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Officer Who Led Sub Rescue Is Honored

Daughter christens ship named for Charles Momsen. His diving bell helped sailors escape the Squalus when it sank on a test dive in 1939.

August 10, 2003|From Associated Press

BATH, Maine — Sixty-four years after a Navy officer led a daring deep-sea rescue of 33 sailors from a sunken submarine, his daughter christened a warship named in his honor Saturday.

Despite having quadruple bypass heart surgery last month, Evelyn Momsen Hailey, 82, smashed a bottle of champagne on the bow of a destroyer bearing the name of Vice Adm. Charles Bowers Momsen.

On the fifth swing, the bottle broke, streamers shot in the air and the crowd broke into applause.

Christopher Hailey, grandson of "Swede" Momsen, noted the irony that the Navy saw fit to honor a man from the submarine corps with a surface warship designed, in part, to hunt enemy subs.

"As a submariner, he did all he could to avoid destroyers," Hailey told the audience. "This one got him."

The $1-billion, 510-foot guided missile destroyer was built to withstand chemical attacks. Advanced radar enables it to simultaneously wage battle with enemy airplanes, warships and submarines.

Between 1929 and 1932, Momsen invented and developed a temporary breathing device -- known as the Momsen lung -- that allowed sailors on submarines to make it to the surface.

He also helped create the Navy diving bell, which was used when the submarine Squalus sank on a test dive in 1939, 13 miles off New Hampshire.

Twenty-six sailors in the submarine's 59-member crew died, but the rescue of the survivors captured the nation's imagination when such an operation was thought to be impossible.

Momsen directed the rescue of the survivors, who waited 23 hours before the 9-ton diving bell arrived. The bell was lowered to a hatch on the Squalus to rescue the men.

One of four remaining survivors, Carl Bryson, 85, of Groton, Conn., also attended Saturday's ceremony.

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