The Power of a Single Story
Cadets preserve veterans' history
The date was May 28, 1959, and the Cold War was simmering. Russia boasted of missile superiority over the U.S., and Fidel Castro had risen to power in Cuba. Spies on both sides were everywhere.
In the icy water of the North Sea, the Tench-class diesel submarine USS Grenadier (SS 525) was hunting for Soviet submarines. Captain Ted Davis, commanding officer of the Grenadier, was responsible for his submarine's mission to patrol the "GIUK gap," which stretched from Greenland to Iceland to the United Kingdom.
However, this was not Davis' only mission. Davis had learned earlier, during Grenadier's overhaul, of a proclamation from Adm. Jerauld Wright, then commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet. Wright had challenged his naval units to be the first in the fleet to prove the presence of a "non U.S. or known friendly" submarine. The first to do so would be presented with a one-of-a-kind award: "One case of Jack Daniel Old No. 7 black label Tennessee sour mash whiskey." Davis wanted that whiskey.
Midnight approached. Davis knew a Soviet submarine was near because of previous detection , but the sub had slipped away. However, Davis' gut-feeling was that the sub would soon surface due to lack of air and battery power. Suspension grew. Cigarette smoke filled the spaces of the submarine with a foul stench. Soon enough, 15 minutes past the hour, Davis heard the sonar hollering that a Soviet sub was surfacing. Davis vectored a P-2V aircraft over the Soviet sub, spotlighted the boat and documented the one-in-a-million chance.
As it turned out, this would be the first evidence of a missile-firing Soviet submarine. Grenadier's crew took many photographs and video evidence of the Russian sub, which stayed on the surface for more than 24 hours. After the Grenadier was relieved from the area and headed back to Key West, Florida, Wright presented Davis and the Grenadier crew with the promised case of Jack Daniels.
Davis still has that bottle hanging on his wall.
Preserving the History of Those Who Came Before Us
This intricate story of suspense and reward was almost lost to history. It would have been if Miles Abernathy and his mother, Mary Jo, hadn't met Davis, a neighbor, by chance at a yard sale and heard his story. Realizing that there must be more stories like his, they obligated to find a way to share this history with people across the country.
"You wouldn't know that about neighbors that lived next to you," said Miles . "These people who may or may not have told their story before; they're so important."
Coincidentally, the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) detachment at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was looking for more community service ideas. Miles suggested that he and his fellow cadets interview veterans like Davis and document their stories. An historian herself, Mary Jo was immediately captivated by the idea. She shared the idea with the NJROTC booster club and with Capt. Timothy Richard, a senior naval science instructor. Excited, Richard helped Mary Jo organize the first event.
In spring 2016, the cadets spoke with veterans for the first time, meeting at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach. Mary Jo paid close attention as the young cadets awkwardly went through interviews for the first time, haltingly questioning the brave military heroes of the past.