NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Spending most of 23 years working under water sounds a little crazy to most. But for John Smith, the experience was life-changing.

Smith, a Pekin resident, served in the Navy from 1956 to 1978, and for most of his career he was a submariner. For as many as 93 days at a time, Smith and his other crew members slept, ate and worked under water. It’s unlike anything else in the Navy he said.

“The people are totally different,” Smith said. “It’s one of the most selective groups out there.”

Smith was one of several submarine veterans at The Exchange Pub + Kitchen Wednesday afternoon to welcome Cmdr. Jesse Zimbauer and Master Chief Lafrederick Herring. The two, along with others, are making their way around Indiana this week to promote and celebrate the USS Indiana SSN 789 which will be christened April 29 and launched for duty in May. It is the first Navy vessel to be named after the Hoosier state in more than 70 years. More than 100 Indiana businesses helped build the vessel which is billed as the “next generation attack submarine.”

“I’m here to support the boys who are out there now,” Smith said.

That support has been felt from all corners of the state according to Zimbauer, who along with Herring has been putting together a crew of 135 strong. Their tour across the state was to end Thursday with a visit to the Statehouse for a special proclamation.

“Indiana is very supportive of the military and veterans,” Zimbauer, a native of Wisconsin, said. “It is one of the best places for military support.”

SSN 789 is being built at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., and will be 7,800-tons and 377 feet in length. Before it goes out to sea it must undergo weeks of testing.

The support also came from several companies in the state who provided everything from steel to tables and chairs. Hi Tech Veneer in Jeffersonville is one of the businesses that is part of the USS Indiana.

Ray Shearer, chairman of the USS Indiana Commissioning Committee, said the crew is meeting with some of the heads of those companies during the state tour.

“It’s important that we build lasting relationships with people in Indiana since this in their namesake,” he said. “The crew will take on the character of the people of Indiana. They will become Hoosiers.

“Indiana has shown so much support for veterans and the military. It’s Hoosier Hospitality.”

Which was apparent at The Exchange as veterans and others waited to meet the commander and chief, share stories, and show their support. Like Terry Diehl who was also with the crew in Jasper on Tuesday. He served in the Navy from 1960 to 1985, and spent many years on a submarine. He said he loved it.

“It’s the only way to go,” he said. “This is a big deal. It’s been 70 years (since a ship was named after the state).”

But before becoming part of a submarine crew, you have to pass mental and physical tests. Smith said he met with three different psychiatrists and took tests before being placed on a sub.

“It’s not for everyone,” he said.

The USS Indiana Commissioning Committee is accepting donations to help pay for the commissioning ceremonies and events surrounding the sub. It is not associated with either a state or federal agency.

Zimbauer was named commander of the USS Indiana two years ago and has been busy assembling crew and performing other tasks associated with the sub ever since. This will be the first time the 24-year Navy veteran has been stationed on a new ship. He said he is eager for the submarine’s launch.

“We are ready to go,” he said.


Source: News and Tribune, http://bit.ly/2igVuPH


Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the News and Tribune.