Navy Recognizes USS Dolphin’s Modest Hero

Story Number: NNS030115-08Release Date: 1/16/2003 4:25:00 AM
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By Journalist 2nd Class Trevor Hoehne, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs

NAVAL BASE POINT LOMA , Calif. (NNS) -- Chief Machinist's Mate (SW) John D. Wise Jr. received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal (NMCM) during a special awards ceremony Dec. 18 at the Submarine Memorial on Naval Base Point Loma, Calif.

His heroic efforts aboard USS Dolphin (AGSS 555) garnered the medal.

"In my 23-plus years, I personally don't know of any examples of where a submarine Sailor received this award in an operational scenario," said Capt. Dale Nees, commander, Submarine Development Squadron 5.

On May 21, 2002, Dolphin was conducting training exercises about 100 miles off the San Diego coastline when a torpedo shield door gasket failed, and water began to flood Dolphin. Due to high winds and 10- to 11-foot swells in the ocean, approximately "70-to-85 tons of seawater entered the ship, an amount dangerously close to the reserve buoyancy of Dolphin," said Nees.

Wise, realizing what needed to be done, dove into the 57-degree water of the flooded pump room. Not knowing if the room's equipment had been secured, and with less than a foot of breathable space in the compartment, he ensured the seawater valves were lined up allowing the dewatering to commence.

Once the valves were aligned, he remained in the pump room for more than 90 minutes in order to keep a submersible pump from becoming clogged. His courageous efforts prevented the loss of the ship and crew, according to the citation letter from Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations.

"Everybody was doing their job, and I happened to be at that spot at the right time. I only did what needed to be done. I was only thing about getting the water off the boat," Wise said.

The NMCM is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Navy or Marine Corps, distinguishes themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with the enemy.

For acts of lifesaving or attempted lifesaving, it is required that the action be preformed at the risk of one's own life. To rise to this level, it must be clearly established that the act involved very specific life-threatening risk to the awardee.

"I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, 'a hero is one who displays grace under pressure.' I don't think anyone will question the pressure these Sailors felt that evening and into the early morning. The pressure of knowing their lives were on the line," said Nees.

Wise deflected praise on to his fellow shipmates.

"The medal is for Dolphin. I'm just the lucky one who gets to wear it," said the Mateo, Calif., native.

For related news, visit the Navy Region Southwest Navy NewsStand page at

News Conference - USS Dolphin (AGSS 555)
Official U.S. Navy file photo of a May 22, 2002, press conference following fire and flooding aboard submarine USS Dolphin (AGSS 555). For his actions in the aftermath of the flooding, Chief Machinist's Mate John D. Wise Jr. received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the senior peacetime award for heroism.
May 22, 2002
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