May you live long enough that you long for your past despite the hardships and difficulties.

The definition for nostalgia that comes from Webster’s Dictionary include these:

  1. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period of irrecoverable condition
  2. the state of being homesick

With apologies to Webster and company, this is my definition:

May you live long enough that you long for your past despite the hardships and difficulties.

I have now lived longer than I believed I would live. Good doctors, excellent advances in medicine and a mostly patient wife who tries to keep me on a path that has less obstacles. I am sure her job is full time and much harder than it needs to be. I am, after all, cut from the same jib as my Father. If you are not a Navy person that translates to: cut of (one’s) jib; A person’s general appearance, manner, mien, style, demeanor, or personality. A reference to the jib sails of a boat (which denoted a ship’s allegiance, and therefore potential hostility), it is usually used in the phrase “like the cut of one’s jib.”

Yes. I long ago accepted that I have become my Dad.

Dad was a Navy man as was his father. The main differences are that I was a submariner and a career sailor.

The submarine force has always been a small fraction of the active Navy. During World War II all submariners (including the rear echelon) accounted for less than two percent of Navy personnel, but accounted for 55 percent of Japan’s merchant marine losses. In 1998 only about seven percent of the Navy’s people were submariners, though they operated one-third of the Navy’s warships.

I’m sure there have been surges over the years. When the Navy went on a building binge during the Cold War, a lot of extra men were brought on board to handle the increase in submarine strength. Probably most critical to that growth was the use of two crews for the boomers (ballistic missile submarines). Just as the submarine force grew exponentially during World War 2 to fill all of the boats built to defeat the Japanese Empire, the Cold War saw an influx of many men to man the sleek new Fast Attacks and Boomers as well as keep the again diesel boat fleet afloat.

There are generally three stages to a submariner’s life:

Being a Non-qual

Being Qualified

Being ashore.

Everyone who has never qualified in submarines falls into the first category.

You can read about what submariners go through and you can make assumptions. For many, there is a feeling that being a submariner with all of its obvious challenges is the last thing in the world you would want to do. Nearly everyone has seen the ocean whether in person or on the various media outlets. The ocean is large and produces unexpected storms with little warning. The idea of going underneath that ocean’s surface with no sunlight or easy escape if something goes wrong does not seem natural to the average person.

Add to that natural fear, the loss of freedom. Once the hatches are shut and the boat submerges, you are locked in. There is no privacy and nowhere to go that you can truly find some “alone time”.

Fortunately, though, enough people do have enough sense of adventure to be convinced that they might earn a spot as a submariner someday. I say fortunate because without those people suspending their concerns long enough to get the proper training, we would soon find ourselves at the mercy of other countries with men bold enough to do so.

For 122 years, we have always had that group of men and now women.

The idea of staying a Non-Qual is made unpleasant from the first day you report aboard. The existence of people who are not qualified is necessary to replace the ones who will someday go ashore, but it is not a happy existence overall. Even the privations of a submarine can be relieved by a few amenities. But having a trained and qualified crew is the life blood of excellence so for a Non-Qual, those amenities are scarce and limited.

Qualifications include learning how every internal system works. In combat, you have no time to guess what a valve is there for so you learn the name and function for every valve. The electricity that surges invisibly through the internal wiring is also critical for defense and offence. So every panel has a name and a way to secure it in case of a casualty. Hydraulics, high and low pressure air, emergency breathing air and masks, damage control equipment and on and on. There is nothing short an avalanche of information and skill building that are required to gain the qualifications of a submariner.

Most importantly, despite the instances where many had to gain initial learning tied up next to a pier, your real qualifications happen when the boat is underway and you are in an operational setting.

During the Cold War we always had company.

Sometimes they were seen, sometimes not. But the enemy was always assumed to be within striking distance and there were no second chances. The ocean is very large but as large as it is, it is also unforgiving. Any mistakes at the wrong moment could result in the ultimate mistake. The old saying is that we all submerge together and we all come back to the surface together assumes that there is no other alternative. Some boats have found that the alternative is all too real.

Finally, the day come when you have completed all of your checkouts and you meet your qualification board. They press you for learned in formation and skills. It is a long session and one that is filled with anxiety. Any answer that is wrong could put you back in that Non-Qual status again. But if your trainers did their job and you did yours, the need to look up any answers is limited and you gain those last signatures on your Qual card.

You have arrived. You are now a submariner. You are one of the few people who can honestly claim that title for the rest of your life. Your shipmates look at you differently now and you have such a sense of pride mingled with relief.

On that day, you know take learning to a new level. You know have to really understand how it all operates at a deeper level. And from that moment, you have to start training your relief. The cycle has never ended since April of 1900 when the Navy took possession of its first primitive boat. You have become a permanent part of the submarine DNA.

Eventually, you end up going ashore.

Maybe it’s for a well-earned rest from the constant cycle of adrenaline mixed with boredom. Shore duty in one of the many support shops or in a training command. The rest will be welcome but it’s really the first time you start experiencing the monster of nostalgia. Everything that is not being underway will soon become routine. You don’t remember the long nights and days under the water, you just remember the adventure. Too many sentences begin with “Well, back on the Usta-fish” and people around you just sort of pass it off as a necessary evil if they have to endure your stories.

If you were lucky, you got to go back to sea on another boat. Your quals are not as hard and you keep getting more and more responsibility. One day you wake up and find that you are now in charge of a space, then a division. You notice that the senior people are starting to seek you out for your advice and your opinions more and more. Your experience was bought and paid for and they know you will give them good answers.

Becoming a Chief was certainly an honor. Leading people was even more. Watching them grow and seeing them overcome the same struggles you did is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

But soon, way too soon, you are ashore for the last time. Now you are really going to find out the true meaning of nostalgia. Gone are the moments of adventure and in their place a sense of missing what you once had. The comradery and the esprit de corps will never be replaced no matter how long you live.

May you live long enough that you long for your past despite the hardships and difficulties.

I am a few weeks short of my fiftieth anniversary of joining the Navy.

I’m still about two years shy of becoming an antique Submariner (lovingly referred to as a Holland Club Member).

I’m kind of hoping I make it.

In March of 2018, I was feeling kind of nostalgic and wrote the short story below about living.  

If for some reason I don’t make it to the Holland Club here, I hope they will at least have a cake where I end up being on August 2, 2024.

If you see this posted on Facebook or anyplace else,

please always try to remember that every story has an author.

I lived.

I could have chosen to stay in my hometown and learned a trade. I could have hidden from life’s greatest challenges and been safe. But instead…

I lived.

I could have worked harder to gain acceptance to a fine educational institution and maybe be part of a fraternity that I could look back on years later and think how special I was. But instead…

I lived.

I lived on a boat that was designed to defy the sea and all its challenges. I lived a life of sacrifice that often defied logic. Many of the people I lived it for didn’t even know I was doing it. Or cared. And hardly appreciated the gift. But despite that…

I lived.

I lived with men who left their own families and personal freedom to protect total strangers. I lived with them in a world surrounded by darkness and enemies of every kind. We saw some amazing things and we remained silent through it all. And because of that…

I lived a life worth living.

A life that has sustained me through my later years. When the Angels call me home and asked me what I did, I only have one response.

I was a Submariner. I lived.

Originally written on March 6, 2018

Bob MacPherson


Mister Mac

3 thoughts on “May you live long enough that you long for your past despite the hardships and difficulties.

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