Icebergs and leaks

If there is one thing that visitors attending the USS Lewis and Clark’s reunion Friday learned about navy men, it’s that everyone has a boat story.

Retired corpsman Ron Smith, who attended the rededication barbecue at Clayton Memorial Park in Port Orchard, said every boat story gets better with age.

“Talk to the oldest guys,” said Smith, who worked on the USS Lewis and Clark, a Benjamin Franklin Class Ballistic Missile Submarine, from 1965-67. “They have the best stuff.”

The barbecue at the Port Orchard park was held to celebrate the return of former USS Lewis and Clark sailors who came to Kitsap County for a long reunion weekend and to rededicate Clayton Memorial Park.

The City of Port Orchard built the Clayton Memorial Park in 1972 after Michael “Doc” Clayton, a corpsman working on the Lewis and Clark, was killed in a car crash in Kitsap County while the submarine was undergoing an overhaul at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.

More than 50 former crewman, their families and visitors attended the ceremony Friday afternoon.

Fred Olin, a former Port Orchard City Council member, spearheaded the park rededication and barbecue. He said he attended because the crew voted to hold their reunion in Kitsap County. Olin said he also came because without the work the crew did in 1972 to create a park named after Michael Clayton, many Port Orchard children wouldn’t have the opportunity to play in one of the city’s most popular parks.

“What you pushed for 40 years ago provided the basis for what we have today,” Olin told the crowd.

Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes issued a proclamation rededicating the park and he and Olin were named honorary members of the USS Lewis and Clark Association at the event. But other than the food, the real draw, said Smith, was to chat with former shipmates.

Smith drove his classic Ford Mustang overnight from Montana to attend the reunion. Talking to old acquaintances and friends, Smith said the stories that come out of the navy are different now from what they once were.

“Now it’s all modern technology and pushing buttons,” he said.

Smith remembers a time he caused a “small leak” on the boat. Working as a torpedo man, Smith said one day he was loosening a bolt that was stripped. Suddenly, the bolt flew off and a steady stream of high-pressure water entered through the hull.

“An alarm went off,” he said. “I was just a punk kid who thought I’d done something. I was scared I was in trouble.”

Smith said his commanding officer helped him fix the leak, something the two shared a laugh about more than 40 years later when the two met again at the park.

“He said, ‘I knew you looked familiar,’” Smith said.

Mike Snyder, a Chief Petty Officer and self-proclaimed “oldest guy” at the event, said he remembers the night the submarine ran into an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

“It bent that periscope over like a pretzel,” he said.

Snyder traveled with his wife and his granddaughter from Texas for the weekend. He was on the boat when it was commissioned in 1965, and remembered many of the faces from then. The trip back to Kitsap County, where the boat was docked occasionally during it’s 27-year history, was a nice treat for him and his family.

“I thought about staying up here, I like it so much,” he said.


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