British submariners honor crews of Hunley

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Flags adorn the grave of Lt. George Dixon, the commander of the Hunley.  BRUCE SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
BRUCE SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Flags adorn the grave of Lt. George Dixon, the commander of the Hunley.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sharing a bond with those who fought beneath the waves, a group of submariners from the United King­dom paused Friday to pay tribute to the crews of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship.

During a brief ceremony in a grove where the three crews are buried, 78-year-old Dennis Wade of the Portsmouth Submariners Association placed a poppy wreath at the gravesite and then saluted. The poppy is a symbol of courage and sacrifice.

Three other British submariners and a group of Confederate re-enactors looked on.

Friday marked the 148th anniversary of the Hunley’s ill-fated mission. Two crews died while the sub was being made operational. Then, in February 1864, the hand-cranked Hunley and its third crew left from Sullivans Island and sank the Union blockade vessel Housatonic off the Charleston coast.

But the Hunley never returned from the mission and, a dozen years after it was raised from the Atlantic, the reason for its sinking remains unclear. The historic vessel is being conserved at a lab in North Charleston.

“To any submariner in whatever nation there’s a brotherhood because they are subject to the same type of intense training and operating in the same conditions,” said 67-year-old Bob Lewis, of Portsmouth, who served in the Royal Navy for 35 years. “It takes a special person to be a submariner and not everyone makes the grade.”

The association members saw the Hunley before the ceremony.

In the center of the grave site is a large monument to one of the Hunley crews. Beside it, black cloth shrouded two more monuments.

Those are dedicated to the other two crews and will be unveiled today, said Randy Burbage, a re-enactor and member of the South Carolina Hunley Commission.

“It’s pretty humbling to be a descendent of a Confederate veteran and realize the Hunley crew and the mission it accomplished is internationally known and renowned and admired,” he said.


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