Warshot Loaded – Why Every Submariner is a Warrior

I know I have been MIA for a while. Sorry about that. Lots of personal stuff going on which I will share later.

I recently rejoined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. My service on board two Boomers allowed me to be eligible to join. I have always thought that the organization was missing the boat (see what I did there) by not including all Submariners in its ranks. Our service is unique when you think about it. All of our missions are classified and that is a good thing. No need in tipping the Chinese or Russians off on anything we may or may not have done. The threat from both and many smaller nations is still very real.

At a few recent meetings, I kept hearing leadership say that they need to engage with people who are not participating. I live in Western Pennsylvania and we have a plethora of former submariners living and working here. It just seems that the right thing to do is once and for all fix the problem of their eligibility.

This is the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War 2.

But we all know that the Cold War had already started before the ink was dry on the Japanese surrender document. The Soviets and later the ChiCOMS were itching to dominate the world and the United States was committed to not letting that happen. Submarines have been the tip of that spear for 75 years. But no one knows the specifics of why. With the rare exception of certain books that were written without the Navy’s blessing, its all conjecture. And hearsay. And we didn’t do anything because we weren’t there. And won’t be again.

The way to fix the VFW Gap (and that of any organization that wants to include a really phenomenal group of men and women, is to recognize that we never stopped being at war. So here is the Proposal:

Resolution to Include “Qualified in Submarines” designation to the eligibility list for membership in the Veterans of Foreign War

Seventy Five Years ago, the Japanese were defeated in the Pacific theater bringing the Second World War to a close. Within five years, the Cold War exploded in Korea while the French regime was being beaten in Vietnam.

United States Navy submarines played a key role in ending the war in Japan. Combat missions that were later declassified showed the range of operations that resulted in the strangulation of the Japanese war machine. Submarines were present on September 2nd in Tokyo Bay when the instrument of surrender was signed. The war for freedom did not end for American submariners in 1945. Submarines have sailed to counteract the threats of many countries unseen and largely unknown since they were first included in the American fleet in 1900.

The day after the surrender, the submarine force started adapting to their new mission of helping to keep the seas free for commerce and trading. But from that day until now, missions have been kept largely classified. The emergence of the Soviet Navy was part of the global Soviet threat to spread communism. The threat included land and air based systems that eventually cast a large nuclear shadow over most of the world. Soviet submarines rapidly grew in size and capability directly threatening the US Homeland

Every American submarine goes to sea with the assumption that this mission will involve having to defend freedom. In the torpedo room, you will see a small sign on the outside of the torpedo tubes that says: WARNING: Warshot Loaded.

Because of the classified nature of the operations, many men and now women are not eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The notable exceptions are Submariners who wear the SSBN Deterrent Patrol Insignia and the Navy Expeditionary Medal.

It is long past time to add the category of Submarine Warfare Insignia (commonly called Dolphins) to the list of eligibility requirements for membership in the VFW.

To earn the right to wear “fish”, prospective Submariners complete an extensive qualification process that lasts about one year (for both enlisted and officers, though the two programs differ significantly) and covers virtually all of the submarine’s systems. Every Submariner is trained to support combat operations.

Each Submariner “qualifies” on a submarine that is actively engaged in countering the ongoing threats to America. By design, those missions must remain classified. The men and women who place their lives in danger every day they are underway should not be prohibited from participating and contributing to the VFW just because the nature of the missions are classified.

It is hereby resolved that any honorable discharged Veteran who has earned the classification of “Qualified in Submarines” be included in the eligibility standards for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Robert W. MacPherson

Chief Warrant Officer, Submarine Engineering Technician, US Navy Retired

Let me know what you think…

Mister Mac

39 thoughts on “Warshot Loaded – Why Every Submariner is a Warrior

  1. I wasn’t aware of the strict VFW membership requirements. If they haven’t recognized ALL qualified submariners by now, I’m not sure I’d want to become a member of their organization. Thanks for the information and keep up the good fight for recognition.

    1. The Toad IC1 (SS)
      If there’s a need for signatures or petition(s) to be signed I will be more than happy to comply with whatever is needed to pursue this effort.

    2. I rode both SSN and SSBN. 90 North in Aug. 62, SSN 584. Plank owner on SSBN 624 Blue, 7 patrols. Later, SSBN 632, Blue, 8 patrols. I’m a mustang A Gang, never a NUC.
      Now, at 80 yrs young, I’m the Jr. Vice Commander of the Nemaha Valley VFW post. First new post to be formed in Nebr. since 1989. We’re having some trouble getting the younger vets in the area to really “sign on” But the virus has the whole game in a whirl, so it’s hard to really say.
      I’ve been told by senior VFD people that the reason SSBN.but not SSN, are presently eligible for VFW membership is the one real difference in what the future may hold. If an FBM were to make a tactical launch, it would immediately be a primary target for return fire., and very likely be in the thick of things, shall we say. That was/is the reason someone made the decision for eligibility the way it is. I don’t think any, at least a large number, of SSBN vets, rallied behind that for a cause. I’ve never heard of that, if it was a factor.
      But, I must admit that the SSN vets have a very valid point, well made. But, I would like to say to the SSN vets; don’t be silent about it, but be orderly in how you make your desires known, so you will be listened to with all due respect, and get somewhere with your request. Now, if you also are an SSBN vet, pease feel free to join VFW, and be active in the Post, and show the others that we can do things the right way. The VFW works hard to help ALL vets, not just the wounded, or those who have certain ribbons. Remember, we’re all in the service for the same reason, and we all follow the orders we are given. Some may volunteer for various special duties, some may just get orders to things they don’t really want. That’s the way all of life is; none of us has volunteered for the “virus”, but it has shaped our days. Duty in the Middle East, and a few other places, is the same way.
      A little more background……LCDR Harvey was XO on Seadragon, left us in August of 62, and was lost as CO, on 593 boat. I’ll never forget the twist in my gut when I first heard about San Francisco.
      That was as close as it gets, I think, to almost loosing another boat/crew.

      MMCS(SS) James M Clark

  2. My friend and I were hit up by the local VFW rep leaving the Miramar Airshow a few years back. Showed the chart of medals and pins that were required to join. As an MT with six patrols on 618 and 601,I met the requirement. My friend (20+ yr retired EMC) was on a diesel boat (USS Bonefish SS 582 among others) he didn’t meet the requirement. As far as being a ‘Cold Warrior’, he did much, much more than I did, yet he didn’t meet the requirement. Told the VFW rep that’s utter BS and I wouldn’t ever consider joining unless all Dolphin wearers are allowed.

  3. I’m not a Social anything or anyplace with people, but even if I was… if a group such as VFW hasn’t recognized submariners already, can’t say it’s a group I want to be a member of anyway.
    Thanks for the effort.

    1. To be very honest, the VFW is like a little country. It’s broken up into factions and the factions are always arguing. I have been integral in the administrative part of the VFW and it’s like dealing with a kindergarten. I’m done with it….I got tired of factions fighting each other.

  4. I thought we Qualified Cold War Submariners already were able to join VFW…… I researched it years ago and saw that we met the quals as we had Dolphins and Polaris Patrol Pin …… Our local VFW was disbanded as most WWII VFW vets had passed…… So I joined a very active American Legion (Post # 16) in Lynchburg VA ……. Looking fwd to getting back with the gang, once this C19 crap has passed ……. 3354/5345 ………..R Young, EM1(SS)DV

  5. I served on a Trident Ohio class Submarine USS KENTUCKY SSBN 737 Gold crew from 1994 to 1998, I never new that about the Ballistic pin.
    Thanks for the story
    ~FT2/SS Queen

  6. As a brother of the ‘phone, I couldn’t agree with you more. The fact that we have been fighting the secret war, Cold War to others, and not being able to discuss what we did, or didn’t do, where we were or weren’t, makes it difficult for military organizations to accept us as warriors in a time of need. The mere fact that we were a deterrent for an all out war, should put us at the head of the line. I was allowed into the VFW because of my Expeditionary Medal and I would ask that they accept our ‘phins as proof of our warrior status. Most military organizations, including USSVI, have a declining membership as some of our older patriots are passing away. We need to bring our current serving members to become active members of all of these organizations that put veterans first and foremost. Let the petition begin

  7. As a brother of the ‘phin, I couldn’t agree with you more. The fact that we have been fighting the secret war, Cold War to others, and not being able to discuss what we did, or didn’t do, where we were or weren’t, makes it difficult for military organizations to accept us as warriors in a time of need. The mere fact that we were a deterrent for an all out war, should put us at the head of the line. I was allowed into the VFW because of my Expeditionary Medal and I would ask that they accept our ‘phins as proof of our warrior status. Most military organizations, including USSVI, have a declining membership as some of our older patriots are passing away. We need to bring our current serving members to become active members of all of these organizations that put veterans first and foremost. Let the petition begin

  8. My feelings are, for me anyway, “It’s complicated”. I qualified for membership in the VFW two ways. Two entries in my DD214 for service in the Vietnam War Zone for times I can’t / won’t talk about, and the Navy Expeditionary Medal, again for multiple somethings I can’t / won’t talk about. As the saying goes “we were never there”. I joined the VFW and was granted membership. But in the town I lived in, and I’ll grant you I might be a special case. I felt like an outsider and eventually let me membership lapse.

  9. 100% agree that qualified submariners should be allowed membership in the VFW. But I also agree with some comments that if the organization to date has been incompetent enough to deny membership to us 1% then they can keep their skimmers, bullet sponges, crayon munchers! Just like the Wounded Warrior only allowing those who served “in theater” and who have a VA disability rating to join. I was asked by the local rep what service connected disabilitg I have and which campaign ribbon I had. They basically only want the Vets who’ve lost a leg or arm or etc. Who are physically disabled to join so they can put their shitty pole shirts with their shitty hats and lanyards on them and parade them to sporting events and concerts! I feel more passionately against the Wounded Warriors than the VFW. My 2 cents….? FUCK’EM both! Let’s start our own. “Brothers of the ‘Phin”

    1. We have!! Submarine Veterans (USSVI) is the Brothers organization. Been a member for 28 years and we don’t do politics. We just gather for that special brotherly remembrance and “sea stories”. Look us up online or give me a call. I’ll be glad to help you hook up with a local base.
      Robert Patrick/ USN Ret/ SS/DV/SWO

      1. Tried a few meeting with the local USSVI, all they did was bitch about the VA. 😎DBF 580

  10. I am a vfw member and just pushed my membership to a life membership. I do agree that anyone that earned there dolphins should be eligible. However I know the good the vfw does for all of us veterans and in our local communities. I am all in with them.
    MM2ss nuke

  11. Acceptance should be the same for Vietnam Era Veterans aboard tenders.
    Why? Those boats don’t float until we tend to their needs. It was us as support, including us as Radiomen that insured we provided swift, efficient communications at all times under all conditions to keep those boats in the know at all time. In Guam at least, we were within 800 miles of the war effort in Vietnam and are considered vital in the Vietnam Era, but not vital enough to qualify for the VFW.

    We should have the same rights of membership as tender sailors as a personal adjutant located in some highly sheltered area on the Asian continent, I’m sure purists would not agree…this happens all the time in the VFW. Many think they are exclusive to the VFW because they were combat infantry (all services) and they should be considered the elite of the VFW, more elite than those that served in-country of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. Those are one level of purists, and their reasoning doesn’t give enough weight to the branding of exclusivity. Some gave all, all gave some when so close to a war zone and of a high support entity as a FBM sub tender.

  12. I’m eligible because of my SSBN Deterrent Patrol Pin. However, I have refused to join over the years because they exclude fast attack sailors. I will join the day they allow ALL of my brothers who wear Dolphins to join.

  13. I served on 3 boomers and I am a member of the VFW. I am also a member of the American Legion. On July 31, 2019, the President signed the Legion Act that opened up membership eligibility in the American Legion to anyone who has served since December 7, 1941 and received an Honorable Discharge.

    1. American Legion has always been open to anyone that has received an Honorable Discharge. I have been a member of Legion 123 and I have never been aware of any other restrictions. I don’t know what the President signed but it wasn’t that.

  14. Here in Halifax PA you can join the VFW without being a veteran. They allow anyone in the community to join in the social status because if they only allowed veterans to join, they would only have a hand full of ppl that belong, having the social club open, they can allow anyone to join.

    1. Interesting Steve. That flies totally in the face of the National Charter – totally. The bylaws are very definitive. I was the webmaster for the VFW and they made a stink because I wasn’t a member. A big stink, even though it says that certain positions may be contracted out -and paid- they made a big stink and I was out within 3 months. This all despite the fact that the Department (next step above the local posts (11 in ours) gave me 2 annual BEST SERVICE TO THE VFW awards with nice plaques and other honors. Crazy, huh? These be the facts.

  15. Excellent Report. I always thought us sub guys should be included, once I found out boomer guys could join I did. I served on both boomers and Fast boats and I also agree that fast boats should be in, even though the missions couldn’t seem more different to the casual observer they were hand and glove to support the greater good and the protection of the United States and its allies.
    ET1(SS/SWCC) Darrington Ret.

  16. I agree with your comments and you really reopened a sore point with me. In 1972 I was a sandcrab working in a Navy office at the Cape and had reenlisted in the Reserves. As part of my job I scanned all the new Instructions and Notices issued. I read with interest OPNAV Notice 1650 of 21 November 1972. It authorized the awarding of the Navy Expeditionary Medal (NEM) for special submarine operations if you served on an eligible sub during certain time periods. It did not indicate what a “special submarine operation” was but I sure thought I knew! The directive required a letter from the member to the appropriate Submarine Force Commander, giving the name of the boat and dates onboard. I did so and was awarded the medal. Now jump ahead to 2004, when thanks to joining the USSVI, I came into contact with shipmates from USS CORPORAL (SS-346). When one of them noticed the NEM on my vest, he asked for details & I explained. I then helped him apply for the NEM, figuring after getting the procedures down, I would help others. The request was denied as unauthorized. A search of the list of eligible units or circumstances did not show the award. I could not find any reference to the OPNAVNOTE 1650. Around 2006 I asked a high ranking officer of the USSVI for help in getting an answer to the question. He completely blew me off. I tried again with a second shipmate with the same results. Other circumstances in our lives came into play and the whole thing just got put aside.

    One one hand, none of us need a medal to remember what we did (or didn’t do since we were not there), but on the other it was authorized and I feel the smoke boats and fast attacks deserved a little unclassified recognition.

    Phil, YNC(SS) USNR

    1. Phil, thank you for a great message. I have had a lot of response to this post. Some guys feel that its in line with the service we actually did and a few don’t. I believe that every time we sailed, we did so with a warshot ready to answer the call. The reverse of that is how many submarines we probably faced that were carrying a similar reward for us. I won’t say more since Op Sec is still a pretty big deal for me. But submariners are a special breed and the services of the VFW and other organizations are services that we legitimately earned. The oldest saying about submariners still applies: We all submerged together, we all come to the surface… or no one does.

      1. Wow, came across these posts. I am trying to help a friend get in our VFW Post he was on the USS Bonefish from 1974 -75 out of Hawaii did not know it was this confusing with the submarine service. I mean we have not delt a lot with Submariners. Asking for help what to look for on DD-214 that would qualify him. I was on a surface ship. But any advice would help.

    2. Hope this helps all the SS personnel to clear up what the current requirements are. The VFW dropped a lot of restrictions over the years. Here’s straight from their website. I processed a lot of bubbleheads when I was the webmaster – you’re GOOD. Move on to PART II for SS information

      PART ONE

      There are three qualifiers for membership in the VFW, as set out in our Bylaws. An
      individual must meet all three in order to become a member. They are as follows:
      1: Citizenship – must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. National.
      2: Honorable Service – must have served in the Armed Forces of the United
      States and either received a discharge of Honorable or General (Under Honorable
      Conditions) or be currently serving.
      3: Service in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.
      This can be proven by any of the following:
      – An authorized campaign medal (see other side for a list of qualifying medals
      and badges)
      – Receipt of Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay (verified by a military
      pay statement)
      – Service in Korea for 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days
      This information is usually available through a veteran’s DD-214. If other
      information is needed or if a veteran’s DD-214 is not complete, they can contact
      the National Personnel Records Center at 314-801-0800 or online at http://www.
      archives.gov/veterans/evetrecs/ to request more information.
      It is imperative that we verify the eligibility of every member that signs up for
      the VFW, not only to comply with our Bylaws but also to maintain the integrity
      of the organization. If you have questions concerning membership eligibility,
      please contact the National Headquarters at 1-888-JOIN-VFW or via email at

      PART TWO

      If a veteran’s DD-214 or other military documentation confirms they have been
      awarded one of these campaign medals and they have served honorably,
      then they are eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
      –SSBN Deterrent Patrol Insignia

      Nothing else is read into the above, nothing. You got the insignia or the DD-214 remark to prove it – you are in.

      Swifty G
      COMSUBRON 15 – We serve to preserve peace
      1971-1975 RM3

  17. As usual, I agree 100% with your assessment. At the time, I never really gave much thought as to what we were actually doing. I went to sea when the boat did, did all the drills, the field days, etc, but it didn’t matter to me if we were “at war” or just playing, it was all the same. As I grew older, I really began to appreciate what myself and other fast attack sailors were actually doing, we were going places we shouldn’t have been in (or were we!), chasing things we shouldn’t have chased, and we were definitely the tip of the spear. If things would’ve turned hot during the cold war, we’d have probably been able to fire the first shot.

  18. I had no idea because I have never tried to join a VFW post. I am a member of the American Legion and DAV but I have never even been approached by the VFW. If sub qualification is not a qualifying event to join this organization, I will have no part of it. As a special forces marine traveling on our boat told me, “I don’t know how you guys do it! I face death only in the battlefield or while on a covert op. You face death every second of every day and frankly, I’m scared to death right now being under the ocean in this tube!”

  19. Bud R
    Member of them all. Made twenty Patorals during the 70’s and 80’s from Scotland and always thought we went in places we never went, did things we never did,and had things happen that never happened.and all the time we were ready for war with are Missles ready and War Shots loaded in the Room never knowing if or when the combat would happen and,hoping it didn’t.We were all trained for war and Combat but never considered A Combat Veteran’s even knowing we were not where we where doing what we didnot do.

  20. I guess I am a joiner . . . been a member of the Knights of Columbus for 25 years, and broadened my spectrum by joining the American Legion 16 years ago. Legion is very Veteran oriented, and has a number of great programs . . . Boys and Girls State, Legion Baseball among them. I am currently involved in a spin-off . . . Big Bend Honor Guard. We were formed as an American Legion Honor Guard, but currently belong to the National Cemetery Administration as “Employees (WOC)” The WOC stands for without compensation, but serving our deceased brothers is compensation enough. We will be serving our 600th interment later this month. For VFW, we have tried to entice members to join us, (we have members of the Marine Corps League, Sub Vets, Catholic War Veterans and American Legion) but have been unable to recruit any help from them.

  21. Absolutely agree! Given that I served on. SSN that came back with only MK48 and nothing else in horizontal or vertical tubes. They can never say they where there, however when 20 missiles are no longer on board….. The last time I checked into VFW all “Phins” had to have a campaign ribbon to meet the minimum.

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