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USS Batfish bell gets proper display in Muskogee

MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Muskogee’s War Memorial Park can now properly display the bell of America’s most famous World War II submarine — the USS Batfish.

In November 2015, sailors from Central Naval Center for Navy Aviation Technical Training detachment visited Muskogee’s War Memorial Park and saw the sub’s bell sitting atop a wooden box.

“It touched our hearts,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Larry Kutnock, who was in charge.

The unit is stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, according to The Muskogee Phoenix (http://bit.ly/2b5qXNK ) reports.

“It was sitting on a box and wasn’t properly displayed, and we wanted to give honour and respect to those who had served (aboard the USS Batfish),” Kutnock said.

So they decided to take action and delivered their work of art to the museum.

Why make such a big deal out of a bell? Before a submarine is initially launched into service, its bell is left behind in case the sub doesn’t return. If it doesn’t return, then the bell is tolled in the sub’s honour.

Chief Petty Officer Scott Dansby had never made a bell stand before, much less one for a bell that weighs around 100 pounds. He researched various designs and finally found one that everybody agreed to.

“It was an all hands effort,” Dansby said. “There were 10 to 11 of us cutting, sanding and staining.”

On their own time, the crew spent about 100 “man hours” in Dansby’s garage perfecting their work of art.

The original Batfish bell had been lost for decades, said Brent Trout, director of War Memorial Park. A sailor had taken the bell home and left it in a garage, where it was discovered after 28 years.

The bell was presented at the USS Batfish reunion in 2010.

“A bunch of grown men weeped tears of joy,” Trout said.

A naval tradition is that a bottle of whisky is purchased by the sub’s crew and is kept until only one crew member remains. At this time, the bottle is opened, and the survivor toasts the memory of his shipmates.

At the last Batfish reunion, there were only three remaining original crew members, Trout said. The decision was made to break tradition to share the toast with the remaining crew, thereby leaving no bottle for the last survivor.

Fortunately, the training detachment’s Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Blandford was from Marion County, Kentucky, where Maker’s Mark whisky is produced. He told company officials about the USS Batfish and the tradition behind the bottle of whisky.

“They were more than happy to help out,” Blandford said. But it wasn’t the whisky Blandford was after — it was a one-of-a-kind label. Several versions of the label were provided to Blandford by the company, and he finally decided on one.

You can only find the label on this bottle of Maker’s Mark whisky at War Memorial Park. It reads, “Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, Handmade, The Last Sailor on Watch of the USS Batfish.”

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Muskogee Phoenix