Sea Owl Sailors keep in touch

Veterans who served aboard USS Sea Owl (SS 405) pose for a photo during their 2019 reunion. The organization, formed in 1997 for those who served aboard the Balao-class submarine, toured Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London, Sea Owl’s former homeport, June 8 to see how the base had changed since they wore the uniform and to get a glimpse of America’s modern submarine fleet.

GROTON, Conn. – Veterans of the submarine USS Sea Owl (SS 405) and family members met at Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London for a reunion and tour of the base, June 8.

Sea Owl was a Balao-class submarine commissioned in 1944 and served until the end of the 1960’s. Men who served aboard it, along with their families, formed the Sea Owl Association to stay in touch and plan reunions. During their most recent annual gathering, the veterans and their families visited SUBASE New London and toured the base, which included stopping to view a modern Virginia-class submarine from the pier.

“The base has changed very much from when all of us were stationed here in the 50’s and 60’s. Sea Owl was decommissioned from Groton in early 1970,” said Roy Purtell, Sea Owl Association president. “During her time here she was very active as what they called a school boat. For many Sailors going to sub school at the time, Sea Owl would have been their first ride on a submarine.”

The Sea Owl Association is a mixed group of men who served during different periods of the submarine’s years of service. Purtell himself served as a Torpedoman’s Mate on Sea Owl from 1967 to 1969, while their eldest member Ralph Sterley, now 93, served aboard as an Electronics Technician from 1945 to 1946 during the submarine’s time in the Pacific War fighting against the Empire of Japan.

“During the third patrol he was standing a radar watch and given credit for spotting a submarine supplying Midway Island with ammunition,” said Purtell of one episode of Sterley’s service at the end of World War II. “Sea Owl then sent three torpedoes toward that submarine, putting it on the bottom near the pier. This stopped Japanese getting supplies and helping the U.S. take Midway Island.”

Like all U.S. Navy crews, Sea Owl’s men came from all over the United States. They served at different times, deployed to different places, but are bound together across time and space by their common service aboard the same submarine and the stories and adventures only they know.

“Exciting stories, where do I start?” said Purtell. “One story involves Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd Class Reno Farina, who served from 1964 to 1967. Underway he was working doing something outboard of the torpedo tubes, which is also where the hydraulic rams are for the rudder. These rams move very quietly. Reno had a grease fitting from the hydraulic ram penetrate his skull, only by the grace of God did the helmsman stop turning the helm in that direction or Reno’s skull would have been crushed!”

USS Sea Owl veterans formed the Sea Owl Association in 1997 and have held 12 reunions since then. They also hold an annual picnic in Sea Owl’s homeport of Groton where many of her veterans ultimately settled after their service. For more information on the Sea Owl Association, visit

Connecticut Media Group