Ken Henry
Ken Henry

Ken Henry

Longtime friends from a submarine tour reunited at AFRH-G

By Becki Zschiedrich | Public Affairs

Gulfport residents Ken Henry and Kelsey Farrell have been friends since 1959 when they met at the Golden Nugget Bar in Key West, Florida.  Kelsey was sitting at the bar minding his business when in walked Ken, who almost knocked him over as he approached the bar.  Ken ordered a beer and when he went to pay for it, he realized he had a hole in his pocket and didn’t have any money.  The lady bartender offered to sew his pocket and Ken took his pants off and handed them over the bar to the pretty bartender so she could sew his pants.  Kelsey and Ken started talking and soon realized that they were going to be on the same submarine, the USS Archerfish (SS-311) the very next day.  They were both enginemen and they lived and worked together for the next 29 months.  One of the Archerfish requirements was everyone on the submarine had to be single, since they were going to be out of the country for periods exceeding a year at a time.  The all single crew, named Operation Sea Scan, lasted from May 1959 through 1968 when the boat was decommissioned.  Ken was on the submarine until February 1962, when he was transferred to Antarctica; there he spent a year at an outlying station supporting the scientists, who were studying the upper atmosphere.  He stayed “on the ice” until November of 1963.  Kelsey stayed aboard the submarine until April 1962 and then went to nuclear power school.

For over two years they literally traveled the world together and had a great time doing it.  In 1969 they met up again in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands for Operation Springboard.  “The submarine sailors are the tightest family in the Navy” said Kelsey.  Ken said, “You keep in touch with them like you do the rest your of family, probably more.”

Today they both are residents at AFRH-G and still laugh together.  Kelsey said, “The worse memories of Archerfish are better than the best memories I’ve had anywhere else.”   “I do not have any bad memories of Archerfish.  I enjoyed every minute of it” said Ken.

In 1993 Ken decided he wanted to find everyone that was ever aboard Archerfish.   In 1994 he started a newsletter, and that same year Archerfish held their first reunion.  Kelsey, Ken, and their wives were all there. 

Ken has written a book, along with Don Keith, titled Gallant Lady which was published in 2004.  It is a biography about the submariners aboard the USS Archerfish; it is a true story of one of history’s most fabled submarines.  It is an extraordinary real-life odyssey and is a vivid, unforgettable portrait of life aboard a submarine.  I have personally read this book and it is outstanding and hilarious.  This remarkable biography should definitely be made into a movie because it is that entertaining.  The men on this submarine all got along very well, but most of all they had fun.  Archerfish actually had a waiting list of enlisted men wanting to join their crew.  They formed a brotherhood that has lasted a lifetime, along with wonderful memories of traveling the world and making the best of any situation.  I laughed out loud while reading about their incredible journey.  In the book all the submariners had nicknames.  Ken was called “Pig Pen” because he reminded folks of the cartoon character by that name.  He was a diesel mechanic and has tattoos on his elbows and wrists so you couldn’t see the grease.  On a diesel submarine, water was so scarce that no one bathed on a daily basis.  Kelsey’s nickname was “Chain Fall” because he was the only one of the enginemen that could get his head below his belt in the mornings, without getting sick, when something needed lifting.  This biography is available for purchase on Amazon and can also be checked out in paperback or audio book cd in the AFRH-G library.  A copy of Gallant Lady and audio books was also sent to the AFRH-W library.

Isn’t it ironic that two veterans, who met on a submarine in 1959, are still the best of friends at AFRH-G?  Both Ken and Kelsey are retired from the Navy and they are back being best buddies again at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport. Ken decided after his wife passed away that he wanted to move into the AFRH-G. Kelsey decided that he wanted to move here because he didn’t want his kids to have to worry about taking care of him. 

Ken spends a lot of his free time accounting for submarine veterans from WWII for a U.S. Submarine Veterans Inc. web site. – So far he has accounted for over 17,000 submarine veterans from WWII to make sure they are never forgotten.

An article about Ken & Kelsey’s time on USS Archerfish has been published in the 2021 third quarter of American Submariner.  The article features “the goat on the boat” which is the true story of the famous goat and his brief tour of duty on Archerfish, which is also written about in Ken’s book “Gallant Lady.”  It’s definitely worth reading.