Just an average Cold War Submariner 2

Just an average Cold War Submariner.

The average Cold War Submariner :
Volunteered to serve his country…  Twice.
Went to submarine school in New London.
Trained in the old escape tower.
Spent time on the dive and drive trainer.
Had a few drinks in Groton.
Showed up on their first boat with too much in their sea bag.
Found out about sleeping next to a torpedo.
Mess cooked in between drills
Field dayed in a bilge in between drills.
Drove the boat as a helmsman and planes man.
Stood messenger watch and dodged flying shoes and hurled insults.
Tried to keep course in a typhoon.
Tried to keep depth in a hurricane.
Tried to keep lunch down during both.

The average Cold War Submariner earned his fish.
Then he was no longer average.
All Became the teachers.
Most Became the Petty Officers
Many Became the Chiefs
Some Became COBs
Some Became Chief Warrant Officers.
Some Became Limited Duty Officers
Some Became Supply and Line Officers.
But all remained submariners at heart.

The average Cold War Submariner is now losing their eyesight and gaining in their waistlines.

These steely eyed killers of the deep sometimes find themselves back on watch when they sleep. Angles and dangles and battle stations cause the covers to fly off in the middle of the night. They still sleep better listening to a fan than the stark silence of a bedroom. They like repeat backs and often find themselves saying “say again?”. Only now it’s because their ears are fading as fast as their eyes. They still laugh when they hear someone talk about shooting water slugs. And they still shed a tear when they find out about another shipmate that has gone on final patrol.

The average Cold War Submariner has a crusty shell on the outside and melts like butter when he holds his granddaughter on his knee. He swells with pride when the flags fly and sadness when he sees the new generation shirk their responsibility. He knows that he can never tell his best stories but gets a twinkle in his eye when they ask him to tell them anyway.

People ask me sometimes why I write about the life.

I don’t really have a good answer. Maybe part of it is an effort to make sense of what we did and why we did it. Today would have been the birthday of one of our shipmates that died while serving on the USS San Francisco. He was an A Ganger and was doing his routines when the boat hit the mountains. That could have been any one of us. Maybe sometimes I just feel blessed that it didn’t happen to me. And a little guilty.

Today (September 4th) would have been Joe’s 36th birthday. I am so proud to present the draft for the memorial tile for the Ohio Veterans’ Memorial Park we will have made in his memory today of all days. Please take a moment today to say a prayer for Joe and his family. As a military spouse and proud American it has been my honor to do this for Joe. Thank you to all of you who helped make this possible.

Vicki Ashley-Matics also says it is an honor for her that Joe’s classmates and friends chose to remember him this way ❤️ 🇺🇸 Happy Birthday, Joe!

Mister Mac

Denizens of the Deep – the bond between submarines and their crews 4

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From the very beginning of submarines, the vessels have been compared to a steel coffin or a sewer pipe closed on both ends. But to the men who have sailed on them and especially to the men (and now women) who built them and then drove them below the waves into a sea of uncertainty, they gain an almost mystical property. These underwater “denizens of the deep” become an all-encompassing force that changes a person forever. There is a bond that builds between crew and boat that lasts well beyond most other bonds.

Not all who sail on them love them. From the moment you come aboard the boat it presents a challenge to the physical and mental capabilities of the sailors who operate them. You are the newbie, the non-qual. All of the school and learning you have done to date means nothing to the boat or to the men who have been there before. You will only become part of the crew by giving up a part of you and becoming a part of the force that makes the boat operate at her best. There is nothing less than perfection expected form each sailor in the qualification and many hours of sleep will be sacrificed along the way to earning your “fish”. But it’s not even that simple. While you are learning, you must also contribute.

Endless days and nights beneath the darkness of the deep sea, you find yourself pushed and pulled at the same time. Pushed to contribute in achieving the mission and pulled in your own testing. There simply is no place for second best and you learn to hate the challenge while clinging on to every small victory. Line by line, you complete each level of achievement only to be given a newer and harder task. Respect is rare for a newbie and privileges even rarer. The pressure can be relentless but that pressure ensures that you will be ready to respond when called upon.

Each person must be stretched to the limit because in the end, the sea and the enemy beyond the edge of the horizon are unforgiving of mistakes. A missed valve could cause a catastrophe just as easily as an unseen mountain. Everything inside the hull has a risk of one kind or another and everything outside the hull presents a danger to the unprepared. No detail is too small and no amount of preparation is too much. There are no second chances when you are driving relatively blind in an ocean filled with the great unknowns.

The mission can be great or small but it is always faced with the same consequences if you fail. Unlike a normal job where missing a goal or schedule might mean an admonishment or a chance to do it over, the submarine only allows you the chance to get it right the first time,

One day, you reach the end of your checklist. You sit across the table from other men who have been tested and you reach down inside to remember every detail of every system and schematic you learned. You rattle off details about tank capacities, frequencies, weapons characteristics and hundreds of other details. After a long time they send you out into the passageway so that they can discuss your fate. Sometimes there will be a look up for some small detail that you missed. Sometimes you are judged not ready at all with a list of things to relearn. But on one special day, the leader of the board sys, “Congratulations. You have earned your dolphins.”

From that day you belong to a unique group of people. You become the teacher for the next person in line. You grow a unique bond with the boat that tested you and allowed you to meet the challenge. The boat becomes a part of your life in a way that will last as long as you live.

Now the test really begins. Will you be able to use that knowledge and skill under any circumstances? Will you discover that while you have learned much, there is still much more to learn? The sea learns too and so does your enemy. Both continue to probe for weaknesses every single day. This is a mighty warship after all and the war is never fully defined. You can talk about what you will do in a storm but until you ride the storm, you cannot predict how you and the boat will respond. You can practice countering an enemy but he has the ability and the skills to do the unexpected. Your survival is based on all of the crew responding with everything they have and the boat with all that is has. There is no second place in this undersea war.

A million miles and a thousand dives later, it’s time for the boat to come home. Like the grey haired old men who built her so long ago, she is tired and deserves a rest. The smooth lines of many years ago are slightly puckered with age. Driving to test depth and back again will do that to the old girl. She creaks a bit more when she dives but she still manages to put on a head of steam when she needs it for that last big run. But up ahead, she sees the pier waiting. There are men there with ropes ready to tie her down for the last time. Other people are waiting with wrenches and torches standing by to cut her apart and prepare her for the end. The bunks will all be stripped, the galley will close down forever and the power will come from long black lines attached to the shore that gave her birth. The periscope will soon be taken out and the memory of all the things she has seen will disappear into the mists of time. The phones and communications circuits will growl nor more. Slowly, the watch standers will rotate off, never to be replaced

On the saddest day ever, a band will play and her remaining crew will gather for a ceremony that all knew would come someday. There is no more somber a day than the day when the flag of the country she defended so well for all of those decades comes down for the last time. She has flown that flag at sea and in foreign ports all over the world reminding them of her mighty power and the power of the nation whose symbol she represents. She has lent that flag to the family members of shipmates who have gone before. Now it is her turn.

It’s hard to escape death. You can delay it, but in the end, the life that she represented is finally ended. The memories will last as long as there is a crewman alive who sailed her. But she will never again feel the salt air blowing waves across her bow. The angles and dangles she once performed will be nothing but a fading sea story. The rushing speed that you feel below your feet as the hull pierces the dark depths of the ocean will only live in the imaginations of those who have felt it. Her best stories will never be told out of respect for the boats and crews that take her place. But the grey old men know. They look at each other with faded eyesight and see a group of twenty something year olds who once mastered the ocean in a highly unconventional way.

As the USS San Francisco transitions to her new role preparing another generation for the challenges to come, I will always stand with pride when her name is called. I hope that any man or woman who has ever been a submariner can say the same about the boats they rode. It was my greatest honor to sail on board her and it was an even greater honor to sail with you all.

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Alumni Association

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What a great time to have been a submariner… Riding the 711 Boat 3

What a ride

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Of all the adventures in my short life, the one that will always rise to the top is not just one single adventure, but a collection of adventures over a four year period that have one thing in common: They are all related to being a crewmember of the best submarine a man could ever hope for. The USS San Francisco (SSN 711) begins a journey towards her new life as a Moored Training Ship (MTS) on Friday November 4th. There are rumors that she might be delayed a bit, but her path now seems pretty clear. This mighty war ship will be partially dismantled and used to train the next generation of technicians and officers for their roles in the fleet.

The boat was launched on October 27, 1979 in Newport News Shipyard

Just a few days before she was launched, I reenlisted in the Navy after an absence from active duty of a few years. I was newly divorced, tired of living from paycheck to paycheck and ready to try my hand at being a sailor again. The Navy was a life saver for me since the economy in our area was in a serious mess and the prospects of a great future were non-existent. Three things happened in the year that would follow. I would join the crew of the pre-commissioning ship San Francisco, Ronald Reagan would run for President and ultimately win, and I met and married my beautiful wife Debbie. These three events made the adjustments in my life that helped me to achieve many of my unfulfilled goals.

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I missed the launching but didn’t miss anything else related to outfitting the ship. As a member of Auxiliary Division, I helped to put together the non-nuclear machinery thsat would support the ship’s operations and life. I discovered a love for developing and delivering training that would later transfer over to my achieving Master Training Specialist and a Bachelor of Science degree in Workforce Education Development. But I also learned to be a sailor and operate a ship that could do some amazing things.

He ain’t heavy, He’s my Brother

One of the other reasons this was a special assignment was that I was able to serve with my youngest brother Tom. We had a lot of crazy adventures together and one of my favorite memories was pinning my original pewter back Dolphins on Tom when he became qualified in submarines. I would later pin my San Francisco Dress Dolphins on my nephew Artie Anderson who followed in the family tradition of becoming a Submarine Auxiliary man. Tom’s son Theodore was a submariner as well but somehow we lost him to the Nuclear program. But we were very proud of each of them as they found their own paths.

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In the 36 years San Francisco has played a role in defending this country, she has had her share of good fortune and stark terror.

One of the most memorable of course was the collision that occurred a number of years back. I asked the author of the book  Making a Submarine Officer – A story of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711)  Alex Fleming: for permission to post just a small part of that story.

Note:  You can order your own copy here:  https://www.amazon.com/Making-Submarine-Officer-story-Francisco-ebook/dp/B0052YQLWA

January 8th, 2005, 1142 hours, near the Caroline Islands

           : There is a low rumbling which sounds to some like “God crushing a beer can,” and the ship slows instantaneously from 30 knots to 4 knots. The boat is well stowed for sea, so there are no projectiles, but every single person is thrown forward into the nearest vertical object. The people in the chow line end up in a huge pile in middle level. Rome and Litty are on the starboard side of the Diesel in lower level and they land in a heap on the deck. The OOD is thrown out of control, shouting Emergency blow even as he hits his head on a computer screen. The DOOW, Senior Chief Hager, is up out of his chair to update a status board, and he is thrown onto the ships control panel, shattering a gauge. His chair is thrown forward, breaking his leg. The Quartermaster flies fifteen feet forward and lands on the stern planesman, breaking the back of his chair. The JOOD is thrown forward onto the fire control displays in front of him, hitting his head and neck. The men in the smoke pit land on the pumps directly in front of them, except for Ashley, who is thrown forward 20 feet and hits his head on a pump assembly. Every single plate of food is thrown all over the galley. In the wardroom, one officer shoves his fork through his lip, and the Captain watches as one of the mess cooks flies over his shoulder and lands on the flat screen TV on the forward bulkhead.

            The Captain is pinned in his chair, but quickly recovers and runs up to control to find out what happened. He gets there after the Chief of the Watch has already thrown the emergency blow handles, but the ship is not going up. The DOOW is back in his chair, not saying a word about his broken leg, shouting out depths. The ship has a down angle, and it is clear from indications that something serious has happened to the forward ballast tanks. Matt Priests quickly recovers from being slammed against his stateroom wall, and runs back to the ER as he hears an emergency report of “Flooding in the ER.” He knows this is the most serious situation that a ship can have, underwater, doing an emergency blow with flooding in the ER. No submarine can get positive buoyancy with the ER filling with water, and for a moment, Matt is sure that they are all going to die. He quickly finds that the report was an error, and the water is just a leak from a cracked freshwater pipe.

            The Captain and Chief Hager in control are still watching the depth gauge, waiting for it to show upward movement. Finally, after almost a minute, the ship begins to rise, breaking the surface at 1143:52. The next forty minutes are a chaos of emergency reports, calls for the Doc, people trying to respond to ten different casualties, and people trying to care for injured shipmates. In shaft alley, an electrician named Brain Barnes does not know what else to do, so he holds Joey Ashley’s hand and talks to him, waiting for Doc Akin to arrive.”

You will have to buy the book for the rest of the story. I will also be adding the book to my Now Read This section of the blog.

On Friday November 4th, the change will start taking place. It will probably not be dramatic except for all the ghosts who I am sure will be on the pier. I earlier had thought I would not be allowed to go because of my heart issues. But frankly, my heart has never been the same since I left the San Francisco. Service on board her changed my life. I am pretty sure a lot of other people can say the same. It will be my greatest honor to stand on her decks one last time.

Thanks to all those who kept her going all these years. I am proud to have been called shipmate and even prouder to call all of you my shipmates.

Mister Mac (AKA Big Mac)

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Happy 115th Birthday to the United States Navy Submarine Force 3

Of the things I have done in my life, being privileged to be a Submariner is the one thing that stands out the most.

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Looking back in the mirror of over forty years, what made being a submariner so special was a combination of men, machines, methods and materials (as well as the environment we lived in).

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The men were bold and adventurous. In order to surrender your personal freedom and commit part of your life to operating in a steel tube (often for months at a time), you had to have a great sense of boldness. These are the men that forty years later I still call brothers. The shared sacrifice we made cemented that bond. They were the embodiment of trust and loyalty. They still are.

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The machines were part of this experience too. The ones we rode on are all special to us since they took us into the unknown and brought us safely home in most cases. Whether they were named after fish, men, cities or states, they were our boats. Some rode to glory in a haze of diesel exhaust and some silently lurked beneath the surface on an invisible field of power. What made them common was the pressure that pushed against their hulls when they were sent into danger.

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The methods evolved with the technology. The little pigboats that felt almost tethered to the shore were replaced by sleek combat vessels. Despite the horrific loss of 52 of them during World War 2, they emerged with more enemy tonnage sunk per capita than any other combat vessels. Post war, they ran picket duty against the new threat and became platforms for exotic missiles with a powerful projection. These warriors were at the front line of the Cold and Gulf Wars and although their stories will never be fully known, influenced the shape of the world for decades.

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Since Holland’s little boat first broke the surface, the materials have adapted for each new mission. Stronger, quieter, more adaptable to depths unfathomable in the old days, these boats are powerful voices in a world of threats.

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The environment continues to challenge our boats. Sea mountains, hurricanes, typhoons and classified threats to submarine operations will always be the wild cards that increase the risk. Any person who has ridden a submarine into the unknown without being able to see what is ahead knows what it feels like to commit your life to something greater than themselves. But our boats and our people continue to fight them and overcome the odds in the very face of the unknown.

 

Someday we will all stand and have to take account for our lives. On that day, I hope to still be wearing my dolphins. That is a sure way for St. Peter to know that I once did my time in hell and I am ready to come home.

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To my Submariner comrades, I wish you all a Happy Birthday

Mister Mac

New Years Day 2015 3

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Thanks for dropping by.

We got up a little late this morning since we tried to see the New Year in last night. Then we had a short meal, a few quiet moments writing in the new “Journal”, and some very sincere praying. The journal was a gift from a family member and asks you to respond to new a question each day. The two of us then write in our thoughts. I believe it will help us to grow our foundation a little stronger. Today’s question was “Love is …?”

Last year was pretty full with work and projects. The picture at the top of the page was from a recent visit to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh. I found my Great Grandfather’s name on his Regimental Plaque – the Fifth Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. We also found a picture of one of their reunions that I had never seen before. He was still alive when this was taken but I do not know if he was in the picture.

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2015

This will be a very busy year I think.

The work situation is a giant question mark as always. Hoping for a stable year but not so sure that will be in the cards. I asked God this morning to give us the guidance we need, the patience to wait for His work to unfold, and the vision to see the path as it opens up before us.

My submarine veteran’s world will be very busy with a San Francisco Homecoming and USSVI Convention in Pittsburgh PA in September.

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http://www.ussviconventionsteelcity2015.org/

There seems to be enough interest to launch a new organization for USS San Francisco SSN 711 Veterans so more will be coming this year as we achieve our NPO status. The San Francisco itself is scheduled to become a permanent training facility in Charleston so we will be looking for partnerships with them.

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I am in line to be elected as Vice President of Education for the Pittsburgh Navy League and I am very excited about seeing ways to help the organization grow. We have been supporting the USS Pittsburgh crews and one of the long term goals is to prepare for the sad day when she is retired from the fleet. If the fates allow and we do our homework, the plan is to someday have a permanent exhibit to honor the boat by the placement of her sail in an appropriate place.

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The VFW and Legion Children and Youth programs last year were very successful. Our work with the Middle School and High School in four different contests resulted in some very competitive entries. Our Patriot’s Pen entry placed Second in the District and our posts learned a lot to help us in the coming contests for 2015-16.

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Memorial Day is always a big part of our life. Both Debbie and I are on the committee for our small community and we will begin having meetings very soon. The Remembrance Ceremony in Elizabeth Pennsylvania is one of the longest continuing programs in the Mon Valley and has had many dignitaries from both the military and government over the years (including a Vice President). I have been a part of the program for over fifty years in one way or another and it is something worth seeing.

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It wasn’t all about the Navy and Veterans this year. I have been called to help support the ministry at the Church we have been attending. I had already been preaching there on occasion but now will fill the pulpit once a month on a regular basis. It is a small Church but I can feel God’s presence working there. It is a good place to achieve a meaningful balance in the complexities of our lives.

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Thanks again for stopping by.

The blog has over 199,000 hits as of this morning. There was a part of me that had hoped for a New Year’s miracle of 200,000 but all in all, 199K is still pretty cool. For the year, we hit about 107K for this year alone which is more than all of the previous years combined. I am working on a long term project on pre-WW2 submarines that is very time consuming (for the little time I have left after work and other commitments). But I am convinced it is a great story and has never been done exactly like the way I am working on this one. Stay tuned.

I hope your New Year is filled with joy and adventure.

Mister Mac

 

 

The Submariner’s Wife 4

Navy wife… the toughest job in the Navy

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Mrs. Mac spent a few hours underway on the USS San Francisco SSN 711. One of my favorite memories is the dependents cruise from Maui back to Oahu back in the 80’s. I had just qualified as Chief of the Watch and was on watch when it was decided to do an EMBT blow for the families. This was in a more innocent time before the Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision.

Mrs. Mac learned all about boarding a submarine that had lost its anchor from a small motorboat in a gently swelling Maui channel. I think that actually scared her more than submerging. Once on board, she settled in to crews mess while I finished up my watch. Four hours later, I rotated back onto the BCP and Debbie got to sit next to me. The Captain came in to control and told the OOD that he wanted to do the blow. He saw Debbie sitting next to me and asked her if she wanted to help.

A million things flashed through my mind but not one of them had anything to do with her being left handed. That simple fact would come into play in a few moments. After we got to depth and speed, he ordered the actuation of the EMBT valves. My beautiful bride reached up with her predominant left hand and pushed the plunger which let loose the 4500 pound beast through the tiny line. The muffler behind the BCP screamed in response which created a momentary freeze in Mrs. Mac’s left hand… the one grasping the aft blow valves. Sensing that this was not going to end well, I pulled her inoperative right hand away from the forward valve and shut the aft.

I have told this story a number of times over the past 32 years and never get tired of embellishing it. Mrs. Mac just smiles patiently as I do retell it and I am sure is thinking that she will ultimately choose which nursing home I get shipped to when all that submarining catches up with me.

She went on to do a stint in the Damage control trainer at Bangor but that’s a story for another time. I hold her in the highest esteem for her service as a submariner’s wife and give her much of the credit for my advancement to Chief and later Chief Warrant Officer.

I know submarining was sometimes hard on me. I believe it was just as hard on her in more than one ways.

Thanks, honey

Mister Mac

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I saw this today and hope you take a few moments to read this re-blog. It speaks a lot about being a submariner’s wife.

http://nonsensegirl.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/the-submariners-wife/

 

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Homecoming Coins now available 1

 

 

DSCF41122014 Homecoming Coins are now available for sale.

There are only three of the one hundred limited edition numbered coins not available for sale yet:

#1 will be by highest bidder (currently at $50.00)

#7 and #11 will be sold as a set (bidding to begin at any time but will close on August 1 – minimum bid is $50.00 for the set)

All other coins will be $22.00. This includes shipping and handling. This is a fundraiser for the San Francisco Reunion Fund and will be used to offset costs on this and future Homecomings/Reunions

Email me at bobmac711@live.com and I will give you ordering instructions.

Thanks
Mister Mac

2014 National Convention

A little respect… 42 years later, its still not that big of a deal 10

Recently I was following a post on one of my submarine Facebook pages. The original guy had posted about a lack of recognition. To be fair, he had a lot of supporters and frankly I can’t give him a hard time since I have seen some of this through the years myself.

“Okay I have somewhat of a bitch to air:I  have been looking for a new career however when I get the part of the application for Veteran Status I find that I do not fit any of the categories!!!! It simply appears to me that the time I spent on the XXXXXXX does not matter since it was only the Cold War and I didn’t get some little medal for doing what I so proudly volunteered to do – Serve My Country!!! Apparently those of us that served in the 70s – 80s are not a protected status.

Okay I am done bitching – just had to air my frustration with the lack of respect we receive as veterans of that era.”

 

That got me thinking about why I joined. The passing years have probably clouded what I was thinking about on that Monday when my parents drove their seventeen year old son to the recruiters office in McKeesport Pennsylvania.

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 I joined the Navy 42 years ago today for one very selfish reason.

I wanted the adventure that my very convincing recruiter promised me was around every bend. He did not lie. I certainly did not join for the recognition since I was aware that the service was looked down upon by my generation (that whole Vietnam hangover thing).

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Now to be fair, there were a few girls who thought I cut a nice figure in my dress blues. Seeing a certain girl’s eyes the first time she saw the newly minted sailor was worth the endless push ups and grinder runs in boot camp. But once you return to base and are surrounded by other sailors similarly dressed, the magic wore off a bit.

After doing one four year tour on active duty I came home (like many other vets) to a population that was in recession. Jobs were non-existent and the economy was spiraling out of control. Being a vet meant shit to a war weary country so after struggling in the reserves for a few years doing less than minimum wage jobs I went back on active duty and never looked back. The Navy provided me with the best adventures of all from that point on. In fact, April 24, 1981 marked the commissioning of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) and that started the most memorable part of the journey.

Within six years I made Chief then Warrant and got my education. There were a lot of sacrifices along the way with my wife in tow and we only did one shore duty (5 boats, a tender and a drydock) I retired in 94 and have been working in business and industry almost non-stop since then. Its nice when people remember to say thanks but I have long since figured out that we are subject to the whims of the nation and its “leadership” No one owes me a thing. I went for the adventure and can truly say I got what I went for. Anything else is gravy and as tenuous as the daffodils in my garden – here today and gone tomorrow with every change in the weather and the wind.

There is an old saying in the Navy that we picked our rates and certainly that had a lot to do with our fates. But for any submariner, you can be proud of yourself if you wear the dolphins of a qualified man. Expecting much else from non-submariners is a fools errand. No one but a fellow submariner can understand the sacrifices, the challenges, the personal nature of the business and the real hardships we often suffered. No real submariner will ever reveal all of the times we did things we knew were not supposed to do. The Cold War was a lot hotter than many people will ever know. I don’t ever remember anybody ever telling me their life was worth the $55.00 a month sub pay we were so generously given. But as so many of my shipmates have said over the years, I would gladly do it all over again.

I am a blest man for the friendships and relationships developed over those many years. It does touch me when a younger person sees “Navy” on my hat or jacket and remembers to say thanks. I’d like to think they know what they are thanking people like me for but in the end, all that matters is that when my country needed me, I was able to meet the test and answer her needs.

To all those who served, Thanks again for what you did.

To those who waited on the pier for their sailor to come home, thanks to you as well.

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I wonder if I’ll make it to Fifty years. I don’t have enough room on my Sub vest for a Holland Club stitching but I suppose I can always buy a hat.

About the title of the post: A little respect goes a long way to an old guy whose health is failing now (probably accelerated by living in a steel can under the water). While I personally am okay living on my memories of the great adventures, it wouldn’t hurt for you to thank one of those guys from time to time, just to remind him that he did something most men never did.

Mister Mac

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The Measure of a Man 6

McHales Navy

I have been infatuated with the United States Navy since I was a small boy.

Wearing my Dad’s old Navy uniforms while pretending to be part of McHale’s Navy was a routine part of growing up. I think I read every book in the school’s library that was even remotely related to the Navy and still get excited every time I know an old Navy movie will be showing up on my TV. When you think about the pictures in a young boy’s mind about what sailors and naval officers look like, they are always appropriate to the combat role they are playing at the time. Even in the heat of battle, John Wayne shows up in his crisp khakis ready to deal with the enemy in short shrift.

I was not particularly athletic growing up. Like most kids, I played backyard sports (soccer, football, basketball on the hoop hanging from the garage). But as I got older, I was always a bit too slow, not as well coordinated and certainly not as big as I needed to be for organized sports. So after getting picked later and later in each successive season, I decided a life of music was my better path. It had an unexpected benefit in high school when I discovered that the busses for away games were segregated for the football team but not for the band. I made this fortunate discovery the same year I discovered girls were not filled with cooties after all.

But at seventeen, I could no longer resist the urge for the adventures I dreamed about while studying those books about the Navy. The Vietnam War was still not resolved so the thought of getting in the action before it was over certainly added to the pressure to sign up. So in April, 1972, I joined the delayed entry program and started counting down the days until I went away. I did make some efforts to get in better physical condition since my father’s stories of the trials of boot camp suddenly became part of our conversations. I will admit to having a certain amount of fear since the movies showed men being pushed to their limits by grizzled and hardened combat veterans with a particular hatred of new men.

Take all you want, eat all you take

DSCF1368  Boot Camp 1972 005

Entering boot camp in June of 1972, I discovered that I really had not prepared well enough. It wasn’t all that harsh in the sense that I had anticipated emotionally, but the physical training was just enough to make a person sore. Like most guys I am sure, I discovered I had muscles and pains I didn’t know existed. By August of that year (it was a long summer), my body was more toned and fit than it had ever been. Miraculously, I also discovered that I could eat as much as I wanted and my waist still measured out at about 28 inches. The old sign above the galley window said, take all you want but eat all you take was the most pleasant sign I can ever remember seeing. What a wonderful thing for a young man with a really active metabolism. You could even have seconds.

August 1972

I really enjoyed Boot Camp leave (especially the attention from my girlfriend and the looks from her girlfriends). That dress blue uniform fit like a glove and I was the very picture of a modern naval man. Dad and Mom took us dancing to one of their clubs and every veteran in the place looked at us with a certain look of envy. It was either that or the very low cut pink clinging dress that I had bought for her. My Mom had to pin the dress a few strategic places before they would take us but that’s another story for another day.

Through the next year of schools around the country, I discovered the Navy’s seemingly endless generosity with their food offerings. A school, Sub School, FBMSTC in Charleston and finally the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor had great galleys filled with men whose only purpose in the world was to see that the Navy was fed well. The price was exactly right (free back in those days with a meal card) and that wonderful welcoming sign still showed up no matter where you went “Take all you want, eat all you take”. Fortunately my age and metabolism still protected me and the uniforms provided held up fairly well throughout the journey.

When I finally arrived at my first submarine, it was a happy discovery to find out that all the rumors about boat food being the best were true.

MMFN MacPherson

Mess cooking had the added benefit of offering the first and last shot at the great meals on board. Back in those days, the meals were planned and prepared by the CS in charge and the Georgefish was blessed with a few really great cooks and bakers. In many ways it was like being on a floating restaurant that also happened to carry nuclear weapons and torpedoes.

The first time I had a Maine Lobster tail with drawn butter, I thought I was going to pass out. Steamship rounds of beef, New York Strip steaks, fresh milk (as long as it lasted anyway), endless pounds of better and cheese, sausage gravy on biscuits, grilled hotcakes by the dozen, deep fried shrimp and on and on. That smell of fresh baked bread was an intoxicant that most men will never forget. It was even better if the smell was mixed with cinnamon. When food is all you have to look forward to, every smell and taste is important.

Some guys didn’t do so well. Big John Grant could barely make it out of the escape trunk at the end of the patrol. But I was blessed with a very busy job as an A ganger and a still youthful metabolism.

Nothing good lasts forever I suppose

scan

Things really started to change in the eighties. After years of larding up the force, someone must have discovered that as a group, we were no longer portraying the image of those sleek young sailors. I suppose you can blame it on a number of things. Liquid lunches for the crews on Friday were more common that I care to admit. And I do not ever remember seeing light beer involved with those lunches. The public in general became more health conscious as things like aerobics and fitness programs became more prevalent. The Navy’s food distribution system was still mired in generations old thinking. Truly, if you were cooped up for months at a time in a submarine, comfort food was the only thing you could look forward to.

The single worst thing that happened to the Navy was the changing back and forth to the various types of uniforms. Looking back on the pictures from that time, it is obvious that the introduction of CNT was the worst detractor of a Navy person’s appearance of any other material at any time in the Navy’s history. It was the straw that broke the fitness camel’s back.

Submarine design was also not geared for the new fitness trend. While some of the boomers could carry a limited amount of fitness equipment, the average fast boat was designed for fastness not fitness and little room existed for luxuries. I can’t remember when the new PRT standards evolved but suddenly deciding that sub sailors should be able to run a mile and a half for any reasons seemed as ludicrous as anything ever planned by people who were not submariners. Seriously? Where do we ever get the chance to run a mile and a half on a normal basis? Push up, sit ups, and that God awful torture called stretching were all just added to make the torture worse. Shouldn’t it have been enough that I could see my toes under normal circumstances?

I am not overweight, I am undertall

It got worse. Even if you survived the semi-annual barf fest, you still had to make it past the PRT Gestapo holding the tape measure standing next to the scale. I generally liked and respected most of the Navy Corpsman that served on boats as independent duty guys. They had a particularly rough job since any number of things could happen they needed to be prepared for. But I noticed a subtle change in a few when they discovered the hidden power of being the PRT goon. Suddenly, all the old hurts came out about their role being picked on in the past.  Some discovered an inner darkness that they only suspected was there.

I had spent four years on one of the best submarines ever built (USS San Francisco) and at the end wanted to have one tour on a Trident. Captain Previty made some phone calls and I had orders to the USS Ohio. I have to tell you that I was pretty excited since it would be a nice cap to my boat career. One very old boomer, one projects boat and a hot running fast attack. Now I would be going to serve on the largest submarine in the fleet. For a kid that grew up dreaming about big things in the Navy, this was the biggest.

Debbie and I headed home to western Pennsylvania first for a three week Christmas leave. We had been in Hawaii for some time and the family welcomed us with parties and food and more parties. We dined and we drank and then we dined some more. It was bitterly cold so covering up with lots of clothes after living in Hawaii for three years seemed like a natural thing to do. Underneath those clothes was a thirty year old man whose metabolism was no longer as active as it had once been. A sedentary lifestyle as a fast boat chief of the watch hadn’t helped either. New Years was exciting as we headed to Bangor and my first step on board a T-hull boat.

Who’s your daddy?

The boat was already in port when I arrived and the first few days were a blur of turnovers and meeting the crew I would work with. Getting Debbie settled into a temporary house was stressful since patrol was only a few weeks away. Plus, the boat was huge and I went from being a part of a great crew to being an unknown newcomer. Even being a freshly minted new First Class didn’t seem to hold much sway in a crew that had too many first class petty officers. The first day we got underway, the Senior Chief told me to report to the Corpsman’s shack. When I got there, the evil bastard was standing there next to his scale holding his measuring tape.

I do not remember his name. I do not even remember his face. All I remember is that he delighted in telling me that I was completely out of standards and an official notation would be made on my permanent record. Any further advancements (Chief) or even being allowed to remain in the Navy would be entirely dependent on my ability to regain standards. He also let me know that I would be seeing him weekly until this matter was resolved.

I was crushed. I had already noted that the friendly little sign in the galley welcoming all to the bounty of the Navy was not there. Instead, I could almost see a sign that said “Are you sure you want to eat that, Mac?” The next few weeks were a blur with learning a new type of boat and taking over my jobs for the division. But I quickly discovered that if I ate little to nothing, I could make my belt grow. Week over week on that miserable patrol, I pushed myself more and more. There is an actual gym on board Tridents in the Missile Compartment and I found myself there more often than in my rack. Gone were the days of unlimited sticky buns and endless platters of sliders. Pizza Night was nothing more than a tormenting smell that could only be vanquished by venting sanitary’s. Silas Hines famous double chocolate chocolate cake was a dream that I tried not to have. Butter and syrup were like poison elements that attacked my opportunities to ever wear khaki. They could not win!

Forty pounds later, the patrol from hell finally ended

Most of the clothes I had hung on me. When we pulled into the EHW, the families were waiting for us under the covered pier. Debbie told me afterwards that when I walked up to her, she didn’t recognize me and was still looking at the brow for my arrival. To be honest, when we finally did make it home, she … well, this is a family blog so I will leave it up to your imagination.

Ohio LPO 2 Ohio on surface

The Corpsman transferred during off crew to be replaced by a pretty good guy. I spent the rest of my career alternately praising or cursing the PRT guys (and later girls). The whole Navy is changing so fast and I don’t recognize some of it today. It’s hard to believe we actually won World War 2 and the Cold War with our bad behaviors and habits. Smoking, drinking and eating to our hearts content would get anyone of us in trouble in this day and age. You will notice I have not added anything about port calls either.

Today’s sailors face a lot more challenges than we ever did. In the long run, eating healthier and being in better shape will probably help some of them to have a longer life. I am eternally grateful that while mine may not be as long, I had a life worth remembering (as well as some I am glad I have forgotten).

So what is the measure of a man? I would like to think its the sum total of what they have done and not just the way they appear. Today at lunch, I will be with my Brothers of the Phin at our March USSVI meeting. I would be willing to bet than none present would be able to run the 1.5 miles anymore and if a tape measure suddenly appeared, you could except that at least one or two of the old boys would find their inner Kanye if you know what I mean. Yet by any measure, every one of them raised their hand when it was needed most and to hear them talk, would do so again. That is the finest measurement I can imagine.

Mister Mac

In memory of Silas Hines, one of the best cooks I ever knew. Fire up the grill Silas, I’ll see you soon.