29 May 2011

Al Nittolo, USS Corsair

It's often said that submariners have an unfair advantage over their surface adversaries.  As someone who gets mildly claustrophobic in the backseat of a Volkswagen, I just don't buy it.  I can't imagine the mental preparation that would be necessary before I could sign on for a tour of duty in a modern nuclear submarine, let alone in a tiny World War II era boat - not at the age of 47, and certainly not at 17.

USS Corsair - photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo

But that's what longtime Hillsborough and lifelong area resident Al Nittolo did in 1946 when he, along with seven officers and 68 other enlisted men, was assigned to the USS Corsair, a brand new diesel-electric sub destined for service in the Atlantic.

Photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo
A football star at Somerville High School - and again after his service at both Rutgers Prep and Washington University -  Al enlisted soon after receiving his varsity letter in December 1945. When diplomas were handed out the following June, he was somewhere in the Atlantic.
USS Corsair
Born in 1929, Al was bitterly disappointed that he was too young to enlist during the war.  He soon came to realize that for submariners in Atlantic and Arctic waters, the war was just beginning.

Photos courtesy of Mark Nittolo

Submarines proved to be the perfect tools for intelligence-gathering in north Atlantic waters - shadowing the Russian Navy at the outset of the Cold War.  When I introduced my kids to Al at the Memorial Day Parade [May 2011], he recounted the time that the Corsair got just a little too close to a Russian vessel.  On the surface, (the Corsair's batteries only permitted dives up to 22 hours), the Russian ship fired a warning shot across the sub's bow.

Photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo

The skipper immediately ordered an empty torpedo to be fired from one of the sub's ten tubes.  Al recalls the Russian ship turned and ran from the bogus bomb, and was out of sight within minutes!

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2012

Clearly, the unfair advantage has never been in our weapons, but always in the bravery of our young men who fight them.

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