Kim Pitt was standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 1967 when he watched Australia's first Oberon class submarine glide into Sydney Harbour.
"I thought 'Wow that's for me'," the retired commodore told AAP on Friday.
"I stood on the quarter deck that morning and watched the submarine come past.
"It was the first time I'd seen a submarine up front ... they're very sinister looking beasts."
Commodore Pitt would go on to command the submarine squadron based out of the now disused HMAS Platypus in Sydney's Neutral Bay.
The unassuming facility, nestled into the western bank of the bay, is made up of rusting corrugated iron sheds and a long cement dock.
On Friday, the base was once again alive with the same men and women that worked and lived there through the later part of the 20th century.
They gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of it being commissioned.
A new memorial was opened to remember the 42 submariners who've died while serving on Australian submarines.
"It's quite moving, it's a very, very important part of naval history," Commodore Pitt said.
Few Australians knew the importance of the missions the subs were embarking on as they glided past Sydney's luxury yachts and out to sea, Commodore Pitt said.
"The submarine operations that were conducted out of here over the period that the base operated were never spoken of - they're very highly classified.
"The people in the know would look at a boat going to sea thinking 'I wish you luck lads,' while people not in the Navy would say 'They're just off for a good time'."
Submarine Institute of Australia president Mark Sander says it's important for the country to remember this significant part of our history.
Mr Sander said the commissioning of the base - which closed in 1999 - marked the start of Australia's contemporary strategic submarine capability.
"It's very important to remember these people, they served for this country," Mr Sander told AAP.
"But it's important to remember an important era in Australia's submarine history."