They were allowed but one shower a week -- the underwater boys of World War II -- yet the crew of the USS Sterlet remained as close as any submarine brotherhood.
On Saturday morning at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Servicemen's Park, about 20 of them gathered dockside to mark another year.
On this occasion, they were joined by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club, which performed at the park in the morning and at the Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo North Campus in the evening. It will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Lockport High School.
"It wasn't fun; it was war," explained retired State Supreme Court Justice John J. "Jack" Callahan, who helped organize the reunion. "We sank ships and rescued pilots."
It is a special camaraderie that unites those at sea for months at a time. When the 72 crew members and eight officers were not riding out typhoons, they were outrunning torpedoes -- or passing time playing cribbage and pinochle.
"We didn't curse; we worked and slept and ate," said Art Benny, who traveled here from Seattle.
Benny was the crew cook, and his specialty (he laughs at the memory) was "good ol' fashioned steak and eggs."
"The men would gather in the galley," he recalled. Standard uniform on board was "skivvies, shorts and sandals." It was in the galley where one of the boat's most often told "war stories" took place.
The gunner's mate brought a gun to the table to be cleaned, but it accidentally fired, and the bullet lodged in a crew mate's sternum.
"He's the only guy who got shot in the boat," Clayton Finnegan, 79, remarked. "We dropped him off at Midway. I was so close when the gun went off, I thought I was hit."
Now they can laugh about it.
The years were 1943-45; the theater the Pacific, and for these men who then averaged 19, bruises were par for the course.
On Saturday, the Navy's men -- young and old -- navigated the 18-inch passageways of the USS Croaker.
"When we were younger, we were more agile and we could get through here a lot quicker," recalled Don Horst of Gettysburg, Pa. as he nimbly climbed through a hatch. "We had some six-footers who got a lot of bruises."
"We were very particular who about was allowed on our boat," said Finnegan of Portsmouth, N.H. "There was room for everyone, but no room for a mistake."
Those who could not make the cut were given "a ticket to the surface," and as one of the former crew members explained, "There were no passengers on this boat. Everyone had a job. We all shared the same potential coffin."