Beth Coye tries on her bucket hat in her Ashland home Saturday. The cap is part of the uniform she wore as a U.S. Navy commander before retiring in 1980. - file photo

Dolphins with a History

When retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Beth Coye pins the dolphins on a submarine line officer named Lt. j.g. Laura Martindale today at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington state, she will be pinning on more than Navy tradition.

After all, the dolphins — the insignia of the U.S. submarine service — are the very same ones that Coye's father, the late Rear Adm. John "Jack" S. Coye Jr., received in 1937 before becoming one of the nation's top submarine commanders in World War II, a time when the submarine service was young.

"I think dad would be so proud and tickled to have this woman wearing the dolphins he wore," Beth Coye, 75, said in an interview before leaving her Ashland home for Bangor. "He didn't know anything about Waves. But I know he was very proud of me.

"This is completing the circle — it feels very right," she added of the insignias being worn by an active sailor once again. "And the sub force is the elite, the cream of the crop."

Martindale, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is one of the country's first female qualified submarine line officers. The Illinois native is assigned to the USS Maine, homeported in Bangor.

In order to receive their dolphins, officers are required to qualify as officer of the deck and engineering officer of the watch, perform damage control functions and demonstrate satisfactory qualities of leadership.

The submarine insignia, a tradition similar to a pilot receiving his or her wings, bears a submarine flanked by a dolphin on each side. Dolphins were chosen because they have long been considered a sailor's friend in addition to the fact the marine mammals dive and surface much like a sub.

During the late-morning ceremony, Beth Coye will be joined by her brother, John Coye III of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Navy officials. Both Coyes will give brief presentations, with Beth talking about the Navy while her brother speaks about the Coye family, whose military tradition goes back to the Minutemen during the American Revolution.

(Updated: Comments from Navy officials have been added to this story.) Adm. Coye's name lives on in the Navy, observed Lt. Ed Early, spokesman for Submarine Group 9 based at Bangor.

"Our submariners take pride not only in celebrating their legacy of service, but also in making sure that our newest submarine Sailors continue that legacy," he said in a prepared statement. "The feats of Jack Coye and other legendary submarine sailors who fought in World War II are read aloud whenever our Sailors - including Lieutenant Martindale - complete their submarine qualifications and receive their dolphins. This way, our sailors understand that they're not just learning about submarine history - they're playing a part in writing it, too."

A 1933 Naval Academy graduate, Adm. Coye was prominently featured in the book, "The War Below: The story of three submarines that battled Japan." Written by former journalist James Scott, the book was published last spring by Simon & Schuster Press. The 426-page hardback is available at book stores for $28.

As the captain of the 312-foot-long USS Silversides submarine, Jack Coye would receive three Navy crosses for extraordinary heroism. During his six patrols as the sub's skipper, the Silversides sank 23 enemy ships during World War II, the third- highest tonnage by any U.S. submarine operating in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Scott captures both the excitement and cold fear of submarine warfare in what is known as the "Silent Service."

The well-written book also follows the exploits of the WWII submarines USS Drum and the USS Tang.

The USS Maine submarine stretches 560 feet, nearly twice the length of the Silversides. Following today's ceremony, Beth and John Coye will join Lt. j.g. Martindale for chow, followed by a tour of the Maine.

While Adm. Coye spent 35 years in the Navy, later commanding a heavy cruiser and an amphibious group, it was his submarine tour that captured the interest of military historians.

The oldest of three siblings, including sister Sarah Coye White, who lives in Ojai, Calif., her brother attended the Naval Academy but did not graduate because of asthma.

A 1959 political science graduate of Wellsley College with a master's degree in international relations from American University, Beth Coye served in Navy intelligence. As an officer, she worked in Washington, D.C., in the Supreme Allied Command in Norfolk, Va., and in the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where she was an intelligence briefer during the Vietnam War. She also became one of the first female commanding officers in the Navy.

All told, father and daughter served more than half a century in uniform, including the 21 years she was in the service.

In her prepared comments at the ceremony, Beth Coye, noting that she had fought hard for equal rights for women in the Navy, described her father, herself and Martindale as pioneers in the Navy.

And she congratulated Martindale for her willingness to volunteer for the submarine force.

"It is incredibly appropriate that a woman carry on the tradition of a true Navy warrior, and in one sense allow a part of my dad — one who so very much loved the oceans and his Navy — to go forward and serve on a nuclear ballistic missile submarine defending the country, against all enemies foreign and domestic," she said of Martindale.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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