Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As Floodwaters Threaten To Wash Away WWII Sub, Crews Race To Sink It


Let's go next to Muskogee. That's another of the many Oklahoma towns where, as we just heard, flooding has driven people from their homes. Muskogee is also where the USS Batfish usually sits on dry land. The Batfish is a submarine, a World War II-era submarine. And rising waters at the Muskogee War Memorial Park are testing whether it is still watertight. The park's executive director Brent Trout is keeping tabs on the Batfish. He joins me now. Brent Trout, welcome.

BRENT TROUT: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

KELLY: So what's going on today? What's the latest situation around the Batfish?

TROUT: We're playing the waiting game. We had a submarine try to break loose on us in Muskogee, and it's a completely unique problem. When you talk to the state emergency management officials, they don't know how to handle a World War II submarine.

KELLY: So let's paint a picture for people listening, trying to imagine what you are able to see. Usually, the Batfish, which is how many feet long?

TROUT: Three hundred eleven feet long.

KELLY: Normally, it sits in the middle of a big kind of lawn - meadow. Is that right?

TROUT: Yeah, we have it actually sat in the middle of what we call a berm. It's kind of a bowl that we anticipate if there is any minor flooding that the bowl will keep it isolated in the area.

KELLY: How many feet of water where the Batfish is right now?

TROUT: It's probably about 15 to 18 feet.

KELLY: Wow. I guess the submarine floats. It's still watertight.

TROUT: Well, you know, we were wondering about that because, you know, it was built in America - built to last. So would it still be floating after all these years? And the answer is, yes, it is floating. Half of it is floating. So we had to strategically float some aspects of it and bury some aspects of it. The goal was to get the rudder to dig into the ground almost as an additional anchor point, which is something that, you know, for a bunch of museum professionals, you'd never anticipate having to do.

KELLY: Now, I gather there is some concern if the Batfish were to break free of the lines you're trying to secure it with and - what? - float on down the river, what would - what are you preparing for here?

TROUT: Well, that was a huge concern on Thursday and Friday. So some of the lines started snapping, and we were actually on-site when the lines started snapping, and it was probably one of the scariest things I've seen in my life. So it was in danger of floating down the river, which the main concern would be that it would float down and hit a dam. And if it would have hit the dam - see, Muskogee already had a problem with loose barges. Had they actually breached a dam, it would have wiped out communities completely instead of just giving communities time to evacuate.

KELLY: How did a submarine end up in landlocked Oklahoma, by the way?

TROUT: Well, you know, it's a long - it could be its own series on NPR, but basically...

KELLY: (Laughter) Give us the short version of the story.

TROUT: The World War II submarine veterans that survived - most people don't know this, but submarine service was the deadliest service to be in during World War II. So these guys wanted to honor all their lost friends. And ironically, they had to use spring floods to actually put it in place, and we're going to have to use spring floods or early summer floods to put it back in place, so full circle, you know?

KELLY: Yeah. So I'm talking to you, of course, on Memorial Day. You had a whole ceremony planned at the memorial park. What did you all have planned?

TROUT: Well, another thing that we have on the ground is a piece of the USS Oklahoma, one of the battleships that sunk at Pearl Harbor. And we were actually going to do what we call a tolling for all the people who perished on board the USS Oklahoma. So it's over 400 people. It's a beautiful ceremony. And that's the painful thing is that everybody's off today, but we don't feel complete because we're not doing what we want to do. We're not honoring the people that have given their lives for this country. And it's kind of - I don't know. I don't know how to take it. It's weird.

KELLY: Well, Brent Trout, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. And we wish you luck in the coming days as you watch what happens with the water there.

TROUT: Yeah. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on. And just, you know, pray for us up in Muskogee, and keep an eye on us. And I always have to mention we're going to rebuild, and we'll be better than ever. I promise.

KELLY: Brent Trout - he is executive director of the Muskogee War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Okla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.