For some who follow my blog, I need to apologize but its been a hard week. Thanks to my friend Joey Sagnis, I found out well after the fact that one of the best sailors the Navy ever had passed away.
“Here is Silas’ phone number ***-***-****. He said he would appreciate a phone call. He misses the Big Mac.”
Those words were part of an email I saved from 2005 in a folder where I keep old shipmates info on. As soon as I saw the Facebook entry saying RIP to another shipmate, I felt a rush of grief and guilt mixed together. One phone call in seven years. I really can’t blame him since we have moved for work a lot of times and its been hard for many friends and family to keep up with us.
Like most people, I had good times and bad times in the Navy. Hopefully the bad times taught me something and the good times were certainly life’s rewards (even if I often didn’t deserve them).
The best times always had to do with people and I have many great memories from those days. There will always be one boat and one crew that I can always point at and say: that one was the best.
The San Francisco (SSN 711) was barely in the water when I showed up to help put her together in Newport News. The crew was not all together but as time went by, the numbers got bigger.
Captain Al Marshall was the pre-com CO but since I was just a third class A-ganger, I rarely saw him. The Executive Officer was LCDR Bill Godfrey. He was well thought of by the crew and a really down to earth man. He and his wife were on a short trip in the Caribbean when the helicopter they were both riding went down. No one survived.
Most of the crew were shocked but the new XO, LCDR Mark Keef went about leading them back towards the mission at hand. I would have hated to have been him. To his credit, he added a level of professionalism to the crew despite the tragedy that brought him there. There was little time to mourn since the boat was already marching towards its place in the Navy’s new goal: A 600 ship fleet.
We made it through pre-commissioning with a lifetime of stories to tell. The days when an unexpected snow storm hit coastal Virginia and some of the crew was stuck in the shipyards for days eating food out of the machines and the geedunk. Traffic in that area slows to a crawl with one inch of snow so you can imagine the shock of seeing several feet of drifting snow around the area.
The crew grew to its full size and the day came when we finally opened the galley. We were fortunate to have some pretty good cooks on board as well as a seasoned supply department. Food on a submarine is probably the most important morale builder of all. Even at the end of a shipyard period, the exhausted crew looked forward to the many meals that would come from behind that little sliding window that separated the galley from its customers.
Our commissioning was awesome. Instead of a quiet little ceremony in the shipyard, they had us move to the Aircraft Carrier piers at the Norfolk base. The Secretary of the Navy brought along the Secretary of Defense and it was on this occasion that Casper Weinberger announced officially to the world that under Ronald Reagan, we were going to build our way to a 600 ship Navy. Even though we weren’t the stars that day, it did get us to the front page of most major papers and the evening news.
I stayed with the San Francisco for four years altogether. Most of the crew made the trip around to Pearl Harbor and continued to make a lot of great memories together through our ops and in-port activities. Our wives grew close, we celebrated the birth of many children, and we shared our wins and losses.
In December of 1983 I made First Class and received orders to the USS Ohio. The boat left for another West Pac and I asked Mark Keef to administer the Oath of Reenlistment on the Bowfin. The guys who had also transferred or were left behind all joined us for the ceremony.
Silas Hines MS1(SS) was standing just up from me on the brow of the Bowfin. I would only see him one more time in San Diego a few years later. He and his wife allowed a few of us to stay with them. Those days will remain a private memory. Nothing bad, just a private memory
Silas was from Oklahoma and lived life to its fullest. But he was also a man of many contrasts. As loud and rowdy as he could be, he lived his life with all of his heart. His favorite movie was Lady and the Tramp. That one kind of shocked me, but I also remember sitting with him on the mess decks late at night just talking about life. Plus he was kind to all of the guys that worked for him. No single guy ever had to spend a holiday alone when I knew him. After talking with his wife Kathy tonight, no one ever did after I knew him as well.
Silas was one of those guys who you expected to run into on submarines. A little crazy, a little serious, a whole lot of dedicated to his shipmates, and lived life better on the edge than in a ho-hum kind of existence. In the years I knew him, I never once thought of him as anything but real.
There is one thing I never got a chance to say to him. I never got to thank him for the meals he made or the joy he added to my life. So if you can read this Si, I know its overdue but here it is:
God speed shipmate… see you soon!
The moral of the story is that life is much shorter than you plan on it being… putting off a conversation with an old shipmate may become more permanent than you could ever believe. If there is someone in your life who meant that much, pick up the phone and call him. No excuses.
The Submariner’s Prayer
Almighty, Everlasting God, the Protector of all those
who put their trust in Thee: hear our prayers in behalf
of Thy servants who sail their vessels beneath the seas.
We beseech Thee to keep in Thy sustaining care all
who are in submarines, that they may be delivered
from the hidden dangers of the deep.
Grant them courage, and a devotion to fulfill their duties,
that they may better serve Thee and their native land.
Though acquainted with the depths of the ocean,
deliver them from the depths of despair and the
dark hours of the absence of friendliness and grant
them a good ship’s spirit.
Bless all their kindred and loved ones from whom they are separated.
When they surface their ships, may they praise Thee for
Thou art there as well as in the deep.
Fill them with Thy Spirit that they may be sure in their reckonings,
unwavering in duty, high in purpose, and upholding the honor
of their nation.
By: Joseph Sagnis