written by Todd DePastino

US Navy Submarine Veteran Rick Elster attended our National Submarine Day event at the Carnegie Science Center on April 11 and told me about Tommy Cox, a folk hero in the submarine community.

Tommy Cox touched the hearts of submarine veterans through his remarkable career and his passion for music. Born in Caribou, Maine in 1942, Tommy’s journey through life was one of service, dedication, and creativity. He told his story well in a 2006 memoir, Tango Charlie.

Tommy’s naval career spanned two decades, during which he rose to the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer as a Cryptologic Technician. From the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the challenges of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, Tommy served around the world, under water, from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Kami Seya, Japan, and aboard numerous submarines, including USS LAPON (SSN 661), which held a special place in his heart.

But Tommy’s most enduring legacy lies in his music. A lifelong passion, music was intertwined with his naval career, culminating in the creation of a unique genre dedicated to honoring the Submarine Service.

Tommy’s songs, inspired by his own experiences and the collective spirit of submariners, captured the essence of life beneath the waves.

Tommy’s talent as a musician was evident in the tight-knit performances of his band, which entertained submariners at venues like Tugboat Annie’s Lounge. His rich baritone and skilled guitar playing brought to life songs like “Torpedo in the Water,” “Gitmo Blues,” and “Seawolf.”

For the crew of USS Bremerton (SSN-698), Tommy’s music became a source of inspiration and unity, fostering a sense of pride in their service and their vessel.

Tommy’s music served as a bridge between generations of submariners. From the “Boat Sailors” of the Cold War era to the recent graduates of “Underwater U,” his songs evoke the spirit of service beneath the waves.

Tommy Cox in his naval uniform

George Thomas “Tommy” Cox passed away at age 80 on 19 February 2023 from Parkinson’s and kidney diseases. He was buried with military honors at the Evergreen Cemetery in Caribou, Maine.

As Rick Elster might say, “Fair winds and following seas, Shipmate.”