THE STORY OF A NAVY DIVER
JOE FONTANA BMC (SS/DV) (1920-1983)
The Diver’s Creed
The Navy diver is not a fighting man.
He is a salvage expert.
If it’s lost, he finds it.
If it’s sunk, he brings it up.
If it’s in the way he moves it.
If he’s lucky, he dies young two hundred feet beneath the waves,
because that is the closest he will ever come to being a hero.
No one in their right mind would ever want the job,
Or so they say.
Whether serving in submarines during World War II or walking the sea-floor in a MK V deep-sea suit or swimming free in hand built SCUBA gear, Joe Fontana spent most of his 27 year Navy career under the waves instead of on top.
An Early Call to the Sea
The son of Sicilian immigrants Joe was born in Brooklyn, NY, on September 9, 1920. Even though he was born and raised in the urban environs of metropolitan New York the call of the sea was in his blood and at the tender age of 16 he signed on as a cadet in the Merchant Marine and set sail for the first time.
For two years Joe sailed the world on merchant ships. However, in February of 1938 he signed off the merchant ship Pennsylvania and enlisted in the US Navy. For three years he served on surface ships in Asia including a China tour onboard the USS Eliot, a four stack WWI class destroyer.
Dive, Dive, Dive
In 1942 he made his first move to go beneath the waves, he volunteered for submarines. After successful completion of Sub School in New London, Connecticut, he joined the crew of the USS Shade (SS 235) as a third class Boatswain’s Mate.
Joe served onboard the Shad for four war patrols in the North Atlantic. After he left the Shad, his story becomes a bit mysterious. Sometime in 1944, his father in Brooklyn received all his possessions from the Navy with word that he was missing. No one in the Fontana family seems to know the circumstances of the missing months, but Joe’s sons and one remaining brother are undertaking research to try to piece together the missing parts of his career.
In any event he surfaced again in 1945 finishing out the war in the Pacific onboard the battle cruiser Guam (CB2) where he saw extensive action in the naval battles at Okinawa and Japan proper.
With the end of the war in 1946 Joe left the navy and returned to Brooklyn to get married and start a family. However, his sea blood continued to boil and in 1951 he re-enlisted and was assigned to the submarines USS Crevalle (SS-291) and USS Bang (SS-381). During his tour on the Bang Joe gained the distinction of being the last Boatswain’s Mate to routinely serve on US submarines.
A Navy Diver
His Boatswain’s Mate rating, however, meant his time on subs was ending. If he wanted to continue to serve beneath the waves then he figured he’s have to trade the hull of a submarine for the suit of a deep sea diver. So, in 1953, at the age of 33, Joe Fontana donned a Mark V diving suit and qualified as a Second Class US Navy Diver.
This was the start of a diving career that spanned the next 12 years. In quick succession Joe attended and advanced through all the navy’s premier diving training schools.
Deep Sea Diving School in
Washington DC 1953
During the course at Salvage school in Bayone N.J.in 1954.
Joe is second from the right with hand on helmet. Carl Brashear (subject of "Men of Honor") is second from the rigt in the top row
On october 22 1954 he passed the US Navy ships Salvage Diver’s school.
The graduates! Top row far right is Joe. Middle row far right is Carl Brashear.
How's this for a fantastic picture !!
With his Boatswain Mate’s rating and his Salvage Diver’s qualifications he secured tours aboard the USS Glen and then the USS Everglades stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
Click here to continue to part two of the Joe Fontana article
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