Memorial Day Service
Chaplain Fred Brown was a typical teenager in 1964 when he graduated from high school. Vietnam was at its peak. Some classmates of his had burned their draft cards and others ran off to Canada, while others were drafted into military service.
Chaplain Brown was the featured speaker for Monday's Memorial Day service held at the Park Rapids Area High School auditorium. He shared stories of his submarine service, using history and humor to describe some of his experiences.
He said the music of those days were very anti-war and anti-government. Protests everywhere.
"I see that same spirit at work today in our country," he said. "I loved my country, but mostly I loved it for what it provided for me. When my name came up there was never a thought of resisting."
Brown wondered, "what good would I be if I had to go to Vietnam... all 115 pounds of me," he said, drawing a laugh from those in attendance. "I couldn't imagine me running through the jungles carrying all this weight on my back. All the good guys would have to stop and rescue me about every 10 minutes."
Brown didn't think that was for him and if he was going to do anything good for his country he had to come up with another plan. He learned how to swim his senior year of high school. In boot camp, Brown and others had to jump from a tower into the water.
"I needed to consider how I could be most useful to my country since I was drafted. So I chose the Navy and later volunteered for submarine service," he shared. "Right after I volunteered for submarine service, we lost two submarines."
Brown talked about the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the enemy of the time. He realized that would be his war.
The work Brown did in submarine service was always classified and when discharged he couldn't discuss what they did.
He referenced the movie "The Hunt for Red October" in describing some of the operations performed in submarine service during the Cold War. October was a designation for a new Russian submarine class.
Brown's job in the submarine was to listen. He was a sonar technician.
"I had learned to hear things nobody else could hear."
In the movie, the U.S. submarine was following a Russian sub and the sonar technician stood up and yelled, "Crazy Ivan!"
Brown knows exactly what he was talking about, having experienced a "Crazy Ivan" during his service. Using a couple visual aids at the podium Brown described how his submarine would follow a Russian submarine. Equipment made noise and were at the rear of the boat. Sonar equipment was at the front.
Submarines would often turn to make sure another sub wasn't following. The Russians didn't have the advanced sonar as the U.S. and in order to check if anything would follow them they would make a 180-degree turn and come straight back. It was intended to make the trail sub move so they could hear if another sub was there.
"We're on a collision course now. We kept our boat pointed directly at him because that's the quietest part of our boat. And finally I got an indication this guy was above us and then he went right over the top of us and we could hear him through the hull of our boat. That's a 'Crazy Ivan.' That's crazy."
Chaplain Brown shared other experiences including the time they took their submarine under a U.S. aircraft carrier and took photos of the underside. The admiral on the aircraft carrier didn't believe Brown's crew had done this, until he saw the photographs.
"My boat was to be fast, quiet, stealthful and to do secret, sneaky stuff. And we did it really well."
Brown said he believed the work he did was valuable.
"We were a strong deterrent to the Soviet aggression of those days. They were afraid of us. They couldn't hear us. They didn't know what we were doing. They were really afraid of the ballistic missile submarines because they carried lots of firepower and they didn't know where they were."
Brown shared with those in attendance if he was called on to do it again he would do it again. He asked other veterans in attendance who were in combat and experienced terrible conditions if they would do it again. Most raised their hands to applause.
"I salute all of you and I say thank you, thank you."
The capacity crowd in the auditorium joined in singing, "This Land is Your Land," "America, the Beautiful," and "God Bless America."
Following the program in the auditorium the service moved to Red Bridge Park. The American Legion Family led the parade and Park Rapids Area High School Band marched along playing music. American Legion Auxiliary President Linda Swanson dropped a wreath in the Fish Hook River. Marine Corps League Rifle Squad conducted a rifle salute, followed by Navy veteran Ray Vaadeland playing "TAPS."
The third part of the annual Memorial Day service was at All Veterans Memorial Park where the American Legion Color Guard performed a flag folding ceremony and flag disposal ceremony.