GRANTS PASS, Ore.– A Grants Pass Navy veteran is making a trek across the U.S. to reunite with fellow crew members for a ceremony honoring their unique achievement for the country.
In 1958, a year after the Russians had launched Sputnik 1 into space, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States needed something to draw attention to it’s own growing technology.
“All over the world was focused on Sputnik,” said Charles Parshall. “So President Eisenhower wanted a way to prove that the United States was no laggard.”
Charles “Chuck” Parshall was one of the lucky few to be a part of a secret mission the president ultimately decided would bring the U.S. back into the limelight.
Days after just turning 17, Parshall decided to follow in the tradition of his father and his uncle and join the Navy in 1951. He was only looking to serve his country but as he moved up the ranks, Parshall soon joined the 119 man crew on the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, and the one that would be chosen to take up Eisenhower’s secret mission. The reason for choosing the Nautilus was due to it’s nuclear reactor which allowed the submarine to stay submerged longer than other submarines.
So during late July of 1958, at just 24 years old, Parshall was one of the youngest crew members to take part in the secret mission titled ‘Operation Sunshine.’ The goal – to make a trek beneath the North Pole from the Pacific Ocean to the Greenland Sea.
“We went through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast and went under the ice from the Pacific side,” said Parshall.
“Under the ice” was a phrase used by the crew members to describe their mission of traversing the vast caverns found beneath the Arctic Ice Pack. With scientists a part of the crew, the expedition was the first of it’s kind to be accomplished.
“No one had ever been able to go underneath the ice and take the depth of the water and the bottom of the ocean looked like,” said Parshall.
For about nine days according to Parshall, the crew snaked it’s way across the North Pole. On August 3, 1958, the Nautilus resurfaced in the Greenland Sea and sent out it’s historic signal.
“We stuck a radio antenna up and said, ‘Nautilus 90 north,'” said Parshall. “Which told the president we had made it.”
After much celebration and several more decades spent out on the water, the USS Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980. But Parshall and all the other crew members have held a reunion aboard the ship every four years.
“Like I say, I was on eight submarines and the Nautilus was by far the most interesting, the most memorable,” said Parshall.
As time passes and so do his fellow crew mates, Parshall says this trip may be his last one as well. With his sight and hearing failing, he says the trips get harder to make every year. Currently, there are some 20 crew members left and on this, the 60th anniversary, 14 will make it. It’s the last hurrah for most of them.
“I’ve been to reunions every two years back there for a lot of years and not to see the guys again and the boat again, it does make me sad,” said Parshall.
But Parshall says he’s lived a great life and is happy that he can still make it to see the ship that shaped his life.
“There’s not many guys that have served on submarines or anywhere that can actually go back 60 years later and put their feet on the ship that they were on,” said Parshall with a smile. “So I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Thanks in part to Wish of a Lifetime and the Brookdale partners, Parshall was able to make the trip this year. Ryan Hess, the community relations director for Brookdale Senior Living, helped coordinate the wish and will accompany Parshall to the ceremony in Groton, Connecticut where the Nautilus is stationed.
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