Howard Dole joined the Navy in 1948 after graduating from high school in Philadelphia. He went aboard the minesweeper, USS Sprig, the first radarman assigned to a minesweeper in the Atlantic Fleet. She was based in Charleston, S.C.
“We sailed for England and participated in the first NATO exercise. We swept the entrances to ports along the English Channel before our capital ships entered these ports,” the 83-year-old former sailor said.
“After the NATO exercises we were called away to Holyhead,Wales. Two merchant ships had struck mines in the Irish Sea. We swept the Irish Sea from Liverpool to Scotland but found nothing in the way of mines.
“After returning to Charleston the Sprig was sent north to Connecticut to recover dummy mines one of our diesel subs dropped in the Atlantic off the East Coast of the U.S,” he said. “Unfortunately the submarine’s crew gave us the wrong coordinates and we found no practice mines after searching for 10 days.
“We went back to port at New London, Conn. and after four days were sent out a second time to locate the dummy mines. We had no better luck with the practice mines, but we did snag two unexploded German magnetic mines. We took the detonators out of these mines and put them on our fantail.
“We radioed New London we were coming into port with two undetonated German mines on our fantail. They evacuated the whole port when we sailed in with the deactivated mines.
“The mines were taken out to a deserted beach. The demolition crew put charges on the German mines and blew them up.”
Dole’s squadron regrouped in Charleston and headed for a six months cruise to the Mediterranean.
“On New Years Day 1949 we were ordered to proceed the Greek coast where merchant ships had spotted floating mines. They found a couple of German mines from WW II and sank them with our 20 mm gun.
“From there we sailed for Nice, France where we picked up a shipment of walkie-talkies and delivered them to the French Foreign Legion Headquarters in Iran,” he said. “Both the radioman and I had to go with the Foreign Legion aboard an armored train into the Atlas Mountains to a Legion fort. When we got there we showed the troops how to use the walky-talkies.
“Most of the legionnaires were Germans captured by the French during World War II. They didn’t want to return to Communist East Germany after the war, so they joined the Legion,” Dole explained.
“When we returned to Iran by armored train with some of the Legionaires we agreed to meet them for a night on the town. I told them I couldn’t drink the local beer or wine, so they bought me a bottle of liquor made by French monks in a local monastery. It was sweet and tasted like oranges. I drank the whole bottle and was sick for four days.
“We went back to Greece and I stood beach guard at the port near Athens. We had to take a U.S. Marine and two American sailors out of a waterfront bar who had fainted from drinking too much ouzo. The stuff is sweet and tastes like licorice. It’s 120 to 160 proof and they were drinking it by the water glass.
“They were having trouble breathing. We took them to a destroyer tender that was equipped with two iron lungs. The three of them were rotated in and out of the iron lungs for hours until they sobered up and could breath on their own.
“In 1957 I was standing shore patrol in Havana, Cuba as a chief petty officer. I was working with special Cuban tourist police who were bilingual. If a tourist got in trouble the tourist police were called,” he said.
Just by chance he noticed a fellow sailor he knew off one of the U.S. destroyers in port talking to a couple of well dressed guys in suits in a waterfront saloon. They all looked out of place.
After questioning the sailor, Dole found out he had just sold an extra set of Navy whites to the Cubans for $300. It was later he learned these Cubans were part of an underground movement planning to dress up as American sailors, walk into Cuban government buildings with ditty-bags filled with explosives and blow the buildings up.
The Cuban government learned of the plot to blow up its government’s office buildings and arrested 27 alleged perpetrators. When Fulgencio Batista took control of the government in 1952 he released all 27 bombers. He called them ‘Heroes’ and announced he would hold a big party for them at his personal residence outside Havana.
“Surprisingly most of these 27 people were well educated Cubans. The Cuban dictator invited their extended families to the gathering at his home as well. The party was in full swing when some of Fidel Castro’s opposition group popped up over the Batista compound wall and executed all of them–men, women and children,” Dole said.
“By this time I had 10 years straight sea duty. The Bureau of Naval Personnel gave me a choice of three duty stations ashore. I requested one of three seaports, but they sent me to criminal intelligence school at Great Lakes, Ill.
“I ended up as executive officer of the Navy communication station at Sugar Grove, W. Va. It had a research lab attached to it and all of us were working for the National Security Administration on radio and telephone communications,” he said.
“In 1974 I was asked to volunteer to go to Iran. I was leased to the Iranian Navy. The Shah of Iran wanted to increase the size of his navy from 500 men to 45,000 men. It was my job to help him do it,” Dole said.
The shah had just purchased four top of the line destroyers from the U.S. He was going to equip them with state of the art guided missiles. However, the shah’s regime crumbled, he was overthrown. Dole returned to the U.S.
He attended a Navy technical training school in Tennessee. He ended up being a program coordinator for the school for the next three years until he had completed his 30 years in the service and retired.
Dole went to work as a civilian almost immediately for the firm that produced the program for the Navy’s new Trident Submarines. He worked in the firm’s Memphis, Tenn. office for two years and then he was transferred to Orlando to help them open an office there.
“One night I got a call from two retired admirals I had worked for. They wanted me to take a civil service job leading an analysis program aimed and locating enemy subs,” he said. “I took the civilian job as a GS-12. I stayed with the program for three years.
“My final job was working with a Seal Team on a mini submarine that was to be an advanced delivery system for the team,” Dole explained. “Their program was called ASDV-1 (Advanced Seal Delivery Vehicle-1). Their home base was Pearl City, Hawaii.”
He officially called it quits in 2001 and moved to Port Charlotte in 2003. He has nine children from two marriages. His first wife died after 23 years. They had five children: Ron, Linda, David, Kim and Michael.
He remarried and has four more kids: Debbie, Skipper, Tonya and Sean.
Name: Howard Warren Dole
D.O.B: 28 March 1930
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1948
Discharged: 1 April 1978
Rank: Lt. Commander
Commendations: Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal w/Silver Star, Navy Occupation Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal w/1 Bronze Star, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation, Gallantry Cross Color and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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