Born in Fairmont, MN in 1939
U.S. Navy Submarine Service Veteran
As a high school junior, Ronald Hartwig described himself as “a little bit wild.” He attended Fairmont High School with the intention of graduating with the Class of 1957, but cut his schooling short to join the U.S. Navy. “I didn’t like one of my teachers, so once I turned 17, I went into the Navy,” he explained.
That was in the fall of 1956.
Hartwig headed to Navy boot camp at the Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, Ill. After completion of his initial military training, he was assigned to the Keyport Torpedo Station at Keyport, Washington, part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division. “They developed and tested torpedoes there,” he said. “I was at Keyport for six months and never stepped foot on a sub,” he remembered. Then it was time to move again. Hartwig said he and a buddy bought road 1940 and drove to San Diego for three months training in the Navy’s electricians school.
“While I was in San Diego, they asked if anyone would be interested in submarines and I jumped at that,” Hartwig remembered. Again, he packed his sea bag as the Navy sent him across the country to the Naval Submarine Base New London. This base is the United States Navy's primary East Coast submarine base, also known as the "Home of the Submarine Force," located in Groton, Connecticut. During his training, Hartwig said he had to undergo intensive psychological testing, plus three months of Navy Submarine School. “It was kind of dangerous at times,” he recalled. “One time we had escape training where you had to swim up to the surface from the bottom of a 50-foot submerged tower.
Finally, in 1958, Hartwig received his duty orders and was transferred to the submarine USS Tiru (SS416), a Balao-class diesel boat based in Pearl Harbor, HI. “I got there on the first day and checked in with the duty officer.” Hartwig said. “The next day we were heading out on a 60-day sea run on patrol in the Pacific.”
Hartwig shared a humorous story of his first assignment on the Tiru, sitting at the helm of the Tiru steering the submarine. “I was so sick, and I had the dry heaves so bad, that I was causing the sub to run a in a zig-zag pattern while trying to stay on course,” he chuckled. “The commander called down to me to ‘mind the helm.’”
Contrary to popular belief, submarines spend most of their time running on the surface of the waters, not submerged. “And that’s what made it really hard not to get sick,” Hartwig explained. “The rocking of the sub wasn’t so bad, it was the up and down pounding. My bunk was in the aft torpedo area. In rough seas, the bow would drop down and the props would rise right out of the water, then the sub would slam down again. That made it pretty rough,” he admitted.
While patrolling the Pacific region in the late 1950s and early 1960s, everything they did was classified, Hartwig said. “We ran daily ops out of Pearl Harbor plus did two 60-day northern runs near Russian waters to spy on them,” he said. “We also did the West-Pac tours of Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Formosa and were based out of Yokosuka Navy Base during those assignments.
After his first year of duty on the Tiru, he was able to take leave and headed back home to Fairmont and married his sweetheart, Joan Wagner. Hartwig had re-enlisted and the newlyweds traveled back to Honolulu to set up their first home. “It was really nice back then,” he remembered. “We had an apartment near Waikiki Beach, and we drove around in a convertible sports car!” But when their first son, Blaine, was born, Hartwig said they had to part with that car.
But submarine duty was hard on their family life, as the Hartwig’s soon found out. It was about a year later that their next child came. “I was in Japan when my daughter Paige was born,” he said. “My wife Joan came back home to Fairmont with the kids to live.”
Hartwig said he never thought he’d spend six years in submarine service. During those years he experienced some close calls. “We almost lost the sub two times because of accidents while out at sea,” he revealed. “It was my intention to stay in,” he continued, “but with my duty requirements, it was hard on the family.” Hartwig made the decision to leave the service and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1964.
Hartwig came back home and landed a job with the City of Fairmont as an electrician at the city’s power plant. Their third child, Cade, was born in 1974. Hartwig stayed with his job and worked his way up to plant supervisor. He took an early retirement in 1996 after 34 years with the City of Fairmont.
Story and Photo © 218 Joseph Kreiss Photography