Five Days in May: The loss of the USS Scorpion

Posted on Wednesday 20 June 2007

Five Days in May: USS Scorpion Lost — National Review Online
May 23, 2007 | By Jack Yoest
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Five Days in May: The loss of the USS Scorpion.

By Jack Yoest

Yolanda Mazzuchi was about the prettiest girl in our school class. Our dads were in the Navy, often gone for months at a time. And they would be welcomed home at dockside with cheers and homemade signs. These
USS Scorpion gatherings at the D&S Piers at the Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia, were a regular part of our lives growing up. Families often took children out of school to celebrate a ship’s homecoming.

At 1 in the afternoon on Monday, May 27, 1968, at the height of the Cold War the USS Scorpion was due in port.

Yolanda didn’t know it then, but her dad was already dead.

The families gathered on Pier 22 and huddled together in the wind and rain. And looked out over the storm, over white-capped waves.

They waited for the USS Scorpion without any word for five days.

Women for millennia have waited by the sea for their men to return. In bygone eras, a hand-railed walkway was built along the rooftop of sailors’ homes. So that the wives and mothers, and daughters and sons could look out for returning ships. Sometimes the boats didn’t come back. But the women and children would still watch and pray and hope.

In those days, like Penelope, they often waited for months, even decades.

Frank Patsy Mazzuchi, QMSC, a senior chief quartermaster, was looking for a berth teaching at nearby Fort Eustis. The chief and his Navy wife traveled to the Pentagon to work out a deal on his next duty station. The Navy assignment desk persuaded Chief Mazzuchi to take a last submarine tour in the Mediterranean.

The senior, experienced chief was needed on the USS Scorpion: A capstone to his career before retiring. He would make the last voyage. Then shore duty with normal hours, normal life. Instead, the capstone became a headstone.

The submarine “silent service” is an elite, intimate sea-duty. The Scorpion was not a big vessel for her day with 99 men in tight quarters. She was 31-feet wide, powered by a nuclear reactor and armed with two nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

The Scorpion carried Russian-speaking experts for espionage to fight Soviet subs in the Cold War. The Scorpion had just finished its three-month deployment in the Med and was headed home when new orders arrived. The nuclear sub was diverted from its trip home to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa for a spying mission on Soviet ships.

A high-speed run to the Soviet fleet. Then silence. It is believed that an accidental internal explosion doomed the boat. Questions remain on maintenance.

Without closure.

She was overdue in Norfolk on 27 May and probably sank on 22 May. The Navy declared the sub “presumed lost” on 2 June, 1968.

Finally, in October of that year, the Scorpion’s final resting place was discovered some two miles beneath the surface, west of the Azores. The sub became a coffin to the 99. She will not be raised.

Yolanda says, “Before he left, we had a big argument and I told him that I wished he would go to sea and never come back.”

And he never did. Those departing words haunted her for years. “It took a very long time to get over that remark,” she says.

Her son, the grandson Chief Mazzuchi never saw, joined the Navy. He serves now on the USS Washington in the Caribbean. And doesn’t write as often as he should.

But Yolanda has already forgiven him. As she is sure her father had forgiven her for a little girl’s thoughtless final words.

She says, “In fact, it was not until my children became teenagers that I understood that my father forgave me as quickly as I said it.”

Forgiveness and loss; sorrow and hope and sacrifice. Even today, the Cold War long past, the warriors remain on eternal patrol and the Widow’s Walk continues on Navy Pier. Tracing the steps of those who waited in vain for five days in May, so many years ago.

Penelope and Telemachus, awaiting the return of Odysseus.

Jack Yoest, is president of Management Training of DC, LLC and a former Army Captain. His father served on the submarine Bonefish in WWII and in the Navy for 30 years.

###
Thank you (foot)notes:

The article originally appeared in National Review Online.

See USS Bonefish, Lost June 18, 1945 originally published in the Virginian Pilot.

USS Scorpion (SSN 589)

Spectre of the Scorpion

Local author exposes Cold War cover-up And see the correction.

Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion


2 Comments for 'Five Days in May: The loss of the USS Scorpion'

  1.  
    Dave Vennard
    June 20, 2007 | 4:13 pm
     

    I was on the Scorpion while it was in Naples Harbor. I was OPS officer on the USS Skill MSO 471 and the Engineering Officer and I went to the Scopion to visit a friend of the Eng. Officer. While transiting back from the Med to Chasn. SC we were ordered to backtrack several hours and search for debris in the water from the Scorpion. We discovered a tremendeous amount of debris–food garbage, personal items–shower togs, etc. The Captain of the Skill said it was nothing. Years later after reading Blind Man’s Bluff (great book on Cold War sub tactics) and learning of the location of the Scopion I am convinced we did discover the debris field of the sub, but the Captain did not want to let the crew know.

  2.  
    K. L HOWARD
    March 19, 2008 | 6:02 am
     

    IN MEMORY OF WM (BILLY) SCHOONOVER

    A YOUNG MAN FROM A SMALL TOWN, WHOSE FAMILY LOVES HIM DEARLY.
    HIS YOUNGEST BROTHER LOOKED FOR HIM ON TV TO TRY AND FIND HIM FOR MANY YEARS. HE KEPT HIS WORD AND NAMED HIS OLDEST SON AFTER HIS BIG BROTHER BILLY.

    HIS FAMILY IS ONE OF THE FINEST I HAVE EVER KNOW, BILLY’S MOTHER IS A VERY CARING AND DEVOTED MOTHER AS WAS BILLY’S FATHER AND HIS 4 BROTHERS AND HIS
    SISTER.

    BILLY WAS A VERY CARING AND COMPASSIONATE YOUNG MAN. HE LOVED HIS FAMILY AND HIS COUNTRY.

    THE RUSSIANS MAY HAVE BLOWN UP THE SUB, BUT THEY DID NOT KILL THE SPIRIT OF THE 99 MEN ABOARD THE USSSCORPION.

    THEY SHALL NEVER BE FORGOTTTEN,

    ON THE AZORE ISLAND LIES A PLAQUE DEDICATED TO ALLOF THOSE WHO SERVED OUR COUNTRY SO WELL AND GAVE THEIR ALL IN DOING SO.
    99 YELLOW ROSES AND 99 WHITE AND 99 RED-AND DOG TAGS WITH EACH CREW MEMBERS NAME FOR EACH WERE PLACED
    OUT INTO THE SEA, MAY 3RD 1986

    NO GREATER LOVE THAN A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR ANOTHER
    AND NO GREATER SACRAFICE CAN A MOTHER , A FATHER AND A FAMILY ALSO GIVE.
    MAY OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, QUIET THE SEA-THAT BEAUTIFUL AZORE SKY-LIKE PARIDISE-SUCH A BEAUTIFUL AND TRANQUIL PLACE.-MAY THE SEA BE CALM

    ON THE UPCOMING 40TH ANNIVERARY OF HER DREADFUL DAY
    MAY ALL THOSE WHO LOST LOVED ONES KNOW THAT EVERY SO MANY, REMEMBER WITH THEM.
    THANK YOU BILLY. AND ALL OF THE OTHER 98 MEN WHO WHERE THEIR WITH YOU.
    MAY THE LORD COMFORT THOSE WHO KNOW THE GREATEST PAIN IN THE WORLD-FOR IT NEVER GOES AWAY, UNTIL WE MEET THEM AGAIN IN HEAVEN.

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