Former crew members of the USS Tautog (SSN-639) and their families reunited on Veterans Day at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Galveston District (SWG) Jadwin Building, for their first large group meeting since the submarine was decommissioned 27 years ago.
The “Terrible T” – as it was affectionately known – was a Sturgeon-class submarine, a class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN) in service with the U.S. Navy from the 1960s until 2004. They served as the “workhorses” of the Navy’s attack submarine fleet through much of the Cold War. The Sturgeon class was phased out and replaced by Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia class submarines.
The Tautog spent most of its 29 years of service in the Pacific Fleet, with numerous western Pacific and Arctic Ocean deployments.
In 2006, the sail (the tower-like structure found on the topside surface of submarines) of the Tautog became an exhibit at the Galveston Naval Museum at Seawolf Park.
Most of the Sailors at the reunion served on the Tautog in the 1990s, shortly before the submarine was decommissioned, Oct. 26, 1996.
Jeff Scarborough, former Tautog quartermaster, and his wife Charlotte took the lead on preparing for the reunion and scheduled to have it in Room 185 of the Jadwin Building, in case of inclement weather. This reunion was a long time coming, Scarborough said.
“Since the USS Tautog was active for nearly 30 years, spanning 3 decades, we have three separate Facebook groups to include the 70s, the 80s and the 90s generations,” Scarborough said. “Some from the 90s generation started communicating the possibility of a 25-year reunion but then COVID hit in 2020 and all planning halted until last year.”
Through social media, Tautog crew members were able to find each other and stay connected, Scarborough said.
“Since I live here locally in the greater Houston-Galveston area and the Tautog Sail is now a Cold War Memorial at Seawolf Park, I felt a need and an obligation to pull this together for not only those I served with, but for all the generations,” Scarborough said. “We felt that we really couldn't wait much longer to pull all the generations together, so we made it happen and now the motivation and enthusiasm to volunteer to help preserve the Tautog Sail and to meet more often has been ignited and small groups are already forming to get ready for the next event in three years.”
The get together felt like a family reunion, with lots of small group story sharing, a round table where each Sailor stood and spoke a few words, and speeches from several of the leaders on the boat, where retired Lt. Cmdr. Roger Eyrolles, and retired Cmdr. Robert Rawleigh, who spoke about hardships, challenges and successes brought about by beginning their careers on Tautog, Scarborough said.
“Coming back today helped me heal a wound, see some old friends and that’s why I want to do this in three more years,” Eyrolles said. “Once isn’t enough.”
Rawleigh picked up where Eyrolles left off.
“Thank you, brothers, for being here,” Rawleigh said. “I love you, and you’re always part of our family.”
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Herbert Runnels, was Chief of the Boat (COB) or senior enlisted person aboard the Tautog during its last years of service. Runnels’ job was to manage all aspects of the submarine’s operations for the captain. He was very happy to attend the reunion and see old friends from his time on the “boat”.
“It was great to see all the support, with people coming out,” Runnels said. “Submariners are not that big on reunions, this is only the second one I’ve been to.”
Runnels was a submariner his entire 30-year career, apart from one recruiting mission in Miami. He said that the Sailors he served with on the Tautog and other subs were the best in the military.
“Working with other services, surface, aviation – submariners are far above them,” Runnels said.
Runnels said he is already looking forward to the 30th anniversary reunion planned for 2026. “Hopefully the guys will keep this going.”
The tenth captain of the Tautog was retired Rear Adm. Fred Byus, and he was the keynote speaker for the reunion.
“To me, Tautog, it taught you how to sustain, to be reliable, to move forward, even though you might get hit on the nose sometimes,” Byus said.
The senior enlisted leaders on the boat also taught him an important lesson in leadership, Byus said.
“Herb Runnels, Master Chief McClain … our E-8s, they were leaders and managers,” Byus said. “They are the people I have in mind when I teach leadership and management at Catholic University to the young engineers who want to be engineering managers, who want to be program and project managers.”
The lesson he took away from them was there are no perfect Sailors, Byus said.
“I remember this idea that nobody is perfect, so use them all,” Byus said. “Find the places where they can be perfect and use them there.”
All of us together, are way more perfect than any of us can be individually, Byus continued.
His time on the Tautog also taught him not to worry about his young Sailors, Byus said.
“They may do things differently, they may talk differently, they may dress differently, but it’s fine,” Byus said. “It’s gonna succeed because they can make it succeed through teamwork, if they’re harnessed together as we, rather than individually as I. I saluted them then, and I salute them now.”
Whether the Sailors served for several years and left the service for other adventures, or they made the Navy a career, the ties that bound them together in their time on the “Tog” are still bringing them together and will continue to in the years to come.
For more information about the history of the Tautog (SSN-639), visit https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/t/tautog-ii.html.