Fresh out of Navy Nuclear Power School, 24-year-old Charles Parshall found himself on the crew of the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. In August 1958, he and his fellow crew members embarked on a top secret mission that would eventually make the history books as the first vessel to successfully voyage beneath the North Pole.
Sixty years later, the few remaining crew members reunited for the last time in Groton, Connecticut. Wish of a Lifetime and Brookdale Senior Living sent Parshall, now an 84-year-old resident at Brookdale Grants Pass, to the historic reunion. The event honored their incredible service and marks this momentous U.S. achievement.
“I felt alive again being around all these wonderful people,” said Parshall. “I wanted to set my feet on The Nautilus one last time and I did with my old crewmates right beside me.”
The crew’s mission was dubbed “Operation Sunshine.” Prior to their mission departure, Parshall recalled that the captain forbid them from writing anymore letters and gave them the option to leave, though no one knew what the mission was until a day into the voyage.
After more than a week under the ice, the USS Nautilus emerged victorious between Iceland and Greenland. President Eisenhower was immediately notified, and the crew members were hailed American heroes.
“As we entered New York Harbor, they had fireboats throwing water in the air and a ticker tape parade down 5th avenue,” Parshall recalled, “We had lunch at the top of the Empire State Building.”
Parshall is the son of a World War II Navy veteran, and he enlisted in the Navy just 12 days after his 17th birthday. He served for 20 years, achieving the rank of E8-Senior Chief Electrician.
Though his health is failing, Parshall was thrilled to attend the 60th reunion of “Operation Sunshine” with the remaining members of the USS Nautilus crew.
“I got to share this with people that really appreciated what we accomplished 60 years ago. I’ll never forget it. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”