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Sub vets get new chief

December 17, 2000

Sub vets get new chief

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Sub VetsWAYNESBORO, Pa. - A retired Waynesboro man who served on six U.S. submarines - from old World War II diesel boats to nuclear missile submarines in the Cold War - is the new commander of the nation's largest submarine veterans organization.

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Jack B. Ensminger, 62, of Old Forge Road, heads the U.S. Submarine Veterans, a group whose membership topped 7,000 men this year and is still growing. Women cannot serve on Navy submarines.

Ensminger, who retired from the submarine service in 1966, does most of his administrative duties by e-mail on his home computer. "I hold meetings with the nine-member board of directors on e-mail," he said. "They come from all over the country.

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"I belong because it keeps me in touch with my earlier life and because I feel I have something to offer the organization," he said. Ensminger also serves as commander of the veteran group's 80-member Tri-State chapter, which serves nearby Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

In 1998, the local chapter hosted the national organization's annual meeting in Hagerstown. More than 1,000 members showed up.

Ensminger, a Waynesboro native, joined the submarine service in 1955, the year he graduated from high school. After serving on three diesel boats he moved up to fleet ballistic missile submarines where he held jobs as a torpedo man and later as a missile-launch technician. "It was my job to launch the missiles," he said.

He retired from the Navy in 1966 to work civilian jobs.

Ensminger joined the local Submarine Veterans chapter in 1987 and began a rise through the ranks. He was elected to a regional office in 1993 and senior vice commander of the national organization in 1997. He lost a bid for the commander's job in 1998 by six votes, but came back to capture the top job this fall. "I campaigned by e-mail," he said.

Ensminger travels around the country to speak at veterans' functions, to preside at the annual business meeting or to attend Navy functions - including change-of-command ceremonies on active duty submarines. He's scheduled to be at two this spring at submarine bases in Kings Bay, Ga., and New London, Conn.

"I'm usually just there to be a presence in the background, but it's an opportunity to show the (organization's) flag," he said.

The group was chartered in 1964 by submariners who served after World War II. The men who served aboard submarines during World War II belong to the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, made up only of veterans who served in that conflict.

"They wouldn't recognize submariners who had not served in the war, so this new group was started," Ensminger said.

John Lehman, 78, of Waynesboro, belongs to both organizations.

Lehman was one of the first Navy-trained radar men to serve aboard a submarine during the war. He was assigned to the USS Barb in 1943. "I never saw a submarine until I reported for duty at Mare Island. The Barb was the only sub I ever served on," he said.

The boat made five patrols in the North Atlantic before it went to the Pacific, where it was credited with sinking 25 Japanese merchant ships and three warships, including an aircraft carrier.

"One time we sent eight men into shore on a rubber boat to blow up a train with explosives. We were the only sub that sunk a train," Lehman said.

The captain of the USS Barb earned a Medal of Honor for his aggressiveness in battle, Lehman said. "I went on six patrols with him," he said.

Lehman remembers the terror of depth-charge attacks, but the time he said he was the most scared was when his submarine crept through a Japanese minefield. "We could hear mines bumping up against the hull," he said, adding, "I was way past being afraid then. I just knew I was going to die."

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