Springfield State Journal Register

May 24, 2003

Scorpion's crew still mourned
Area man among 99 on sub lost in 1968

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - On May 27, 1968, Barbara Foli waited in the cold rain with other Navy wives on Pier 22 at Norfolk, Va., to welcome home the USS Scorpion.

But the nuclear attack submarine never arrived. Five months later, the Scorpion was found on the ocean floor, 400 miles southwest of the Azores, in 10,000 feet of water.

Thirty-five years later, the death of the crew and loss of the sub remain shrouded in mystery.

Today, Foli and her daughter will gather with others on the same pier in Norfolk to remember the 99 men who died aboard the Scorpion, including their husband and father, Vernon Mark Foli.

The Christian County man was 22 when the sub was lost.

"For so long, it wasn't put out to the public," said Foli, now Barbara Lake, 57, of Santee, Calif. "Bobby Kennedy's death took over the newspapers, and I don't think President Johnson wanted this other problem out there - that a sub was lost. It was kept very, very low profile for many years."

She attends memorial services every five years. This anniversary is also a reunion with her late husband's family - all of his five siblings will attend.

"Vernie will feel this in spirit, all of his family being here together," Lake said.

Lake, whose maiden name is Peel, grew up in Taylorville, 10 miles from Kincaid, where Vernon Foli lived. They met on Thanksgiving in 1963 when she was just 17. He was a year older.

"It was my first love," she said. "And I still feel that love today."

They were married in April 1966. Two days later, they boarded a train to New London, Conn., where he went to submarine school. Then he was stationed at Norfolk.

Their daughter, Holli, was born May 24, 1967. By Valentine's Day, he had set off on the Scorpion for 90 days, his first long deployment.

The sub was originally due back on Holli's first birthday, but the return and the birthday party were delayed. Then it was scheduled to arrive May 27, the day the submariner's wife waited in the rain.

That night, a neighbor knocked on her door and told her the sub was missing.

"We just saw it on television," the neighbor said.

"It was like this big curtain came down in front of me and just shut everything off," Lake said. "And there was nowhere to go."

In Kincaid, Vernon's parents learned from the evening news that their son's submarine was lost. It hit them hard. His mother, Margaret, marked her life by his death.

"My mother-in-law, she separated her life into the things that happened before he died and after. She prefaced her sentences with: 'That happened before Vernon died.' It was such a tragic event," said Kathy Foli of Kincaid, who is married to Vernon's brother, Dennis.

Altogether, the Scorpion's crew left 64 widows and 99 children.

Navy researchers initially speculated that the submarine had been destroyed accidentally by one of its own torpedoes.

Some of Foli's siblings believe the Scorpion was fired on by a Soviet sub, but Lake suspects Navy negligence.

"There was some reason we were never given an explanation," she said. "They were covering up big-time, covering up negligence ... sounds most logical to me."

Adding to their pain, family members say, is that so few know about the Scorpion. Family members have tried to have Vernon Foli's name added to the Vietnam War Memorial, but the wall is limited to those who died in certain combat zones.

"We will never ever know exactly what happened," said Foli's sister, Carol, also of Kincaid, who was 20 when her brother died.