Hawaii's World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, June 20, 1996


Bernard Clarey,
ex-Pacific Fleet chief

THOUSANDS of us have gone to the USS Bowfin memorial at Pearl Harbor and clambered with difficulty through the narrow, crowded 312-foot steel tube of this World War II submarine.

It was as tight as our early space capsules, with its crew of 60 sharing space with 26 torpedoes, engines, etc.

Retired Adm. Bernard A. Clarey, who died at Tripler Hospital last Saturday, commanded a sister ship of the Bowfin, spent months on World War II patrols seeking out Japanese ships to sink and even prowled into Japanese harbors.

At 33 he was the "old man" of the USS Pintado, with the terrible responsibility of keeping the crew unified under stressful conditions and finding and choosing targets without being able to talk to higher command.

He was fond of saying after the war that any ship can dive but only submarines can come back up.

He brought the Pintado home to Pearl Harbor in 1945 after sinking the biggest freighter Japan ever built. Earlier, among other successes, Pintado re-sank in deep waters a ship Clarey previously had helped sink in harbor waters so shallow that Japan refloated it. With heavy losses of their own and no capability to rescue survivors from ships they sunk, subs like the Pintado and Bowfin decimated Japan's merchant fleet and supply lines.

Clarey commanded the Pacific Submarine Force and then the entire Pacific Fleet before he retired in 1973 to live in Hawaii.

He was one of a surprising number of young men from inland America who joined the Navy without ever having seen the ocean and went on to high command.

Clarey grew up in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He had to quit college after his first year because the Depression wiped out his family's assets. His former high school math teacher suggested he try for a service academy. She recommended him to both West Point and Annapolis and Annapolis came through.

Clarey says he wouldn't have spurned the Army but had seen the winds creating waves in fields of ripe grain and enough movies to equate them appealingly with ocean waves. Thus he preferred Annapolis, graduated in 1934 and chose a career in submarines, the Navy's youngest branch, not established until 1900.

Sub crews then and now were carefully screened for mental and social stability because of their confined lifestyles. Today's nuclear subs are vastly more spacious and comfortable than before but demand of their crews something impossible before the nuclear age - staying submerged and hidden for six months on lonely patrols as an invulnerable retaliatory force.

The first submarines were assigned to Pearl Harbor in 1914, but shifted to the Atlantic for World War I. When they returned in 1919 the Navy had decided to make Pearl Harbor a first-class base capable of handling the entire Pacific Fleet. A $1 million submarine base was included.

I knew Clarey quite well for some 30 years. He never flagged in his love for the Navy or his concern for it. Probably not entirely by chance, Jean, his wife of 59 years, is a submarine skipper's daughter.

Submarine people by necessity are carefully screened throughout their careers. To my knowledge they have not been touched by the recent Navy scandals and may be a talent pool to tap in helping to overcome them.

Clarey demonstrated a broad vision in 1973 when he headed a board to choose 42 rear admirals from a pool of 1,902 captains.

Capt. William Crowe didn't even survive the first cut because he had limited service at sea. Clarey exercised his discretion as chairman to bring Crowe's name back. Crowe, he argued, had the advanced education, the personality, and an ability proved in special assignments to work with Congress and the civilian leaders of the Pentagon. Crowe got the nod and went on, as Clarey had predicted he might, to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the best.

Clarey was one of the best, too.



A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.




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