Torsk Eagle Scout project ties history and family

The Baltimore Sun

In April 1963, 9-year-old Mike Lyman was watching Walter Cronkite's news broadcast and heard that the USS Thresher nuclear submarine was missing.

"Then, I remember the Navy guys coming to the door," said Lyman.

His father, Lt. Cmdr. John Sheldon Lyman Jr., 31, was third in command on the submarine when he and 128 others perished at 5,500 feet during a deep-diving exercise 220 miles east of Boston. According to the Navy Historical Web site, a court of inquiry "opined that the loss of Thresher was in all probability due to a casting, piping, or welding failure that flooded the engine room with water."

Today, the Thresher rests in six sections on the ocean floor.

Seemingly unrelated is the USS Torsk submarine, greeting tourists at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

But Colin Lyman, 16, the grandson of Commander Lyman, is aboard the Torsk this particular Saturday, repainting the engine room as his Eagle Scout project.

"About a year ago, I was in the Inner Harbor, thinking about [Eagle Scout] projects," said Lyman. "I thought it would be kind of cool to do something on a submarine."

Lyman, a junior at Wilde Lake High School, has long been interested in submarines. Rather than retreat from the Thresher tragedy, his parents took him and his brother, Corey, to the dedication of its memorial when they were 8 and 6 years old, respectively. "I think it had an impact," said Lyman's mother, Donna.

Lyman began searching the Web sites of the Torsk and Baltimore Maritime Museum. He called Gil Bohannon Jr., 37, a member of the board of directors of the Torsk Volunteer Association. Bohannon agreed to meet with Lyman to discuss possible service projects on the Torsk.

After that call, Lyman said: "I was pretty excited. I thought, 'This is going to happen.'"

Bohannon, a former Marine, said, "It was really neat - it's hard to find youth who are really interested [in submarines]."

Bohannon said Lyman told him of his family's connection with submarines, and Bohannon told him that the chief enlisted man on the Thresher, Chief Torpedoman's Mate Robert E. Johnson, also served on the Torsk during World War II.

During his meeting with Lyman, Bohannon mentioned that some midshipmen had been out to paint the forward engine room, but the job was never completed.

"He [Bohannon] wanted some help, and I wanted to help," said Lyman. Right after their first meeting, the teenager asked for paint and brushes, to see what the job required.

"I left him alone, and he went to it," said Bohannon.

"I didn't know how long it would take, but I knew I could do it," said Lyman. He painted alone for a couple of hours. "I wanted to be sure I knew what I needed - I wanted to see what [number of people] the room could handle and how many layers of paint we'd need."

Bohannon discussed the Eagle Scout project with Jim Reed, 43, ship's manager of the Torsk and Light Ship Chesapeake at the Baltimore Maritime Museum. Reed said he felt a connection with the project because "my brother was an Eagle Scout and is now on active duty in the Navy." Only about 5 percent of Boy Scouts attain the rank of Eagle, according to Scouting's Web site. To attain Eagle, a Scout must - among other things - lead others on a service project that benefits any religion, school or community.

Reed gave the project the go-ahead, saying, "I was really impressed with his [Lyman's] understanding of the scope of the work."

He added: "I was also impressed that he knew the history of the submarines and wanted to make sure that the work was part of the preservation process, and not a make-work project."

Lyman shepherded the project idea through the required levels of Scouting. Once it was approved, he recruited 10 people by posting a sign-up sheet where Troop 361 meets every Thursday.

"I wanted [ages] 13 or over, so they'd know what they were doing. But there was one little kid who really wanted to go, and last weekend I had two kids under 13 helping."

Donna Lyman noted how one of those smaller children came in handy to paint in tight places.

Colin Lyman recounted another management situation - when a paint bucket overturned.

"That overwhelmed me," he said, "but I just got three or four people on it, to wipe it up, and we continued painting."

Of managing a group consisting primarily of his peers, Lyman said: "Most of them have done it before [participated in Eagle project work]. They accepted that I was in charge. There was not too much goofing around. If there was, it was with words - joking."

"It makes things less stressful," he added.

After two long Saturday mornings with his crew starting at 7 a.m., the painting is nearly complete. Lyman plans to come back one more Saturday - Oct. 7 - to finish up, and mix with Veterans nationwide who will be coming in for the USS Torsk Annual Work Weekend.

"I'm very proud of him, very pleased," said Mike Lyman, 52, of his son's project.

Glancing at the photo of his father, he said: "What intrigues me is that I am much older than my dad ever was." Mike Lyman has learned about his father by talking with surviving family members at Thresher reunions.

"It's interesting," Donna Lyman said, "how some people come right up to him [Mike] and know who he is [before he introduces himself]."

The family resemblance is just as undeniable in the grandson of Lt. Cmdr. John S. Lyman.

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