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Boise vet recalls 27 years on American submarines

Fred and Evelyn Wagner during Fred's years as a naval officer. (Courtesy Fred Wagner)

Lt. Commander Fred Wagner, United States Navy (retired), spent 27 years on American submarines.

But why submarines?

"It was extra money," the Boise veteran said. "And I remember being on the (San Francisco-Oakland) Bay Bridge looking down as we saw a submarine going out and a guy said that's the fighting navy."

His service in the fighting navy was on diesel subs.

It included the close of hostilities with Japan and embraced the Cold War when he played underwater cat and mouse with the Russians, many of whom became his friends because, he says, they all had subs in common.

"We tried to stay away from the politics of it and just have fun," he said, even though the submariners in the two navies were being trained to fire on each other.

As Wagner crossed the oceans, he served as a rescue diver as well as mentor to deaf children.

He's fluent in sign language because his mother was deaf.

And this land lubber reporter just had to ask: what was Wagner's scariest moment on a submarine?

"The Arctic. 1952," he says without a pause. "We got trapped in an ice lake and we couldn't get out. Had to call an icebreaker to get loose. We didn't have any icebreaking equipment. Things were freezing up. It was serious."

As he prepares to recieve a quilt of valor this weekend, the old submariner, now fighting health problems at 89, says he knows he's on his last voyage.

"Part of life. I'm on the rim of that suction drain going down. But it doesn't scare me though."

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