The “Georgia Swamp Fox” that Fathered the Two Ocean Navy – Carl Vinson Reply

This is a story published in the Port of Pittsburgh, Official Publication of the Navy League of the United States, Pittsburgh Council Jan-March 2014 Volume 18 No.1 edited by Katherine Kersten, written by Bob MacPherson (aka theleansubmariner)

Carl Vinson

“The most expensive thing in the world is a cheap Army and Navy,” Congressman Carl Vinson

On March 15 1980, Carl Vincent attended the Launching of the ship that bore his name. He was 96 years old at the time but his connection to Naval Aviation and warships is one that set the tone for our modern Navy. Most people have long since forgotten the role that the “Georgia Swamp Fox” played in the creation of a two ocean Navy by a piece of legislation he pushed through in the height of the Depression (March of 1934). His pivotal role was one of the most significant in modern naval preparedness and holds lessons for us even today.

Carl Vincent served as a member of the House of Representatives for a period that lasted from November 3, 1914, to January 3, 1965. At his retirement, that record was the longest since Congress first convened in 1789. For much of his time in Congress, that included a record breaking twenty-nine years as Chairman of the House Naval Affairs and later Armed Services Committee. What set him apart from others that have played the role however is his unique vision and passion for the welfare of the nation and its navy. He is remembered for many statements but one of the ones that exemplifies this is when he said: No country has a moral right to demand that her Sailors go into battle with strength and equipment inferior to an opponent’s.”

That attitude resulted in one of the most important laws to come out of the House in the 1930s. Americas fleet and potential growth were still hobbled by the treaties meant to limit the size of the major powers fleets after World War 1. The nations involved in the Washington Naval Treaty had seen the wastefulness of spending on huge and growing fleets around the world. This “arms race” threatened to force the countries involved into potentially hostile situations that would lead to yet another World War. So the parties involved set down the limits that were meant to stem the flow of money and material into their fleets. These included:

  • A ten-year pause or “holiday” in the construction of capital ships (battleships and battlecruisers), including the immediate suspension of all capital ship building.
  • The scrapping of existing, or planned, capital ships so as to give a 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 ratio of tonnage between the US, Britain, Japan, France and Italy.
  • Ongoing limits of both capital ship tonnage, and the tonnage of secondary vessels, with the 5:5:3 ratio.

In the beginning, the nations involved gave compliance to the treaty in the hopes that all would follow suit. As time wore on though, a number of factors intervened that would spell defeat for the treaty and the prospects for peace. Changes in leadership In Japan and Germany coupled with economic upheaval around the globe during the ensuing decades set the stage for a clash that the United States was ill prepared for. Naval shipbuilding during this time period had been strangled to a halt. By the time 1934 arrived, not a single ship had been laid down during the previous administration. The Japanese would formally repudiate the treaty in late 1934 and the Germans would shortly follow as they consolidated power under Adolph Hitler’s Nazi’s.

U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1931-1937

Type 7/1/31 7/1/32 7/1/33 7/1/34 4/1/35* 7/1/36 9/1/37*
Battleships 12(3rc) 11(4rc) 11(4rc) 14(1rc) 15 15 15
Carriers, Fleet 3 3 3 4 4 4 3@
Cruisers 20 19 20 24 25 26 27
Destroyers 87^ 102 101 102^^ 104 106 111
Submarines 56 55 55 54 52 49 52
Mine Warfare 33 33 26 26 26 26 30
Patrol 27(1rc) 24 26 24 23 23 22
Auxiliary 69 65 68 71 71 73 75
Rigid Airships 1 1 1 1 - - -
Surface Warships 119# 132 132 140 144 147 153
Total Active 308 (4rc) 313 (4rc) 311 (4rc) 320 (1rc) 320 322 335

Events: Japan enters Manchuria 18 September 1931. Hitler to power 30 January 1933. Failure of the International Economic Conference to stabilize world currencies in July 1933 leads to growing instability. Vinson-Trammell Act, 27 March 1934, authorizes–though it does not fund–Navy construction to Treaty strength. Japan renounces Washington Treaty 29 December 1934, effective 31 December 1936. Germany renounces disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles 16 March 1935. Spanish Civil War begins 18 July 1936. Japan begins large-scale military operations in China 7 July 1937.

Notes: * Data for 1 July not available. @ = CV-1 to AV-1 (auxiliary). ^ = London Treaty exchange of new DD for older types allowed. ^^ = New DD begin to appear. # = Post-1921 low. rc = Reduced Commission: not included in “active” total.

 

Carl joined the House Naval Affairs Committee shortly after World War I ended and became the ranking Democratic member in the early 1920s. Records indicate that he was the only Democrat appointed to the Morrow Board, which reviewed the status of aviation in America in the mid-1920s. In 1931, Vinson became chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee. In 1934, he recognized the state of the nation’s fleet in relation to the threats involved and helped create the Vinson-Trammell Act, along with Senator Park Trammell of Florida. This bill authorized the replacement of obsolete vessels by new construction and a gradual increase of ships within the limits of the Washington Naval Treaty, 1922 and London Naval Treaty, 1930.

The funding for the Vinson-Trammell Navy Act was provided by the Emergency Appropriations Act of 1934. This was critical since during the previous administration, not a single major warship was laid down and the US Navy was both aging and being outpaced by the Japanese Navy. Vinson’s leadership was responsible for Naval Act of 1938 (“Second Vinson Act”) and the Third Vinson Act of 1940, as well as the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940. These ambitious program made sure that the U.S. Navy was far better prepared as the country entered World War II The new ships made sure that the country was on its way to meeting Japan head on when the time came. While he recognized the importance of capital ships, his largest contribution was in forcing the growth of the modern aircraft carrier.

Slight progress in the naval expansion programs had been implemented by the Naval Act of 1936 and the Naval Act of 1938. But in early June 1940, Congress passed legislation that provided for an 11% increase in naval tonnage as well as an expansion of naval air capacity. On June 17, a few days after German troops conquered France, Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark requested an unheard of four billion dollars from Congress to increase the size of the American combat fleet by 70. On June 18, after less than an hour of debate, the House of Representatives by a 316–0 vote authorized $8.55 billion for a naval expansion program, giving emphasis to aircraft. Rep. Vinson, who headed the House Naval Affairs Committee, said its emphasis on carriers did not represent any less commitment to battleships, but “The modern development of aircraft has demonstrated conclusively that the backbone of the Navy today is the aircraft carrier. The carrier, with destroyers, cruisers and submarines grouped around it is the spearhead of all modern naval task forces.”

The Act authorized the procurement of:

  • 18 aircraft carriers
  • 2 Iowa-class battleships
  • 5 Montana-class battleships
  • 6 Alaska-class cruisers
  • 27 cruisers
  • 115 destroyers
  • 43 submarines
  • 15,000 aircraft
  • The conversion of 100,000 tons of auxiliary ships
  • $50 million for patrol, escort and other vessels
  • $150 million for essential equipment and facilities
  • $65 million for the manufacture of ordnance material or munitions
  • $35 million for the expansion of facilities

 

The expansion program was scheduled to take five to six years, but a New York Times study of shipbuilding capabilities called it “problematical” unless planned “radical changes in design” are dropped. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 7th, most of the fleet was still in the shipyards being built. Many were not completed by the time the war was over. But the new emphasis on aircraft carriers and submarines made all the difference in the war’s outcome.

Postwar

Congressmen Vincent’s knowledge of the Navy and the nation’s needs into the future played important roles in creating a fleet that would carry the nation into the years known as the Cold War. Modernization of existing ships and submarines were required to match the new threats that emerged from the end of the war. Rapid growth in nuclear proliferation added threats that would challenge the Navy and the nation as a whole. Vincent was a key supporter of the nuclear programs the Navy answer the threats.

One of the hallmarks of Carl’s career was his notable ability to make deals in congress. The nickname Georgia Swamp Fox was given to him by his colleagues for his skillful methods of achieving the goals he had set out to meet. Compromises and horse trading made sure that on the days where critical votes arrived, legislation that he deemed important to his causes typically gained approval. Imagine how difficult a vote in 1934 at the height of the depression must have been when people back home were still struggling with unemployment and losing their homes. But Vincent could see the trouble on the horizon and his vision prepared the country for the challenges that were to come.

Vinson did not seek re-election in 1964 and retired from Congress in January 1965. He returned to Baldwin County, Georgia, where he lived in retirement until his death. He is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, Georgia.

“I devoutly hope that the casting of every gun and the building of every ship will be done with a prayer for the peace of America. I have at heart no sectional nor political interest but only the Republic’s safety.” Those words best capture the life of a great man.

ss carl vinson_lg

Mister Mac

 

thXTLDCHGQ

AFDB-7 Los Alamos Holy Loch Scotland “IN THE BEGINNING…” 5

For the second time in the history of theleansubmariner, I am posting an article from a Shipmate that I have come to know via our common interests in history and events that shaped it. This article comes from Norman Rachels SWE4 (formerly of the United States Navy). Norm was one of the guys who arrived early enough to see Site One come together in a very meaningful way… this is his story.

Thanks for all your hard work both then and in putting this together Shipmate!

Mister Mac

 

“IN THE BEGINNING….”

Mr. Mac posted a blog on August 1st, 2011 titled “Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my!”[1]   The sub heading was, “Holy Loch, Scotland”…….and THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. In fact, that was how I stumbled across his blog back on August 3rd, 2013. You see, my 50th wedding anniversary was coming up on the 21st and I was still looking for something unusual for my wife and had been Goggling Scotland for quite some time looking for the perfect gift.

Why, you might ask? Because she is from Glasgow, Scotland and we were married there on August 21st, 1963. I met her on my first day ashore in Dunoon, Scotland, arriving on May 27, 1961 aboard the USS DE SOTO COUNTY. I was a Seabee in MCB-4 (Mobile Construction Battalion Four) and the main body was heading for Rota, Spain.

Fortunately for me, I had been assigned to DETACHMENT KILO and was disembarking with the main body of Kilo to spend my stay in Scotland, in the Holy Loch, on a floating barracks ship, APL-42, which we affectionately called, “The Apple”. The purpose of Detachment Kilo was to erect a floating dry dock capable of docking Polaris submarines.

The dock had been in storage in Green Cove Springs, Florida since WWII and Detachment Kilo was formed in the spring of 1960 to assist in the reactivation of AFDB-7. With the completion of reactivation on the dry dock sections, preparations were begun for the long tow across the Atlantic. This involved the inventory and stowage of all equipment and procuring provisions for the 30-day voyage. The tows left Green Cove Springs, Florida the end of April. Not only were the four sections of the dry dock separately towed but also the barracks ship (APL-42) and a floating warehouse (YFNB-32). Also towed behind the A and B sections of the dock were two barges. It was the largest tow since World War II.[2]

Dock 1  Dock 2

Work commenced on the dry dock sections under the direction of LCDR W. E. Nims, officer-in-charge of Det. KILO, on June 2, 1961. By the 23rd the first wing walls had been raised and by August 10th dock sections A and B had been welded together. Difficulties plagued KILO’s work, the largest being the inclement weather which resulted in faulty welds which had to be cut out and re-welded. Shelters were built around the crews to protect them and the welds where work continued night and day…….and so did the troublesome weather. The core of KILO’s work on the floating dry dock enveloped the steelworkers. Intricate welds, hampering weather and long hours produced a strain evident in the steelworker crews by deployment’s end. Forming the backbone of the steelworker crews were 11 men who had graduated in April 1961 from the Davisville, (RI) (Home of the Seabees) [3] Class “C” Welding and Certification School. All phases of horizontal, vertical, overhead and pipe welding were covered to give the men technical experience for the task they faced. Honor man of the class, J. M. Frizzel lauded the school for the interest shown each individual. Passing on the knowledge and interest acquired in school, the graduates helped promote more efficient steelworker crews in KILO. Addressing the graduating class, LCDR Nims stated that the steelworkers would have the most critical phase of the dry dock assembly.[4]

Dock 3

On top of Section A looking at B going up. I took this picture using a Polaroid camera in 1961. All my black and white pictures are from the same camera

On August 15th sections A and B were ready for the first test dive. However, as the dock descended a fault was discovered in the levelometer system and the submergence test had to be postponed. To repair this deficiency it was necessary to call upon the ONLY LIVING EXPERT ON THIS SYSTEM, age 72, Mr. “T”, as he was known. By September 16th A and B sections were prepared for another try at submergence and were successful.

The next task was to transfer a gantry crane from the back of one of the remaining C and D sections TO THE TOP OF THE WALL on A and B  This was accomplished on September 18th.[5]

 

How… you ask? By sinking sections A and B, building bridge rails across to the back of the section holding the crane then pulling it across with block and tackle.

Normally, this would mean the completion of the hardest task of erection and the beginning of a downhill jog. But events became more hectic for KILO. The weather worsened. The Ingersoll Rand main generator engine broke down and it became obvious that a longer working week was necessary to meet the operational date of November 1st, 1961. The work schedule was pushed to six days a week, 12 hours a day. By October 4th section C was joined to A and B sections and on October 22nd the last section, D, was incorporated. The work schedule was increased to seven days a week, 12 or more hours a day.[6] (funny, I don’t remember getting OT).

Dock 4   Dock 5

Note the crane on the back left of a section and the wing walls are lying down and on hinges with the tops facing each other. The crane(s) had to go from this position to the top of erected wing walls. The left picture was taken in Green Cove Springs, FL before the tow. I took the picture on the right from the top of section A showing a crane on the back of C section, the wing walls still down, which could not be raised because of the position of the crane. The cranes cable drum is almost as large as a pick-up truck. A Mike boat is approaching on the unusually calm waters of Holy Loch.

Below gantry structures are going up for the outer rail for the cranes to run on. The other rail was atop the outer edge of the wing walls.

Dock 6       Dock 7

In the second picture below you can see one of the 30,000 pound anchors used to hold the dock in place. Twenty-four were used with 3 inch chain links which weighed 86 lbs. each. We had 3 miles of chain and dropped 24 anchors in 90 feet of water, only having to re-drop one.

  Dock 81

Dock 9

The first crane is being transferred to the top of wing walls A and B. Note the gantry structure at water level in the picture on the right and the crane at the back of section C. This was the FIRST TIME THE AFDB-7 HAD BEEN UNDER WATER SINCE WWII. These color pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and I had the 2 & ¾ inch reels of film converted to a DVD & received several still pictures like these also. All my color pictures are from the 8 MM films.

Cranes were pulled across with ropes, blocks & tackles.

Dock 10 Dock 11

Dock 12 Dock 13

I took these pictures from the upper deck of the APL-42 showing section C wing walls going up after the crane had been placed on top of sections A and B. Note the workers on the jacks in the picture on the right, changing the pin positions. The left picture below shows a close up of the jacks with the holes for a large pin to be inserted as each side is raised about a foot. The pin holds up one side while the jack on the other side of the same wall is lowered, a pin removed, and then jacked up two notches, and re-inserted. The process is then repeated for the opposite wall. It took almost 16 hours to raise the walls for each of the four sections. Naturally the ballast must be controlled for the shifting weight. That’s why the 72 year old “Mr. T.” came in and repaired the system.

Dock 14 Dock 15

The above picture on the right is from the top of section C looking at our “home away from home”, the APL-42, or as we called it, “the Apple” (a floating barracks ship).

Dock 16

This is a different view of the Apple showing it had been moved to a different position in relation to the dock, and also one of the outer crane rails on the gantry structure is visible on the right.

.

I took these pictures with my Polaroid Land camera from the top of section A showing Seabees installing the deck between the rails of the cranes.

Dock 17 Dock 18

 

Dock 19

This award winning night photo shows flawed welds being cut out and would be welded again. After completion the welds would again be x-rayed for flaws.

Dock 20 Dock 21

The top picture shows a crane atop completed sections while the bottom right area shows another wall going up. The lower picture is the nearly finished AFDB-7. Note the small crane on the barrage in front.

 

Finished AFDB-7, is sitting high, waiting for a sub.       U.S.S. Patrick Henry is the first sub into the dock.

Dock 22 Dock 23

“….Yours is a significant contribution to fleet readiness of which you can be justly proud…Three points exemplify your outstanding performance. First, the high degree of competence in the fine art of seamanship is most gratifying. Second, your adherence to schedule shows dogged determination and much resourcefulness and imitative. Finally, your safety record be-speaks the skill of every man. Each of these is the more important for the adverse weather conditions which you combated. “The difficulty involved and the result realized are the measure of your accomplishment…..Well Done.

     ADM H.P. Smith, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy Forces, Europe      

Fighting all the obstacles, KILO missed the proposed completion date only a week. By November 6th the final submergence test had been accomplished.

As the 300 men of KILO who were in Scotland can testify, a description of the Holy Loch deployment made in April 1961 by CAPT. J.C. Tate, Commander Construction Battalions U.S. Atlantic Fleet held true at the deployment’s close in November: “one of the most interesting job of any of the Seabee battalions.”

On 10 November 1961, six months work on deployment, plus many more months of preparation for the deployment, closed in a ceremony in which Det. KILO OIC, LCDR W.E. Nims, transferred the dry dock to CAPT Walter Schlech, COMSUBRON 14, who in turn placed it in the custody of the AFDB-7 OIC, LT R.O. Melcher. The watch was set, and thus to Holy Loch a new addition for the service of Polaris submarines.

Three days later, the detachment, with the exception of a 60-man rear echelon boarded the USNS GORDON, sailed from the Holy Loch and headed for home.

Holy Loch is nestled in the Scottish Highlands a setting of verdant, rolling hills, picturesque Lochs, parks, kilts and tamoshanters. A land where the whiskey is strong and the people are friendly. Regardless of brooding Scottish skies, liberty became one of the memorable aspects of the deployment at Holy Loch. A short ride in a “Mike” boat from the APL-42 to Ardnadam pier and one was ashore. Only a few minutes ride by bus and personnel could be in the Scottish holiday resort of Dunoon, Scotland, home of the Cowal Highland Games. Many enjoyable evenings were spent by KILO men at Dunoon dancing at the pavilion or ‘quaffing” Lager at one of Dunoon’s inviting pubs.[12] (It’s like drinking, but you spill more. With 3 pints to go and only 2 minutes before they would be thrown out of the pub (bar),quaffing was a given.)

Dock 24     Dock 25

 

The Ardnadam pier was used for embarking and debarking to the Apple and AFDB-7 as well as the submarine tenders.

Returning from liberty in Glasgow via steam trains, we would then take the ferry from Gourock to Dunoon except when we missed the last one. Then we had to take a Mike boat from the Admiralty pier at Caldwell Bay in Gourock, pictured on the right and showing the Holy Loch in the background. I remember we would always be hungry and usually purchased two “fish & chips”, one to eat right-a-way, and the other on the trip to the Apple about 7 or 8 miles away.

Dock 26    Dock 27

About the author:             Norman Rachels SWE4

Below I am standing on the “Apple” with the first two sections, A & B being joined together in the back ground. I remember as my buddy and I went ashore the first time, at least 8, 9, 10 or more people stopped us on the street and invited us to dinner that night; several even asked us to spend the night. Coming from near a large military base, Ft. Bragg, NC, I could never imagine a soldier there getting the same reception. Since we did not take up any of the “offers”, I can now say that I am glad we didn’t. Later that evening, I met my wife of 50+ years at the Crown Court Café & Bar on Argyll Street, Dunoon.

Dock 28   Dock 29

Steelworker Erector E-3 in 1961                                      Crown Court Café & Bar, Dunoon

 

This AFDB 7 plaque, along with the picture of the docked sub, & the Crewmember certificate was given to me by LCDR R.A. Nance of the AFDB-7 when I visited in September, 1989.

Dock 30  Dock 31 Dock 32

Dock 33

MCB-4 Plaque

Dock 34

MCB-4 Battalion Patch

Dock 35

MCB-4 Cruise Book 1961

Dock 36  Dock 37

August 21st 1963 Glasgow, Scotland                                 August 21st, 2013 Scottsdale, AZ

 

[1]theleansubmariner.com

[2] This paragraph and the two pictures are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[3] Davisville Naval Base no longer exists.

[4] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[5] The above two paragraphs are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[6] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[7] This photo is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[8] These two pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and film converted to a DVD

[9] Picture on left was taken with Bell & Howell 8 mm camera, picture on right with Polaroid Land Camera.

[10] Picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[11] I am not sure where I got this picture. The USS Patrick Henry in the AFDB-7 is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[12] These 6 paragraphs are from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[13] The above pier picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.   Attribution: John Fergusonhttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ardnadam_Pier_Holy_Loch_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1750930.jpg No changes made .

[14] Ardnadam Pier Hotel picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[15] Admiralty pier, Caldwell Bay in Gourock. (taken in 1956 – no copyright)

[16] I do not know where I obtained this picture.

[17] LCDR Nance, Commanding Officer, AFDB-7 personalized a note in the upper left corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Home Reply

mstrmac711:

March 29 2014 is Vietnam Veterans Day. Welcome Home Brothers and Sisters

Originally posted on theleansubmariner:

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. (Robert Frost)

Can there be any better feeling than coming home after a journey?

It’s always exciting for me to travel around the world and in the past forty two years I have been blessed to see many places. I keep a journal of sorts and record each place I have visited or traveled through on my way to somewhere else. The journal is actually an old Atlas that my brother gave me a long time ago and in it you will find written the names of cities and destinations that I have been blessed to see. As of last count, there are over 700 places written in the book which includes all fifty states and a pretty good representation of the world’s go to places.

Atlas

I have flown in everything from a…

View original 1,439 more words

The Smoking Lamp is Out 3

From the Navy Department Library: The Smoking Lamp

“Sea dogs who sailed the wooden ships endured hardships that sailors today never suffer. Cramped quarters, poor unpalatable food, bad lighting and boredom were hard facts of sea life. But perhaps a more frustrating problem was getting fire to kindle a cigar or pipe tobacco after a hard day’s work.

Matches were scarce and unreliable, yet smoking contributed positively to the morale of the crew so oil lamps were hung in the fo’c’sle and used as matches. Smoking was restricted to certain times of the day and by the bos’un’s. When it was allowed, the “smoking lamps” were “lighted” and the men relaxed with their tobacco.

Fire was, and still is the great enemy of ships at sea. The smoking lamp was centrally located for the convenience of all and was the only authorized light aboard. It was a practical way of keeping open flames away from the magazines and other storage areas.

In today’s Navy the smoking lamps have disappeared but the words “smoking lamp is lighted in all authorized spaces” remains, a carryover from our past.”

Smoking lamp

More from the Naval Heritage and History Command: Smoking lamp

“The exact date and origin of the smoking lamp has been lost. However, it probably came into use during the 16th Century when seamen began smoking on board vessels. The smoking lamp was a safety measure. It was devised mainly to keep the fire hazard away from highly combustible woodwork and gunpowder. Most navies established regulations restricting smoking to certain areas. Usually, the lamp was located in the forecastle or the area directly surrounding the galley indicting that smoking was permitted in this area. Even after the invention of matches in the 1830s, the lamp was an item of convenience to the smoker. When particularly hazardous operations or work required that smoking be curtailed, the unlighted lamp relayed the message. “The smoking lamp is lighted” or “the smoking lamp is out’ were the expressions indicating that smoking was permitted or forbidden.

The smoking lamp has survived only as a figure of speech. When the officer of the deck says “the smoking lamp is out” before drills, refueling or taking ammunition, which is the Navy’s way of saying “cease smoking.””

http://www.history.navy.mil/trivia/trivia03.htm

Recent articles in the Navy Times reveal that serious thought is being given to stopping the sales of tobacco products in the Navy Exchange system. Of course submarines have been in the forefront of smoking cessation for a number of years now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SV5Nzkc_SVQ

What a difference a generation makes.

Going back forty years I can remember that smoking was central to everything we did starting in boot camp. The infamous words: Smoke em if you got em were just the Company Commanders way of telling you it was time for the smoke break. In Great Lakes, that meant you crowded into a poorly ventilated room with sixty of your brothers and pulled out the Marlboros or Kools depending on where you were raised. The older guys smoked filter less Camels or Pall Malls but my generation mostly favored the filtered jobs. The price was pretty cheap at the Exchange so it didn’t really eat into your salary that much. Besides, real men smoked.

boot smokes - Copy             boot smokes

 

Later in A and C schools, cigarettes played a useful role during late night study sessions. When you weren’t studying, it was off to town to have a few drinks and the smokes played a key role in that exercise as well. Smoky pool rooms and dimly lit bars were solid staples for the young sailor as he gained some worldly experience with his senior comrades. There was just something about the cool taste of the smoke rolling down surrounded by sips of 7 and 7. Pitchers of beer also helped to wash down the nicotine and the smells and tastes became intertwined. Because this is red by many generations I will refrain from linking smoking to another adult activity, but I can assure you there was at one time an ash tray in the vicinity of the bedroom. It became a sort of “desert” feature for a particular activity practiced there and an almost mandatory punctuation mark on its completion.

Cigarettes and submarines during my generation were closely tied together. 

It’s hard to imagine a submarine getting underway without cases of the nicotine delivery systems. You quickly learned how to do the math on proper cigarette preparation or you would learn the art of begging as an alternative. It was a simple calculation really. How many hours would you be awake? How many cigarettes per hour do you typically smoke? How many days would you be underway (if you could possibly know that)?

It really wasn’t a question of “if you were going to smoke” is was how much did you need to get through patrol or spec op. I misjudged the first patrol and ended up rationing my smokes and then later making all kinds of deals. The second patrol was extended so even a larger amount was not sufficient to make the run. I finally got the knack and the remaining years I was on my boats as a smoker, I never again ran out. Some of the guys who didn’t smoke made a lot of money by bringing cigarettes on board and hiding them until near the end. What may have cost five dollars a carton would then equate to about five dollars (or more) per pack. It was an early lesson in economics.

I can’t imagine a midwatch without being able to use my nicotine and caffeine. It’s even harder thinking about pulling a two day repair job on a critical pump that is keeping us from going to sea. That first drag in the morning or the long pull after a gut busting meal were also pretty satisfying. I don’t understand the chemistry of it. I just knew it felt good.

As I got older, the pleasure of smoking was replaced by the consequences. Less capacity to run back and forth wearing an EAB during drills. The ladder in and out of the boat seemed to get a bit longer each time. Coughing up phlegm from time to time was more and more annoying. Plus the Navy decided to make us run and do exercises as part of a renewed emphasis on fitness. All of these combined helped me to quit smoking. At least ten times. Once, I was actually smoke free for over a year and then I got the Dutch courage to say, hey I’m only going to have a few cigarettes now and then. A few turned back to a pack a day in a short time. I can assure you my wife was not amused.

At the end of my career, smoking on the ships was already being restricted to common areas that were well ventilated. That actually helped when I decided to quit for the eleventh time as a sailor. While it was an opportunity to socialize on the flight deck of the Hunley, I was burned out after over twenty two years of on and off smoking.

I struggled for a few more years after retirement but finally quit. The doctor that treated me after my heart attack a few years later told me that I was fortunate to have quit when I did. I would have never made it if I had not.

I still miss cigarettes sometimes. I would never smoke again but I can understand the people who have a lifelong struggle with quitting. Maybe it’s finally time for the military to stop subsidizing the tobacco industry. I know what the cost of fading health can be on an individual and on the country as a whole. I suppose time will tell if this is the right thing to do. Maybe it is time finally for the smoking lamp to be extinguished for all time.

My heart tells me its the right thing to do.

Mister Mac

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Three Rivers flow on the banks of the Steel City 1

I spent a lot of time growing up travelling up and down the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh PA. But it was always a special treat about once a year when we would travel up to the Point in Pittsburgh to and tie up to the wharf for a few days.

Lizzie Sue 2 Dawn Lizzie Sue Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has one of the most unique landscapes of any of the major US cities and has long been a home to working people living side by side with those who made a lot of money through the industries that were prominent here. Steel, clothing, paints, food and so much more have helped the city to continue growing even in lean times.

Pittsburgh Skyline from Mount Washington Pennsylvania USA

How do you know Pittsburgh? What comes to mind when you think of her? I am a small part of a committee that is working on the 2015 USSVI convention that will be held here. As someone who had a business and someone with a passion for marketing, I am curious how others see the Steel City.

pittsburgh in color

Did you know for instance that Pittsburgh is known in some circles as the City of Bridges? Because of the rivers that flow past her (and one that actually gets its start here) bridges have long been a part of the cities landscape. We have a lot of tunnels too with astounding views of the city itself as you pass through them on the way in. A pair of inclined trolleys still runs up the hills opposite the city and offer tourists and residents a convenient way to the top of those surrounding hills (as well as a killer view).

428px-Montage_Pittsburgh  hilton-pittsburgh-and-towers

Pittsburgh is also known for its sports: football, baseball, hockey and college teams playing every sport possible. Education, the arts, science, casinos and shopping at our downtown stores that has delighted both children and adults at Christmas time for generations.

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Once upon a time we were known as the “Smokey City” because of the mills built so close to the city’s center. Most of those are gone now and it surprises people who come here for the first time to see such a gem on the backs of those rivers.

 

What about you? What are your thoughts about how best to represent a city with such a diverse heritage? I would really appreciate your reply!

Thanks

Mister Mac

Coming Home 5

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. (Robert Frost)

Can there be any better feeling than coming home after a journey?

It’s always exciting for me to travel around the world and in the past forty two years I have been blessed to see many places. I keep a journal of sorts and record each place I have visited or traveled through on my way to somewhere else. The journal is actually an old Atlas that my brother gave me a long time ago and in it you will find written the names of cities and destinations that I have been blessed to see. As of last count, there are over 700 places written in the book which includes all fifty states and a pretty good representation of the world’s go to places.

Atlas

I have flown in everything from a Boeing 707 to the newest Airbus jumbo jet. In my earlier days, I got to ride in a web sling seat on a C130, the C5 Cargo plane and just about everything with wings the Air Force had. My favorite ride was in a Navy COD off of number two catapult on the USS Nimitz near the coast of San Diego.

At the end of each trip though, I am always glad to reach American soil again. This feeling goes back a long ways. Forty years ago this month was one of the first times. I think that flight set the standard for the hundreds of trips that I have taken since then.

In the fall of ’73 before I left for my first run, my Grandparents came to Hawaii to see me. Grandpa Bob (whom I was named for) was always a larger than life kind of guy and Grandma Areba was a wonderful example of a compassionate lady. We spent a lot of their time going out to dinner and seeing the island.

Bob Hawaii 4 Bob Hawaii 6 Bob Hawaii 3 Bob Hawaii 2

I had been away from home for over a year at that point and was very homesick. Having them visit was a pretty good respite but truthfully, I was pretty nervous about my first patrol. I didn’t realize it at the time but it would be the last time I was the old Bob. I did not realize at the time that I was saying goodbye for the last time. I left on patrol shortly after the visit. The rest of this story is about the start of a long journey home.

Bob Hawaii 5

 

Returning from patrol

The USS George Washington had returned from patrol and conducted another intensive refit. The patrol had been exciting in a lot of ways. This patrol was chosen to do a test firing of four ballistic missiles and as one of the “hot runners” on board, I was given the opportunity to pick one of the missiles that would be fired. I had mess cranked most of the run and was finishing up my qual card when the Captain asked me to pull the numbers out of the ball cap. The test was very successful from what I remember and I finished my cranking duties just in time to join A gang in the refit turnover. Thankfully, I was used to not sleeping so the next ten days went by pretty quickly.

Coming back from patrol was like coming back to the world after having been locked in a cave. We had very little communications since family grams were the only way people could reach us. And of course, there was no such thing as email or the internet so telephones were the only way to reach half way around the world to say help to the family. Besides, you were so busy, who had time. The last few days before coming into port were sleepless too but for a different reason. Sine your world is put into limbo while you are on patrol, all of the unfinished business from before patrol came back to pay you a nightly visit.

In my case it was a fight with my Father that had gotten out of control. Plus I was hearing less and less from my fiancée even before the patrol and had received no family grams from her at all. When we arrived and the sacks of mail arrived, there were no letters either. As much as you try and put that into the back of your mind, it finds its way back to the front pretty quickly. But as I said, the work is pretty hard and you finally fall into a routine to push it all out of the way.

The day finally arrives and you do the turnover topside (in the rain of course… this is Guam after all). Down the hatch to retrieve your seabag, back up and over the brow to the Proteus. Down the long gangplank (hoping the OOD doesn’t notice that you haven’t had a haircut in a really long time). The waiting bus takes you and your shipmates to Anderson AFB where a civilian aircraft under contract is waiting to take you back over the seas on a long flight to Hawaii.

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We had purchased some duty free liquor which was not as well regulated back in the day and it wasn’t long before it worked its way into the crew’s hands. Later flights would not be like this one as the rules changed, but this one turned into a real party. At one point the stewardesses stopped coming to the back of the plane.

After the warm buzz of the booze wears the excitement down a bit, some slept and some just sat staring straight ahead. You can only imagine what was going on in some of their minds. Getting ready to see your newborn baby for the first time. Trying to figure out a way to explain to your wife how you lost $500 in the patrol long poker game. Wondering if your wife would even be at the airport after that horrible fight you had before you left. Or thinking about the girl back home and how good it would feel to finally hold her. So much to look forward to. And always that one creeping thought in the back of your mind… in less than seventy days, you would be heading back again.

What happened after that is for another story. The joys and disappointments of coming home from any journey are as many as the waves in the sea. While many return trips from patrols were traumatic, I can hardly imagine the trips home that my brothers and sisters in arms made as they returned home from their own personal “patrols”. I remember seeing the soldiers in the airports in the early seventies as they returned from South East Asia. They seemed to have a certain look that can only be described as “distant”. Most of those boys are in their sixties and seventies now. Since that time, more have joined them as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted for such a long time. Some came home physically, but many have just never made it back mentally.

So where is home?

They say that once you have seen Paris it’s hard to get the boys to stay down on the farm. What that really means is that war and service during periods of conflict change you. I truly believe that people who have never served can sympathize with returning vets but can never really understand the things they saw and went through. The reason so many men come back and become drifters and homeless is because they can’t find that home they once had. They often just don’t fit. I have had three men very close to me who chose to end their lives rather than continue the struggle to come all the way home. I have had others that led destructive lives that passively subtracted days and years from their lives in their own personal struggle. As the young men and women from the current struggles return, their numbers are increasing too.

Maybe that’s why I have done what I once thought was unthinkable. I have become my Dad. I have belonged to the American Legion for over thirty years and now am actively working with the local post. I recently joined the VFW which had also been one of Dad’s passions. USSVI Sub Vets, MOAA, and the Navy League all fill up the rest of my dance card.

It’s not because I like the hats all that much. It’s because these organizations are the best hope of making sure a fickle congress and an even more fickle public never forget that they have a contract with those who serve. Less than one percent of the population has carried the burden for their fellow citizens and that is burden which must be met with a sacred trust to protect them when they need it most. The VA has an unprecedented backlog of cases and can’t seem to fix the problems. Congress recently decided to try and pay some of the enormous debt it has on the backs of the very service members they promised they would protect. The organizations I have listed are the last thin line between honoring a promise and breaking faith with those who have given so much.

It’s time to come home.

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Find a group that knows who you are. Support that group with your service. Encourage others to come home too. We need you now more than ever.

Mister Mac

Coming Home

 

My Trusty Old .45 1

mstrmac711:

Another of my favorites from a long time ago

Originally posted on theleansubmariner:

As a kid growing up, one of my favorite shows was a realistic World War 2 action series called “Combat!”.

Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) was my hero and his adventures with Kirby, Little John, Cage and Lieutenant Hanley and Doc. The series ran form 1962 to 1967 which is pretty remarkable since the actual war in Europe lasted less than a year. Interestingly enough, the platoon never actually made it out of France in the whole five years.

CombatDVD

The part that I really loved about the show was the weapons. You could get a real sense of the war from the scenes where the platoon fought harsh battles with overwhelming forces of Germans. Week after week, you could see the ability and limitations of those guns. From the Thompson to the M1 Garand, each weapon played its role. But none seemed more important than the trusty old .45 that Saunders…

View original 1,837 more words

Farewell Big George, you will be missed Reply

One of my passions in life is listening to Celtic music. Probably the best Celtic music available today comes from a group called Celtic Thunder. The only time I ever bother to turn PBS on anymore is when I know they will be featured. Occasionally I will also watch Celtic Women as well.

George-Donaldson-5

So it is with great sadness that I report the loss of the

lead singer George Donaldson

George Donaldson (February 1, 1968 – March 12, 2014), was the oldest member of the group and was a well-known balladeer, guitarist and flautist from Glasgow, Scotland. Donaldson was a bus builder by trade and was self-taught as a musician. At Scotland’s Celtic Park, Donaldson played to 65,000 fans at the opening match of the 2000-2001 season. He released his new solo album “The World In My Mind” in April/May 2013.[3] Big George, as he was affectionately known, passed away suddenly on 12 March 2014 in his home town of Glasgow. He is survived by his wife Carolyn and daughter Sarah.

My condolences to the family and to all those that gained inspiration or joy from a great man’s music. Saint Patricks Day will be a little sadder this year old friend.

Rest in Peace Big George.

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Mister Mac

The Measure of a Man 6

McHales Navy

I have been infatuated with the United States Navy since I was a small boy.

Wearing my Dad’s old Navy uniforms while pretending to be part of McHale’s Navy was a routine part of growing up. I think I read every book in the school’s library that was even remotely related to the Navy and still get excited every time I know an old Navy movie will be showing up on my TV. When you think about the pictures in a young boy’s mind about what sailors and naval officers look like, they are always appropriate to the combat role they are playing at the time. Even in the heat of battle, John Wayne shows up in his crisp khakis ready to deal with the enemy in short shrift.

I was not particularly athletic growing up. Like most kids, I played backyard sports (soccer, football, basketball on the hoop hanging from the garage). But as I got older, I was always a bit too slow, not as well coordinated and certainly not as big as I needed to be for organized sports. So after getting picked later and later in each successive season, I decided a life of music was my better path. It had an unexpected benefit in high school when I discovered that the busses for away games were segregated for the football team but not for the band. I made this fortunate discovery the same year I discovered girls were not filled with cooties after all.

But at seventeen, I could no longer resist the urge for the adventures I dreamed about while studying those books about the Navy. The Vietnam War was still not resolved so the thought of getting in the action before it was over certainly added to the pressure to sign up. So in April, 1972, I joined the delayed entry program and started counting down the days until I went away. I did make some efforts to get in better physical condition since my father’s stories of the trials of boot camp suddenly became part of our conversations. I will admit to having a certain amount of fear since the movies showed men being pushed to their limits by grizzled and hardened combat veterans with a particular hatred of new men.

Take all you want, eat all you take

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Entering boot camp in June of 1972, I discovered that I really had not prepared well enough. It wasn’t all that harsh in the sense that I had anticipated emotionally, but the physical training was just enough to make a person sore. Like most guys I am sure, I discovered I had muscles and pains I didn’t know existed. By August of that year (it was a long summer), my body was more toned and fit than it had ever been. Miraculously, I also discovered that I could eat as much as I wanted and my waist still measured out at about 28 inches. The old sign above the galley window said, take all you want but eat all you take was the most pleasant sign I can ever remember seeing. What a wonderful thing for a young man with a really active metabolism. You could even have seconds.

August 1972

I really enjoyed Boot Camp leave (especially the attention from my girlfriend and the looks from her girlfriends). That dress blue uniform fit like a glove and I was the very picture of a modern naval man. Dad and Mom took us dancing to one of their clubs and every veteran in the place looked at us with a certain look of envy. It was either that or the very low cut pink clinging dress that I had bought for her. My Mom had to pin the dress a few strategic places before they would take us but that’s another story for another day.

Through the next year of schools around the country, I discovered the Navy’s seemingly endless generosity with their food offerings. A school, Sub School, FBMSTC in Charleston and finally the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor had great galleys filled with men whose only purpose in the world was to see that the Navy was fed well. The price was exactly right (free back in those days with a meal card) and that wonderful welcoming sign still showed up no matter where you went “Take all you want, eat all you take”. Fortunately my age and metabolism still protected me and the uniforms provided held up fairly well throughout the journey.

When I finally arrived at my first submarine, it was a happy discovery to find out that all the rumors about boat food being the best were true.

MMFN MacPherson

Mess cooking had the added benefit of offering the first and last shot at the great meals on board. Back in those days, the meals were planned and prepared by the CS in charge and the Georgefish was blessed with a few really great cooks and bakers. In many ways it was like being on a floating restaurant that also happened to carry nuclear weapons and torpedoes.

The first time I had a Maine Lobster tail with drawn butter, I thought I was going to pass out. Steamship rounds of beef, New York Strip steaks, fresh milk (as long as it lasted anyway), endless pounds of better and cheese, sausage gravy on biscuits, grilled hotcakes by the dozen, deep fried shrimp and on and on. That smell of fresh baked bread was an intoxicant that most men will never forget. It was even better if the smell was mixed with cinnamon. When food is all you have to look forward to, every smell and taste is important.

Some guys didn’t do so well. Big John Grant could barely make it out of the escape trunk at the end of the patrol. But I was blessed with a very busy job as an A ganger and a still youthful metabolism.

Nothing good lasts forever I suppose

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Things really started to change in the eighties. After years of larding up the force, someone must have discovered that as a group, we were no longer portraying the image of those sleek young sailors. I suppose you can blame it on a number of things. Liquid lunches for the crews on Friday were more common that I care to admit. And I do not ever remember seeing light beer involved with those lunches. The public in general became more health conscious as things like aerobics and fitness programs became more prevalent. The Navy’s food distribution system was still mired in generations old thinking. Truly, if you were cooped up for months at a time in a submarine, comfort food was the only thing you could look forward to.

The single worst thing that happened to the Navy was the changing back and forth to the various types of uniforms. Looking back on the pictures from that time, it is obvious that the introduction of CNT was the worst detractor of a Navy person’s appearance of any other material at any time in the Navy’s history. It was the straw that broke the fitness camel’s back.

Submarine design was also not geared for the new fitness trend. While some of the boomers could carry a limited amount of fitness equipment, the average fast boat was designed for fastness not fitness and little room existed for luxuries. I can’t remember when the new PRT standards evolved but suddenly deciding that sub sailors should be able to run a mile and a half for any reasons seemed as ludicrous as anything ever planned by people who were not submariners. Seriously? Where do we ever get the chance to run a mile and a half on a normal basis? Push up, sit ups, and that God awful torture called stretching were all just added to make the torture worse. Shouldn’t it have been enough that I could see my toes under normal circumstances?

I am not overweight, I am undertall

It got worse. Even if you survived the semi-annual barf fest, you still had to make it past the PRT Gestapo holding the tape measure standing next to the scale. I generally liked and respected most of the Navy Corpsman that served on boats as independent duty guys. They had a particularly rough job since any number of things could happen they needed to be prepared for. But I noticed a subtle change in a few when they discovered the hidden power of being the PRT goon. Suddenly, all the old hurts came out about their role being picked on in the past.  Some discovered an inner darkness that they only suspected was there.

I had spent four years on one of the best submarines ever built (USS San Francisco) and at the end wanted to have one tour on a Trident. Captain Previty made some phone calls and I had orders to the USS Ohio. I have to tell you that I was pretty excited since it would be a nice cap to my boat career. One very old boomer, one projects boat and a hot running fast attack. Now I would be going to serve on the largest submarine in the fleet. For a kid that grew up dreaming about big things in the Navy, this was the biggest.

Debbie and I headed home to western Pennsylvania first for a three week Christmas leave. We had been in Hawaii for some time and the family welcomed us with parties and food and more parties. We dined and we drank and then we dined some more. It was bitterly cold so covering up with lots of clothes after living in Hawaii for three years seemed like a natural thing to do. Underneath those clothes was a thirty year old man whose metabolism was no longer as active as it had once been. A sedentary lifestyle as a fast boat chief of the watch hadn’t helped either. New Years was exciting as we headed to Bangor and my first step on board a T-hull boat.

Who’s your daddy?

The boat was already in port when I arrived and the first few days were a blur of turnovers and meeting the crew I would work with. Getting Debbie settled into a temporary house was stressful since patrol was only a few weeks away. Plus, the boat was huge and I went from being a part of a great crew to being an unknown newcomer. Even being a freshly minted new First Class didn’t seem to hold much sway in a crew that had too many first class petty officers. The first day we got underway, the Senior Chief told me to report to the Corpsman’s shack. When I got there, the evil bastard was standing there next to his scale holding his measuring tape.

I do not remember his name. I do not even remember his face. All I remember is that he delighted in telling me that I was completely out of standards and an official notation would be made on my permanent record. Any further advancements (Chief) or even being allowed to remain in the Navy would be entirely dependent on my ability to regain standards. He also let me know that I would be seeing him weekly until this matter was resolved.

I was crushed. I had already noted that the friendly little sign in the galley welcoming all to the bounty of the Navy was not there. Instead, I could almost see a sign that said “Are you sure you want to eat that, Mac?” The next few weeks were a blur with learning a new type of boat and taking over my jobs for the division. But I quickly discovered that if I ate little to nothing, I could make my belt grow. Week over week on that miserable patrol, I pushed myself more and more. There is an actual gym on board Tridents in the Missile Compartment and I found myself there more often than in my rack. Gone were the days of unlimited sticky buns and endless platters of sliders. Pizza Night was nothing more than a tormenting smell that could only be vanquished by venting sanitary’s. Silas Hines famous double chocolate chocolate cake was a dream that I tried not to have. Butter and syrup were like poison elements that attacked my opportunities to ever wear khaki. They could not win!

Forty pounds later, the patrol from hell finally ended

Most of the clothes I had hung on me. When we pulled into the EHW, the families were waiting for us under the covered pier. Debbie told me afterwards that when I walked up to her, she didn’t recognize me and was still looking at the brow for my arrival. To be honest, when we finally did make it home, she … well, this is a family blog so I will leave it up to your imagination.

Ohio LPO 2 Ohio on surface

The Corpsman transferred during off crew to be replaced by a pretty good guy. I spent the rest of my career alternately praising or cursing the PRT guys (and later girls). The whole Navy is changing so fast and I don’t recognize some of it today. It’s hard to believe we actually won World War 2 and the Cold War with our bad behaviors and habits. Smoking, drinking and eating to our hearts content would get anyone of us in trouble in this day and age. You will notice I have not added anything about port calls either.

Today’s sailors face a lot more challenges than we ever did. In the long run, eating healthier and being in better shape will probably help some of them to have a longer life. I am eternally grateful that while mine may not be as long, I had a life worth remembering (as well as some I am glad I have forgotten).

So what is the measure of a man? I would like to think its the sum total of what they have done and not just the way they appear. Today at lunch, I will be with my Brothers of the Phin at our March USSVI meeting. I would be willing to bet than none present would be able to run the 1.5 miles anymore and if a tape measure suddenly appeared, you could except that at least one or two of the old boys would find their inner Kanye if you know what I mean. Yet by any measure, every one of them raised their hand when it was needed most and to hear them talk, would do so again. That is the finest measurement I can imagine.

Mister Mac

In memory of Silas Hines, one of the best cooks I ever knew. Fire up the grill Silas, I’ll see you soon.