On December 6th while on a quick ride through Hackensack to meet my wife for lunch, I couldn’t help but make a side trip to the site of The USS Ling, a decommissioned WWII submarine and “Silent Service” memorial anchored in the Hackensack River. The site and adjacent Naval Museum are long abandoned, victims of a land/lease dispute in which the museum came up short.
Opened in 1973, it was the site of an annual Dec. 7th tribute attended by WWII submarine veterans, their families, local dignitaries and anyone wishing to remember the fallen from that day of infamy and the days to follow, regardless of the conflict.
The Ling was built in 1945 and never saw action, but for decades it was an interactive history lesson for the public and countless school children, led by aging Navy veterans conducting tours and making history come alive with their memories and anecdotes. Today the outdoor exhibits are gone or disassembled and out of sight. The boat lists five degrees to port and its gangway is warped and mostly gone, ravaged by a storm surge from the last hurricane that swamped the ship and partially stripped away her dignity. In the center of the park, soon to become a complex of condos, shops and perhaps a hotel, a bronze plaque commemorates each boat lost in WWII and the following years.
I will always recall, at the annual Dec. 7th memorial there, the solemn tolling of the bell for each boat lost to war, usually with a full crew aboard. Standing there on Tuesday, if I closed my eyes and listened, I could almost hear the bell tolling again above the roar of nearby traffic.
On the Ling’s mast when I saw her last a year ago for what would ultimately be a final memorial service, I noticed a tattered American flag fluttering in the wind.
That flag, too, is now gone, a victim of the wind or perhaps indifference.