- Membership in the Holland Club must be worth waiting for. The organization doesn't induct members until 50 years after they first qualify on a submarine.
"It's scary that 50 years goes by so quick," said Lee Gilbert, 73, of Somers Point, vice commander of the Atlantic County Submarine Club. "That's why we don't have too many members."
Sunday, during a club barbecue, base commander Tom Innocente, 70, of Somers Point, joined the exclusive Holland Club ina ceremony held on the beach in Beesleys Point.
Innocente, whose Navy and Army careers totaled 33 years, 10 months and two days by his exact accounting, received a certificate and a patch commemorating the occasion.
Qualifying on a submarine requires learning all of the systems, from one end of the boat to the other, well enough to operate it, said Bill Capo, 87, of Absecon.
The 1997 Holland Club inductee said that entails mastering at least 10,000 different gauges and instruments. "You have to know what it is and how it's used," said Capo, a World War II vet who qualified on a submarine in 1947.
Capo is one of three World War II vets holding membership in the Atlantic County Submarine Club. The others are Hoyal Cass, 89, of Egg Harbor Township, and Chester Ogden, 89, of Linwood.
Cass, whose vest is embroidered with the names of the eight submarines on which he served during his 21-year Navy career, qualified on a sub in 1944 and has been a Holland Club member for 20 years.
Ogden qualified in 1943 but was not inducted into the Holland Club until last year.
"Long overdue," Gilbert said of the honor belatedly bestowed on Ogden.
"This is special, 50 years," said Fred Vineyard, of AMVETS Post 911 in Somers Point.
Vineyard added a plaque to Innocente's awards, recognizing the Vietnam, Cold War and Desert Storm veteran as Recruiter of the Year for the state.
Innocente, he said, recruited 41 new members,all college students who are veterans, for AMVETS.
Innocente, whose first assignment was on the USS Rasher in 1963, said the 1942-built submarine was still at sea at the time due to its distinguished record.
"It's tradition to be put on an old sub to learn the ropes," he said. "It was a World War II diesel sub, and it had the highest tonnage record. It sunk more tonnage that any other sub."
Rasher, which was credited with sinking 99,901 tons of Japanese shipping, was sold for scrap in 1974.
Innocente said the sub's bell and other artifacts remain on display in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where the sub was built.
"She was a good ship," Innocente said. "I loved her, the way you love a first girlfriend."
Capo was cozy with his sub, too, saying he slept with his arm out in his top bunk. "I used to grab the torpedo," he said. "It was like a security blanket."
The Holland Club is named after John P. Holland, designer of the first U.S. Navy submarine. Other Holland Club members attending Sunday's event were Gilbert, who was inducted in 2009, and Don Brown of Northfield, who was inducted in 2013.
"It's up to the base how to handle the induction," Gilbert said of conferring Holland Club status. "We think it's important enough to recognize and get together like this."
Contact Cindy Nevitt:
'It's scary that 50 years goes by so quick.'
Lee Gilbert, 73 Somers Point