GROTON, Conn. – Jackie “Mom” Kaye, a beloved figure among the Submarine community was laid to rest by the people she loved and supported for more than 30 years, Oct. 18.
As the morning sun broke over the Thames River the crew of USS South Dakota (SSN 784) stood assembled on the pier for morning quarters as retired Rear Adm. Arnie Lotring, his wife Kathy and Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London Command Master Chief Raj Sodhi entered the pier. They were there to present the ashes of “Mom” Kaye to the crew of North Dakota to bury at sea near the location her husband, Norman “Pop” Kaye was buried several years earlier.
“Mom called herself a Navy Sponsor—nothing official, however—she was a one person operation,” said Lotring, speaking to the crew. “While living in Ft. Lauderdale with Pop, she discovered the Submarine Force in the 1980s and then dedicated her life to supporting our Sailors and their families.”
Mom and Pop Kaye were a well-to-do couple living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1984 when over dinner with Cmdr. William J. Riffer, commanding officer of USS Boston (SSN 703), mentioned one of his Sailors was 17 years old. Alarmed at this, Mom asked Riffer if she could adopt the boat, every Sailor and captain that would serve upon, from then on. Whenever Boston pulled into port, the Kaye home was filled with Sailors sleeping, relaxing in their pool, or doing laundry. The Kaye’s efforts would only grow from there.
“She understood, somehow, the unique sacrifices of a life on a submarine,” said Lotring. “She and Pop made Ft. Lauderdale the liberty port of choice for the submarine force in the 80s and 90s. Mom and her network of sponsors ensured that coming to Ft. Lauderdale was the best liberty port whether it was 40 Sailors staying at their penthouse home and taking over the pool (their neighbor was Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man), getting the crew tickets to Dolphins games (the owner then was a man named Wayne H. Zinger and a friend of Pop’s) or going to the Everglades on an airboat ride with Mom. Mom ensured that there was something for everyone to do while Pop could be seen coming down the hatch on Sunday morning to the crews’ mess bringing New York-style bagels and cream cheese to eat with the men. Pop was a real New York City guy.”
Moved by the hard work and sacrifices Sailors gave for the good of their country and personal sense of religious devotion, Mom gave small luminous angels by the thousands to Sailors which produced an almost miraculous event aboard the subs on dark nights beneath the sea.
“Mom was a very spiritual person; a devout Catholic,” said Lotring. “She believed in the power of prayer and salvation. One of her favorite gifts to each Sailor were small luminescent angels that were attached to a ribbon that she personally tied to each one, thousands distributed over the years. Many a 688 [Los Angeles-class fast-attack sub] on deployment often reported a strange glow coming from forward berthing at night only to find on further investigation it could be attributed to each angel keeping watch while suspended in the overhead of the racks of some 80 Sailors.”
In a short but solemn ceremony, Sodhi presented Mom’s ashes to Master Chief Sonar Technician (Submarine) Kellen Voland, North Dakota’s chief of the boat, who in turn presented them to Sailors who took them aboard North Dakota for eventual burial at sea.
“We are going to bury Mom at sea as close to Pop as possible,” said Voland after the ceremony. “It will be a traditional ceremony, done at night which is the most honorable thing to do. It’s an honor to do this for someone who’s done so much for the submarine force. Younger Sailors didn’t quite know the impact she had, but some of my more senior guys have shared the stories and kept her memory alive.”
Though no longer with us, Mom and Pop Kaye leave behind a legacy of love and devotion generations of Sailors will not only never forget, but tell subsequent generations of Sailors about.