Around Town: John Charles Sweet of Chehalem Road

The USS Scorpion was a United States Navy nuclear submarine. The Scorpion would deploy for months at a time, often with radio silence. The crew's families would be updated from time to time, but there was no communication for the families.

One crew member was John Charles Sweet of La Cañada. John Sweet was 25 years old, a graduate of La Cañada Elementary School, John Muir High School and the United States Naval Academy. He was a bright, young Navy lieutenant.

On May 21, 1968, the Scorpion radioed her position. She was about 50 miles south of the Azores, due to return to her home port on Monday, May 27, 1968. The families were advised of the arrival time.

That Monday, the families waited on the dock at Norfolk. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Wives. One young wife waited with them. Her name was Nancy Sweet. She had been married to John for two years.

John's younger brother, Dennis Sweet, was a student at Stanford when he got the call. The Scorpion was overdue. He immediately returned home to La Cañada.

Back in La Cañada, the Sweet family sat vigil. The only information was that the Scorpion was overdue. Dennis Sweet was 22. The younger sister, Lorna, was 17. Their parents tried to be hopeful. There were frequent calls back and forth to the East Coast, but Nancy's father, a Navy chaplain, had little hope.

As the week progressed, the Sweets' home on Chehalem Road began to fill with friends and clergy from St. George's in La Cañada. The family sat glued to the television set. The Scorpion was the lead story, but there was little information. On June 2, 1968, the Navy issued a statement: The USS Scorpion was presumed lost.

The story of the Scorpion dominated the news, but that changed in the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 5. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated and the story of Scorpion faded.

I spoke with Dennis Sweet. He said that his mother was devastated. The loss had a profound impact on the family. His mother died in 1986. His sister died in 2001.

To his dying day, his father, Charlie, believed that his eldest son was still alive, captured by the Russians during the Cold War.

Nancy Sweet had the opposite view — that there were maintenance issues with the Scorpion. And she was not alone

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Next week: Theories about the Scorpion and Dennis Sweet's recollections of his childhood among the orange groves of La Cañada.


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada resident. To support cancer research, come Swing for a Cure at the 4th Annual Andrew Torres Memorial Golf Classic on June 23. See www.andrewtorres.org for more information. Lt. Sweet's photo is courtesy of Charles R. Hinman, director of education & outreach, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park.

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