FROM POOPIE SUITS:
The Brotherhood is real. Stronger than an Anchor Chain.The following is the Introduction to our forthcoming book, “More Sub Tales.” We will be sharing more details as the next few weeks transpire.
By Frank Hood
“Are those guys nuts?”
Anyone watching the proceedings that day—29 June 2020—may have reasonably posed the question. On a Monday afternoon, in a driving rainstorm, men without umbrellas stood at a graveside internment ceremony, during a COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 200 people of Marblehead, MA, including more than 100 firefighters from all over New England, had assembled under terrible weather conditions at Waterside Cemetery to say goodbye to an old friend. At the age of 81, John Woodfin Martin Bartlett Chapman Cutler had gone to his eternal creator days earlier. The beloved figure, known affectionately as “Hooper” to all who knew him, wore many hats during his long and meaningful life: son, husband, father, fireman, docent, poet, cribbage fanatic, and submariner.
That last descriptor explained why more than 20 of his brothers from the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI) Marblehead Base was there. Hooper was a diesel boat veteran and a plankowner of the local base in Marblehead when it was formed years earlier. Through their common bond in the Navy, Hooper and his friends at the base enjoyed many wonderful times together through their participation in civic events like parades and memorials as well as social occasions at the base including the monthly meetings and yearly banquets. Hooper seldom if ever missed an event, and when he attended, you could count on his quick wit and side-splitting sea stories—which usually began with the phrase, “Now, this is no shi***r… “
As the relentless rain poured down, no one was deterred. A Naval Reserve flag detail stood motionless as each of Hooper’s USSVI brothers delivered a short eulogy during the wake service. The Navy Hymn was played. As a final farewell, each man passed by his internment site, stopped, did a slow hand salute and departed smartly to the side.
Hooper’s family, including his wife Joan, was moved by the tremendous outpouring of respect and affection. Like the many firefighters who were there, Hooper’s USSVI brothers had forged a connection through the trials of dangerous and often underappreciated service. The submariners’ bond is stronger than an anchor chain, and it’s a relationship for life. For them, it all boils down to three words…duty, honor, country. And that’s why neither a pounding rain nor a viral pandemic could keep the men from their ceremonial watch at Waterside Cemetery.
Hooper’s story is an American classic, and portions of it resonate through the lives of most other men who volunteered to serve on the boats. A lifelong resident of Marblehead—except when the Navy deemed otherwise—Hooper was born in 1939 to Harry and Louise Cutler. His mother reportedly chose so many middle names common to other Marblehead families because she wanted to make sure that he’d have the best chance at a town job when he grew up. She would never have to worry about that.
John Cutler told how he was branded as “Hooper” by his kindergarten teacher because there were too many “Johns” in the same class. The name stuck. After finishing Marblehead High School in 1957, Hooper joined the Navy and attended Sub School. He struck for a torpedoman’s rate and served from 1961 to 1963 aboard the USS Tunny (SSG-282)—a pioneering “G-boat” performing Regulus deterrent patrols before the fleet ballistic missile submarines assumed that important job. The G-boat story is told in great detail in one of the chapters of this book.
As a young man serving aboard a US submarine, Hooper learned much more than he realized. He learned the value of self-discipline. He understood the concept of giving every assignment his best effort. He came to realize that he was part of a team, and that each team member had to be able to count on one another to perform his job as flawlessly as possible. He learned how to get along with a lot of people in a tight space doing dangerous things that he could never reveal or hope to be adequately thanked for. He understood the pride that came with self-sacrifice and the courage that such daring work required.
After his Navy stint as a torpedoman third class petty officer, Hooper returned to the town he loved to apply many of the life lessons taught to him by the Submarine Force. A true “’Header” (the local term for a longtime Marblehead resident), he felt the calling to continue serving his fellow man by becoming a firefighter. Hooper gained the love and respect of his fellow firemen much as he had done with his shipmates aboard the Tunny, through a sterling work ethic and a winning personality. He was never too busy to share one of his many stories from his Navy days or the lengthy career with the Marblehead Fire Department that followed! Hooper rose through the ranks and became the captain of the department before retiring after 33 years.
During his many years as a fireman, Hooper found many other ways to give back to Marblehead. He was a long-time member of the Masons, VFW, and Shriners, and he also played active roles in several firefighter organizations. In his chosen profession, Hooper strongly advocated for continued training opportunities for his men. From his days aboard the Tunny, he understood the meaning of becoming Qualified in Submarines—an achievement following many grueling hours of study and apprenticeship—and how valuable such validation of expertise was for both morale and proficiency. Hooper demanded the same level of commitment from his fellow firemen, and his infectious spirit elevated not only the fire department but also every other endeavor he put his mind to.
For example, he volunteered once a week during the tourist season at Abbot Hall, the local museum housing a number of historically significant treasures. Perhaps most well-known among these is “The Spirit of ‘76”, the famous oil painting by Archibald Willard depicting two drummers and a fife player marching during the Revolutionary War. Hooper had a very outgoing manner that put his museum visitor groups at ease very quickly as he knowledgeably led them through the exhibits. His genuine love for Marblehead came through loud and clear to those fortunate enough to gain his services as a docent.
As mentioned already, another pursuit that Hooper practiced passionately was storytelling, both as a gifted raconteur and a poet. Upon recently asking his wife Joan for a sample of his writings, she politely demurred…they were for the private consumption of his firefighter colleagues. But she added that his ribald sense of humor—a telltale nod to his submarine roots, you might say—was always greatly appreciated by his friends at the station.
Hooper’s pastime of choice was the game of cribbage…if ever there was such a dead giveaway about his submarine pedigree! He played the game nearly fanatically, organizing weekly tournaments on Tuesdays. He also volunteered at the local schools to teach kids how to play the favorite game of the Submarine Force. Although Hooper played cribbage to win, he also relished the regular gatherings as opportunities to both share more of his seemingly endless inventory of yarns and to hear new stories. He was so affable that once he had hung up his fireman’s hat, the local bank hired him as their front-door greeter.
Hooper Cutler succeeded in a way he couldn’t see, and it was that invisible gift that left the most lasting impression on everyone he met. Simply put, whenever you were in Hooper’s company, your troubles seemed just a little less burdensome and your disposition was just a little brighter. Hooper left you happier than when he found you. It’s no wonder that he reveled in playing Santa Claus for 26 years at the annual firefighters’ family Christmas party. He delighted the children by sliding down the firepole in full regalia and then take each one on his knee with a jolly laugh to hear them recite their Christmas lists.
His ability to connect so fundamentally with people, combined with his iron-clad integrity and his unwavering commitment to his community, won Hooper Cutler many friends. To the submariners gathered at the cemetery that rainy day, Hooper’s legacy sounded a familiar theme, one that bound the men together:
The pride of service.
A deep love for country, even long after service years have passed.
Great respect for one another, gained through the rigors of submarine duty.
I know these statements to be true because I was one of those men. Hoop’s passing was a devastating blow for our Marblehead base family, and a desire to explain such fundamental attributes of submariners has been a powerful motive for my brother Charles and me to write this sequel to Sub Tales: Stories That Seldom Surface. By describing important moments and themes in submarine history, both well-known and obscure, we hope that such examples impart a greater understanding of those “secret sauce” ingredients that define the Silent Service volunteer. Our intent is to both entertain and inform the reader while simultaneously offering a more enlightened appreciation for the many sacrifices that have been made by submariners in the defense of our country.
Hooper’s story is our story. Enjoy these many tales. May God bless the US Submarine Force, and may God bless America.
John “Hooper” Cutler during his submarine days. (Photo courtesy of Joan Cutler.)