The smell inside the USS Triton's 24-foot-tall sail took Mike Thornton of Richland back to his days of serving in a submarine.
Thornton and his 11-year-old grandson, Riley Sorn, were among the several hundred people who gathered Thursday to see the USS Triton Sail Park dedicated in north Richland -- exactly 52 years after the Triton officially was commissioned.
Thornton served on the USS Picuda SS-382 from 1967-71 and said that other than being a submarine, the diesel electric Picuda didn't have much in common with the Triton, which was powered by two nuclear reactors.
The Triton's nuclear reactor compartments are among those that have been buried at Hanford. 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.
The partnership with the Port of Benton and the Navy is among the reasons that the port decided to create the sail park at the corner of Port of Benton Boulevard and 11th Street at the urging of Port Commissioner Bob Larson.
And Thursday, the park was dedicated to the memory of veterans, especially those who served in the Navy's submarines.
The sail part of the submarine was cut into six pieces to get it from the Bremerton shipyard to the Tri-Cities, where it was welded back together, Larson said. It's on a long-term loan from the Navy, although as Larson pointed out, "We put it in concrete."
Al Steele of San Diego, a retired commander, who served as a seaman and torpedo man in the Triton from 1958-61, recalled the Triton's first dive Sept. 26, 1959.
After the crew submerged the submarine about as far down as it could go in 600 feet of water, he said, "We were like a teen with a new car." None of them had served in a submarine that was as large, as fast or as powerful as the Triton.
And everything went fine -- until the Triton attempted to come to a full stop submerged and started to move back and forth like a seesaw. The Triton sank so low that the executive officer said "no sound," which meant the depth was 10 to 12 feet to the bottom, Steele said.
Ray Kuhn of Spokane was one of the Triton's "plank owners," the name for the crew when a submarine was commissioned.
He served on the Triton for 18 months as the operator of the evaporator and air compressor, and was among those who served on the 60-day trip where the Triton circumnavigated the globe completely submerged using Ferdinand Magellan's route from 440 years earlier.
It was a trip that made the Triton famous as the first submarine to travel around the world submerged.
The first week of that voyage was long, and so was the last week, he said. But in between, the crew was in its routine.
He still can remember how much it stank of dead sea life when the crew finally emerged from under water.
Kuhn said he hadn't seen the submarine since 1960 and had forgotten how big it really was. The Triton was 448 feet long and 37 feet wide.
Robert Rawlins, third commander of the Triton from 1964-66, said it was meant to be a radar picket ship, although the submarine was never used as one because the Triton would be able to submerge when aircraft flew overhead. Something like that would have been great at the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
In the 1960s, the Triton spent some time stationed in the Caribbean Sea, Rawlins said. He recalled one day when the Triton was asked to help search for downed aviators. Triton had an advantage because the crew could see miles to the horizon and with the periscope, even farther, said Rawlins, of Healdsburg, Calif. The crew successfully rescued the two people who had been in the small plane after one of the crewmen spotted their raft away from the area where they had been searching.
Harold Weston of Virginia, the Triton's chief of the boat, also called the "cob," said the Triton had what the crew called a 20-knot hum because whenever the submarine went faster than 20 knots, or 24 miles per hour, under water, there was a distinctive humming.
It took them about six years to determine exactly what was causing the sound, said Weston, who served on the Triton from 1961-67. There was a railing along the bottom of the sail, and the pipe was open.
They plugged the pipe, and then Weston said, the Triton's crew truly were in the ranks of the "silent service."