Submarine Veterans Chaplain Wins Souls and Saves a Life in the Process
By Assoc. Dir. Andy Meverden & Myra Meverden, RN, Chaplain, Rocky Mountain Submarine Veterans, Denver, Colorado
Since January 2015, as director, and since April of 2020 as associate director, I’ve visited VCN chaplains across America. It’s been exciting to see our chaplains and their families in their homes and places of ministry. On top of that, I’ve had the opportunity of observing and participate in the unique volunteer chaplain ministry of my wife. Myra was endorsed by my predecessor, Chaplain Allen Russell, for volunteer ministry to the Rocky Mountains Submarine Veterans.
A retired career Registered Nurse (RN), with a high-risk OBGYN specialty, Myra served as an Air Force Nurse at March AFB, Riverside, California from ’68-’71, during the height of the Vietnam War. During that time, she provided skilled nursing care to many injured and wounded US service members returning from the War in SE Asia. Through that experience, she learned to respect the dedication and sacrifice of Veterans and their families. Later in life, after raising her children, she became intrigued with WW2 submarine warfare, especially in the Pacific Theater. She read every submarine book she could get her hands, including a WW2 submarine training manual!
One day, while shopping at the local Base Exchange, we met a couple, who’s silver-haired husband served on submarines at the end of WW2 and retired from the US Navy Submarine force. They invited us to attend a monthly meeting of the Rocky Mountain Submarines Veterans – one of three Submarine Veteran Groups in Colorado. Myra was exited to meet and chat with submariners of all ages, especially the senior members who served on diesel boats of WW2 and the Korean War.
Eventually, she joined the group as an associate member and participated in monthly activities including “Kaps 4 Kids,” an outreach program to bring cheer to seriously ill children nationwide, and recreational bingo for senior residents of the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimmons. Her enthusiasm and caring demeanor were noticed. When the group chaplain resigned, she was nominated and voted into the volunteer position. It was the first time someone not qualified in submarines, plus a female, assumed that position. Some of the older submariners had reservations about her appointment.
Myra dove right in. She delivered the invocation and benediction at each monthly meeting. She called those who were absent, sent cards to those who were sick, visiting submariners and their wives who were hospitalized. She wrote a monthly devotional called “Bubblehead Blessings” which were included in the Base newsletter, “The Cavitation,” which have been included on the group’s website.
When her first WW2 Submariner, Seaman Bert Minor died in 2011, Myra coordinated with his daughter living in California to arrange Bert’s local memorial with Submariner tribute, and burial with military chaplain (yours truly) and US Navy honor guard. Having gotten to know Bert, visiting him during his last days, the services were well-executed and meaningful. So much so, that three elderly Submarine Veterans of WW2 and Korea marched up the chapel aisle at the end to request that they be afforded similar services by the Base Chaplain, Myra, and her assistant, Chaplain Andy. Since that time, Myra and I have buried over a dozen Submariners, their spouses and other family members.
The US Navy lost 52 Submarines in action in WW2. Over 3,500 crewmembers perished. After the War, each of the 50 States was assigned one of these boats to memorialize. California and New York were assigned two each. Colorado was assigned the USS Grayling (SS209), which ceased communication in September 1943 and was presumed lost with 76-man crew and 1 rescued Army Air Corps Soldier on board. Myra learned that after US submarines were lost in WW2, the Department of War sent two telegrams to each crew member’s next-of-kin. The first one informing that the submarine was lost or unaccounted for. A few months later, a second telegram notified families that all crew were presumed lost at sea. No military honors, no volleys, no taps, and no folded US flag – just two telegrams.
Chaplain Myra decided to change that. Using Ancestry.com, and other online resources, she began searching for the descendants of the USS Grayling crew. One by one, she found relatives of over 70% of her crew members. Many were distant kin, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Some were immediate family, including younger siblings and even the daughter of the submarine commander! All known relatives were contacted, and many responded with keen interest. Every relative was invited to the annual USS Grayling memorial ceremony held at the torpedo-toped monument at Sloan Lake Park, Denver. Crew member relatives were recognized and solemnly presented a folded US flag in memory of their loved one’s sacrifice in WW2 by uniformed Navy personnel. Tears of healing and closure were shed with each flag presented. Chaplain Myra maintains contact with the Grayling crew families, reporting new contacts when made. When asked why she went to all the effort to find the lost submarine’s next-of-kin she says, “It’s part of our creed: ‘To perpetuate the memory of our shipmates, who gave their lives in pursuit of their duties while serving their country. That their dedication to duty and supreme sacrifice be a constant source of motivation towards greater accomplishments….’”
About two years ago, just before the monthly meeting began, one of the elderly Submariners had a cardiac event. Myra immediately started chest compressions. While she pumped, another Submariner connected the AED, and emergency serviced were called. The AED was activated, shock delivered. and Myra resumed compressions until the EMTs arrived and took over. The Veteran Submariner lived another two good years after needed heart surgery. Chaplain Myra and fellow Submariner, Jimmy Alfaro, were recognized in the National Magazine, “Submariner,” for their skilled, heroic efforts.
Recently, I accompanied Myra on visits to two Submarine Veterans, both in their 80s. After being hospitalized for a health crisis, one elderly Submariner, instructed his wife to contact Myra regarding burial at sea, should it be his time to go on “Eternal Patrol.” After speaking to his wife and daughter, we visited him in a rehab facility. He perked up when he saw his chaplain. Myra led the visit and at one point the octogenarian Submariner said, “You know I’m old school. When I served on subs, all the crew were men. When you were elected chaplain, I thought, ‘I don’t know about a female chaplain.’ Well, these past ten years, I’ve changed my mind. You’ve done a fine job as chaplain.” Myra took his hand and prayed for healing and comfort. As we got in the car to leave, I looked over and said, “Looks to me like you’ve earned your ‘honorary dolphins.’*”
*Note: The insignia of the U.S. submarine service is a submarine flanked by two dolphins. Dolphins, attendants to the Poseidon, Greek god of the sea and patron deity to sailors, is sometimes referred to as the sailor’s friend. They were also chosen to represent the Submarine Service because of the characteristic way in which dolphins dive and surface.
For more stories by and about Venture Churches’ chaplaincy opportunities, military and civilian, visit Chaplaincy – Venture Church Network webpage (venturechurches.org) For information on endorsement, email Randy Brandt.