Betsy and I are still happily married all these many years later. I guess I owe him for that.” Shaw even played matchmaker with Betsy’s roommate and Pete’s roommate, who are also still together today. “I was cupid for all of them,” he said laughing. “Aboard the ‘Bug’ we all worked and played together.” Former Bugara Commanding Officer Eddie Ettner called in to the live viewing from Virginia. Ettner served as the boat’s captain from 1957 to 1958. “This isn’t just some relic sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean,” Ettner explained. “It’s part of our history. It symbolizes the people who love their country and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. We all have plenty of good memories on that beautiful boat.”
The Basics About Bugara According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, USS Bugara was a Balao-class submarine commissioned on November 15, 1944. Measuring over 311 feet long and more than 27 feet across her beam, Bugara conducted three war patrols before the end of WWII, including an eventful final patrol where her crew sank 57 small ships in the Gulf of Siam. This final patrol was highlighted by a series of gun attacks totaling 5,284 tons sunk. Bugara earned three battle stars for her WWII service. After WWII, Bugara conducted anti-submarine warfare exercises and supported operations during the Korean War. Bugara then operated along the Pacific coast participating in training and fleet exercises until decommissioned and was struck from the Naval Register on October 1, 1970. Bugara was authorized for disposal as a target for livewarhead evaluations of the Mark 48 torpedo in March 1971. After removal of potentially hazardous materials, Bugara was being towed by the USS Cree (AT/ATF 84), a Cherokee-class fleet tug, to the disposal area roughly 100 miles off Cape Flattery, Washington, when she took on water and sank in the early morning hours of June 1, 1971. Near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Bugara began to take on water in the stern and settle into the Pacific Ocean. At the risk of being pulled under by the sheer weight of Bugara, the crew of the Cree was forced to release the steel hawser cable. Bugara then foundered.
Bugara’s wreckage is located at a depth of nearly 800 feet in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington State. USS Bugara Statistics Nationality . . . . . . . . . . . . American Class. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Balao diesel-electric submarine Owner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . U.S. Navy Hull Material . . . . . . . . . . Steel Propulsion . . . . . . . . . . . . Four each General Motors Model 16-278A, V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators Displacement Tons . . . . . 1,526 surface Displacement Tons . . . . . 2,424 submerged Length . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311 feet, 9 inches Beam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 feet, 3 inches Draft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 feet, 10 inches Speed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Knots—20.25 surface, 8.75 submerged Cruising Range. . . . . . . . . 11,000 miles Armament . . . . . . . . . . . . Ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward and four aft, One 5-inch 25 caliber gun, with a second gun installed on after deck in 1945 Bofors 40mm and Oerlikon 20mm cannons Complement . . . . . . . . . . Approximately 10 officers and 71 enlisted personnel