American Years Revisited Board

Board Members – Phil Ambagtsheer, Charlie Witherow, Margaret Hubbard, Don Gabel, Andrene Messersmith, Miguel Pena, Gerry Pursley, Linda Pursley.

Charlie Witherow – Board Member, SBS 1940-1950.

My name is Charlie Witherow and I am a retired US Navy Opticalman Chief Petty Officer. I joined the US Navy in 1967 and spent 20 years at various commands including USS Vulcan AR-5, Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, USS Canopus AS-34, USS Sierra AD-18, USS Holland AS-32 and USS Hunley AS-31. Except for a few months in 1975-76, I’ve lived in Dunoon, Scotland since 1973.

I believe that the American Years Revisited project is very important that will create a lasting legacy of the US Navy and the American presence here in Dunoon and the surrounding areas. Many lifelong friendships were formed between the American personnel stationed here and the wonderful Scottish people. I am proud to be part of the American Years Revisited project and sincerely hope that our overall goal in establishing a Holy Loch Heritage site where visiting American folk can visit along with the younger generations of local Scottish children can learn and remember the important role that Submarine Refit Site One, Holy Loch, Scotland made not only to the local community but to the wider world at large. Read more about Charlie and his brothers who also joined the American military here – The Witherow Sons and the US Military.

Margaret Hubbard – Board Member, Retired Teacher.

I was born in Glasgow and grew up in Innellan. After school in Cowal and Glasgow University, I became a school teacher and spent the next 34 years in a classroom, mostly in Edinburgh. In the long school holidays I travelled extensively, and my sense of adventure has never abated. In 2004 I was ready for a change, and retrained as a tourist guide. I also came home. Back in the house I grew up in, I became involved in heritage and genealogy research.

I remember the day the Americans arrived. For months there had been protests about the submarine base. I, daughter of a Second World War Royal Navy submariner, had been brought up on the stories of submarines as ‘good’, but in 1960 a US submarine base was seen by many as distinctly not ‘good’. In questioning what I was hearing and seeing, my political education had begun. The US military base in the Holy Loch changed our lives in many different ways, and it is time for the story of this unique piece of history to be told. Last year I climbed into a taxi in Savannah, Georgia, and the driver said, ‘That accent takes me back. I was a young sailor in Scotland years ago in a place called the Holy Loch. Have you heard of it?’ He was delighted when I told him of how we are bringing these years back to life. As he said, ‘It was a special time.’

Phil Ambagtsheer – Board Member – American Naval Submariner .

Hi, I’m Phil Ambagtsheer born and raised in Los Angeles California. I joined the US Submarine fleet after two years of college in the early 1980s as a strategic weapons electronic technician working on navigation systems. My first command after bootcamp and training was in the Pacific aboard the USNS H.H. Hess TAGS-38 / Oceanographic Unit 3 where we enjoyed the tropical weather and mapped the ocean bottom. In 1984 I was transferred to the “Henry Clay” SSBN 625 Gold Crew nuclear missile submarine which operated out of the Holy Loch along with 8 other submarines in the squadron, this is what I was trained for. My contract with the US Navy was for a short six years however in that time I accomplished 8 deterrent patrols each consisting of approximately 100 days under the ocean. Little did I realise that I would meet my future wife here and settle in the lovely wee village of Innellan where I reside today. Acclimating to a Scottish way of life has been very enjoyable as we’re all not so vastly different. I’ve been very fortunate to fall in with this wonderful group of people who are working diligently to create a lasting reflection of what it was like for over 30 years for so many Scots and Americans alike. It’s an important flower of history that continues to blossom for everyone that can be connected to it in some way, and I hope that thousands will.  

Don Gabel – Board Member, Retired American Naval Diver.

After enlisting in September 1970, Don went through Electronic Technician (ET) training prior to becoming a qualified USN diver in 1972. Don’s duty stations include USS Graham County (AGP 1176) Naples, Italy (1972 – 1974); Naval School of Diving and Salvage – Washington DC; (1975); USS Orion (AS 18) – Charleston, SC (1975 – 1977); USS Holland (AS 32) – Holy Loch, Scotland (1977 – 1980); Diving Instructor at Naval Amphibious School – Coronado, California (1980 – 1983); USS Hunley (AS 31) Holy Loch, Scotland (1984 -1987) before cross deck transfer to USS Simon Lake (AS 33) upon arrival. In January 1991, Don received a medical retirement from active duty. 

Andrene Messersmith – Board Member, Textile Artist.

I am from Dunoon and I grew up with the American base. Ralph’s Dad was posted to Holy Loch on The USS Proteus in 1962.  I knew his family. But we didn’t meet until later. I was living in London after Art School and Ralph was passing through. He  looked me up through the Dunoon connection. We spent our first year of marriage travelling all over the States in a VW van, with many adventures along the way! We’ve had many trips driving in America and we also loved Europe, especially France. Ralph liked the British way of life. He studied hard and eventually got his dream job working for the NHS. We lived in Cumbria in an old cottage, near the Lake District. Life events brought us back to Scotland. We have both been enriched by our experiences of each others’ countries. Clearly, the Base changed our destinies in unimagined ways like so many other couples.

Gerry and Linda Pursley – Board Members.

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