I learned something new and horrifying today which is… that… no submarine is ever considered “lost” … there is apparently a tradition in the U.S. Navy that no submarine is ever lost. Those that go to sea and do not return are considered to be “still on patrol.”
There is a monument about this along a canal near here its… the worst thing I have ever seen. it says “STILL ON PATROL” in huge letters and then goes on to specify exactly how many WWII submarine ghosts are STILL OUT THERE, ON PATROL (it is almost 2000 WWII submarine ghosts, ftr). Here is the text from it:
“U.S. Navy Submarines paid heavily for their success in WWII. A total of 374 officers and 3131 men are still on board these 52 U.S. submarines still on patrol.”
THANKS A LOT, U.S. NAVY, FOR HAVING THIS TOTALLY NORMAL AND NOT AT ALL HORRIFYING TRADITION, AND TELLING ALL OF US ABOUT IT. THANKS. THANK YOU
anyway now my mother and I cannot stop saying STILL ON PATROL to each other in ominous tones of voice
There’s definitely something ominous about that—the implication that, one day, they will return from patrol.
Actually, it’s rather sweet. I don’t know if this is common across the board, but my dad’s friend is a radio op for subs launched off the east coast, and he always is excited for Christmas, because they go through the list of SoP subs and hail them, wishing them a merry Christmas and telling them they’re remembered.
Imagine a country whose seamen never die, and whose submarines can’t be destroyed…because no ones sure if they exist or not.
No but imagine. It’s Christmas. A black, rotting corridor in a forgotten submarine. The sound of dripping water echoes coldly through the hull. You can’t see very far down the corridor but then, a man appears, he’s running, in a panic, but his footsteps make no noise. The spectral seaman dashes around the corner and slips through a rusty wall. He finds himself at the back of a crowd of his cadaverous crew-mates. They part to let him through. He feels the weight of their hollow gaze as he reaches the coms station. Even after all these years a sickly green light glistens in the dark. The captain’s skeleton lays a sharp hand on his shoulder and nods at him encouragingly, the light sliding over the bones of his skull. The ghost of the seaman steadies himself and slips his fingers into the dials of the radio, possessing it. It wails and screeches. A bombardment of static. And then silence. The deathly crew mates look at each other with worry, with sadness; could this be the year where there is no voice in the dark? No memory of home? The phantasm of the sailor pushes his hand deeper into the workings of the radio, the signal clears, and then a strong voice, distant with the static but warm and kind, echoes from the darkness; “Merry Christmas boys, we’re all thinking of you here at home, have a good one.”
A sepulchral tear wafts it’s way down the seaman’s face. The bony captain embraces him. The crew grin through rotten jaws, laughing silently in their joy. They haven’t forgotten us. They haven’t forgotten.
I am completely on board with this. It’s not horrifying, it’s heartwarming.
Personal story time: whenever I go to Field Museum’s Egypt exhibit, I stop by the plaque at the entrance to the underground rooms. It has an English translation of a prayer to feed the dead, and a list of all the names they know of the mummies on display there. I always recite the prayer and read aloud the list of names. They wanted to live forever, to always have their souls fed and their names spoken. How would they feel about being behind glass, among strangers? Every little thing you can do to give respect for the dead is warranted.
I love the idea of lost subs still being on patrol. Though if you really want something ominous, let me say that the superstitious part of me wonders: why are they still on patrol? If they haven’t been found, do they not consider their mission completed? What is it out there that they are protecting us from?
Ghost ships have a mission.
They’re rare, not because shipwrecks are rare (they aren’t) or because it’s hard to become a ghost ship (it really isn’t; with all the people who believe in them, even for a few moments on dark nights in the middle of a ghost story, it’s as easy as falling asleep, as easy as flipping a switch, as easy as stepping into the light, and the dark, all at once), but rather, because their sea is vast and their mission is long.
They have all seas in all dimensions to cover, for all of eternity, and their mission is this: to help, to guide, to rescue, whenever and wherever they can, in those dark times when you’re alone and lost or when your enemies have cut you off from all witnesses, expecting an easy kill.
The only rule that binds a ghost ship is to not be known; to be seen only by those they rescue and those they kill, to leave hints and stories and rumors and possibilities, but never to clearly and objectively exist. The light is life and its rules, wherein people die and ships become shipwrecks, or it is Heaven, where all seas are luminous and all ships come home; the dark is oblivion, or loss; the realm of the ghost ships is twilight, the place in between, where anything can happen.
The stories are universal. A ship, lost in a storm, sees the light of another ship and follows it to safe harbor; the crewman who saw the name is told he must have been mistaken; that ship vanished twenty years ago. A sailor who fell overboard is rescued, taken on, and brought to shore, never quite letting himself wonder why their ship and their uniforms and their speech patterns are half a century out of date. A ship with pirates circling sees rescue come up out of nowhere, a mighty and terrible vessel which destroys the attackers utterly, then disappears as swiftly as it came.
A submarine, hunted under the Arctic ice sheets, finds a sudden, friendly contact lighting up their sonar screens, guiding them to safety as the attackers break off, confused at the unscheduled presence. The grateful officers cluster around the screen, pinging their new friend and wondering what manner of newfangled boat the Navy has put into service while they were out here, and what kind of engine can make it move like that, once the enemies are gone and the guardian accelerates out of sonar range. But when they make their report, their superiors are adamant that they have nothing like that, and no one else was even there.
It is only years later, with the launch of the first nuclear subs, that any of them begin to get a suspicion of what they met back there, and when one of these submarines doesn’t come back when it should, the old captain hears the phrase “still on patrol” and finds himself, suddenly, shaking so hard he has to sit down.
It’s a strange club, with no meetings and no officers and no dues beyond the ones they paid to get here: the people who’ve been lost and then found, rescued, brought safe home, by a chance encounter with a ship long since lost, or sometimes, not yet launched. They seem to recognize each other, somehow, and they’ll meet in bars and in museums and out on the docks and by the monuments to the missing and lost, exchange stories, drink a toast and go on about their lives, wondering on the edge of knowing.
It’s probably a mistake, almost certainly some ship with a similar name assuming they were the ones hailed, but one Christmas, when the operator is most of the way through the list labeled Still On Patrol, the radio crackles to life in answer. “Scorpion here. Merry Christmas to you too, Ma’am, and thank you.”