Fast attack submarines play a key role in our nation’s defense and have done so for as long as I have been alive. For the record, that’s more than at least 59 years. I was a crew member on three different fast attacks although I only really deployed on one: The USS San Francisco SSN 711. It was also my longest served boat (just shy of four years) which is probably why I have some of my strongest memories of that service.
I want to tell a short story about our first West Pac. These six month deployments allow fast attack submarines to do many missions for extended periods of time without having to return back to home base. The San Fran was not unique in any way when it came to doing West Pacs (Western Pacific operations) but our first one had a few twists and turns along the way that separated her from routine.
Most of the operational stuff is still classified in one way or another but what we did in Japan stands out as a very different sort of port call. We had left Hawaii not long before arriving in Yokosuka JDF Naval base. Arriving in Japan, we would have had a typical port visit with visits to the local bars near the main gate and perhaps a little souvenir shipping. But I had a bigger vision than that. I actually thought it would be interesting to use some of our time to actually see Japan.
In my role as the Command Career Counselor, I had decided that maybe there was some missed opportunity in not seeing the country that would be our first port call on the West Pac. So I got the XO’s permission while we were still back in Pearl Harbor to set up some tours once we got there. I was a bit older than most second classes since I had rejoined active duty after a stint in the reserves. I had also seen guys drink their paychecks away in port after port and then years later not even remember anything about where they had been.
Japan has a rich history and many things to see. Even to this day, I hope that I have at least one more chance of travelling back to catch some of the things I have read about but never saw. The special services people and American consulate people were probably surprised when they got the first letters from some second class petty officer inquiring about tours. There was no email back then so no back and forth communications could occur in a timely fashion. Plus, I couldn’t actually tell them when we were arriving since it was part of OPSEC (Operational Security).
Surprisingly though, when we pulled in, I had envelopes full of pamphlets, maps, translation guides, and a letter from a tour operator with three suggested trips. Those included the famous Fifth Station on Mount Fuji (including the Lake Hakone Region and the Ice Caves), The Coastal region and the famous statue at Kamakura, and day trips to Tokyo including the Palace.
I spent the next two days making arrangements and selling tickets for the tours. Within a few days, the first tour was ready to go and I got my first cold hard dash of reality. There seemed to have been a lot of excitement about the various trips but suddenly guys were trying to back out. The travel to Japan had been hard and work in port on a fast boat is always exhausting. But a deal was a deal and we had obligated ourselves.
I can’t remember now which trip was first. The bus pulled up next to the pier and our guides explained where we would be headed. There were a few unhappy campers who felt like now they were going to miss out on something. I don’t know to this day if the trips really meant anything to the groups that went. I do know what they meant to me…
I can now say that I have been up to the Fifth Station of Mount Fujiyama and walked beneath the Ice Cave falls.
I can also say that I saw the Shogunate of Kamakura and the giant Bhudda statue that you can walk up into.
And to this day, I can still feel the crunching of the gravel and stones around the Imperial Palace
There was one last memory of Japan that I still cherish today.
I still miss your music Jim.
I hope in your journey of life, you take a risk from time to time and do the unexpected. You may never know the impact you had, but I can assure you, you probably did.