I'm not sure where the love affair started, but I can vividly remember watching World War II movies with my dad when I was younger. "Run Silent, Run Deep" was always in that rotation of black-and-white war movies that aired on the weekends.
Then, as a teenager, my father and I went to see "Das Boot" in the movie theater. It was the fall of 1981 and I was about to turn 13 years old. I was on the edge of my seat from the first minute to the last for a German film that had English subtitles. That's saying something because the movie was just short of 150 minutes long and was the first I ever went to that had an intermission.
That movie just accelerated my fascination with submarines. The fact that my father, at the time, was helping to build new nuclear submarines as an electrician added to the interest.
It has never gone away. If there is a movie about subs, I likely have seen it. If there is a book, I likely have read it.
The best thing to feed the interest is tours of real-life submarines. I have been on several, but there is always room for more.
So on the free morning on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, I made my way to the Carnegie Science Center. There, on the Ohio River, sits the USN Requin, a World War II era submarine that served in the Pacific Ocean. I wasn't going to miss this.
For $7 you can take a self-guided tour of the sub. It is a tour through history, a testament to the bravery of the "Silent Service."
The sub is cramped. It is dark and it is hot. It is hard to move through the hatches and harder to imagine sleeping in the bunks, which most often are stacked three high and are no wider than three feet. Claustrophobic is a polite term for the living spaces. Showers were nothing more than aluminum boxes, also six feet high but no more than three feet wide.
The dining room was among the biggest rooms on the sub, which is 312 feet long. Submariners had few luxuries, but they seemed to eat better than their peers on surface ships. Food was of the highest quality, and there was as much of it as the sub could hold.
I stood for a long time in the control room. First, listening the memories of servicemen that served on the ship that were recorded for playback at the push of the button.
Then, I just stood there, looking at all of the instruments, gauges and levers and my mind drifted to the iconic scene is "Das Boot" when the German submarine begins sinking after an attack and dives past 260 meters, more than 850 feet, as the captain does everything he can, without success, to pull out of the dive.
In my mind's eye, I could see the bananas and pineapples hanging on strings around the room, the officers crowded together in the darkness watching the depth gauge as it moved deeper and deeper into the red numbers, the enlisted men racing through the room toward the aft of the ship to concentrate the weight in the rear in an attempt to pull out of the dive. I could hear the rivets popping because of the pressure of the water on the hull, the pinging noise they made as the burst free and then ricocheted off the hull.
Soon after, I left the control room and reached the end of the boat and climbed the stairs back onto the deck, the diesel smell of the submarine finally clearing my nostrils, the sweat whisked away slowly by the faintest of breezes. I gulped in fresh air and welcomed the warmth of the sun on my skin, happy to be free of walls and tight spaces and artificial light.
This submarine, any submarine, is a nice way to spend a few free hours. It is not meant to be home, as it was for so many during World War II and beyond.
Their bravery is undeniable, their sacrifices and hardships unquestioned.
Each of us should be reminded of that on a regular basis. I was happy I had the opportunity to be reminded again on Wednesday.