A fix for subpar recognition: Submarine veterans aim to build memorial
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent July 14, 2014 2:48PM
World War II veteran Jim Wilkins tolls the bell after each "lost ship" is named by base chaplain Jim Daniels. Of the 28 subs built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for service during World War II, four were lost at sea. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 16, 2014 6:05AM
The sharing of special memories, “inside” humor, a bit of salty sailor language and a great meal made by a former Navy cook all are part of the monthly agenda of the USS Chicago Base Submarine Veterans, who meet at Bremen VFW Post 2791 in Tinley Park.
There’s a serious and organized portion of the agenda, too, overseen by Cmdr. Ken Tupman, of Bourbonnais. It includes the solemn reciting of the names and details of “lost ships,” submarines and their crews lost while in service to the United States.
Tupman gives updates about members, announces which members are having birthdays that month, and brings up old and new business for discussion.
Sometimes there’s entertainment. July’s meeting included a movie, “Life on the Argonaut by the Welsh Brothers,” a film Richard and Tom Welsh put together about their time in the service together on a submarine during the early 1950s.
The film was well-received, with the audience reacting with laughter and praise for Tom Welsh. Richard Welsh died earlier this year.
But the issue uppermost on members’ minds during many meetings over the last several years, Tupman said, has been the progress or lack thereof toward raising funds to erect a Chicago Submarine Memorial along Chicago’s Riverwalk, on the portion east of Columbus Drive on the south bank of the river.
Tupman said the veterans at his base for years have wanted to commemorate the Midwest’s role in getting a fleet of submarines into their watery battlefield during World War II.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, 28 submarines were built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and transported from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River on their way to the Mississippi River — a little-known fact at the time, Tupman said, because of the necessary secrecy of the mission.
Tupman said “three or four years ago,” some of the submarine veterans in his base got the idea to build a memorial in Chicago and discussed it with the Crash Dive Base, which serves the northeast Illinois and southeast Wisconsin area. Tupman said they “were thinking about it, too.”
According to the Crash Dive Base website, a World War II submarine veteran’s challenge to his base was to always remember Pearl Harbor Day, a challenge the group thought could be met by erecting a memorial.
Everyone was on board. A design met with both bases’ approval, and the bases received permission from the Chicago Department of Transportation to erect the memorial along the Riverwalk.
Fundraising, however, has proved to be difficult.
Tupman said the bases have raised less than $20,000 of the $250,000 needed to build the memorial, and he fears the site will be lost to another organization if they can’t get enough money together to begin the project soon.
“We need corporate funding,” Tupman said.
He said the bases have reached out to a number of companies, but their requests have been denied by all but Exelon Corp.
“We need donations desperately,” Tupman said.
Part of the problem is that the mission isn’t well-known, he said.
Tupman said when representatives from both bases approached organizations such as a few of Chicago’s smaller museums, they found no one familiar with Chicago’s part in World War II submarine history.
Tupman said that can and should change when a memorial is built, and it’s important to both veterans and civilians alike.
“It’s important to us because our creed. Part of it is to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and some of these guys who were in boats from Manitowoc actually did,” Tupman said.
Because submarine veterans “never brag,” he said, people can forget about what submarine crews accomplished during war and peace time, including the Cold War.
“It’s a good reminder, a part of history,” Tupman said.
Contributions can be mailed to Chicago Submarine Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 27, Mazon, IL 60444 or made via PayPal by visiting www.crashdivebase.com and clicking on the “Chicago Memorial” tab.
For more information, contact Tupman at (815) 936-9318 or email TupmanK@aol.com; or contact Frank Voznak Jr. at (630) 986-0175 or email email@example.com.