I remember clear as yesterday a conversation I had with an unassuming World War II veteran sometime in the late 1990s. We were at an Atlanta steakhouse during one of the many Supercomms (e.g. the predecessor to NXTcomm) in that fair city. He explained to me how he was part of a commissioning crew on a submarine that was towed from the Great Lakes through the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. This seemed like an odd bit of history, as submarines and the Midwest seemed like an oxymoron.
Fast-forward 10 years and I am speeding through the Eastern part of Wisconsin when I notice a sign for the Maritime Museum of Wisconsin. The picture of the submarine on the sign jolted my memory of that long ago conversation with Ralph. I had to make the detour off the Interstate to determine if this was where he began his submarine journey some six decades earlier.
As it turns out, the Manitowoc Shipbuilding facilities produced 28 submarines during the war. Overlooking the star of the Maritime Museum, the U.S.S. Cobia, are placards that list the names of the individuals who were part of the commissioning crews. Sure enough, I was able to find the late Ralph Hoeper’s name on one of the placards. Ralph survived his World War II experience and returned to build up Foresthill Telephone from a handful of lines to over 4,000 some six decades later.