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Sun Valley and Other Idaho Towns Played Outsized Role in U.S. Naval History
USS IDAHO submarine souvenirs are being sold to raise money for its commissioning party.
Monday, May 27, 2024


Idaho may be landlocked. But it’s still managed to play an outsized role in U.S. Naval history from hosting the largest unmanned submarine in the world in its waters to Sun Valley’s role as a convalescent center for Navy soldiers during World War II.

“Idaho has had much more to do with the Navy than most other states,” said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Richard Colburn.

Colburn, chairman of the USS IDAHO SSN 799 Commissioning Committee, spent the past two weeks in Sun Valley with two of the culinary specialists aboard the new submarine as they learned about Idaho food and Idaho cooking in a unique partnership with the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

The USS IDAHO SSN 799 has been titled “Gem of the Fleet.”

Colburn also visited with members of Ketchum’s American Legion and other groups as he described the new nuclear-powered fast attack submarine and Idaho and Sun Valley’s unique place in naval history.

Here are a few snapshots on this Memorial Day:

Farragut Naval Training Station and Hospital at Athol became the largest city in Idaho in 1942 as the area on Lake Pend Oreille took in 55,000 sailors training to fight in for World War II. All told, 300,000 soldiers passed through Camp Farragut, which was the second largest of seven Navy boot camps behind Naval Station Gret Lakes near Chicago.

Wallace-born Lana Turner, who was promoting War Bonds, visited the camp and so did President Roosevelt in a top-secret appearance. In 1945 it became a prisoner of war camp for 900 Germans who shoveled eight inches of snow off the football field so the University of Idaho Vandals could play there.

The submarine seal features the Sawtooth Mountains, among other symbols.

The U.S. Navy Acoustic Research Detachment was founded in 1949 at Lake Pend Oreille in Bayview. It continues to this day and in fact developed technology that makes the new USS Idaho submarine much more quiet than past submarines.

Every advancement in submarine acoustic stealth technology in the last 50 years was either developed or tested in Idaho.

Lake Pend Oreille in North Idaho was once touted as the U.S. Submarine force’s most important body of water because it was thought the enemy would never think of looking for submarines in the mountains of Idaho.

The U.S. Naval Proving Ground from 1942 to 1949 was at the Idaho Nuclear Lab in Arco. A Navy artillery range, it also was the home of the first nuclear prototype submarine reactor. Some 40,000 sailors trained on nuclear power plant operations here from 1949 to 1995.

Camp Farragut near Sandpoint offers an interesting museum detailing the camp experience during World War II.

More recently, INL developed technology so that the submarine will not have to be refueled while out.

The U.S. Navy Radio school was established at the University of Idaho at Moscow from 1942 to 1945.

Battleship guns were repaired and tested at the Pocatello Naval Ordnance Plant in Pocatello from 1942 to 1961.

Sun Valley residents, of course, are perhaps most familiar with how the Sun Valley Resort was transformed into a U.S. Naval Convalescent Hospital on July 1, 1943. The resort had ceased to operate as a resort because of restrictions on travel during the war and the Navy seized the opportunity to turn its beds into hospital beds for the next 2.5 years.

The museum includes one of the prison cells.

The Navy also took over a small operating room suite that had been used by the local doctor and which included an x-ray and physical therapy equipment.

The facility offered 1,400 beds—1,035 of those for patients and the rest for staff.

The commissioning date drew a crowd, including U.S. Sen. John Thomas and leading citizens from Hailey, Ketchum and the surrounding country.

Forty-three patients arrived on July 3—two days after the naval hospital was established. The hospital did not serve the recently wounded but rather those who had received treatment but required further hospitalization.

With each passing day, more patients arrived, many who needed orthopedic surgery. The hospital also received obstetrical patients and Navy dependents.

The Sun Valley Sage noted that the Sun Valley hospital was one of only a few that successfully used group therapy for patients suffering from combat fatigue, or what might be termed post-traumatic stress disorder today. That was the most prevalent mental wound the hospital treated.

“Any man who has served aboard our combat ships in time of war in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans can understand why a person who has participated in several Naval or Marine engagements needs a period of quiet and rest,” said the Sun Valley Sage. ”At Sun Valley this type of patient receives carefully supervised attention from an excellent neuro-psychiatric staff.”

The convalescent hospital offered “education services,” which gave patients a chance to browse books they may have read in high school and magazines donated by local citizenry. Occupational Therapy furnished machines and molds to engage their creative instincts.

Patients could order sundaes and milkshakes at Ship’s Service. Physio-therapy offered massage and physical fitness corrective exercises to strengthen injured or little-used muscles. And Welfare and Recreation promoted athletic events, dances, plays, movies and ski lift rides.

“Kindly chaplains lent an understanding ear to the patients and administered spiritual guidance,” reported the Sun Valley Sage. “And Red Cross offered a cheerful homey atmosphere.”

San Francisco and New York City liberties may have been nonexistent, said the Sage, “But the ladies of Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue, Shoshone, Carey and Twin Falls USO’s did all they could to brighten the time men spent off the compound.”

Winter offered skiing and a Ski Carnival featuring such famous skiers as Alf and Cory Engen. “Sailors and Marines who had known only the concrete canyons of New York or the level prairies of the Midwest discovered the thrill of the hickory on snow,” said the Sage.

Navy basketball teams ruled the hardwoods, beating a team from Gowen Air Field that had been undefeated in 13 starts up until then. In spring sailors competed to reel in the biggest fish. And in summer they played golf, baseball and softball against Army and civilian teams from Boise, Mountain Home and Twin Falls, while rounding out the season with swimming, archery and ice skating.

Patients hunted deer, ducks and pheasant come fall, and attended nightly movies and bi-weekly USO shows, including one titled “Egg in Your Beer,” at the Sun Valley Opera House. Ice Follies featured Olympic champions.

In August 1945 a water carnival was produced in the Lodge Pool featuring a nurses, corpsmen and patients.

Bing Crosby visited the hospital in June 1945. When a thousand sailors tried to crowd into the 300-seat Opera House, he told them: “I’ll sing anywhere: Inside, outside or on the roof.”

At least one wedding—that between a WAVE and Marine-- took place at the hospital.

While ample opportunity to bowl and toss horseshoes may have been idyllic, the hospital was criticized for its isolation.

“Liberty towns were comparatively small and distant,” reported the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. “The small towns of Ketchum and Hailey were inadequate to furnish proper diversions for liberty parties so liberty parties had to travel to Twin Falls and Boise.”

By the time the doors closed in January 1946, the hospital had treated the physical and mental wounds of 6,578 Naval and Marine patients who had seen action in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Midway, the Coral Sea and Corregidor.

The resort reverted to Union Pacific, which then reconverted the hospital to a mecca for vacationists in time for the 1946 summer season.


Today the focus is on the new USS IDAHO submarine, which could launch in 2025. It’s been more than 100 years since the last ship to bear the name of Idaho.

The USS Idaho BB42 was commissioned in 1919 and served with distinction in World War II earning seven battle stars and participating in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It also participated in the formal surrender of the Empire of Japan on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay.

The new submarine has been named Gem of the Fleet, a play on Idaho’s name as the Gem State.

Its seal features a gem at the top with the Sawtooth Mountains embedded in it. The Nez Perce’s appaloosa horse shoulders a gem. Indian feathers, an anchor and mining tools anchor the silhouette of the state of Idaho with a submarine emerging into the peregrine falcon, the state raptor. Golden and silver trout anchor the outside and huckleberries and syringa--the state flower--the bottom corners.


The Commissioning Committee is selling commemorative coins, camouflage ball caps and even a specially commissioned bottle of 44-degree North USS Idaho huckleberry flavored vodka to raise money for the submarine’s commissioning.

Sockeye Brewing has also made a Special Purpose Underwater Drink (SPUD) to commemorate the new sub.

Funds will be used to install murals of the Sawtooth Mountains and other Idaho landscapes in the sub, in addition to covering the commission party.

Learn more at

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