Richland's Triton Sail Park helps family feel closer to relative

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldApril 3, 2014 

Some people head for a favorite beach during spring break, but the Blaede family piled into their car in Shakopee, Minn., and headed to the Tri-Cities.

Their destination? The USS Triton Sail Park in north Richland.

In the car were Michael and Traci Blaede, their sons, Jared and Jesse, and Rebecca Blaede, Michael's mother.

They were on a mission to visit what's left of the USS Triton, the only submarine to circumnavigate the world underwater. It was also one of the first nuclear submarines to have two reactors aboard. The reactor compartments are in a trench at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Only the sail, the topmost portion containing the conning tower, escaped the Navy's recycling program. It's embedded in concrete on Port of Benton property at the corner of Port of Benton Boulevard and 11th Street.

One of the crewmen aboard when the sub dove underwater for the historic cruise on Feb. 15, 1960, was Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Blaede.

His wife, Rebecca, 76, remembers waving good-bye from the docks at New London, Conn., not realizing he wouldn't return until May 10.

"It was a big secret. The men supposed it was going to be another short trip like they'd taken before. But some of the guys had a clue that wasn't the case when they saw how much food was taken aboard," she said, gazing at the Triton's sail.

The sub's crew were incommunicado for the entire cruise -- no mail and no contact with the outside world. The same held true for their families.

"It was hard," she said. "It was a complete blackout. I had no idea where he was, when he'd come back."

Their son, Michael, 51, hadn't been born when his dad boarded the Triton for the famous trip around the world.

But he said he has always wanted to see the sub, and tracked its path from decommissioning May 3, 1969, to the Naval shipyard in Bremerton where it was scrapped.

"I live on the Internet. When I found out this part still existed, I had to see it," he said, laying his hand on the sun-warmed metal of the sail.

"I grew up hearing about it. It makes me feel closer to dad. The time he spent on the Triton is really the only part of his Naval career Dad talked about."

Like so many of his crewmates, Nathan Blaede succumbed to cancer in 2002.

"They just didn't understand the radiation was so heavy. They lost a large percentage of the crews to different types of cancer," his widow said.

Nathan Blaede was an electrical technician with a talent for being "able to fix things using a little bit of this and that," his son said.

Before the Triton was commissioned Nov. 10, 1959, Petty Officer 1st Class Blaede helped install the electronic equipment that ran the sub and the sonar and radar equipment he later operated.

When a piece of equipment that measures depth malfunctioned, he helped fix it on the global cruise.

"I can just see him fixing that machine on the sub with duct tape and paper clips," Michael said, laughing.

Nathan Blaede was proud to be a submariner and served in the Navy from 1950-63, his widow said.

The Port of Benton is displaying the Triton's sail to recognize all the decommissioned reactor cores shipped from Bremerton, off-loaded at the port's barge slip and transported and stored at the Hanford site.

"In its time, it was the best of them all. Now it represents them all," Marv Kinney said.

He handles special projects for the port and is the person to contact for admission into the Triton sail. He can be reached via email at kinney@portofbenton.com.

The USS Triton Sail Park and the sail itself are open to the public.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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