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Updated: 04/14/2013 08:00:29AM

‘He’s out sailing a submarine’

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Bartow old timers, and I certainly count myself among them, are familiar with the unique claim to fame of Roy Trent Gallemore, a distinguished Naval officer from a family of distinguished Naval officers.

He is not so much famous for attaining the rank of captain (one rank below admiral) as he is for bringing in a submarine under sail in May 1921. It had never been done before, and probably has never been done since.

This he did holding the rank of lieutenant (the equivalent to captain in the Army) as engineering officer on a submarine designated simply as USS R-14.

History records that the sub “lost power” and that he rigged sails out of bunk frames, eight canvas hammocks, and 14 blankets. Thus propelled, he sailed the Good Ship R-14 some 100 miles to bring it into port.

In preparing my remarks for the induction into the Bartow High School Hall of Fame Tuesday night of Roy Trent Gallemore and his son, Roy Holland Gallemore, also a Naval captain in the submarine service, I asked my good friend Lloyd Harris if he could find out a little more detail about the sail episode. I reported on the fruits of his research at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

The acting commanding officer of the R-14, Alexander Dean Douglas, also held the rank of lieutenant, a remarkably junior rank to command a sub. I am told that today, such a vessel probably would be commanded by an officer with the rank of commander or even captain.

The web site on that vessel reports that the “mechanical failure” was caused by running out of gas.

I once asked Roy Holland why they didn’t just radio for help. His response was that in those days, radio communications were so limited that Naval vessels often could not talk with other ships that were so close they could see each other.

For a couple of moments, put yourself in the place of a young Naval Lieutenant Douglas, on his first sea-going command. The Chief of the Boat has just come to you and said, “Sir, we seem to have a problem in the propulsion system.”

“And what would that problem be, Chief?” the young lieutenant would have responded, youthful optimism in his voice.

“Uh, Sir, we’re out of gas.”

Now you are the young officer, visions of making lieutenant commander or commander or even captain circulating within your cranium. And you picture yourself getting on the radio and telling your commander, “Sir, we appear to need a tow for the next 100 miles.”

“And why would that be, Lieutenant?” this senior officer would reply, with little hint of sympathy in his voice. “Because we ran out of gas,” the lieutenant would reply, visions of his next two or three promotion parties circling the drain.

Whether or not that’s what really motivated the sail-making project we will never know, but we do know that Lieutenant Roy Trent Gallemore, engineering officer on the USS R-14, made Naval history, and may have saved his commander’s career, by figuring out how to bring in a sub under sail.

Not only did Lieutenant Douglas’s career survive; he received a letter of commendation from his superior, who then held the rank of commander, Chester W. Nimitz. Nimitz would go on to become one of only four Naval officers to achieve the five-star rank of fleet admiral. Not a bad letter to have in your file.

And therein lies a harsh reality of the military: Lieutenant Gallemore saved the day, but his commander got the recognition (except in Bartow, where we know the whole story).

In the military, as in civilian life, a major key to success is to have brilliant people working for you.


(S. L. Frisbie is a retired Army officer, having spent two years on active duty and 30 years in the Florida National Guard. Had he chosen a Naval career, he probably would have followed the preference of most Naval officers and chosen to serve on ships which stay on top of the water, not under it.)

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