Looking back over the last forty years, my thoughts of what a good submariner looks like have become much clearer. I have not been on a boat for over twenty years but there are some things that still stand out even through the haze of the years. I should tell you that I greatly admire many people who have served in different services. For instance, I can barely even imagine jumping out of a plane with a hundred pounds of stuff tied to my legs. It might just be me, but it would seem that all that junk just might make a landing a bit more complicated.
A submariner has to have a series of personal traits that are absolutely essential. Some may be more important than others but the one that seems to be most important is “trustworthy”.
Don’t get me wrong, many bubbleheads I know are the best stretchers of the truth when it comes to women, past personal achievements and liberty ports. But when it comes to the operation and integrity of the boat, they all suddenly become a cross between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in regards to truth. It is a sincere bond that is drilled into us from our earliest training. When I open the main vents fore and aft from the Ballast Control Panel, I have to be absolutely certain that all of the checks have been done and all of the repairs have been completed in accordance with the procedure.
The second trait that seems to have a lot of importance is assertiveness.
Every set of eyes and ears are important at all times on a submarine. Whether submerged or surfaced, the submarine is a million different opportunities for something to go wrong. You always have to remember that the builders had to come up with just the right design in order for the boat to succeed in its mission. We have had many different styles of boats built in the 112 year history of American submarines, hopefully with a succession of improvements during that time. New technologies have been developed and added but they have not always been successful. The ability for the average submariner to step out and let the bosses know is a hallmark tradition.
The third trait is that each submariner must be a problem solver.
When an alarm goes off, he must immediately make decisions on his next actions whether he was fast asleep or elbow deep in a pump repair in a remote part of the boat. You immediately have to think about where you are and where you are supposed to be. It may be dark or smoke engaged. How will you find the connection for the life sustaining EAB (emergency air breathing) that you only have seconds to put on. What equipment will you need? How big is the casualty? Is anyone injured? Every second counts. Whether it’s a drill on not, most of us treated the alarm as a real one. It was just the right thing to do. Its no wonder that years after they left the boat, many guys have dreams (or worse) that often wake them up.
The fourth trait that is important is that of patience.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about the patience that disappears in the chow line on holiday meals or steak night. Keeping calm as you transit into home port (or what substitutes for that) also does not fall into that kind of patience. Channel fever is one very real indicator of an extreme lack of this precious commodity.
No, the patience I am speaking of is a cultural patience that is needed when the mission is hot. Tracking a “bad guy” for multiple weeks requires absolute patience and absolute discipline. One wrong move, one unsteady hand, one unplanned activity could spell the difference between success and failure. I can imagine the same was true of my forefathers on the World War 2 patrols as they stalked an enemy. A submariner has to have it within him to be able to handle a living stress that few others can imagine.
There are many more traits that I am sure I will hear about
But the last one I want to talk about is
courage beyond measure.
The story of the USS Swordfish (SS-193) is an example of that type of courage. She was credited with the first wartime submarine kill not long after Pearl Harbor.
Her entire history is filled with incidences that would challenge the courage of any person alive. During her tenure, she conducted 13 war patrols resulting in eight battle stars. Her special missions took her into the heart of the Japanese empire and she participated in many of the major events of the Pacific war.
Her last mission took her to Okinawa where she was supposed to conduct reconnaissance. It is presumed that action resulted in her loss on January 12th 1945. To her credit, she served during the most desperate days of the war and went to hell and back on each patrol. These men had to have known that every patrol was a risk to their safety and their lives. Yet they went. Along with all of their brothers. Their sacrifices freed millions of people from tyranny and oppression. We can never repay them enough.
The heart and soul of a submariner is their ability to suspend their disbelief for just the right amount of time to complete the mission. They absolutely have to believe that their boat was built well enough, the crew was trained to the right level, and the sea will not be powerful enough to overcome both. I guess in a way, it’s the ultimate form of faith that comes from those willing to give their all for an idea: Freedom. Eighty-nine men were lost with the veteran submarine.