I made that. (Okay. I might have had some help) 6

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There was a change of command in San Diego California on January 24, 2014 onboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711).  Cdr. Eric Severseike turned over command to Cdr. Jeff Juergens during the ceremony held at Naval Base Point Loma. Congratulations to Commander Severseike for a successful tour and best wishes to Commander Juergens as the 711 enters the next phase of her career,

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There is something that bonds men to their ship besides the fact that they are assigned by an order from some higher command to sail on her. Your fate is tied to the ships fate in both peacetime and war. How well you operate her and how well she responds to the demands made on her will ultimately assure your mutual survival or mutual destruction. Every warship built since the beginning of time has been purpose built to respond to the known threats and perceived challenges that she may face while on the oceans that range the face of the earth.

As a young boy, I developed an early interest in ships and particularly warships. I earned money cutting grass and as fast as I earned it, I spent it on building a world class fleet in my basement. In the early sixties, Revell was king of the models and the cardboard boxes filled with parts were regularly brought into my subterranean shipyard on Duncan Station Road.

From their Web Page: “Since 1945, Revell has been the leader in plastic model kits. Our designers are passionate about scale model authenticity and model building. Choose from our huge selection of accurately detailed cars, trucks, ships, aircraft, spacecraft plus much more and say “I Made That!””

Sure, I built a number of cars, planes and spacecraft, but by the time I was fifteen, my brothers and I had amassed a fleet that was absolutely incredible. In our fleet, the Arizona still proudly led the way as part of a battleship Navy that could withstand any attack from. New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina were all lined up in perfect battle formation to challenge ships they never saw; the Mighty Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the Battle Cruiser Graf Spee were joined by the Monster ship Yamato to stare down the American and British Fleets.

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We had World War 2 carriers (Hornet, Wasp and Yorktown) alongside the most modern and fearful ships of our day: The USS Enterprise, bristling with F4 Phantoms and Corsairs. Destroyers screened the vulnerable carriers and supply ships. One of those was a model of the ship my Dad had sailed on during his trip home from the Philippines. We even had a couple of JFK’s PT boats and a gunboat or two from the Vietnam era.

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Submarines.

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Like most kids, I had a healthy curiosity about submarines too. That meant that we had to have a couple of U-boats and Gato class submarines lurking near the field of battle. But I did not have a nuclear submarine in the fleet until the very end. I’m not sure why but I suppose it was probably due to the lack of availability. It wasn’t until just about the time I discovered girls that our local toy store finally had a model of the USS George Washington. It folded open so that you could see the insides and even had a firing missile tube (launched by a small spring that needed to be inserted).

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Sadly, by the time this one came along, I was weary from the meticulous assembly, gluing, and painting that were required for the many ships that came before her. Also, I discovered that my new found interest with girls was all consuming and the fleet went into mothballs except for the times my younger brother Tom still put them to sea. Even Tom eventually lost interest since his war gaming did not require actual ship models and planes. The basement became a graveyard of sorts and when I joined the Navy in 1972, the entire fleet suffered a catastrophe of epic proportions in July when Hurricane Agnes roared up the middle of the country. The water backed up through the drainage system and floated the hapless fleet into history, damaged by the muddy water and mold.

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SSBN 598 – The real thing…

My first boat was the real USS George Washington and I was surprised to find that the interior didn’t match the model we had in our collection at all. I also found that the GW was already starting to show the signs of continuous operations on a boat that was put together in kind of a hurry. She had leaks were there shouldn’t have been leaks, much of the equipment was already out of date with the newer technologies and things broke a lot. Let’s just say that as a young submarine mechanic, I got a lot of chances to practice my skills and figure out a way to fix things that lacked spare parts.

Me second boat was the Halibut and she was ending her service life when I arrived. Again, many hours doing tasks that were not what I thought I would be doing during my early days of dreaming about being a sailor on the seven seas.

San Francisco Precom Crew

A _ 711 launch

The in the early days of 1980, I got a chance to actually build a real submarine. I had requested the Ohio Class boats but my detailer wisely knew that I would be better off on a boat that had just been launched and was rapidly taking shape as the newest Fast Attack Submarine in the Navy’s quickly growing Cold War arsenal. (Actually, I am pretty sure the guy was just filling holes and really had no idea of the favor he had just done for me).

When I arrived, the crew was still pretty small. Launched in the fall of 1979, she was in the water but still pretty bare inside. The big stuff was in of course since hull cuts are never a good idea if you can avoid them. But the ventilation, piping and electrical systems were not completed. There were holes where the galley and crews berthing would eventually be. Our days were filled with fire watches, training and more training. We studied diagrams and quickly became subject matter experts in systems that were not quite ready for business.

While the people from the Newport News shipyard worked very hard assemble our boat, others were in line behind us. They built the boat but we built the crew. Hundreds of hours watching and learning helped prepare us for the day we would sign the papers to take over this new weapon. Slowly over the course of the next sixteen months, we added machinist mates, electronics technicians, sonar men, radiomen, yeomen and many others as the shipyard finished the installation and testing of the equipment we would need. The work was hard and exacting but as the ship came together so did the crew.

For me this was a unique experience. My other commands were places I came to almost after the fact and fitting in was not easy. But being on board a new commissioning vessel is an experience unlike any other I had before or since.

What we were building was the heart and soul of that warship.

Newport News builds an awesome submarine. I have been able to see their work up close a number of times since the SSN 711 days but I can assure you that the country gets a good product for their investment. Just as important though were the Officers, Chiefs, Petty Officers and non-rates who poured their hearts and souls into that boat. I had no fear the first time we submerged the ship. Everything that could be done to ensure the physical safety of the crew had been done with meticulous attention to detail. Everything we could do to prepare ourselves as a crew had also been attended to with exacting purpose. I knew that Randy Simpson would do well on the planes and Nick Dalebout would perform his duties well. Bill Phelps inspired confidence and our DCA knew how to manage any casualty that we would face. We had the best torpedomen, radiomen, sonar operators and nuclear trained technicians that existed in any boat. Our Captain was a standup guy (still is) and I thank you Al Marshall for leading us to a successful start.

The San Francisco has had many miles under her keel in the ensuing thirty plus years. Some of those miles have been harder than anyone could have imagined when we built her. We have lost a few shipmates (tragically) along the way. But the ship that holds my heart still sails.

I wish the new Captain the best in his tour. I wish continued good fortune to my shipmates who now man the watch. There will be a few of us in San Francisco in September of this year and I will proudly toast the boat that represents one of the finer parts of my life. I have been blessed with many things in my life but one of the proudest moments of all comes when I can point to the USS San Francisco SSN 711 and with great honor say: We made that.

 

Mister Mac

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2014 National Convention

USS San Francisco SSN 711 2014 “Homecoming” Reply

http://www.ussvigoldenanniversary2014sf.org/

For those of you who may be considering coming to San Francisco for the 2014 Homecoming, we will be working with the USSVI Golden Anniversary Committee to have a 711 Host Room at the Hyatt Hotel (Host Hotel)

I strongly suggest that you check out the web page as soon as possible and make your reservations. The rates are pretty good and I suspect will not last very long.

Contact me with any questions or concerns.

Mister Mac (aka Big Mac)

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Christmas 1943 – The Tide Has Turned in the West 1

In the disastrous aftermath of Pearl Harbor December 1941, the United States and the remaining countries that were considered free faced enormous odds in their struggle against the Axis Powers. The war plans that had been poured over with such intensity for so many decades now laid in ruins as the ships and planes that were envisioned as key were no longer available. The entire emphasis had been placed on the use of capital ships like the USS Pennsylvania and USS Arizona surrounded by a number of support ships such as the fledgling aircraft carriers, fleet submarines, destroyers and cruisers.

Sailors for generations had come to regard these floating battle wagons as the kings of the seas. They had been designed to fight any vessel anywhere and were designed to take a pounding from the large guns of the potential enemy battleships. 16-inch guns were considered to be the best state of the art weapon to defeat a ship of any kind in a battle that would rage across the open sea during the day or at night.

In December of 1941, every single battleship in the Pacific owned by the Allies were rendered useless or sunk by an enemy who did not believe that the answers of the past applied to the problems of the future. A combination of treachery and new technology ended the illusion of power in a matter of weeks. The only significant surface vessels that remained for a long time to come were the cruisers that had been built to support the main fleet.

Heavy Cruisers

(From the Bluejacket’s Manual 1940 – 10th Edition)

“Minneapolis, Astoria, New Orleans, Tuscaloosa, San Francisco, Quincy, Vincennes, Wichita – Length, 588 Feet; beam 61 feet10 inches. All have parsons turbines, 107,000 HP, 4 screws, 32 ½ knots. Displacement 10,000 tons. Armament, nine 8-inch, 55 caliber guns in 3 turrets; eight 5-inch, 25 caliber antiaircraft guns.”

“Cruisers are lightly armored, carry moderate armament, and are of high speed, about 34 knots. All cruisers have an extremely large fuel capacity in order to maintain high speed for a long period. Cruisers, like battleships are divided into numerous watertight compartments”

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The New Orleans class cruisers were a class of seven heavy cruisers built for the United States Navy (USN) in the 1930s. The ship class was a result of naval treaties between the major naval powers at the time which sought to limit the growth of large capital ships (particularly battleships). Originally called the Astoria-class cruiser, the class was renamed after Astoria was sunk and the surviving ships of the class underwent substantial reconstruction.

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These ships participated in the heaviest surface battles of the Pacific War. Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes were all sunk in the Battle of Savo Island, and three others were heavily damaged in subsequent battles in the Guadalcanal campaign. Only Tuscaloosa, the single ship of the class to spend most of World War II in the Atlantic, got through the war without being damaged. Collectively, ships of the class earned 64 battle stars.

The four surviving ships were laid up immediately after the end of the war, and sold for scrap in 1959.

The only cruisers present at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 were the New Orleans (CA-32) and the   San Francisco (CA-38). The USS San Francisco was commissioned in February 1934 and was one of the newest ships present at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day

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“On 7 December 1941, San Francisco was in Pearl Harbor and was awaiting docking and the cleaning of her heavily fouled bottom. Her engineering plant was largely broken down for overhaul. Ammunition for her 5 in (130 mm) and 8 in (200 mm) guns had been placed in storage. Her 3 in (76 mm) guns had been removed to permit installation of four 1.1 in (28 mm) quadruple mounts. The 1.1 in (28 mm) mounts had not been installed. Her .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns were being overhauled. Only small arms and two .30 in (7.6 mm) machine guns were available. Moreover, a number of San Francisco’s officers and men were absent.

At 0755, Japanese planes began bombing dives on Ford Island, and by 0800, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was well underway. The men in San Francisco secured the ship for watertightness and began looking for opportunities to fight back. Some crossed to New Orleans to help man antiaircraft batteries on that ship. Others began using available rifles and machine guns. Ammunition for .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns was transferred to Tracy for use.

San Francisco was not bombed or damaged during the Japanese air raid. After the attack was over, work resumed to make San Francisco seaworthy and combat-ready.

On 14 December, the cruiser left the yard; the scaling of her keel had been postponed in favor of more necessary repairs on other ships. On 16 December, she sortied with Task Force 14 (TF 14) to relieve Wake Island. The force moved west with a Marine fighter squadron onboard Saratoga and a Marine battalion embarked in Tangier. However, when Wake Island fell to the Japanese on 23 December, TF 14 was diverted to Midway Atoll which it reinforced. On 29 December, the force returned to Pearl Harbor.”

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The Japanese would feel the effect of not completely destroying the San Francisco. She became the most decorated ship of the Pacific Theater earning 17 Battle Stars. Earning those stars would cost a terrible price though. On November 13 1942 during the horrific Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 77 sailors, including Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, were killed. 105 were wounded. Of seven missing, three were subsequently rescued. The ship had taken 45 hits. Structural damage was extensive, but not fatal. No hits had been received below the waterline. Twenty-two fires had been started and extinguished. The designers who conceived of the class and all of her engineering features, combined with the amazing skills of the surviving crew, prevented a much greater loss of life. More significantly, they returned the CA 35 to its place in the battle line in enough time to help win the war.

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Saturday, December 25: Christmas 1943

The San Francisco was repaired in Mare Island and spent the entire year of 1943 supporting the various operations across the Pacific that were designed to wrest control back from the Japanese. After a very hard year fighting in every major battle in the Pacific, she returned to Pearl Harbor to rest. The Pearl Harbor of 1943 was very different than that of 1941. The defeat felt on December 7th was replaced by sheer determination. Most of the wrecks from that day had been refloated and returned to active duty. New planes now filled the skies and aerodromes all around the island. Troops of every kind filled every available inch of space preparing for the island campaigns to come.

For the battle weary sailors on the CA 38, Hawaii must have been a dream come true. Their sturdy ship had taken a pounding in the last year including a deadly strafing in November that resulted in one shipmate being killed and twenty two injured. But she sailed on for another battle, another day.

Bing Crosby’s latest hit was released that year and probably expressed the sentiments of many of the soldiers and sailors. “I’ll be home for Christmas” still has the power to evoke strong emotions from both the deployed service people and the folks back home. Across the oceans, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was declared the new supreme commander of all allied forces in the European Theater in preparation for the thrust into that captive continent to defeat the Nazis.

I can only imagine what the sailors and officers on the Frisco were thinking. They had been through some of the hardest fought battles yet but the future promised only more of the same. Hawaii at Christmas time is always a beautiful experience but I wonder if I could have relaxed knowing that I would soon set sail again to try and continue the path to Tokyo. The busses between Honolulu and the base were probably jammed with sailors and marines looking for anything to take their minds off the harsh life they had been living. Letters and packages from home probably caught up to the boys on the CA 38. Those precious memories would have to hold them for a long time to come as the San Francisco prepared to rejoin the battle line for the coming thrusts.

But the folks back home were continuing to rally. New ships and planes were pouring out of the yards and factories all across the United States. The Japanese had been turned back at Midway and never came close enough to the mainland again to significantly impact production. Average families got used to the war time routine of sacrifice and bond drives. Returning men who were in the fight helped to remind people we ewer all in it together.

In researching this story, I came across a menu from the USS Essex which was serving in the Pacific with the San Francisco. I will let the voices of the past end this story with their words of encouragement and a reminder that the work was not yet done.

Message for Christmas 1943

I salute those men who had been through so much in the previous two years. The starry eyes of someone who had not been battle tested were replaced with the eyes of seasoned men who scoured the sky for enemy fighters and enemy subs. The hard work was yet to come but they came back to their ship and when the time came sailed with her on to victory.

Merry Christmas to all of them today wherever they are.

Mister Mac

 In September 2014, I plan on returning to the USS San Francisco Memorial located near the sea entrance to her namesake’s city

I hope to see many of my USS San Francisco Crewmembers at our 2914 Reunion

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Plan until you drop… then plan some more 2

For those that follow me on a semi-regular basis, I apologize for being off line for a few weeks. The USS San Francisco SSN 711 2013 reunion is in the rear view mirror and plans for the 2014 event are now underway. The feedback from the participants was that things went pretty well so I am excited to see how we can improve and grow for the next one.

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To sustain the momentum, I have started three things

First, a standing committee for future reunions. For the time being, I will chair the committee but once we are up and running we can talk about succession planning. I will be looking for a small group of advisors from various locations. The consensus seems to be to alternate between the east and west coasts (with an occasional dip into the heartlands as appropriate).

The selection process will be made using a balanced scorecard that is being developed. This scorecard will recognize interest in an area by participants, costs, things to do, support from the area and expressed interests. If you want the reunion in your specific location, please put together a proposal and be prepared to support if we come there (which will have a lot of weight in the final selection by the way).

Second, it would be great to have an organization that is uniquely committed to future needs such as information sharing, keeping track of shipmates, and creating a place where the history of the ship and its crew can be sustained. Back in the day, there was a CA 38 USS San Francisco Association that celebrated the memory of that great ship and crew.

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Creating a non-profit organization such as the one that existed would allow us to better stay organized and use the benefits afforded to a non-profit association, I am working on the paperwork and will register the group in my home state in the coming weeks.

This will be a member supported organization (dues and fund raising) open to ship’s crew members and family of former ship’s crewmembers. Details will be announced shortly…

SSN-711 (USS San Francisco)

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Association

Third, one of the suggested ideas was to start a newsletter which could serve as a way to keep connected. With modern electronics, its easy for a newsletter to be distributed to as many people as desired in a very efficient manner. I will be asking for story suggestions and writers who are willing to participate. The only question now is how often should we publish? Monthly, quarterly? Stay tuned.

A special thanks to those who participated and contributed in this year’s reunion. Your words of support helped me through some interesting days. We broke even financially thanks to some very generous sponsors and with the right planning will have an even stronger showing next year. See you on the west coast!

Mister Mac

Will there be alcohol? Reply

2013 USS San Francisco (SSN 711) Reunion Update

Getting very close now so hopefully everyone plans still include being together this coming weekend in Norfolk.
The hospitality room is set and I am bringing a car full of munchies. We have to supply everything which was the trade off of not having to pay a bartender and waitress for the entire weekend.

We will pick up some beverages from the Exchange but I would like to get a sense of what people are drinking. If you could get back to me as soon as possible, that would be appreciated.  (You are free to bring your own as well but I wanted to make sure we have enough to share …)

  • Beer (Brand)
  • Liquor (Types)
  • Pop (Preferences)
  • Mixers?
  • Wine? 

My intent is to have a donation box set up for people to help defray the costs so your help would be greatly appreciated.
We have cups, plates, and will be bringing a cooler with us. If anyone else who is driving has a cooler (or two) that would be appreciated as well.

Email me at bobmac711@live.com if you are participating and have feedback about what you would like to see there

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 2013 Reunion Check off list Reply

In less than 10 days, the 2013 San Francisco Reunion will start at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Hotel. This is a brief checklist of things to do before then:


  • Room reservations. Done (Note: If you haven’t made yours yet and are worried that the time is past for the reduced rate, let me know… we may be able to help)


  • List of what you can bring for the Friday night check in and muster in hospitality room 6:00 PM (cash donations accepted to offset cost of bar and snacks already planned for)


  • Send contact information to Bob for Saturday morning event by September 1 (wake up call and departure from hotel at @0800 for Norfolk Naval Base and Commissioning of the USS Minnesota   – return early afternoon)


  • Saturday evening dinner reservations to Bob by September 3 (Payment due no later than at the door)


  • Send names you want remembered for the Sunday morning ceremony for deceased crewmembers by September 3

Please send me your information related to any of the above at bobmac711@live.com as soon as possible.

 

Thanks

Mister Mac

2013 SF 711 Reunion Update Reply

http://www.decklog.com/SSN-711.asp

The USS San Francisco SSN 711 Reunion is less than two weeks away

I will be keeping the USSVI Web Site updated with the most accurate information

So far here are the basic details”

The Reunion is at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Hotel in Downtown Norfolk and will go from September 6-8

The first Muster is at the Hospitality Room at 6 PM until they throw us out

Saturday morning will be a trip for those registered to the USS Minnesota Commissioning at the Norfolk Naval Base (No charge)

Saturday evening Buffet at the Hotel $75.00 per person (Hospitality room before and after the event) Reservations required

Sunday morning memorial service on the Norfolk Waterfront at 10:00 AM

See you there

Coming Home SSN 711

SF 711 Reunion Sitrep: August 20 2013 Reply

The United States Navy League and Phillips Destination Management www.phillipsdmc.com have offered to provide members of the USS San Francisco Reunion 2013 in Norfolk Virginia with tickets and transportation to the commissioning of the USS Minnesota on Saturday September 7th 2013.

We will ride to the base on special busses and return in plenty of time for the evening activity at the Marriott Waterside Hotel.

To participate, you need to email me with your name, names of any guests, addresses and phone number. On the day of, be ready to show a photo ID .

Mister Mac

 

Minnesota’s Crew Cherishes Distinct Honor As Commissioning Date Arrives

Mark D. Faram, Navy Times, Aug 26

 

ABOARD THE PRE-COMMISSIONING UNIT MINNESOTA— In a service steeped in tradition and ceremony, the title “plankowner” stands out.

The distinction goes to those sailors on a commissioning crew. It’s a rare honor and a source of pride sailors carry with them throughout their career.

“Few things I’ve experienced in my Navy career are both as challenging and rewarding as being part of a commissioning crew,” said Master Chief Electronics Technician (Navigation) (SS) Randall Reid. “You are starting from scratch and building a team from nothing and that may sound simple, but it’s really not.” Reid is the chief of the boat here on the Minnesota, and he will earn his second plankowner title when the attack submarine is commissioned Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va.

Just three years ago, he watched another Virginia-class boat, the Missouri, come together.

During his tour there he served as assistant navigator and helped build a department from scratch. But now on the Minnesota, as the COB, he’s been able to have a catbird’s seat and see the entire command be assembled. “You are putting into motion something that’s totally new to the Navy,” he said. “And that motion will still be here long after you are gone, until this ship decommissions one day.” “Think about all the programs, collateral duties — everything a command does daily— that has to start somewhere, and it’s the pre-commissioning crew that does it. And to see both the ship and the crew assemble at the same time, come together and mesh together, and then the day comes, and here you are, operating at sea as a unit of the United States Navy. For a sailor, there’s really no feeling like that in the world.”

The term “plankowner” isn’t official, and it’s not something the Navy formally bestows on a crew member. But as long as Navy vessels head to sea, sailors will proudly brag of this distinction.

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the certificates given to sailors denoting honor, as with other certificates such as being a shellback, given for crossing the equator, are unofficial, procured and given by the crews themselves, not the Navy.

The term dates back to the days of wooden ships, when a sailor who helped build the ship would stake a claim to the planking that he, himself, nailed in place. When the ship decommissioned, that original crew member, with proper documentation, could ask for his “plank” as a memento.

Today, the term is used for anyone assigned to a Navy unit when it stands up. It can even include bases, squadrons and other shore-based units, or crews who re-commission mothballed ships.

On the Minnesota, plaques are placed around the ship denoting the original crew in those spaces.

“Being a plankowner was definitely on my Navy bucket list, a box I planned to get checked someday. And it’s here,” said Chief Fire Control Technician (SS) Michael Witsil.

For him, putting a boat into commission is full circle: As a young submariner at his first command, he was on the crew that decommissioned the attack submarine Hawkbill in 2000.

“That’s the exact opposite of this experience,” he said. “It’s really a sad day.”

While dismantling that boat, he and others discovered the submarine dolphins welded to the hull. Per tradition, the first sailor on board to earn his warfare pin, signifying he is “qualified in submarines,” gets his dolphins welded to the hull at an undisclosed location. The sailor becomes part of the boat’s lore. His is passed down through the generations of crews, and sailors are required to know who he is and when he received his pin.

Witsel, along with Machinist Mate (Weapons) 2nd Class (SS) James Moran, who a year ago became the first to be pinned onboard Minnesota, are still looking for the perfect place to stash Moran’s inaugural dolphins. For Witsl, that moment will be huge — giving back to the Navy something he helped remove years before.

Moran, whose family is full of sailors and retired sailors, said being a plankowner and also the first to win dolphins at his first command will stay with him throughout his career.

“It’s a great honor on all accounts, but getting the dolphins was also a great relief,” he said. “It’s required for submarine service, so I’m glad that initial qual is behind me, and I can move on. While at the same time, I turn around and help my shipmates behind me earn theirs.”

 

Do you remember your first time? 4

As a student of life and a writer (of sorts) some of my favorite thoughts are about key moments in my life as well as what I assume happens in others. One such moment of course is the infamous “First Time”. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that subject recently. You may think its odd that a nearly sixty year old man is suddenly thinking about his first time enough to want to share it with you. But stick with me for a few more sentences and see if you can relate.

The first time is supposed to be special. It is supposed to be a memory that will last a lifetime. I can’t tell you how many hours of thinking and a little desperation went into the preparation for that moment. You go through so many highs and so many valleys.

“This is gonna be amazing!”

“What if I don’t do it right?”

“How can anything go wrong… people have been doing it forever”

“You mess this up boy and everybody is going to know it… you’ll be ruined”

The weeks and days leading up to the magic moment produce heart pounding stress and make you sweat in the middle of a freezing cold room. You focus on small things like sharing special words of reassurance and grasping onto anything that keeps the upcoming day potentially positive. You hope no one can sense the underlying fear as you try and keep the rest of your life balanced.

The day finally comes. You are not ready. But you have spent years building up to this very moment. Its time. The place is selected and you walk up to the reception desk. The clerk looks at you with a mixture of suspicion and maybe a bit of jealousy. She hands you the plastic card with the black strip. You walk slowly to the room that has been designated as “The Place”. The card is in your trembling fingers and you pray it opens the door to paradise.

You slip the card through the reader on the door and you get the magic “green light”. You are in. There is a filled ice bucket with a bottle of fine Champaign sitting next to the bed. You check your breath (Listermints)  You do one last glance in the mirror… there is a soft knock at the door…

Those last four steps to the door seem like they are made with boots made of lead. You reach for the handle and pull it down as you open the door…

Outside of the room stands ten guys you haven’t seen in over thirty years holding cases of brewskies, bottles of various kinds of rum and smiles that are familiar from days long ago when you conquered the world together.  Your wife of thirty three years holds your hand as you try to hold back the emotions that come from finally seeing guys who were a really important part of growing up in a pretty hard world.

You have just arrived at your first submarine (or any other service related) reunion.

Did you think I was talking about sex???

 

Mister Mac

Three Remarkable Days in Japan 2

Fast attack submarines play a key role in our nation’s defense and have done so for as long as I have been alive. For the record, that’s more than at least 59 years. I was a crew member on three different fast attacks although I only really deployed on one: The USS San Francisco SSN 711. It was also my longest served boat (just shy of four years) which is probably why I have some of my strongest memories of that service.

I want to tell a short story about our first West Pac. These six month deployments allow fast attack submarines to do many missions for extended periods of time without having to return back to home base. The San Fran was not unique in any way when it came to doing West Pacs (Western Pacific operations) but our first one had a few twists and turns along the way that separated her from routine.

Most of the operational stuff is still classified in one way or another but what we did in Japan stands out as a very different sort of port call. We had left Hawaii not long before arriving in Yokosuka JDF Naval base. Arriving in Japan, we would have had a typical port visit with visits to the local bars near the main gate and perhaps a little souvenir shipping. But I had a bigger vision than that. I actually thought it would be interesting to use some of our time to actually see Japan.

In my role as the Command Career Counselor, I had decided that maybe there was some missed opportunity in not seeing the country that would be our first port call on the West Pac. So I got the XO’s permission while we were still back in Pearl Harbor to set up some tours once we got there. I was a bit older than most second classes since I had rejoined active duty after a stint in the reserves. I had also seen guys drink their paychecks away in port after port and then years later not even remember anything about where they had been.

Japan has a rich history and many things to see. Even to this day, I hope that I have at least one more chance of travelling back to catch some of the things I have read about but never saw. The special services people and American consulate people were probably surprised when they got the first letters from some second class petty officer inquiring about tours. There was no email back then so no back and forth communications could occur in a timely fashion. Plus, I couldn’t actually tell them when we were arriving since it was part of OPSEC (Operational Security).

Surprisingly though, when we pulled in, I had envelopes full of pamphlets, maps, translation guides, and a letter from a tour operator with three suggested trips. Those included the famous Fifth Station on Mount Fuji (including the Lake Hakone Region and the Ice Caves), The Coastal region and the famous statue at Kamakura, and day trips to Tokyo including the Palace.

I spent the next two days making arrangements and selling tickets for the tours. Within a few days, the first tour was ready to go and I got my first cold hard dash of reality. There seemed to have been a lot of excitement about the various trips but suddenly guys were trying to back out. The travel to Japan had been hard and work in port on a fast boat is always exhausting. But a deal was a deal and we had obligated ourselves.

I can’t remember now which trip was first. The bus pulled up next to the pier and our guides explained where we would be headed. There were a few unhappy campers who felt like now they were going to miss out on something. I don’t know to this day if the trips really meant anything to the groups that went. I do know what they meant to me…

I can now say that I have been up to the Fifth Station of Mount Fujiyama and walked beneath the Ice Cave falls.

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I can also say that I saw the Shogunate of Kamakura and the giant Bhudda statue that you can walk up into.

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And to this day, I can still feel the crunching of the gravel and stones around the Imperial Palace

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There was one last memory of Japan that I still cherish today.

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I still miss your music Jim.

 

I hope in your journey of life, you take a risk from time to time and do the unexpected. You may never know the impact you had, but I can assure you, you probably did.

Mister Mac