A Policy of Wills
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A Policy of Wills

They ordered me to do it. I didn't want to go. It felt very unnatural. Proper people, in my experience, didn't talk about such things. And it didn't relate to the world that I lived in at the time it happened.

He looked like an insurance salesman. His handshake, his tone of voice, his suit and tie, all said that he was a professional in the insurance business. Sort of like the advance man for the mortician. I was ushered into the wardroom, where the two of us, alone, were to transact this dirty business. I would have preferred to go to the dentist.

In point of fact, he WAS an insurance salesman.

In 1963, USS Thresher was lost with all hands, including the shipyard workers who were riding on her sea trials that day. The tiny court house at Kittery, Maine was suddenly faced with more than 100 cases to probate, all but one of which were intestate.

The Navy quietly started a program to require all submariners to write wills, and to plan for their possible untimely demise. Rather than create a bureaucracy to do this, with its inherent cost and delay, the work was contracted out to a life insurance company. The agents who carried out the program were strictly forbidden to do anything resembling selling. The one who worked with me was very professional and proper about everything.

He had gone through my official records, and he knew that I was married with one child. He knew my salary. He showed me a set of graphs, showing how much benefit my survivors were entitled to receive from the military and from Social Security, year by year, noting the changes that would take place when the daughter turned eighteen, or 23 if she went to college, and again when my widow turned 62. He forced me to sign a card requesting a statement of my Social Security earnings and entitlements, and he mailed the card himself, with the report to be mailed to me at my home address. And he told me things that I had never imagined.

My family had never talked about such things. Nobody in my home town had mentioned the subject, except after someone was dead. Writing a will was considered a maudlin thing to do, and anyone who might have done it kept it a deep, dark secret from everyone else in town.

At the end of that hour in the wardroom, I knew more about personal financial planning, in good times and in bad, than I had imagined that there was to know.

When the presentation ended, and I finished asking my questions, he handed me a letter from my skipper. It was a written order for me to go to the nearest office of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, there on the base, and to have them write a will for me. I did it. I was the first person in the history of my family to have a will, so far as anyone knows. I could not tell my parents that I did such a disgusting thing. But everything was now taken care of. And I have kept my will up to date.

In 1968, five years after Thresher was lost, Scorpion failed to return to Norfolk after leaving the Mediterranean. The wreckage was located in mid-Atlantic.

All but one of the crew members had wills.

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