Richland park to pay tribute to USS Triton

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writerMay 30, 2011 

RICHLAND -- When Jim Carey of Kennewick served on the USS Triton, the nuclear submarine's conning tower was where the officer of the deck stood his watch and issued orders.

Now that water-tight room at the bottom of the sub's sail is part of the USS Triton Submarine Memorial Park in north Richland. The Port of Benton expects to finish work on the park this fall.

Carey observed the 24-foot-tall sail has degraded since he last stood in the submarine before it was decommissioned in 1969. And some pieces are missing, likely reused in other subs.

But Carey, who was a junior officer on the Triton for three years before it was decommissioned, said, "It's a nice tribute."

The park is meant to recognize those who served on the Triton during the submarine's decade in service.

Marv Kinney, Port of Benton director of special projects, said the submarine sail is also part of the port's efforts to honor the port's partnership with the Navy. It's the result of an idea that Port Commissioner Bob Larson came up with about five years ago.

Kinney said the port rents space to the Navy so that submarine nuclear reactor compartments can be trucked to Hanford for long-term storage.

The federal government decided to bury the reactor compartments at central Hanford in 1986.

Carey, a consultant, said he has seen the compartments from the Triton in a giant trench where the submarine parts are taken.

But that isn't why Kinney chose the Triton to include in the memorial.

Kinney said in 1960 that the Triton became famous for being the first submarine to circumnavigate the world while submerged.

Carey said the Navy was pretty quiet about that mission until the Triton returned. Then, he said, the Navy announced the feat to show possible enemies, including the Soviet Union, that an American submarine could travel around the world without surfacing.

The Triton was 448 feet long and 37 feet wide. It could be submerged by more than 399 feet.

The submarine carried from 160 to 180 men, depending on its mission, Carey said.

When it entered service in 1959, it was the Navy's most expensive submarine, costing $109 million.

And it was unique -- the first U.S. submarine to have two nuclear reactors and the last to use a conning tower.

Its 70-foot-long sail looks like a giant black metal version of the garrison cap some veterans wear. Inside the sail is a honeycomb of metal that would fill up with water when the submarine submerged.

The conning tower was accessed by a portal that could be unlocked by turning a wheel. Inside the small room were the array of instruments that controlled the submarine.

The sail was installed at the park at the corner of Port of Benton Boulevard and 11th Street in 2009, and since then the port has been working on the memorial park.

The port still needs to install guardrails, a parking lot, grass and the kiosks that will feature information about the Triton.

Inside the tower, Kinney said ventilation must be added to allow occasional tours, which will be the only time the sail interior will be open.

And the interior, which is rusting and dusty, needs to be cleaned, he said.

But the park is taking shape, and the submarine sail is lit at night.

A Plexiglas window will allow visitors to peer into the sail even when tours are not offered, Kinney said.

The sail is on permanent loan from the Navy. The park project likely will cost the port more than $100,000, Kinney said.

The Triton was built to be a radar picket for the Navy, a ship that went out in front of the fleet and located incoming enemy planes by radar and then sent information to the rest of the fleet, Carey said. But although that's why it was built, it never was used as a picket.

Serving on the Triton meant a lot of engineering training, Carey said. Each of the two engine rooms was different.

Carey, who was a sonar and reactor control officer, said his missions on the Triton remain classified. But the submarine did receive two Navy Unit commendations for its success.

The port also has some pieces from inside the Triton, including a gyroscope that was used to keep the submarine balanced and a firing mechanism for a torpedo. Kinney said the port hasn't determined yet how those pieces will be displayed.

Until that is decided, the pieces are stored in the port's administration building.

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