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Last man standing: One WWII submarine veteran left at annual reunion

For three decades, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay has hosted vets for an annual reunion and memorial ceremony. In 2019, there were 12. This year, only one survives.

KINGS BAY BASE, Ga. — Rain, a nuisance for some, was music to the ears of the men in the Silent Service.

Submarine vets come every year, for the last three decades, to a reunion at Kings Bay.

One of the veterans shared the story of when the Japanese were dropping depth charges on his submarine. Then the rain started.

“A typical rain shower came in and we were able to hide from him ... we got away,” Arche Holte said. He says the rain hid the sub's sound, and the Japanese ship couldn't hear or target them anymore.

“Yeah, he told you the story of the rain saving their bacon," said event organizer and former submariner Keith Post.  

"They hid under the rainstorm, yep I remember that story.”

Lucky events like that also saved guys like Tony Faella and his sub, The Spearfish, from a terrible fate.

“I think about those guys a lot," Faella said. "Just how horrible it must have been for them to go down.”

Fifty-two subs were lost in World War II.

And at this memorial, brought inside this year because of a heavy downpour of rain, they ring a bell for each sub, each sailor lost.

“I get very emotional when they do that," Faella said. "I knew some of those boats.”

Some of these men were lost to the sea, but they also remember those who have been lost to time.

“When you stand up there, it’s very tough to look at the empty seats," Post said.

His duties of organizing this event go back 13 years, and each year another bell tolls in memory of another friend. 

“I get very close to these guys, they become like my own father," he said.

It’s why Faella, who’s 99 now, and his wife Betty are so special.

Throughout their 70 years of marriage, they've come here to this event for the last 30. 

And each year, the World War II vets pose for a group picture. 

For many of those years, Faella's was one of dozens of faces in the veteran crowd.

In this year's group shot, he was the one and only.

“We miss all the WWII vets," he said.

"We used to have 15 from his boat," his wife Betty added. "And there are none left.”

So it's just the two of them now, seated in a front row reserved for their World War II friends.

“It’s pretty scary, we miss all the guys,” Faella said. 

But the point is to remember.

“Can you edit out my tears,” Post said, wiping some away with a chuckle. 

Because while raindrops can’t hide the tears, they can bring back a flood of memories.

"It’s not just about the day. It’s about remembering them in your hearts," Post said. "So long as you remember folks, they’re always with you in your heart, in your mind.”

And that's why Faella and Betty plan on coming back again next year, rain or shine.

“I hope so," Faella said.

Betty added a touch of reality, "One never knows," she added with a big smile.

Still, Tony insisted: "I’ll be 100, but I’ll be back.”