By Capt. John Byron, USN (Ret.)
Best Defense diesel submarine bureau chief
Those serving in the US Submarine Force are in their fourth generation:
The first were those stalwart souls who pioneered the craft in primitive submersibles barely livable by their crew, but carrying the art forward.
The second generation were the heroes of World War Two, less than 2 percent of the fleet but accounting for 30 percent of Japanese tonnage sunk. The odds of an individual submariner returning alive at the end of the war were lower than for any other major combat arm: 14 percent of those who made a war patrol failed to survive the War.
The third generation are those who did so much to win the Cold War, whether in diesel boats in the icy waters of the northern barrier patrols of the late ‘40s, the ‘hide with pride' bunch who made over 3,000 missile deterrent patrols in the boomers, or the Smiling Jacks of the undersea world who played chicken with the Soviets in attack submarines.
The fourth generation is at sea today, in boats of unbelievable sophistication (the latest class of US submarines exceeds the imaginings of science fiction) and as busy as at any time in the past, though with a less clear-cut mission.
The first generation is gone and the second all but gone. And now we are losing those who won the Cold War. This afternoon Vice Admiral J. Guy Reynolds died of cancer, one of the great officers who served this nation so well throughout the decades of tension with the Soviets. Guy's family posted updates on his situation for several weeks at this site. The 32 pages of guestbook entries posted there list the names and thoughts of nearly all the leaders of the modern submarine force who served with Guy and loved him.
A moment of silence please...
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.