Thursday, June 26, 2008

Around Town: John Charles Sweet and the USS Scorpion

On June 2, 1968, the United States Navy reported that one of its nuclear submarines, the USS Scorpion, was presumed lost. On board was Lt. John Charles Sweet, a 25-year-old graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

John Sweet was from La Cañada. His younger brother, Dennis, described a rustic childhood in the foothills. Their parents, Lorna Agnes Osborne and Charles Irving (“Charlie”) Sweet, met at Lockheed. Charlie Sweet was brilliant, but he never went to college. He had been accepted to Caltech during the Depression but couldn’t enroll due to his finances. Instead, he went directly to work as an engineer at Lockheed.

Lorna Agnes Osborne also worked at Lockheed. She had been born in Birmingham, England. Her parents moved to Glendale when she was a child. At Lockheed, she met Charlie. They were married. Their son, John, was born in 1944. Dennis was born in 1946 and Lorna Allison in 1951.

The Sweets lived on Chehalem Road, just below acres of orange groves. Sometimes the caretaker would let the children ride on the tractor. It was the perfect playground. They played “buried treasure.” Dennis would bury a “valuable” object, mark the location (“ five paces south of the tree stump ”), and draw a map. The next day, when he returned, all the trees would look alike and he could never find his treasure.

Their father, Charlie, was known for his interest in vintage cars. The sons inherited his love of tinkering. At one point, both John and Dennis owned MGA roadster convertibles. One of the highlights of “June week” — the week-long graduation celebration at the Naval Academy — was when John allowed his younger brother to drive the “East Coast” car. It was identical to Dennis’ vehicle.

After the Scorpion was lost, there was a rumor that the Russians sunk the ship. To his dying day, Charlie Sweet believed that his eldest son was still alive, captured by the Russians.

Others believed that there were maintenance issues. John’s widow, Nancy, in a letter to Admiral Hyram Rickover, said that her husband’s death “was both needless and avoidable.”

She wrote:

“Since leaving the Norfolk Shipyard, Scorpion had had a number of problems varying in seriousness, and I am aware of at least half a dozen accidents involving nuclear boats in recent months. I am also aware of the extremely high rate of officer resignations. It is my opinion, and it was also my husband’s, that this is because crews have been pushed beyond their endurance and boats beyond their capabilities.”


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada resident.

La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, CaliforniaPublished Thursday, June 26, 2008 4:18 AM PDT
Around Town:
The loss of John Charles Sweet
By Anita Susan Brenner

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