In 1959, Grundy County Board member and Morris resident John Almer was just a 19-year-old boy enlisting in the military. Now, 53 years later, he has received an honorary membership to a national submariners club, the Holland Club.
The Holland Club, a national club under the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI), exists to recognize submarine veterans of at least 50 years. Almer, a member of the USSVI base in Tinley Park, Ill., was inducted Feb. 11.
Almer began his stint in the United States Navy in boot camp in San Diego, Calif. He then moved on to Interior Communication Electrician “A” School in San Diego and submarine school, nuclear power school and nuclear prototype school in Connecticut.
“The first two and a half years I was in the Navy, I was in school,” Almer said.
He then “qualified” for his first ship, the USS Skipjack SSN-585, on June 1, 1962.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” said Captain Don Schlegel, of the Tinley Park USSVI, in regards to being qualified on a submarine. “I have a master’s degree. It’s harder than getting a master’s degree.”
He said getting qualified normally takes sailors about 9 months to accomplish.
“Basically, you had to know how to find all the valves and systems on board and how to operate all of them,” Almer said.
Induction into the Holland Club occurs 50 years after a sailor’s first qualification.
Following his time on the Skipjack, Almer was transferred to the USS Sam Rayburn SSBM-635, named after former Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn.
“I put her in commission and made one patrol on her,” Almer said. But he was one of the first crewmen rotated off that ship.
His third and final ship was the USS Queenfish SSN-651, a ship Almer is considered a plank owner of.
The veteran was on board the Queenfish when she was launched, then headed down through the Panama Canal on board and eventually ended up in Hawaii where her home port was.
Almost a decade had gone by when Almer decided it was time to call it quits.
“When (my younger son) was 18 months old, I had been with him for four months out of those 18,” he said. “I didn’t think that was a very good way to raise two boys.”
Nov. 21, 1968 was Almer’s last day in the U.S. Navy.
“My first two or three weeks out of the Navy were probably one of the scariest times of my life,” Almer remembered. “I had a wife (Barbara) and two little boys and no job. It was pretty scary.”
But on Jan. 2, 1969, he began his second career with Commonwealth Edison at Dresden Station. He retired from there just 15 years ago.
Almer has held several part-time jobs since retirement and has been a member of the Grundy County Board for 12 years. He was also on the Saratoga Township Board for 28 years.
“It was a nice honor,” Almer said about being recognized and inducted into the Holland Club.
Currently there are just under 80 members in Tinley Park’s USSVI, Schlegel said, and they are from Morris, Braidwood, Coal City, Tinley Park, Orland and even Chicago. The organization’s website noted that 27 of those members are Holland Club members as well, at www.ussvi.org.
Schlegel said any submariners who would like to become a member of the USSVI in Tinley Park can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.