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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hit the Road Chapter 17


                 I'm out of the Navy, ”wow,” now what? Life is moving forward. I'm looking down this road. The day had finally arrived, I got on a plane to Ohio, to see a friend of mine. Larry invited me to Cincinnati. The end of October, the year 1969, he had been on the sub with me, Polish and proud. Larry had said, the center of everything was here. Looking around, that wasn't exactly true. What the hell, was I thinking, the wind never stop blowing my whole four days there. Larry was home and that was enough for him. I check-in with the draft board. It seemed I had to register even though, I was out of the service. They told me my number wasn't coming up, they assured me of that. This had happened because I had joined so young, now the paperwork was done. I was free. Larry and I had a great visit but it was way to cold here in his town.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The next stop was upstate New York to see Darlene. Well it started to snow the very first day.  I had just thawed out from Cincinnati. I loved her but didn't picture me in this world. I told her, I'd see her when “The Summer Wind Blows,” a popular song at the time. That was a hard breakup for this kid. I moved south. I caught a ride with a trucker to Florida. The hitchhiking down convinced me that a truck diver wasn't in the cards. We came down the interstate through South Carolina that was interesting. The Ku Klux Klan had a billboard announcing they lived here, burning cross the whole nine yards. This State still had the Confederate flag flying. Modern times almost 1970, who knew?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I hadn't told my family, that I was even was out of the service yet. Weighing my options, the big plan was Miami, warm sands, nightlife and a job, hopefully no cross dressers in my path. The week in a cheap motel changed my thinking, this was not a reality.  No entry level jobs were available to me, the Cubans seemed to have that all cornered. The girls were still beautiful. I thought traveling to Pensacola would be more advantageous had family there. They had white sand beaches and some pretty girls too. I took the bus north, trying grits and eggs for the first time. Dad's family lived here. me working on an oil rig sounded good with my background in piping systems. The Gulf of Mexico was full of these oil rigs. I stayed with my Aunt Opal and Uncle Walter, they were glad to see me, ya'll. The summer visits of my youth was playing in my head. The first time on water skiing was in the Gulf. They were both retired and my grandmother was visiting at the time. the pecans and sweet ice tea. I had to rethink this place also. My conversation ended with me promising to accompany grandma home to Stockton.

Fast Times Chapter 16


     
 Transition...   
The Skipjack and I had finished the last long run patrol. This was a good thing. The countdown to civilian life had started. We were still going out on short trips but my last real patrol was history. That said, my old sports car cruising the country side was also done. This was my last summer in the navy... I had sold the car for a thousand dollars. trying to sell a rag top in the colder months was not easy. I was also afraid to drive the Triumph all the way across country. She being a tad touchy on the open road. The fellow who bought my pride and joy, said he'd take the TR-3 back to Arkansas...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The party scene was still alive and well. My shipmate Vic and I hit the road in his Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe. We were out to burn the tires off her. This car with four hundred forty cubic inch,       V-8 engine could really scream. Vic had picked up four six packs of a stout malt liquor and a gallon of warm table wine. The Mad hatter as he was known, had a gift of gab and a heavy foot. We decided to hit all the bars in Virginia Beach. We were at a traffic light stopped on a four lane highway when the Corvette pulled up. He revved his engine and the race was on. The third gear rubber was smoldering and the blue smoke was thick. Vic had him by a car length.  The two road warriors were at the next stop light. We were side by side, the cars ready to burn up the lanes. Then a cop pulls into the intersection across from us. The Corvette shuts down but not the Mad hatter. The light turns green and the rocket sled fires. We were swerving side ways and were smoking into second gear. The car shot down the straightaway on fire.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Vic pulls over in the gravel shoulder half mile up the road. He says, let me handle this. The cop rolls up behind us, lights flashing. It was just about sundown. The trooper walks over to the car. He bends over us in the window. The cop says, didn't you guys see me sitting there? Calm as ice.... Vic says, "yeah" quite a show huh?  You got my attention... the trooper smiled. Vic goes into his act, how we just returned from Nam.'  We had to let off some over due steam. What are you boys drinking? Oh! we just had a few beers, the night is young. The cop looks over at me shaking his head, you sober? Oh... yes sir.  The trooper says then you'd better drive.  I don't want to see either of you this way again tonight. Got me?   You got it officer, I said, as we changed places. The trooper gets back in his patrol car.  I slip off the clutch and sent flying rocks and gravel onto his hood and windshield. Hey Mad hatter stick that eight track in, lets get this party started. That Georgia boy could sure sling the crap. I was in bad company for sure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             My shipmate, Vic had a scar across his forehead when he was dared to ski down this slope in Utah.  He'd never had ski's on before, went straight down the hill until a post or something, stopped him. They don't get much snow in Valdosta, Georgia. Utah is were they trained the submarine nuclear engineers. He survived the school. Vic had a need for speed. Hey Benito! pull over I'm driving. The Peppermint Lounge was hopping and we were a little drunk. The Beach Boys were playing to the crowd. These short haired sailors weren't doing so good with the ladies. The moves on the dance floor had changed. They danced different than a few months prior. Just about the time I'd get the new moves nailed. We'd be back at sea, the dances all changing again. It was fun, the two of us hit three more places and our beer was gone. Vic says open the wine, " a big mistake."  The hot wheels and us start back to Norfolk, its three o'clock in the morning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Take the back roads Vic, don't need that trooper in the mirror. The radio was playing this new song, Bad Moon Rising, by Creedence Clear Water. The moon was full. Mad hatter hit this train crossing at over one hundred miles an hour. These old country road type of tracks
 on a levy hill. This was a major bump. The car was airborne and flew a long distance. We bounced the coupe's frame on the pavement, twice. The box of eight tracks in the backseat and I changed places. Me now in the back with the empty beer cans. Vic stops and checks the gauges. He looks out the window, seeing no pieces of car anywhere. Hey! this Old's Cutlass is awesome. Vic and I stop at a cafe for coffee. The two drunk sailors return to the car in the parking lot. Once inside, the two of us slam the doors at the same time. They bounced back open. Laughing real hard, we both realize the car frame is bent just like us. Damn it, Slam it! from that moment on you had to lift the doors to shut them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The Mad hatter had helped me get my qualifications in the engineering spaces. We'd been friends over a year. The reactor, steam turbines and shaft alley, I knew by heart. We had a five bladed propeller in those days. It was meant for speed too. The hub was like four foot thick and the blades tip to tip were huge. All brass just like us. Life was good. At that time, reenlistment was being sold to me by the Navy. Nixon was also giving all the servicemen an early out. I was supposed to get out on my birthday, January 26, 1970. The president cut that to October 69'. That said, it was these hot August nights that interested me at the moment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I was offered a ten grand bonus to add another four years.  That said, I was burnt out, me and Bobby had opted to leave. I had sixty days tops. The boat cruised back up the coast and had sea operations with the sub fleet. The Skipjack had daily runs out of New London. Darleen and I  had a three day weekend, Memorial Day holiday. We hadn't seen each other for awhile. The train into New York and then Long Island was on time. That said, I had a room in Amityville for a couple of days. I wasn't staying at her father's estate that's for sure. She and I talked about the future. She was starting her senior year. I could live off campus and work in this small town up there. The weekend time with her was hot and steamy. I was having a hard time leaving her.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I extended my stay. The train connections missed. The long goodbye. I was in deep trouble, being eight hours over due at the base. The captain was not happy. This sailor's ass was exposed. This wouldn't look good on my record, my first offense. The sub was building gallows on the back deck. The accused was in shackles. The boat left New London and would go to sea. The sailor then hung, weighted and buried. Then the submarine returns to port. The international rules in play. This was the Turkish submarine's resolve. The crew member accused of a rape. They handled there own and he didn't come back with them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     That said, I faced a captain's mast and was knocked down from third class petty officer to seamen, two weeks restricted to the base. The captain told me if I reenlisted, they'd give me the rate back. Hardball for sure, the captain really liked me but they needed this IC electrician. I had a lot to think about. I'm sure glad it wasn't the Turkish Navy. The trip back to Norfolk went smooth. I would miss this crew and I loved this boat. The truth was the dark times back then. The public's treatment of the troops had a lot to be desired. It was not fair to the military men in general. I gave away all my Navy stuff in the end. These guys that were family to me deserved better. The service they performed, had not been recognized. The national defense ribbon was given after boot camp. We all earned it. The silent service needs to share their stories. The cold war submarine patrols lasted over three decades. These men risk much for their country. The United States has the best sub sailors. My tales are just that, ask my mother. I still have my dolphins, hanging  in my old trawler. The Alley Cat the slowest boat on the Sea.                                

Deep Sea Chapter 15

 The Sea and Me....            
The Atlantic Ocean was flat as glass. We cruised out of the Chesapeake Bay. I was very excited and nervous about my new on-board position. The charged atmosphere and the lively chatter in the submarine was.. over this next patrol. Yours truly was sitting at the BCP (ballast control panel), ready for his first descent at the switches. The room was full of activity, on this particular morning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Skipjack had a new crew member sitting at the helm and dive planes. The captain was in the conning tower. He ordered the three men down from topside. The upper sail and bridge was cleared. I prepared to dive the boat for the first time. The hatches were all secured.... green lights on the board.  The order was given. I opened all the vents and the boat started to submerge. Newly qualified and having my dolphins, life was good. The boat was trimmed and balanced for sea. The transit depth reached, and the course set. The Fast Attack Sub was now on its way, deep and fast. The Yosemite Sam at the wheel, he was in my old seat. The next six hours with me operating the ships control board was the first of many watches. Bobby McGee, the other board watch stander and I switching off the dive panel station every 6 hours. The rest of the crew standing the standard duty. That being the normal, three man rotation. The next two months would be hard on both of us, doing back to back.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This trip was a special mission. The boat was rigged for surveillance video. Camera and viewing screen, through the new periscope. The spies on-board ran this equipment. Once on station, the crew was back into the routine. The days fell into a rhythm.  Our mission was very successful dogging the enemy fleet. The one real issue happened on my watch toward the end of our mission. One of the new guys bringing the boat to periscope depth was having trouble. Seas in the North Atlantic were very rough, that day. He couldn't maintain the depth. Everyone was yelling at this kid. The boat could have been spotted. The sail was exposed in hostile waters, time and again. The kid finally had enough of this and snapped. He put the boat into full dive position. The sailor was screaming back in anger with his eyes bulging out. he was red in the face and showed a new kind of crazy. This sailor would not release the dive angle. The Skipjack was headed down. The crew had to physically remove him from the seat. The dive chief jumped into the chair and recovered the boat. The man was wrestled to the deck. He had to be sedated. This mission now had a real issue. The boat must return to Scotland, it took days. The medic on-board was constantly monitoring this sailor's health and well being. The nervous breakdown and deteriorating mental condition had us all on edge. The sailor was removed from the boat and from submarine duty. once in port. We ended that long run patrol, a little early. This guy was liked by all of us. I felt terrible. His dad was a diesel boat sub sailor. These stresses can get to anybody. This crew knew the risks of these patrols. At times, the job, the crew or just the stress and fear of the unknown, can cause issues. These emotions always an uneasy companion. How the crew handled the crisis situations was crucial.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bobby McGee and Benito had back to back watches. The fatigue and sleep deprived moments can cause lack of focus. Twelve hours a day on the BCP station in the control room was not easy. The real sea drama playing out moment to moment. Six hours at a time, boredom certainly wasn't our problem. The enemy ships, the ice, equipment troubles, the extra work load all factors to face. Then your personal laundry..... hygiene, eating and sleeping and the drills, this on your off time. That was enough to drive you crazy. This made Bobby and yours truly start a short timer calendar. We both had about nine more months to go until we left the navy. That now was playing with my head.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The captain, to relieve some stress call for a swim day,on the way back across the Atlantic. The Skipjack was in the warm gulf current. We surfaced and stopped the boat, far from any shore just drifting. The sea was very smooth, flying fish, were darting around us. The crew had this amazing day at sea. The cargo net was attached to the starboard side. The sail plane became a diving board. The whole crew, hit the eighty degree water. It was surreal looking at the boat free in the deep blue sea. The crew and officers were floating in six thousand feet of water. Surrounded by blue so deep, it was a shock to my soul. The shark watch stander with a sub machine gun brings me back to reality. The swim was so different. The swim trunks required and a good idea, especially hitting the water from sixteen feet high. This experience at sea made me more at home on the blue water. The only problem was the big ass jelly fish going by. I was afraid that the shark watch would start shooting. These "man of war" jellies, you just want to stay clear of ….and the sailor with an automatic weapon in his hands.. That was an unbelievable time, it was definitely a first. Diving into the unknown waters and having your buddies right by your side. This was the crew.. all of us wearing big smiles. These guys were real men at sea.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Back in Norfolk, the crew was enjoying their off time. The space program had sent a man, to walk on the moon. The music was the best of all time. This summer of 69', it really moved me to find myself.. I had met all my goals to this point. I was relating to Johnnie Cash's song "a boy named Sue." This naval sub service made me way tougher. The  sailor back on the train going to New London for the first time, was scared of his own shadow. That was the summer of 66'. The sub service was now my home. The few days, we had in Scotland had been interesting. The crew was off duty, the liberty was entertaining. We had a real show at the pub, one evening. This Scottish girl and a Irish lassie had a brawl. It was over old boat chief.. stationed on the sub tender ship, the Simon Lake. These two girl's tempers matched any that I'd ever seen. Blood, guts and beer an a language that stung your ears. The battle over the chief. This guy gets up and left with somebody else. That was the Navy. The drinks filled our belly’s and we laughed out loud.  We were glad to be going home. The guys not talking about the incident or the last mission. The code of the sea was silence.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Brotherhood Chapter 14


 Brotherhood                  
Life got better, the crew was back in Norfolk with day to day operations. Spirits seemed to flow more normally now. The Skipjack's downtime would last a few months or so. The boat's sail getting a new hard hat and periscope, that was a top priority. These moments are frozen in time some fifty years later.  My sub family was important to me. Orders, transfers, and the changing times, guys would come and go. The other boats in the fleet needed qualified people too.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tommy (two shoes) my mentor, had one shoe in his professional navy career. The other shoe in his lifestyle choices. He had to move back to California because of his other choices. He was not in step with the Navy, a very sad day. Shorty was from California. We were close, he and I had peeled a lot of spuds together. Shorty was sent to the USS Shark, another fast attack. We're still friends these many years later. The sub had Johnnie Red from Tennessee. He ran the boat's clerical services and kept us informed and out of trouble. George (whitey,)  he was a great electronic technician. Whitey was from Chicago town. He had some crazy black gangland ties back home.  Jay was from Alabama, the man who swung a mean grease gun in a pinch. Vic from Georgia, the mad hatter from engineering. He knew how to party and proved it on a regular bases. The boy from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Robert Lee beat all the windows out of his girlfriend's house, she'd said "no" to his marriage proposal. He did it with his fists,  still wearing the bandages back on the boat to prove it.  I was a part of this team and it worked.  Waldo left also, after chasing someone with a meat ax. The sailor had the nerve to complain about the mash potatoes. Waldo was here and then he was gone. The elite boat crew weren't all pirates. Their stories and sea tales still live in my memory.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The winter of 1968. I'm now below decks watch and control panel operator. Boat repairs almost done and party time coming to a close. The Skipjack is ready once again. We have some new crew members and some haven't been to sea yet. The boat is back on the pier. The boat was flushing primary coolant to a tank on the dock.  Young Sam is topside watch and I'm below decks watch. I called up from the control room to Sam, need coffee up there?  No answer was received.  I climbs up into the bridge area to check on him. The kid is gone from the sail plane station to the dock down the gangway plank. He's standing by the flush lines and is wet trying to connect a broken line. I scream don't touch that.. it was to late. I ordered him to stand on the pier and do not move. The next call is the officer of the watch. We then call the Hazardous Material team in the yellow suits.  The whole team must of showed up. Siren and lights flashing at least three big trucks and a dozen men were on the pier. Yosemite Sam is stripped and scrubbed down, his red hair scrubbed too. The radio active  cleanup and other measures to insure safety are in place. Its two o'clock in the morning and all hell is breaking loose. The kid had no idea, what was up. Thank God, it turned out okay, a freshwater hose break. Sam wasn't exposed to the radiation spent coolant. The outcome was the same, poor guy. The protocol not followed got Sam in hot water. This nuclear reactor is not a toy. We all wore film badges to check monthly radiation levels, all the time. The good news was he was alright. The bad news he was busted and transferred to the hospital for more tests. Those yellow suits were serious about their job.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 We had heard the Russian fleet got childless pay. Their sub sailors got to much radiation exposure from the reactors. Russian nuclear submarines had less lead shielding. We got better equipment, I was told. That said, my hair hasn't fallen out yet. The Candy man and I talked about the trouble up north and how we handled ourselves. I think we did okay, the bottom was closer than we figured on. That said, we were interviewed at length by upper brass and sworn to say nothing for twenty five years. I think now is the time to shine a light on what these men did for their country. Candy man was from New York another clerical clerk. He liked his coffee very sweet and lots of cream. I was studying for Second Class Petty Officer and finishing my boat qualifications.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The Interior Communications division was down to me and Bobby McGee, once we numbered six guys. That put pressure on both of us. Standing watch at sea, the control room required one of us on watch and that would be tough on a long run.  The year is now 1969, I just turn twenty years old. The shake down cruise behind us. the boat would be back on station soon. I passed the test for Second Class Petty Officer on January 31, 1969.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I get a letter from home. My cousin is now in navy boot camp. I remember those days being really tough on the new recruits and your scared of everybody. I hatch a plan, my letter from home supplies me with his address in San Diego. These isolated guys loved mail call. His fourth week of training is a lot of tests and career data. Eddie, the new recruit had always busted my chops when we were kids. I had a talk with one of my friends in clerical on the base. He supplies me with official navy letter head and envelope. My buddy types the correspondence and stamps it, Secret top priority. The return address being from the Department of Naval Affairs. The best part, I drove to Washington DC and mailed it. The post stamp was real. What are cousins for? Well I guess the navy does have a sense of humor. The letter is hand delivered by the base high command. Cousin Eddie sweating and wide eyed opens it up, reading how his test scores has put him into a special assignment. That the Navy needs him to perform these duties. The good of our country was at stake. He'd be reporting to a secret location. The pass word was cousin Benny. I never got in trouble for that action. My cousin, he never blew the whistle on me. Eddie was a special pirate too. We stole our first candy bars together. Eddie and I still talk and laugh about that moment in the military service.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Time is passing along and I finally get my dolphins from the captain. The date is March 18, 1969. Sixteen months it took me. I was afraid, they'd  transfer me off the Skipjack, just like the old boat.  I loved this submarine and crew, by slowing down the process. I stayed on the boat, a made man. The captain would not allow the crew to let me drink my dolphins. I wasn't twenty-one yet. I kind of missed that moment. We were "Family," those men guided me along. Yosemite Sam was back on-board and mess cooking again. The story of him trying to save the day, was well earned. Our orders had come in. This meant another long run patrol. Another night at Bells bar, here we come. The off duty crew reports on the dock were all smiles that morning at muster. The crew boards the Skipjack for a new patrol at sea. This time the spies go with us.

Longest Day Chapter 13

Living the Longest day        
The submarine service in the Navy could be good or bad. I missed my girlfriend that was a good thing. My work load on the other hand was a pain in the ass, keeping me real busy on the boat. The reality of my life was nothing ever stayed the same or was ordinary. We had to carry these special weapons now and then. This particular Mark torpedo was a bad thing. The security around this weapon was unbelievable. The secret was out, the weapon involved and paperwork was not at all fun. Astor Security watch at sea or at any given port was around the clock. We loaded these two torpedoes on board now and again. These torpedoes had a nuclear warhead, that if shot out a torpedo tube would not be good. This missile, I'll call the Hammer was designed to take out multiple targets. Like a convoy or maybe even the boat that shot it. The Hammer was a special kind of headache for sure. I was a qualified Astor security watch. This job required you to be in the same room with these bad boys. If you weren't on the access list to the torpedo room, I could shoot you. Twenty-four hours a day, the Hammer had to be monitored and protected from your own crew. The thing was... if we had to shoot it. The Skipjack would rig for depth charge and run as fast as possible in the other direction after firing. Don't you just love the guys that rolled this one out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Cold War was heating up. They were putting men on the moon, anti war protests all over the country. Civil Rights and Nixon in the White House. The late 1960's is at full throttle. I am now and was back then all about protecting the United States. This submarine was my job, somehow it seemed Waldo wasn't the only crazy one on the block. The summer of 1968, I'm nineteen years old and missing my girlfriend. Life was so simple on one hand, but the other not so much. These killer submarines were designed to sink nuclear subs that may threaten the United States or our friends. The Russians had more submarines than we, at that time. The games played between our countries were serious. The next adventure was a patrol to the North Seas again and real close contact with  our adversary's navy fleet. The blue nose special  to the heart of the enemy territory. We had painted the numbers off the sail. That was so the boat would not be to flashy at this party. I was not standing Astor watch just so you know.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This mission was to take a few pictures and make a head count. The crew was up for anything at this point. One of our own subs just lost at sea and we all suspected the wolf hound.  That said, not having the Hammer on board was probably a good thing. Time was going by slowly on station. My morning watch was getting started at 4 am. Coffee cup in hand, I head up to the control room, red goggles over the eyes. The room was rigged for red. This to protect the officer's night vision. The stern planes are next to me and the candy-man has taken over his chair. The helm and sail planes are my seat. People are changing watch behind us and the officer of the deck has the conning tower.  He is reviewing the chart positions of the sleeping fleet above our heads. Twenty or so warships sitting right above us, this bay is full. The enemy coast line is twilight by the summers glow. The conning officer says, make your depth, periscope level. I said, aye aye sir, repeating the order. This action requires a slow rise and by no means expose the boat. I call out the rising depth as we go up. the submarine is at a crawl as far as speed. The attack scope starts to move up from the well. This is a narrow shaft that doesn't leave much of a trace on the surface to see. The officer is bent over slightly with his arms over the handles and eyes in the view finder. The periscope still rising to full position. This is a routine maneuver to do a head count and then compare to our active chart info. This enemy fleet and most of our crew is fast asleep on the early morning rise. The Skipjack's skeleton crew is running the show.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Life in slow motion, as my worse nightmare starts to unfold. Sonar has done a sweep of the area, there is nothing to report. I'm still calling out the depth by smaller increments now. The last few feet to the surface's periscope depth. There is a loud screeching of scraping metal. The whole boat heels over. The officer behind me is being tossed out of the conning tower's platform. He's thrown from the pitching periscope. The leak now is spraying icy water down the back of my neck and everywhere else. The instantaneous thunder and more crushing steel on top of our heads. Candy-man and I push both wheels down without orders to full dive. The captain is now on the platform in his underwear relieving the now bleeding from the head, officer of the deck. The cold seawater is hissing through bearing as the machinist mate armed with a grease gun shows up. The periscope flooding into the control room has been stopped by tightening the gasket around the base with a grease gun. The overflow in the periscope well is being addressed at the same time. The next deck below and home to the battery floor hatch. Now covered with mattresses to protect it from the saltwater. Battery acid and seawater can cause chlorine gas and kill everyone, this isn't a fun time. You could hear an alarm sounding from the whale, we had hit above us. The boat down angle is punctuated by the planes men auto response to the collision. The downward thrust by hitting this object above us, also a factor.  The captain ordering rudder and planes to neutral. The depth was increasing anyway.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The boat crashing into the bottom of this bay, it was not a soft landing. The crew is now wide awake some of us saying prayers  under our breath. The submarine just sitting on the bottom. The Russian Fleet is now on full alert. Sonar is reporting the screw noises of many ships on the hunt.  Wolf hounds now looking for our hare. The captain confers with all compartments for damage reports. The off duty crew is ordered to their bunks, ultra quiet is a good term. The boat seems sound and we are in no immediate danger so far. We need to move out of this bay to open water, post haste. The fact, we are the fastest submarine on the planet. We could out run any of their ships, this did make a good case for our survival. That said, the boat needed to get off the bottom slowly. The destroyers and faster patrol boats were off to close the entrance to the bay ahead of us.  We blew some air into the ballast tank. The sub rose from the bottom. The captain orders full speed ahead. Bang, bang and bang,  the bell is ringing, all stop!!! is ordered. The periscope is pounding into the sail area above our heads, more grease is applied to stop the seawater.  The problem the periscope can't be retracted. The observation is made the scope is bent down horizontal to the superstructure. Therefore we are now a bell and dong.
                                                                                                                                                                             This would give away the Skipjack's position and be a death blow for sure. Time is measured in slow inhales and exhales. The boat moves slowly, very slowly to the rhythm of the dance. This slow crawl probably saved all of our lives. It took us days to clear the area. Their forces rushing to catch us. The darkness was our friend as we surfaced somewhere out at sea a few days later. The team is on the bridge to cut the periscope off at the bend and again below the sail. the front of the superstructure crushed in. Transmission of this news to the powers that be, probably made waves all the way to Washington. We were okay and could still operate. These men had rallied together as a team. They pulled this rabbit out of harms way. The paper work and interviews were almost as bad as the event. The good and bad of Navy life, returning to Norfolk outside the tender in the dark. The next day a blanket covering the broken sail, the whale incident over. Praise the crew, we all survived. This really didn't happen but I have a great imagination.... now don't  tell.... sailors are great lairs too...

Dark Days Chapter 12



                             
We returned to Norfolk, our submarine was slated for another long run patrol. You might get the idea that we spent a lot of time at sea. Sometimes over two hundred and sixty days a year or more. That said, The Skipjack was headed north again. We were all jealous of our sister ship, another fast attack nuclear submarine. They were stationed out of Norfolk too. The Scorpion was assigned to the Sixth fleet in the Mediterranean Sea a good will tour. The Scorpion left Norfolk and got underway on February 15, 1968. This was the end of March, we were headed back up to the Arctic Circle again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The  “Blue Nose” ceremony was a highlight for the crew. I was the royal photographer and documented the event. The new mess cook, Sam and a few others had to be indoctrinated into the Royal Club. My first long run was my turn at being a Blue Nose. That said, this was my second long run, this ceremony was a lot more fun because I was recording it. King Neptune was in the royal chambers aka (crews mess). The newbies were blindfolded. The password was "More." The royal drink (thick green stuff) was ready and the punishment administered, then they shaved an “A” in the back of newly sworn-in guy's skulls. The kissing of the Buddha’s belly was real special, trust me. The greased belly of Neptune as your face is rubbed into it.on your knees, then to repeated the password. The chief aka "King Neptune" had a hairy beer belly for sure. The smack on the ass with the royal paddle  and your initiated. Welcome to the Arctic Circle newbies.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Life aboard was running smoothly on station. The submarine crossing under the ice was always interesting. Coffee runs and drills, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Soup down was on the new guy Sam, a real blue nose. The time moved along. I was now the ship's photographer, in my spare time. I'd process the film and had my own dark room.  The captain would take pictures through the periscope and I would develop the shots in the lab. Sometimes with him right outside the door to make sure, we got the shot. The captain relieved me on this patrol from mess cooking. We had a target rich environment in these long daylight periods. The Russian Navy Fleet did war maneuvers on the surface.  I was the only man qualified dark room photo technician. I felt important in these days on the Arctic Ocean. The time was fast approaching, our return to Scotland.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     We pickup a signal that our sister ship had not reported in. The fast attack submarine, USS Scorpion (SSN589) was missing somewhere on her return from the Mediterranean. This was my friend and my old sea dad's boat from the days on the diesel boat. The cook Richard, who had help me stay in the program at the start of sub school. This man who was my shipmate on the Cubera. The crew of ninety nine men were all missing. They were very qualified crew and had been awarded metals for their previous service. Skipjack was ordered to stay on station for twelve more days. This hit me very hard, my heart almost fell out of my chest. This couldn't be, the sub went down with all hands. The date was May 22, 1968. Our crew took it very hard. We all had friends on Scorpion. I've tried to make these chapters fun and more about my silly adventures. I've changed names and put the points of my sea tales in a good light. That said, this sailor couldn't talk about any of these things for along time. The human feelings are the hardest lessons for me. These people, I served with will live in my heart till it beats no longer. These men that never returned. The year of 1968,  four other submarines were lost at sea. These are the other three:  Israeli submarine INS Dakar, the French submarine Minerve, (S647) and the Soviet submarine K-129. All these boat crews will be missed. Submariners are a brotherhood and I'm proud to be in their numbers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The orders had changed after seventy two days on sea patrol. The Soviets were suspected in this accident. Scorpion's last communication had said a Russian submarine was tailing her. On this patrol, no enemy sub approached their northern  base from the south. The Skipjack was finally ordered to Holy Lock in Scotland. There could be some issue with the rest of the fast attacks in the fleet.  We were mechanically checked out in Holy Lock. The Skipjack now ordered back to Norfolk on the surface.  A much slower transit and more vulnerable posture. Talk about high alert, the captain kept us all busy with attack scenarios and responses. The sonar and lookouts on the surface kept a sharp vigil on the open waters.
                                                                                                                                                                    Days and nights on the North Atlantic, the crew tense and moody. Waldo the cook was catching hell. We were half way across the Atlantic when it happened. It was flat calm and kind of eerie that morning. Our sonar had picked up a faint signal, the radar had a small blimp on the screen a possible periscope. The friend or foe radio signal was met with no response. The captain was called to the control room. The crew went to battle stations. I took over my position as helmsman. The captain climbed up to the bridge followed by three armed personnel. The captain order the course change to intercept the target. We entered a fog mist closing in on the prey. The crew was on edge, the torpedo tubes loaded. I think that I was the only one glad to see that it was a sailboat cutting through the mist. The front runner of  the transatlantic sailboat race. I would think an armed submarine clearing the mist into their peaceful world was quite startling. They brought the sub-machine guns back down the ladder. Life at sea improved as we  passed these majestic yachts for the rest of that day. The Skipjack headed west and the sailboats to the east. The Russians didn't show up. I was glad to get back to almost normal. The cruise into Norfolk was a sad and a meaningful time with family and friends. The loss of that many was heart felt by all. Rest In Peace... brothers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Smooth Seas Chapter 11

  Smooth Seas                
Leaving Miami, the Skipjack was headed back north. Our captain kept a close eye on the boat's navigation this time. We moved back through that mystery zone. The boat had no other issue with our track or compass heading. The submarine did stop back in Bermuda, my new nickname was now "man killer" that got kind'a old quickly. I would stay on the military base in Bermuda because of cash flow issues. That night at the enlisted man's club, it was a little boring but just fine with me. The place was packed with other navy personnel and their were no cross dressers present.  The beer was cold and a lot less money. The submarine had a two day stop over. The guys picking up booze and smokes, and it was all tax free. The Skipjack crew was able to bring the bounty back on-board. The treasure was loaded into a torpedo tube, all eighty men had one and a half gallons a piece. The booze and other gifts filled number 3 tube, it was locked away. Once back at sea the captain, kept us all on our toes. He would threaten to shoot the load out to sea if reaction times did not improve on drills and such.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           On our return to Norfolk, it was now in the early spring. The boat came up at the same spot, we had submerged. The horn sounded, Surface! Surface! Surface! It was my eighteenth time bringing up the boat. The air rushing into the tanks. That big rumble under your feet. The boat's periscope raising and the submarine's up-angle to the surface. This was always exciting and an even number. I loved this shit... The paint crew was back on the top deck, painting out the yellow spots. I was starting to hate that Beatles song.  I had a four day pass that weekend coming up. I was ready for a road trip to New York. This time sharing the ride with other crew members in a Chevy sedan.  Long Island and Jones Beach was my destination. That was where my girl lived. I met her in upstate New York. She had invited me to her home at Easter vacation. I was excited about hooking up with her again. She was a little rich girl.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My girlfriend, Darlene was a dream come true and made me happy. Her daddy had design the New Jersey Turnpike. I was totally out of my league but what the hell. I met her at West Point Academy, at the military dance. The Army cadets had invited the private girl's school a time honored tradition. The college was just down the way. My sister's husband was stationed at the Army base at West Point, Dennis was enlisted and worked as a mechanic at the auto pool. This sailor shows up driving my TR-3 sports car just before Christmas, the year before. I was visiting my sister and her new baby boy. All military members could attend these dances, so I did. The town of West Point had no nightlife so why not, besides I was a third wheel in my sister's small apartment. The Army guys didn't seemed to mind this lone sailor in their club. That said, I sure stood out. The soldier's all in their student uniform and me in my navy custom dress blues sporting a Miami tan.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The dance was a little slow at first, but the punch bowl was spiked. My dance card was full but I had spotted this attractive damsel.  Darlene and I danced the night away. She was beautiful and very different from the other girls.  We were both tipsy as I took her back to her college. The two of us went back to the girl's dorm that night, totally against the rules. Darlene's room was on the third floor, it was crazy. I stayed with her till the next morning. The day being Sunday, the two of us spent the time motoring around in my car. The Catskill mountains were green and beautiful. I wrote her every week from Virginia after my return to the base.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             This vacation trip north a few months later would be a first. Her dad had been in the navy also. This trip was to her family estate on Long Island. The private road and grounds leading up to the house were beautiful. The mansion sat on the point looking out to sea. I had my own suite in the left wing. I was as nervous as a cat. I wore  black dress slacks, a white dress shirt. My yellow cashmere sweater came from an earlier trip to Scotland. Cocktails at seven and then dinner. She looked amazing and I just smiled. The grand piano sat on a raised floor off the living room. This area surrounded with three walls of glass all facing the Atlantic. Darlene sat at the key board playing a soft melody.  The old man entered the room. I felt uneasy with him, her dad was a naval officer in his day. They all tried to make me feel at home. Thank God, he couldn't read my thoughts. Darlene was a temptress hidden in an Angel's outfit. She kept whispering and touching my leg, right through dinner.  That weekend she drove me crazy under her father's roof. Darlene would sneak into my room at night, I felt a lot safer at sea.   I did survive this visit and return to the navy base that following Tuesday. The long drive home, she lived in my thoughts. I was smitten and lost to this little hell's angel. This long distant romance was difficult but Darlene was very special to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Skipjack still had issues and the decision was made to dry dock the boat and test the pressure hull welds and such. This floating huge dock would submerge, the boat entered it, a big door shut. The dry dock would rise and the water was pumped out. Our submarine sitting on blocks and out of the water. They had to sandblast the whole boat and applied a new finish no more yellow nightmare, that was good. The major work and x-rays of the hull were also done, any issues were resolved. I stood my fair share of fire watch as the welding was done.                                                                                                                                                                                                            The timing was right for me to take my first two week leave and go back to California. This sailor hadn't been home in over two years. Nineteen years old, I had changed a lot. The fifteen days in California proved to everyone that I had grownup a little. This time in Stockton was a blur and my memory is vague. Benito, Mac and Bean had some fun as I listened to their stories. The family loved having me home. Bean was just starting college. Mac had a young daughter and was working full time. We all had grown-up. I stayed at my mother's house and visited with my Dad and his new wife. Things didn't seemed to change much in town. I had this feeling of being on the outside, looking in. My old girlfriend, Shelley Beaver long since gone out of my life. I enjoyed the break but was glad to get back to my boat. I was still a kid in that world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The party was over, I was starting my second tour as mess cook. That’s right! back with Waldo the crazy cook. The times, I spent working in the galley on the old diesel boat the Cubera, were missed. Remembering  peeling potatoes on the topside deck with my sea dad, Richard. Both of us sitting on a couple of wood crates. The two of us laughing and telling stories, just a fond memory. This now my third time at mess cooking just didn't seem fair, sure wasn't as much fun. The best thing was, I being senior mess cook was in control of assignments. The new guy, who was finally younger than me. His name was Sam, a seaman just eighteen years old. I think he was a sonar tech. The truth was everyone below a certain rank  got to stand this duty now and then.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We took a shake down cruise to New London and spent some time there. The Skipjack had a VIP guest on-board for a special cruise out. Admiral Rickover, himself, that made us all very nervous, even the captain. Rickover was the "Father of the Nuclear Submarine Program,"and that was it, period. He put the boat to extreme trials and radical moves. Then he'd crawl around the power plant and engineering checking it out. This boat was one of his babies. He scared the shit out of all of us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The officer wardroom dinners were always handled by Chief Stewart, Pete. Who knew the Admiral personally. This old man was on the crew of the original Skipjack. A World War Two diesel boat that saw action.  This man was a living example of the perfect sub sailor. He ran the officers mess and special dinners. I liked him very much. This event involved live lobster and steak dinner with bake Alaskan for dessert. The whole boat ate the same menu. Large bags of live lobster were delivered in New London. The captain's table got a whole twenty five pound dressed lobster, as the table center piece. That said, the two crew mess cooks got to play with this big bug. It's claws the size of my hands. Sam and I pulled off the safety tape and watch it snap a ballpoint pen in half with the large claw. We were both kids that day. Pete said, I need the main course back! boys. Life was good, smooth seas for sure. We had set the mooring lines and were tied into a slip in New London. The Father of the Modern Navy departed after dinner. Everybody got to breathe normally again.