Our Secretary, Matt Baumgarten, was the featured speaker at the Bench Dedication at the Cold War Memorial on Saturday, Oct 2nd 2021. The following is the text of Matt’s speech:
Greetings and salutations my fellow shipmates, and a warm Navy welcome to the spouses, families and friends that have accompanied you here today. You are all great Americans and true Patriots. Of this you should be extremely proud. And what better place for us to convene today than at Patriot’s Point, here in beautiful Charleston S.C.
We gather together today to formally dedicate the USS James K. Polk’s memorial bench located here in this magnificent Cold War Submarine memorial park.
I want to thank the people who were critical in making this bench dedication possible through their tireless efforts to have this beautiful memorial fabricated and installed: EM1 Lew Leal, Captain Jim Lyons, Captain Jim Pillsbury, the Board of the JKPVA, and most importantly, the Donors. I will not name names. You know who you are.
Whether you served on board the Jimmy K, submerged and cruising along at 4 knots to nowhere, standing at the ready to deliver intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple independent re-entry warheads or you served on-board her, sneaking up on some unsuspecting foreign land delivering America’s finest and bravest special operations warfighters, the United States Navy SEALs, you are part of a very special family; a very special breed of human being that is knuckle headed yet brilliant ,cunning and clever, introvert or wiseass, yet all silent killers from the deep.
For 33 years the James K. Polk sailed the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and then the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally she spent time on a cradle in a drydock, getting fresh zoomie rods inserted in her tea kettle or a pair of underwater garages welded to her back, just so she could go back underwater and do her very special job. A job that can only be accomplished by men, and now women, that are specially trained, highly skilled and extremely motivated at not being found by their enemies for weeks or months on end. What a weird way to earn a living folks. And not much of a living it was.
I joined the crew of the James K. Polk in May 1992. I was fresh out of Nuke School and the Submarine Officer Basic Course and was so excited to hit the deck plates running. I knew walking across the brow for the very first time, just a few miles from where we stand right now, up the Cooper River, at Naval Submarine Base Charleston, that this was going to be a tough run. But never in my mind did I ever imagine the lifelong friendships that I was going to make. The true thing about these friendships, is that you may have served three months with a shipmate or three years, it doesn’t matter. One underway together and the bond is there forever.
Standing here some 29+ years later, I would give my right arm to get underway one more time and take her down deep. There is not a thrill in this world to me that matches hearing the sound of the klaxon diving alarm blaring out its unique sound and the COW saying “Dive, Dive” over the 1MC. It may have taken hundreds of procedural steps and many long hours of preparation to finally get out to the dive point, but hearing the air escaping the main ballast tank vents, and then feeling the boat slip beneath the waves, bow down, picking up speed, and then finally settling at the ordered depth in that surreal tranquil undersea world that we all called home for some period of our young lives, was all worth the effort.
The beauty of our James K. Polk Veterans Association, is that once a year we gather together to see our former shipmates, make a few new shipmates and to relive the days of our youth.
No one can tell a better story, 3 times in one weekend I might add, than a submarine sailor.
One day not too long ago at one of these gatherings in Myrtle Beach, an idea was brought forth about raising money to have a memorial bench created to honor the Jimmy K. I don’t recall the price, but it wasn’t cheap. The amazing thing about this bench is not the fact that it looks freaking awesome, or that it is the best-looking bench in the entire park here, the amazing thing is that we raised the money in just a few days. The excitement, the love for and the commitment to the Polk legacy shined ever so bright that week.
We are very fortunate that the sail from our beloved boat has been saved and will live on for many years to come in Albuquerque. Not many submariners ever get to touch a major part of their boat ever again in their lives, but we do. Getting the sail saved, moved, and put in-place was the work of a few shipmates.
And now, thanks to the efforts of a few more of our shipmates, we have this beautiful bench to visit and reflect upon the days we sailed together onboard the USS James K. Polk SSBN 645 and SSN 645.
Thank you for coming today. Thank you for listening. I am really looking forward to the Banquet tonight onboard the Yorktown. Our guest speaker is going to amazing.
And one last thing shipmates: never forget, the SS after all of our names, really stands for Submarine Strong.