St. Marys Submarine Museum

102 St. Marys Street West, St. Marys, GA 31558

       

The Largest Museum of its Kind in the South

Spend the day - Lots to see and lots to learn!

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Updated: 17-Apr-2019

     By way of introduction, I volunteered to construct this website for the St. Marys Submarine Museum. I had contacted the museum for information about the submarine Tunny, which I was researching for my book USS TUNNY: A History, Tribute, and Memoir.  It wasn't until 15 March 2019 that I made my first visit and met Keith Post, the Director for the first time.  I was BLOWN AWAY!  I was impressed not only with the facility itself and its content, but also with the enthusiasm and knowledge Keith displayed taking Vicki and I around telling us about his plans for the museum. When I served on submarines, TUNNY and BANG, I was proud to have served as the sub's Yeoman.  My goal in developing and construction of this website is simple, make it easy to use, informative and as accurate as possible.  From time to time, I will use the Yeoman's rating badge insignia to interject what I call "Boat Yeo's Notes."  Thank you for this great opportunity.  Ray Olszewski, USS TUNNY (SSG-282) (1958-1962), and USS BANG (SS-385) (1964-1965).  If you have information or comments that pertains to this website, please share it with me by sending it to my email:  ROlszewski@aol.com.

~

Introduction

 

     The United States Submarine Force was born on 31 April 1900, when the Navy purchased its first vessel from early submarine designer and builder John Holland.  Since that time nearly 800 submarines have been built for and purchased by our Navy, serving across the globe under the seven seas in defense of freedom and to ensure the preservation of our liberties.

 

     We have lost a total of 65 boats during that time nine before WW II, 52 boats and over 3,500 men during WWII, and four since the end of the war.  During the early days of the Cold War, the USS THRESHER (SSN 593) was lost during sea trials southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts on 10 April 1963 with 129 men aboard following overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  This is and remains the largest loss of life in a submarine accident in the world.  This tragic loss of life and loss of this submarine brought about a sea of change in our submarine force.  After much soul searching and reflection, changes to the way we design, build, maintain and operate our incredibly sophisticated and capable submarines were instituted.  The SUBSAFE program was created, and since that time we have thankfully not lost a submarine that has been SUBSAFE certified.  On 22 May 1968 we lost the USS SCORPION (SSN 589), which had not yet undergone overhaul to be upgraded to SUBSAFE standards, and 99 men lost their lives. Thankfully since then we have not lost another submarine in over 50 years.  This is a true testament to the effectiveness of the SUBSAFE Program, the wonderfully talented and dedicated people who build these incredible machines, and the men and women in uniform who operate and take these submarines to sea around the world.

 

     On 30 March 1996, WWII Submarine Hero and Medal of Honor recipient RADM Eugene Fluckey dedicated the St. Marys Museum.  That day celebrated this new beginning as we opened our doors for the first time.  We are honored and eternally thankful to have begun our service as a repository and take these submarines to sea around the world.

 

     We hope you enjoy your visit to the Museum as you see hundreds of photographs, plaques, paintings, artifacts, various equipment pieces and so much more contained in this building, which showcases the rich history and heritage of our force.  We salute and offer a big THANK YOU to all the men and women who have served and continue to wear the cloth of our nation in the greatest submarine force in the world!  BRAVO ZULU to all our Submariners, past, present and future.  WELCOME ALL!

 

The above document was extracted from a framed version of it hanging on a wall near the entrance to the museum.

 

The Museum's Background and a Look into its History

 

     As previously mentioned in the foregoing introduction, the St. Marys Submarine Museum initially opened its doors on 30 March 1996.  Since then, the two-floors of approximately 5,000 square foot building located on the waterfront street of St. Marys, Georgia has been receiving thousands of visitors. It is here they get the opportunity to see, enjoy, and learn about submarines and their artifacts.  The thousands of artifacts, some older than 100 years are on display providing historical information about submarines that is not found elsewhere.  This information includes combat war patrol reports, artifacts, displays, exhibits, uniforms, battle flags, and much more.

 

The Museum's Meager Beginnings - its Hull was once a 100-Year Old Movie Theatre

 

    On 18 September 1995, the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, GA) published the article headlined: "Museum to offer look at submarines."  The Associated Press was given credit for the article found on the Internet at www.genealogybank.com. The article said, "The museum, being constructed in an old movie theater on the St. Marys River in the city's historic district, is about 40 percent complete."  The article went on to say, "More than 300 artifacts have been donated for display, museum organizers said. Items donated so far include deep-sea diving suits from the 1940s, command plaques, photographs and models of World War II submarines.  Organizers are still seeking memorabilia for display." 

 

     Sheila McNeill who was identified in the same article as the "museum president" along with Art Robb as the "vice president".  Mrs. McNeill was also identified as the "...commissioning president of the St. Mary's Submarine Museum."  The article further added that the State of Georgia had granted the Museum "tax-exempt" status and that it would be staffed by volunteers, many of whom served on submarines.  Mrs. McNeill arranged for thousands of brochures to be produced announcing the opening and these were handed out to the public at the gate of the nearby submarine base, Kings Bay, GA. Click here for the Augusta Chronicle 1995 newspaper article and click here to read Mrs. McNeill's bio.

 

     A later article also about the opening was published on 16 March 1996 in the Brunswick News (Brunswick, GA).  Headlined New Submarine Museum to Open elaborated on Ms. McNeil's involvement. The article said that she had been urging military families to hold onto their memorabilia since as early as 1991.  Further, Ashley Norton, News Staff Writer who wrote the article explained, that Mrs. McNeill was the owner of Sheila's Hallmark, a card shop at St. Marys, Mrs. McNeil (age 52 at the time) who had noticed the military town lacked a place to exhibit and to express community appreciation for being a part of the Kings Bay Submarine Base. Norton also mentioned that "Mrs. McNeil became involved in the museum during her work with the Navy League.  As a league officer, she supports the men and women of the sea services and their families."

 

The newspaper article shown was published in the Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, George) on 29 March 1996.  It was in response to a question posed by Ken Kirkwood of Alpharetta, "Do you have any information about a new museum opening soon in St. Marys?

 

    Since the museum opened, it has been under the care and leadership of two former submariners, John Crouse and Keith Post, who both served in the Navy's "all volunteer" Silent Service. Even after their navy careers, these individuals volunteered their time to take charge of the caring for and steering of the museum's direction to present to the public an education platform about our nation's elite submarine service.  Even the Museum's 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization's Board of Directors include some former submarine sailors who know and understand what submarining is all about.  They know from their own navy careers it is important to educate the public about what they do and the historical value the museum provides to perpetuate the memory of submarines and submariners who served on them. 

 

    The museum's first Director was John Crouse who some knew as 'Johnnie'.  John Raymond Crouse was born on 7 February 1952 in Royal Oak, Michigan.  On 4 September 2010, John suffered a heart attack while attending that year's Annual Submarine Veterans Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He departed on Eternal Patrol two days later. 

 

     The museum's founding president, Sheila McNeill, said about her relationship with John: "It was a joy working with John to build the museum in 1995."  McNeill said further, "...Crouse had a true passion for the submarine force, but had a special place in his heart for the submarine veterans of World War II."  She added, "He had such respect for all they do and he would make sure that the museum reflected that."  Keith Post, the Museum's current Director and museum plank owner said at the time of John Crouse's passing on 4 September 2010, "If he could have scripted the final moments of his life, I don't think he could have come up with a more perfect ending than at the submarine veterans annual convention,...".  Read John Crouse tribute here.

 

    During John's tenure as the Museum's Director in 2003, the Museum received what is believed to be the nation's largest single private collection of submarine memorabilia. It had belonged to Bernard "Ben" Bastura, who had originally started collecting submarine information and memorabilia in 1954.  Over the next 50 years, his collection grew to significant purportions enough to be labled in the Middletown, Connecticut City Directory as a "Submarine Library Museum" located at 442 Washington Street.  That address was Ben and his brother Frank's (both bachelors) home in Middletown. The foregoing link or this one, takes you to a tribute paid to Ben Bastura and more history about his background and his unique collection. 

 

    Sheila McNeill wrote in her book, "...when Ben Bastura called the St Marys Submarine Museum and said he had some items he wanted to donate to our museum.  The Nautilus [Museum] had promised him a room named for him if he donates to them but for some reason he wanted us to have his items. And one condition of that was one of us come to look at his collection.  I flew to Connecticut and went to his home.  Wow, what a collection from a man who was in the Army.  A soldier who was so impressed and so enamored with our Submarine Veterans of WWII that his entire two story home was chocked full of submarine history. When Ben died, it was a tractor trailer load and cost $10,000.  It was well worth the costs and we are grateful that he trusted us with his lifelong collection."  Ben's collection has been absorbed into the St. Marys Submarine Museum thanks to John Crouse and volunteers he mustered to help with the huge task.  Sheila acknowledged Vice Admiral Roger F. Bacon, USN (Retired) for his generosity in scanning the WWII combat war patrol reports and sharing them with all of the submarine museums. 

 

      Adding to the Museum's history and its success, there have been numerous benefactors.  One that stands out which Ms. McNeill wrote about in her book, was the $34,000.00 that Georgia businessman Jack Schiff donated during a visit he made to the museum on 30 December 1997.  Gordon Jackson, a Florida Times-Union writer, wrote an article about it and called it "St. Marys "Angel" Made Sub Museum Possible". This gift facilitated finishing a number of projects that were outstanding since the museum's opening in March 1996.  Schiff said "The Navy did so much for me," and was the reason he made the contribution. He told museum officials, "I can never repay what the Navy did for me.  I'd like to give the Navy half of what it has given me."  Schiff was one of the founders of the Cincinnati Insurance Co. in 1950.  Today, its assets total nearly $7 billion dollars.  In October 1998, John J. "Jack" Schiff passed away and his family have continued to support the museum.  Ms. McNeill concluded, "He is the angel of St. Marys."

 

     Since it opened in March 1996, the St Marys Submarine Museum has been receiving about 12,000 visitors a year.  A Board of Directors was established and continues to oversee the museum's progress and management.  Members assigned to the BOD have come and gone to include the following names. 

 

Sheila McNeill

Bill Weisensee, Captain, USN (Retired) (See USSVI Profile), CO Trident Refit Facility, Executive Director,  Served as BOD President (Two terms), Camden-Kings Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Art Robb, Johnson Controls General Manager

John Crouse, Museum Manager

Debbie Harper, St. Marys Tourism Director

Denny Reasoner

Kathy Dempsey

 

See page 564 and 565 of McNeill's book.

 

SUB MUSEUM SURFACING BY SUMMER?

 

EVENING UNDER THE STARS

 

Proclamation

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Website designed and maintained by

Raymond Vance Olszewski 

Former Boat Yeoman USS TUNNY (SSG-282) and USS BANG (SS-385)

Author: USS TUNNY: A History, Tribute, and Memoir

 ROlszewski@aol.com.

www.olsewskienterprises.com