Mary Nida Smith is the author of the new book Heroes Beneath the Waves: Submarine Stories of the Twentieth Century. She also has written Submarine Stories of World War II. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Ozarks Mountaineer and Ozarks.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: Soon after I married my husband, we started attending a local submarine veterans group. The more I became involved with their activities, the more I wanted the world to know how important the USS Submarine Service was after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
They hadn’t been too involved at the time, but were well-trained and fully capable to step up and help; to keep the enemies from invading America, since they were attempting to infiltrate our borders. Not only that, but to also help protect other allied countries.
Q: Your late husband was a submariner, and you include his reminiscences in the book. What were some of his most powerful memories from his years serving in submarines?
A: My late husband, Melvin T. Smith STC (SS), had a difficult time sharing with me. After all, I am a woman. How could I ever understand the life he’d lived since he was 17?
He had one patrol that always puzzled him. It was an incident during the Korean Conflict aboard the USS Sea Fox SS-402. September 2, 1951, they sailed for a tour in the Western Pacific, patrolling the Northern Sea of Japan.
Their job was to photograph Russian ships’ deck cargo heading to North Korea. During this time, they got caught up in Russian Fleet maneuvers. They stayed down, slowly moving, listening to sonar to keep the Russians from learning their location.
The whole time they spent there, until they were able to escape, Melvin and Captain Ira Dye had to be on watch with no rest. The sweat poured down them as temperatures climbed to about 135 degrees. Melvin lost 35 pounds and one of the crew with coal black hair turned pure white. This particular patrol the government has never released to the public, like so many others.
Q: How did you select the material to include in the book, and the order in which you presented it?
A: It is very difficult to get anyone from the “Silent Service” to talk. I sent out a lot of notices/queries for stories. Nine of the stories were from my first book, Submarine Stories of World War II.
Some were friends from the different groups we had been involved with. These stories were added to the second book, Heroes Beneath the Waves.
The other stories were provided by the USS Sea Fox (SS- 402) association members, submarine magazines, our local Twin Lakes Base members, and from researching the internet.
I wanted stories that hadn’t been told before; stories that would help family members and students understand what the men had endured. I wanted stories to honor them, and to keep their memories alive for years. Heroes should never be forgotten.
Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about submarines?
A: Very few people know what a submarine is or what they do. I was one of these people until I married a submariner. Hidden below the sea, crew members were taught to keep their mouths shut.
Now with more and more submarine museums being put in place, and with the internet, the public is learning there’s more to it than the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine.” The misperceptions about submarines, I have never heard or read. The stories usually surround the submariners who serve aboard.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am not sure. For all the years I have been writing, I have written several children picture book manuscripts, poetry, and non-fiction stories that I need to edit and prepare to submit. Also, I’d like to try to use my photographs as illustrations.
My first concern is to promote Heroes beneath the Waves: Submarine Stories of the Twentieth Century. I’ll always do my best to keep it from fading from the public eye. We must never forget!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes, if people have any questions they can leave comments on my blog, and they can also "friend" Heroes Beneath the Waves on Facebook.
Thank you for inviting me to share an important book, about my submarine hero and the submariners who made this book possible. I would like to thank my agent, Jeanie Loiacono, and my publisher, Skyhorse Publishing.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb