About the Colony

Submarine bell finds its way to Atascadero

I love historical connections, especially when they connect Atascadero with, well, anywhere else.

This story begins when the U.S. Navy submarine USS Squalus was commissioned in March 1939. Two months later, while engaged in sea trials off the New Hampshire coast, the sub’s main induction valve failed during a test dive. The aft end of the boat flooded immediately, sending the sub to the sea floor below at over 200 feet deep. A little more than two dozen officers and enlisted men and two civilian employees were trapped in an aft compartment and perished. A quick decision by the ship’s commander resulted in the death of those men in the flooded compartment, but the action also saved the boat and rest of the crew from eventual destruction and death.

A few days later, the sub was brought to the surface as a result of a massive rescue operation, saving 33 survivors, including the skipper, Lt. Oliver F. Naquin.

The submarine was salvaged during the summer of 1939, decommissioned, repaired and renamed USS Sailfish. It was recommissioned in May 1940, a year after the tragic accident. The Sailfish went on patrol in the Pacific and, with the outbreak of World War II, completed a number of war patrols for the rest of her career.

The ship was eventually scrapped in June 1948.

But the brass bell from the Sailfish has found its way to Atascadero.

Barry Lewis is a relatively new resident of Atascadero. He and I became acquainted over our mutual fascination with World War II-era Jeeps. There in his Atascadero garage was the beautiful brass bell from the Sailfish. He said he found it in an antique shop years ago and brought it here with all his other stuff.

A few weeks ago, I was explaining all this to a fellow ex-sailor, Atascaderan Jim Paglia. A couple days later, he called and said that he remembers that in 1939, he and his brother, Tony, attended the wake for Seaman John P. Marino, one of the casualties from the Squalus.

I’m happy to report that the historic ship’s bell is being delivered to the Estrella Warbird Museum in Paso Robles today, where it can be enjoyed along with hundreds and hundreds of wonderful artifacts on display there. You can visit the museum, which now includes the Woodland Family Automobile Display of NASCAR and other unique cars, on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

In fact, this is one of 10 excellent museums you can visit here in the North County.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears on the Local page every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.