Who are you calling old?

The old Submariner

The old Submariner knows a thing or two about what Submariners are all about. But the definition is generational and the definition has changed a time or two. The original old Submariner remembers clothes smelling of sweat and gasoline. The air was putrid and the battery acid ate right through his clothes. There was only one hatch in and out and the periscope sometimes had fog on the lens which made spotting that tramp steamer coming at you a bit rough. The food was hard tack and often inedible. It isn’t matter much since hull was round and the boat rocked even in the calmest sea.

The newfangled contraptions that replaced his boat were for sissies. Diesel replaced gasoline and there were new machines to clean out the poison form the air. You could stay down longer, the periscope had some nice improvements and all manner of electrical sensors started showing up. Because the boat could stay out a bit longer, the food improved and there were a few places a fellow could sleep when he wasn’t on watch. It wasn’t fancy but the old submariners probably scoffed at all this pampering. Until they died. Then the new submariners suddenly became the old submariners.

And so it went. Each generation saw new improvements and new technology. Each group of old submariners took their turns scoffing the newcomers. The cycle went on and on. I wasn’t even a year old when they put the first nuclear reactor on a Submariner and created something that was actually a true submarine. Able to operate for long periods of time independent from the surface. I was nineteen when I sailed on the boats that resulted. The old submariners mocked us then too.

“Damn nuke boats. Bunch of sissies (or worse). If it ain’t smoken, it’s broken.”


No mention about the fact that all that smoke made it easier to find the boat and sink it in the modern age of long distance search planes and new technology.

Those are the old Submariners now. The World War II guys are nearly all on final patrol. Lining up in the waiting area are the men who served on the post World War 2 diesel boats, the 41 for Freedom boats and the many submarines that darted about the ocean in sleek fast attacks looking for enemies doing the same thing. Even the 688 fast attacks are being phased out and replaced by technology that didn’t even exist when they were built. Same with the Ohio class.

I woke up and realized that I am an old Submariner now. The game has changed. They even have some fine Navy sailors with them that once only sailed in the sailors dreams. This time, they are crew members and are joining the family of bubbleheads.

I miss it every day. I miss the comradery and the feeling of esprit de corps. Sometimes at night, I go back in my dreams. I can still feel the deck beneath my feet and the up and down angles of the boat as she glides through the murky black sea. I wonder if the previous generation of old Submariners had the same dreams.

Say a prayer or two for the new Submariners that are out there today. It’s okay if you feel a little jealous of them too. They are doing things we did but with a much higher level of technology and efficiency. They see and do things we only dreamed about.

The only real difference between them and me is that they don’t realize yet that someday they will be the old Submariner.

Mister Mac

Bob MacPherson, president of the Pittsburgh Council of the U.S. Navy League, stand near a replica of the World War II U.S.S. Pittsburgh Thursday March 7, 2019, at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland. The submarine U.S.S. Pittsburgh SSN 720 will be decommissioned next year. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)


15 thoughts on “Who are you calling old?

  1. USS Pittsburgh, USS Louisville first subs to launch Tomahawk missiles. 1991 US-led coalition to push Iraq out of Kuwait. Those men are now “old submariners.”

    1. Nancy a lot of those TLAM’s came off the Dallas in late December 90. We had just outchopped the Med and got turned around to meet up with the 720 in Agusta Bay to swap weapons. They got the fire mission and we took over their ASW tasking while they got all the glory. LOL, still a little butt hurt…

  2. Good read! LOL, if you weren’t one year old when 571 was commissioned, you are somewhat a youngster to me. I’ve been a Holland club member for two years. I was a member of the launching and commissioning crew of the 3rd 637 class boat commissioned in April 1967, the Ray SSN-653. I too, was a Nuke MM. I enjoy reading your blogs. You can call me old if you want, I’m just proud I’ve made it to 76 and am still in good health and not on any prescriptions even though I’m a cancer survivor twice.

  3. I grew up in Mt Lebanon. Qualified on Sunfish 1979.
    Crewed on Dolphin, the last diesel boat. Then go onboard Requin and really feel old!
    I’m 71 and proud of it. I moved from the burgh in 93, been in PR ever since. Better winters! DBF!

  4. Mac: you’ve written a great piece here: it edifies and entertains, the dynamic duo of good writing. Having your personal perspective always gives it better value than a straight-up academic recitation of facts. God bless you and all the submariners…”old” and “new”!

  5. Saw your picture and thought “damn, that old submariner looks familiar!” Guess there’s a reason for that, served on GW Gold for six patrols from about 67-70 under Captain Merrit.

  6. Mister Mac,
    MM2 SS here. Rode the Abraham Lincoln SSBN 602. From late72 to early 77. Great piece…..enjoyed reading it. Keep it up. It’s nice to read something that isn’t all judgemental or political.

    1. Thanks for your service brother and you are welcome. Trying to tell a story in this day and age is a hard thing because of all the background noise. But since the 41 for Freedom program really kicked off in 1959, this seemed like the right year to tell it.


  7. Always enjoy reading your writings. I was part of the Commissioning Crew for Alexander Hamilton(SSBN-617), served on her until Nov. 1964. I was formally from the surface Navy ( target). Got to see both sides of the Navy,& forever grateful that I did. Better to understand what each group goes thru during their Navy days. Enjoyed your article on the Hamilton that you did recently, brought back many memories. After spending time in new construction, and sea trials and being an MM3(SS), I was assign to After Auxiliary. I earned my Dolphins while on sea trials. Again I enjoy you writings and look forward to more reading.

    1. Thanks Bill. You have an awesome email address by the way! I did my time in reverse… submarines first then surface when I got Warrant Officer. Miss the boats all the time now. Thanks for your service to this country


  8. I like it. I noticed the same thing between me and the current breed of cops and MPs. somehow, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who wonders what happened.

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