The Fresno Bee

Periscope to the Past

Former submarine crew members meet in Raymond to laugh and swap stories.

By Jim Davis
The Fresno Bee

(Published June 11, 2001)

RAYMOND -- Gary McLaughlin drives 400 miles round trip to San Francisco every third Saturday of the month to volunteer as a docent on the U.S.S. Pampanito, a World War II-era submarine.

The 55-year-old goes because he loves the boat, loves the way it looks and smells.

That love led him to host the Bash at the Ranch this weekend, a gathering of former submariners in this small town in northeastern Madera County.

"Most of us who are here knew each other for a long time on the Internet," McLaughlin said. "But most of us met each other for the first time here at the bash."

They spent the weekend swapping stories and remembering their times on submarines and, of course, "pinging" each other.

A sonar term, pinging is also a sort of submarine buzzword used for taking good-natured jabs at one another.

"If you find someone who can't take some pinging, then you don't necessarily want to go to sea with him," said Ric Headman, who made the trip from Seattle.

About 125 submariners -- including families, more than 200 people -- showed up.

The group encompassed sailors who served on every class of sub used in the Navy since 1930. It attracted people from 21 states and even a man from Cairo, Egypt.

McLaughlin, a farm-equipment financier, served four years on the subs USS Sterlet and Barbel.

"Neither submarine is in existence," McLaughlin said. "They've both been sunk as targets."

He came up with the idea for the bash while bantering with his buddies on Web sites devoted to submarines. Someone challenged him to host the event more than a year ago. He asked his wife, Sue, and she agreed.

"I'm not taking credit nor the blame for this," she said Sunday.

People started arriving Tuesday. Some of them stayed at nearby motels or came from around the Valley. But most camped at the ranch in everything from sleeping bags to motor homes.

McLaughlin paid for the food and even 80 cases of beer for the sailors. "I still got beer left," he said. "People just drank less than you thought they would."

They had a show with cowboy music, saw some sights and just enjoyed being around each other -- or taking some shots at each other.

For instance, Headman is called a "glow-in-the-dark" sailor -- one who served on a nuclear sub.

Technically, he's not; only the sailors who work in the engine room are glow-in-the-darks, and Headman served as a steward. But the submariners didn't let technicalities stop them.

"That's part of the pinging that we're talking about," McLaughlin said.

Even the cook was pinged.

Leonard Sanders of Palermo, who's business Chuck Wagon Cookin' catered the event, served on a destroyer in his Navy days.

"We have a saying that there are two type of ships -- submarines and targets," McLaughlin said.

By Sunday afternoon, most of the sailors were gone with their memories at sea -- and under it -- refreshed. "I don't think there's one of us here this weekend who wouldn't give almost everything we have to go do it again," McLaughlin said.

The reporter can be reached at or 441-6171.

Bash Memories