St. Marys Submarine Museum

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


The Largest Museum of its Kind in the South

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Bernard Alexander Bastura

A Lost National Submarine Service Treasure

Honorary Member U.S. Submarine Veterans


     Bernard Alexander Bastura was a private collector of submarine information, artifacts, and memorabilia and for over fifty years he displayed them in Middletown, Connecticut, that was until those treasures became a permanent part of the St. Marys Submarine Museum, St. Marys, Georgia.  The story behind this person's passion to collect submarine related items and how his massive and unique collection became part of the St. Marys Submarine Museum history is in itself unique and interesting.  This tribute to Mr. Bastura tells that story.  

     Ben as he was known to many was born on 13 July 1933 in Portland, Connecticut to Andrew Thomas and Mary nee Kaminski Bastura.  Genealogical research found that his father, Andrew was born Andrezj Thomas Basztura on 6 January 1887 in the town of Meils or Meile, Poland, which is located in the southern suburbs of Warsaw, Poland.  Andrew arrived in New York on 3 November 1906 with his wife, Mary aboard the SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria.  The couple settled in Portland, Connecticut where they raised their large family of five sons and three daughters.  Bernard Alexander Bastura was the couple's last child.   Andrew worked at a local silk mill in Portland and in 1940, the Bastura family moved from Portland to nearby Middletown.  Bernard attended and graduated Middletown High School in 1953. He was known as Big Ben back then.  The inscription shown under his year book photo was as is in his yearbook.

Bernard Bastura

"Big Ben" 440 Washington Street

"Born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad."

Basketbal, Football, Baseball.

Ambition: T.V. repair man


    On 13 February 1953, the Hartford Courant newspaper reported that Andrew "...died suddenly while at his place of work, the Wilcox-Chrittenden Company" the day before.  Bernie who was 20 years of age at the time of his father's death was serving in the Army. 


    Not much beyond that which you just read is known about Bernie's earlier years except what that found in various newspaper articles, many of which are presented and cited.  He attended the Old Middletown High School after the family moved from Portland to Middletown in about 1940, according to a New York Times article found on the Internet.  That same article said that his high school year book predicted he would grow up to be either the owner of a store or a museum as he had kept a nature museum in his basement. One reporter said in another article that he served in the Army during World War II, but that could not be correct because Bernie who was born in 1933 would not have been old enough to serve in WW II.  He admitted to others that he did serve and that service was probably during the Korean War.  After his service, he returned to Connecticut and resettled in the Bastura home on 440 Washington Street, Middletown. 


    Bastura had no formal training in either naval history or museum adminstration but according to the aforementioned article he told the reporter, ''...whenever I traveled I would stop at any museum,'' he said. ''I didn't care what it was a museum of, but I'd stop in and see how it was set up.'' According to several newspaper articles published over the years from 1981 through 1998,  Ben's interest in submarines began in 1954 when he visited the submarine museum that was located in the Electric Boat (EB) Shipyard, Groton, Connecticut.  EB was about an hours drive distance from Bernie's residence in Middletown.  At the time of his visit he was 21 years old and was earning a living as a spray painter working for Standard-Knapp Corporation; an earlier well-established employee-owned manufactuer of packaging machinery, in Portland.  


     From that point on, according to a Hartford Courant article written by Elizabeth Sanger and published on 14 October 1982, "...he began to save every article dealing with submarines, rescue ships, shipyards, sub bases and oceanography.  He started a library, took photographs of the vessels, wrote to crew members on every U.S.  Navy submarine in commission asking for ship momentos, and built plastic models of the sleek underwater vessels."  Bastura's well-organized collection began to fill one side of the two story house that he and his also single brother, Frank, lived in. At that time, according to the Sanger article, Bastura said, "...the privately owned museum is the largest collection on the East Coast -perhaps in the Nation - devoted solely to submarine force."


     In 1985, Owen McNally, a reporter of the Harford Courant, described in an article about his visit to the Submarine Library Museum located at 442 Washington Street, Middletown, CT as if "'re boarding an 85-year old duplex packed from stem to stern with submarine memorabilia and undersea lore." The same article revealed that Ben had willed his entire collection to the U.S. Submarine Veterans, World War II.  McNally went on to report that this submarine group of WW II veterans became associated with the museum in 1968.  They made Ben an honorary member. The WW II Submarine Veterans organization merged with the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI) which exists today.


     The Submarine Library & Museum, owned and operated by two bachelors, Bernie and Frank Bastura, opened on Labor Day, 1966.  "Visitors to the museum came from throughout the United States", added McNally.  "His guest book has been signed by submarine buffs from England, France, Ireland and even Saudia Arabia."  The library or reading room in one part of the house that was once the kitchen was jammed with filing cabinets.  Veterans and visitors spend hours pouring over submarine combat war patrol reports learning what really happened vice that portrayed in the movies.  Ben told McNally, "I have seen vets shed tears as they go through these chronicles."  No admission fees were charged, but, donations were welcome from


     In 1964, the Navy invited Bernie to ride the diesel-electric powered USS Cavalla (SS 244). One article reported that a friend of Bernies who had served on the Cavalla as a cook arranged the one-day trip to get him out to Long Island Sound on the submarine. Cavalla did ten dives that day and Bernie chronicled each.  That was the only time Bernie rode a submarine and experienced that feeling, which he cherished the rest of his life knowing what life aboard a submarine was all about.  In 1968, he was inducted as an honorary member of the U.S.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, an honor bestowed on but a few non-submarine qualifiers.


    As for the museum, the New York Times article that was published in 1985 said, "Several years ago, Mr. Bastura made plans to move his museum to the former state police barracks in Groton, but that move was quashed when Gov. Ella T. Grasso decided to transform the old building into a youth center instead. Bernie told the reporter, "... these change of plans was just as well because he wants to keep his collection distinct from the new Nautilus museum."  He added, "...he had no intention of merging his museum with the larger Navy memorial because he promised those who donated their mementos to him that they would always have a safe home with him." 


    On 29 March 2003, Bernard "Ben" Alexander Bastura passed away while residing in Middletown, Connecticut.  That was a very sad day evidenced by the many comments posted on Ben's Facebook profile by former submariners who got to know Ben and what he did for preserving submarine history.  In fact, the USSVI organization established the Ben Bastura Historical Achievement Award.  This award is presented to the person/s who have demonstrated their understanding and commitment to the USSVI's creed in perpetuating the memory of submariners and submarines by gathering, creating, or in other ways preserving a significant amount of submarine history.  Clicking here will take to you the USSVI's Awards Manual. 





and is being designed by

Raymond Vance Olszewski

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

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