“Ever a Submariner” by Jody Durham, MM2/SS (A Gang) 40

I am obviously a sucker for a great submarine story. I spend much of my free time researching stories about a rare breed of men who chose voluntarily to sail on ships designed by their creators to sail beneath the oceans surface. I was recently introduced to Jody Durham, a fellow Cold War sailor (and a brother A-ganger), who captured the essence of being a submariner with such clarity that I felt like I should share it. These are his words. But truly, these are the memories I wish I could have captured half as well. This story is posted with Jody’s permission. Obviously, please respect all copyright rules and give proper attribution.

Mister Mac

Jody Durham

“Ever A Submariner”

“I liked popping the hatch at the top of the sail at sunrise and being the first to savor the scent of fresh air for the first time in 8 weeks… watching dolphins race in the bow wave on the way back home to Pearl… the tear-drop hull of the boat beneath me silently slicing through the sea.

I liked the sounds of the submarine service – sounds that we alone could hear, as we were the “Silent Service” where others were concerned – the ascending whine of the dive alarm sounding, and the haunting echos of “Cayooogah, cayooogah… Dive! Dive!” from the boats of yesteryear, the gruff voice of a Chief headed aft… “Down ladder; Make a Hole!” – the indescribable creaking sound of hull-steel compressing at depths that remain classified to this day.

I was impressed with naval vessels – bracketed in the aperture of Periscope #2, the crosshairs gently rising and falling across their silhouette on the horizon, while obtaining range, bearing and angle off the bow.

SSBN-598_2

I liked the names of proud boats of every class, from the “pig boats” of WWI to the sea creatures of WWII, like Barbel, Dorado, Shark and Seawolf, and the Cold War boats that bore with honor the names of these and 48 others that are “Still on Patrol.” Boats honoring national heroes, statesmen and presidents: Washington, Madison, Franklin and more. Whole classes of boats honoring cities and states: Los Angeles, Ohio and Virginia.

I liked the tempo of opposed piston diesels and the “pop” in your ears when equalizing to atmospheric when the head valve first opens to ventilate and snorkel. I miss the “thrill” of riding an emergency blow from test depth to the top at a nice steep bubble.

Surface surface surface

I enjoyed seeing places I’d only dreamed of, and some of which I’d heard of from my grandfather – who had seen them under very different circumstances and conditions… places like Pearl Harbor, Guam, Truk Island and Subic and Tokyo Bays.

I admired the teamwork of loading ships stores, the “brow-brigade” from pier to boat, and lowering them vertically through a 24” hatch to the galley below. I relished the competition of seeing who could correctly guess how many days underway before the fresh eggs and milk ran out and powder prevailed upon us henceforth.

I loved my “brothers,” each and every one, whether their dolphins were gold or silver and regardless of rate or rank. We shared experiences that bonded us evermore, and knew each other’s joys, pains, strengths and weaknesses. We listened to and looked out for each other. We shared precious little space in which to live and move and work, and we breathed, quite literally, the same recycled air.

After weeks in cramped quarters, my heart leapt at the command, “Close All Main Vents; Commence Low Pressure Blow; Prepare to Surface; Set the Maneuvering Watch.” When safely secured along the pier, the scent of my sweetheart’s hair evaporated the staleness emanating from my dungarees.

Going home

Exhausting though it was, I even liked the adrenaline rush of endless drills, and the comfort in the knowledge that any dolphin-wearing brother had cross-trained just like I had… not only on basic damage control, but to the point of having a basic working knowledge of every system on the boat, such that when real emergencies inevitably arose, the response was so automatic and efficient they were almost anti-climactic.

I liked the eerie sounds of “biologics” through the sonar headphones, the strange songs of the sea in the eternal night below the surface of the deep blue seas.

I liked the darkness – control room rigged for red or black, the only illumination that of the back-lights compass and gauges of the helm and myriad of buttons and indicator lights across the BCP. I liked the gentle green glow of the station screens in the Sonar Shack and Fire Control. I grew to like coffee, the only way to stay awake in the numbing darkness of the Control Room with the constant rocking of the boat during countless hours at periscope depth.

I liked “sliders” and “lumpia” and pizza at “Mid-rats” at the relieving of the watch. I liked the secure and cozy feeling of my rack, my humble little “den,” even when it was still warm from the body-heat of the guy who just relieved me of the watch.

I liked the controlled chaos of the Control Room, with the Officer of the Deck, Diving Officer and Chief of the Watch receiving and repeating orders; the sound of Sonar reporting: “Con-Sonar: New Contact, submerged, designated: Sierra 1, bearing: 0-1-0, range: 1-0-0-0 yards, heading 3-5-0, speed: 1-5 knots, depth: 4-0-0’.”

I liked the rush of “Man Battlestations; Rig for Quiet” announced over the 1MC, and the “outside of my rate” role I played as CEP plotter during war games, and later… SpecOps – the window to another world that I was allowed to peer through… the tactics, stealth and tenacity of our Captain making prompt and purposeful decisions to see us safely and successfully through the mission.

I appreciated the fact that I was a 19 year old kid, entrusted with operating some of the most sophisticated equipment in the entire world, and the challenge of doing those tasks in a 33’ x 360’ steel tube, several hundred feet below the surface, in potentially hostile waters.

I admired the traditions of the Silent Service, of Men of Iron in Boats of Steel, where you were just a NUB until you were “Qualified” and had EARNED the respect of the Officers and crew. I revered past heroes like inventor John Philip Holland and innovator Hyman G. Rickover. Such men and those that followed, both Officer and Enlisted, set precedents to follow, standards to uphold, and examples of bravery and self-sacrifice like the world has seldom seen. We were taught to honor these traditions. Somewhere far below the ocean’s surface, I became a man… and not just any man. I became… a Submariner.

Our story is seldom told, but we are truly un-sung heroes. We contributed significantly to the winning of wars, the liberation of the oppressed and the preservation of both peace and freedom. Many of us served during the “Cold War” – collectively, we stood the watch, patrolled and performed acts of top secret espionage – and we did so CONTINUOUSLY for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – for over four and a half DECADES. We kept a very fragile peace intact – very likely preventing global nuclear annihilation in the process – by virtue of our strength, vigilance, endurance and integrity.

Yes, we WON that war, and did so without ever once having to fire a shot in anger. Though we’ve been awarded many citations and medals, there are none that exist for that particular campaign as a whole. Our reward is the solemn pride that each of us possesses within our own hearts, the freedoms that we enjoy as a people, and the loving care of our friends and family—who stood the watch in their own way, supporting us in our absence when we were in harm’s way far, far from home.

Decades now have come and gone since last I went to sea. The years have a way of dimming things, like looking at the past through a smoky mirror. I went, as many others, my separate way… raised a family, and moved on… but a part of me, my Sailor’s Soul, will always be underway… somewhere… in the darkness, in the deep, making turns for twenty knots… pushing a hole through the water.”

Written By:

Jody Wayne Durham, MM2/SS (A-gang)

USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), ’85 – ‘88

Silver Dolphins

{Please see Author’s Note below}

*Author’s Note:

“Ever A Submariner”… An essay written in stark contrast to

“I Was A Sailor Once, And I Would Do It Again” by Mark Midgley*

There exists, throughout the military, a jovial and light-hearted “inter-service rivalry” between the various branches, US Navy and Marines, US Army, US Air Force and US Coast Guard. We each are proud of our own particular group, and rightly so, yet we also maintain a healthy respect for the role of each of the others. By virtue of their unique role, and the fact The Submarine Service is entirely comprised of volunteers (consider that these men volunteered not once, but TWICE, to serve our country in this way)… Submariners justifiably consider themselves among the elite… the best of the best. Thus a rivalry exists also within the Navy itself – between us “Bubble Heads” and our shipmates of the surface Navy, whom we lovingly refer to as “Skimmer Pukes.”

I am a member of several social media “groups,” – mostly submariner exclusive groups, but also of a couple that are comprised of US Navy sailors (active and retired) at large. It was in one of these groups (US Navy Machinist’s Mates – Facebook) that I came across the essay “I Was A Sailor Once…” mentioned above. Being by nature somewhat self-assured and assertive (ok, ok… cocky and aggressive), I initially began writing this essay as a paragraph by paragraph snarky, smart-aleck response to Mark Midgely’s essay. The reader can see some evidence of that in the opening paragraphs. But as I continued, I came to admire the other’s work as a genuine, heart-felt and reverent reminiscence of his personal Naval experience. And I too had experienced some of the same things. But I quickly realized that much of what he had expressed from his surface Navy experience was entirely foreign to me. I mean, the only salt-spray I experienced underway was from a sea-water pipe leak! So, while my essay still mirrors his to some extent, from the point of that realization it serves to give equal homage to the Naval experience as observed through the headphones of the Sonar-man, the greasy hands of the Auxiliary Machinist’s Mate, the chart-table of the Quartermaster and, as can only be seen through the eyes of the Officer of the Deck on the #2 Periscope.

Nautically Yours,

Jody Wayne Durham

40 comments

  1. Thank you!
    I would like to frame a copy for my home office wall. (For those who may question my many other Submarine decorated walls..

    FTBC/SS Craig Tower
    (1981-1993)

  2. If I’m interpreting this correctly, “Ever a Submariner” has been shared over 1000 times to Facebook from this site alone. I’m truly honored. And amazed. Thanks for the overwhelming response.

  3. I am currently stationed on the USS Georgia SSGN 729. As a fellow MM2/SS (though the nuclear type), I appreciate your essay. Though the head aches and heart aches are only briefly mentioned, You capture a broad picture of what life as a submariner encompasses. Spending most of my time past the WTD, I 100% agree with the phrase, ‘making turns for twenty knots… pushing a hole through the water.’ Thank you for your service!

  4. Thank you all, very much. I’m truly honored, and I’m happy that a few words strung together have meant so much to so many. It is but a small gift back to those who served before, with and after me… and those who still do. Men whom I am proud to call “brothers.” And to a way of life that transformed me forever, and helped shape the man I am.

  5. I commented once before. I earned my Fish in 1974 on the 669 and served again after shore duty on the 686. Never had the pleasure of a 688 class, but “boring holes in the ocean” certainly rings true. The smell at the weapons loading hatch before descending below decks never changes, and every boat sailor knows, remembers, and loves it still. There are funny things that make us brothers, and my wife doesn’t understand about the tight band that bounds us all, regardless of whether my shipmate was one from Seahorse SS-304, or Seahorse SSN-669 (she wasn’t with me then). We all felt when the Soviet Boat Kursk was lost a sense of lost brothers. When we went down into the sea at such a young age (I was 21) we could do anything, and we were right.
    Thanks again for such a wonderful missive. As I posted before, even at 62, I’d go to sea with you Anytime. EM1(SS)

  6. Hey Jude… (I couldn’t resist)… LOL Seriously… heartfelt thanks, brother. You’re so right… no one but us can truly understand the sights, sounds and smells of the boats, and a thousand other “funny things” that bind us forever in a very unique brotherhood. I’m sure I’m not the only one of us that finds an even greater appreciation of that here all these many years later than what I understood at the time. I’m proud to be one of you.

    • This story has continued to appeal to many of us who served on board a submarine. It is one of the most repeated stories of all the past year and has achieved over 10,000 hits.

    • Hello Phillip,

      This is a 640 Plank Owner; 64 – 67, NUKE IC2 SS. EPCP was my watch station with the throttles for maneuvering watch. My last patrol leaving Guam began with me on the Bridge phones with the Captain. Glad to meet you Phillip!

  7. Well said, Jody! Brought back fond memories and brought out a smile. It has been so long, all I remember are the good times. Being so young back then, I did not fully understand the boat’s mission. When the Berlin wall came down I understood the importance of what we did. I am grateful to all who served. Thanks for the memories! RO, ’72 – ’74 USS Bluefish SSN-675.

  8. Thank you, Larry! I understand your sentiments so well… 19 and bulletproof at the time, and sooo busy with our day to day that I too failed to fully grasp the significance of what we did until much later. I have a great deal of respect for you and others that went into the abyss before me. I’m proud to have been a small part of a BIG deal in that some of the things we did on the LA contributed directly to bringing the Cold War to a close. Certainly there were other boats that did similar things and some who performed even more audacious tasks (think USS Parche)… but we did some SpecOps at the end of ’86 into ’87 that were pretty hairy. Precisely 6 months later, President Reagan stood behind a podium in Berlin and challenged the Soviet Premier… “Mr. Gorbachev… Tear down this wall!” We have now raised a generation that knows nothing of the dread of living under the threat of potential annihilation from a nuclear strike. We should ALL be very proud of that. I wrote this essay shortly after “reconnecting” with our unique brotherhood in the Facebook groups via one of my shipmates that found me. Ours is a fascinating legacy, and I’m grateful to men like Bob MacPherson who tirelessly work to keep this legacy alive through his blog here and Facebook posts… and more importantly, his involvement in USSVI. He inspired me to join as well and I hope to contribute to my local base… the Cavalla base in Houston/Galveston. And we have our own submarine! Thank you again for your kind words. ~Jody

  9. Jody,
    My last boat was the 697 from 84-87.your story took me back in time, and I realized that the boat has never left me, I just left the boats. Thanks for sharing with all of us.
    Your shipmate,
    Jeff Dilick
    Retired MMCM(SS) DEI

  10. Honored, Master Chief. Even though, by comparison, my enlistment was short… hopefully it is evident that the boat penetrated my heart and soul as deeply as it did the seas in which we sailed.

  11. Also, Jeff… That’s the Indy, right? I had a couple good friends on there, from that time frame. Still in touch with one of ’em… Gregg Harkins. 🙂

  12. Jody, I want to respect your intellectual property but am not exactly sure how to do it. I want to send this to my son who is an E-3 at Basic Training in the Army. I will give you credit and will reprint this in whole including your name. I think everyone who has ever served needs to know there are good times and bad times. By the time he was born, I was on the road to retirement so all he knows about my service are my sea stories. I want to encourage him to find the good things in what he is doing and believe it matters. I think your perspective will help.

    Thank you shipmate.

    Andy Melton
    LCDR, USN (ret)
    Navigator, USS Baton Rouge (SSN 689)

  13. Jody: Re-reading your missive reminded me f something that happened in xxxx on a Northern Run Spec Op. Even though I was a nuke, I got to spend every other watch on the tracking party (that’s a long story). Extraordinary experience for a nuke.
    I remember one event that reminded me of what our mission truly was, cruising the seas with war-shots in every tube (and the obligatory signs hung, lest someone forget).
    These are the highlights as we were tracking an unfriendly who was relatively close (we had been tracking him for several hours):
    Conn, Sonar, Outer doors opening.
    Sonar, Conn, Aye.
    Conn, Sonar, High speed screws in the water.
    Sonar, Conn, Aye.
    Conn, Sonar, Screws have shut down.
    Sonar, Conn, Aye.
    Total silence in the Control Room, Captain says “Maintain the tracking party” and has a sip of coffee.
    Thanks again

  14. Andy Melton… I am honored, sir. I think my friend Bob MacPherson who operates this blog put the copyright disclaimer on here as a professional courtesy. But sir, I was totally unprepared for the responses this would receive, and from the beginning, I have intended it as a small gift back to our brotherhood. And if you feel it would encourage your son, I can think of no greater honor than for it to be used for that purpose. I am truly grateful for the amazing reception this little off-the-cuff essay has garnered, and that is more than enough “credit” for me. You may certainly feel free to reproduce it and send it to your son. You may feel free to edit it to suit your own personal experience as you see fit to serve the purpose you intend in encouraging your son. Whether my name is attached or not is of no import… especially in view of the developing situations in our world at the very moment I am writing this, and the very real possibility that he may soon be sent into harm’s way. Thank him for his service and sacrifice! And, thank you for your service! I have just recently been reunited with my first CO, and with several of my chiefs… men who had a huge impact on my early adulthood. I’m sure you had a similar impact on the men you led. I hope you receive this message quickly. I apologize for the couple days delay that has already passed. Sincerely, ~Jody Durham

  15. Jude… fantastic story! I suppose then that you related especially well to that segment of my essay that spoke of that aspect of our service. I was but a lowly A-ganger 😉 but I found myself a valued member of the battlestations tracking party for the simple fact that the CO had seen my logs at some point and liked my legible hand-writing! Whooooshh… just like that I was learning things way above my paygrade (and security clearance I suppose)! What an awesome experience! It’s awesome that you got a taste of that too.

  16. On a humorous note, Andy Melton… think how funny it sounds for the Nav to be saying to an A-ganger… “I want to respect your intellectual property…” LOL 😀

  17. Marvelous descriptions of The Brotherhood of the ‘Phin. I became a gold dolphin member of that sacred brotherhood in 1957 and served until 1977. I was a skimmer white hat for four years before that – shooting at the ChiComs on Korea. I was a smokeboater until I got shanghaied into The Kindly Old Gentleman’s fancy, seagoing Pleasure Palaces (well, hell, they had showers, for crissakes).

    Baptized at Vlad with Buzz Bessac (rest his soul), poked holes in the ocean off Petro on the oldest boat in SubPac (comm. 1942) but with two nasty weapons of just under 2MT each. Had to surface to launch the birds – a pure suicide run that no one talked about, but all knew. Then the nukes, built ’em after that when HGR needed a rep. Built (and then rode on one ‘adventure’) that hallowed boat, 683. What a helluva ride I had in this submarine brotherhood. To this day, I tell anyone who will listen (and even those who won’t) that there are only two kinds of ships – submarines and targets.

    Nothing compares, for me, to having ComSubPac, hisownself, sitting in his office and saying: “Want some coffee, skipper,?” What? You’re offering to pour me a cup and you have The Medal and four Navy Crosses on your shirt – and you’re pouring me a cup? Unless it was having a woman that I had met on a cross-country flight years later and taking her to supper i- and having her introduce me to her Dad and saying: “Daddy had a submarine command during the War – boat named USS Parche” Riiight – nice to meet you Admiral Ramage…Another Medal and three NCs. Holy crap – and we’re all members of the same Brotherhood. Every last damn one of us.

    Thank you, Jody, for a great reminiscence. It was in the highest tradition of that great storyteller, “Dex” Armstrong!

    “Mac” Maclaren
    CDR USN (Ret)

    • Mac, Thanks for the note. I will make sure Jody gets the word that you stopped by. I am proud to be a part of a community that recognizes great efforts and takes the time to pass along a BZ when appropriate. Jody’s story is now the third highest rated post on theleansubmariner with over 14,000 views on the blog and untold thousands more on a number of other sub vets sites.

  18. Cdr “Mac” Maclaren… Thank you sir, very much, for some of your own reminiscence in response to my essay. And, thank you also for the tremendous compliment at the end… I’ve read some of Dex Armstrong’s stories at olgoat.com! Also sir, I have recently reconnected with my CO from the LA, Cdr (at the time) Dave Stanley… a great submarine commanding officer in his own right. I am happy to have had the chance to thank him, a few of my chiefs, and fellow shipmates for the experiences I had in my relatively short career… but experiences that nonetheless helped shape my character and helped me navigate the course of my life. I’m sure you had a similar impact on the men you served with, and I hope this gives you a great sense of pride and satisfaction. I toured the National Museum of the Pacific War this weekend in Fredricksburg, TX. I was impressed that Admiral Nimitz, the great 5-star Fleet Admiral, never forgot his submariner roots, and always wore his dolphins with great pride. It is a unique and special bond that we all share, whether our “fish” be gold or silver. Thank you again, sir! ~Jody Durham

  19. Now that you have mentioned the Museum of the Pacific War and the Nimitz Museum in front of it – I should add that my wife is the great-grand niece of ‘Uncle Charlie’ Lockwood. When we go to the Museum (fairly often – we don’t live far away), I always ask her to stand next to a profile photo of Uncle Charlie – the genetic strain is very strong. I knew the Admiral after he retired and was doing research for a book – he prowled the waterfront in Pearl in the late 50s looking to chat-up any old sailors who had served in the boats during the War. (there were a fair number of folks wore fully-loaded war patrol pins – including my TM1). Little did I know what the distant future held for me.

  20. Mr. Maclaren… that’s amazing… rich heritage! I’d love to meet you someday and perhaps tour the museum together. I live in Conroe, approx. 4 hours away. I didn’t get to see as much as I would like to have seen… perhaps “absorb” would be a better word. I’m a 4th generation sailor, and was raised by my WWII veteran grand-father, an SK who did a lot of logistical work during the “island hopping” part of the campaign… Guam, Bougainville, Okinawa, etc. You may have noticed my reference to that in my essay. His widow, “Mama” to me, is 86 and blind and lives with me now. She has a mind as sharp as a tack… but she doesn’t have much knowledge of his activities prior to meeting her near war’s end in ’45. I want to return to the museum and explore it further, to get a better sense of where he was and when. Feel free to contact me at jdubyad@gmail.com and share contact info for future reference. Thanks again for your comments! Pleasure to meet you!

  21. Jody: It was indeed an honor to serve on a Tracking party as you did, although how that happened for me is a different story for a different time (but Definitely a Good Story, and not a This ain’t no S*** story) . But please don’t Ever say a Lowly A-ganger. If we wear or wore the Emblem of who we were/are, we are and will Always be Qualified Submariners regardless of our Rank or Specialty. Besides, almost 40 years later I still wouldn’t have the b***s to operate the Bomb.! Jude

  22. Haha Jude… I’d love to hear your de-classified tracking party story sometime! And, hopefully my pride is evident enough in the writing of this essay such that it is understood that my use of the term “lowly A-ganger” is tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, projecting humorously how we were sometimes viewed by, say… Sonar Techs and other twidget-types! LOL I am pretty doggone proud to have been one of the hardest working, filthiest, toughest guys on the boat! And… I LOVED “the bomb” — she was named “Evelyn” on the L.A. (our Fairbanks Morse diesel was “Pebbles”). We certainly loved our machines — within limits! For example, although I had more than one intimate encounter with San-2, I never gave it a pet-name! If you’ve BT,DT — you’ll relate! ~Jody

  23. Pingback: In honor of the day… the top five posts on TLS « theleansubmariner

  24. This is the best string I think I have ever seen and would like permission to frame and post on my wall. Ray “Doc” Pelland HMCM(SS) USN Retired.

  25. From a Steward to a Machinist’s Mate, I went from table hopping in the wardroom to running the main engines in the Engine Room and ALPO in fast attacks. An adventure in my navy life that will be forever etched in my mind. The brotherhood and the glorious feelings that I am surrounded by comrades who will keep me safe and accept me for what I am. I am very fortunate to belong in this eternal brotherhood and would not trade the experiences for anything on earth. Thank you for sharing and if I can, I will do it all over again.

    Joey Amposta MMC(SS) DV, USN Ret

  26. I just came across your story. I only wish my husband was here to read it, he died in 2006. He was ETC (SS) James R. “Pat” Patterson. He served from 1961-1981 on the USS Bonefish (SS 582), USS Scamp (SSN 588) USS Cutlass, which became the SS Hai Shih and was sold to Taiwan (Pat was on the training crew and went to Taiwan for 6 months), the USS Sea Leopard (SS 483) and the USS Blueback (SS 581) which he retired from on 30 June 1981. If any of Pat’s former crewmates see this and would like to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
    Cathy Patterson
    Portland, OR

    • Cathy, thanks for the feedback and please accept my condolences on the loss of your husband. I know it has been a few years but I am sure the loss is still felt. Submariners are a rare breed of men. There are a number of pages on Facebook for submariners including one for Diesel Boat Guys. It sounds like James would have fit in well with that crew.

      Bob MacPherson

    • Hi Cathy

      I came across your post and I served with your husband on the Sea Leopard. I am very sorry to learn of his passing and remember some great adventures on the Sea Leopard especially the med run in 71

      Bob Osborne

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