Something to be truly thankful for 1

Happy Thanksgiving 2017
Mister Mac

theleansubmariner

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, men and women will be gathered together far away from home.

Submarine

Some will be keeping a watchful eye for dangerous activity, some will be far below the water’s surface and some will be launching aircraft in support or another mission to preserve freedom. If they are very lucky, they will be treated to a meal something like this:

OVEN ROAST OF TURKEY ~~~PRIME RIB OF BEEF

VIRGINIA BAKED HAM ~~~CORNBREAD DRESSING

MASHED POTATOES ~~~CANDIED SWEET POTATOES

NATURAL TURKEY GRAVY ~~~TASTY BROWN GRAVY

PINEAPPLE SAUCE ~~~BUTTERED CORN ON THE COB

SEASONED PEAS AND CARROTS ~~~TOSSED GREEN SALAD

SHRIMP COCKTAIL with SAUCE ~~~ASSORTED SALAD DRESSINGS

ASSORTED PICKLES ~~~ASSORTED RELISH TRAY

RIPE OLIVES and GREEN OLIVES ~~~CHEESE CUBES

CHILLED CRANBERRY SAUCE ~~~PUMPKIN PIE with ICE CREAM

HOT ROLLS BREAD BUTTER~~ FRUIT ~~CAKE ~~CANDY ~~ASSORTED NUTS

COFFEE~~ TEA~~ MILK

Turkey

Starting tonight on submerged submarines everywhere, the cooks and mess…

View original post 614 more words

Wreaths Across America – Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Pittsburgh Reply

https://wreaths.fastport.com/donateLocation.html?page=47147&relate=17115

REMEMBER the Fallen. . . HONOR those who Serve. . . TEACH our children the value of Freedom.

Welcome to Navy League of the United States – Pittsburgh Council’s Wreaths Across America Page. Please help our group raise funds by clicking one of the red “Donate” button to sponsor wreaths to be placed at one of the locations listed below. . . It is easy!

If you’d prefer to donate via a specific member of Navy League of the United States – Pittsburgh Council, find the member’s name below and click the “Donate” button next to their name.

If you would like to volunteer to participate in the wreath laying ceremony, please click the “View” button next to the cemetery name below. Thank you so much for supporting Navy League of the United States – Pittsburgh Council and Wreaths Across America!

Mister Mac

Happy Birthday to my Navy Family – 242 Years Strong 5

This speech was delivered to the Pittsburgh Area Navy Ball on October 20, 2017. The Ball was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Council of the Navy League of the United States and the McKeesport Pittsburgh Chief Petty Officer’s Association

Happy Birthday to my Family

Life is full of celebrations. Births, graduations, achievements, weddings, anniversaries. October is a month of celebrations for the Navy family and Navy League members as we celebrate the Navy’s 242nd birthday, Oct.13, Navy Day and Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, Oct. 27.

For the Navy League, We use these occasions to remember and rededicate ourselves to our missions in support of our sea service personnel and their families and to educate the public and Congress on the importance of our sea services in defending our nation and its prosperity.

Some of us were also blessed to be part of something which helped to define us as individuals while serving the greatest nation the world has ever known. Some of us have had the honor and privilege of wearing a uniform of the United States Navy.

I had a pretty good life growing up in the Mon Valley. From my earliest memories, I had been surrounded by the call of the sea and service in the Navy. A faded black and white picture of my Grandfather in his Dress Blues from World War 1 hung on the wall. I inherited the picture and that uniform along with my Dad’s and it is striking how similar they are to my first uniform. The sturdy wool has endured for over a hundred years and the infamous thirteen buttons are still standing guard. The piping of white is a bit faded now but the stars still stand out on that collar. Stars that represent a country and a family,

From the minute I entered Boot Camp, I knew that I was a part of a much larger family. We learned skills and traditions and came to understand that this new family had a purpose. We were there to protect America and her allies from those who want to harm us. President Theodore Roosevelt, who we honor tonight for his support of a strong Navy stated in his second annual message to Congress on 2 December 1902:

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

In the one hundred and fifteen years since he declared those words, we have seen that come true time and time again. When America has been best prepared to defend ourselves, we have enjoyed the fruits of that peace. But when America has lost its way and allowed its Navy family to shrink and not have the resources needed to be at the ready we have suffered setbacks.

One only has to look at Pearl Harbor to see the cost of underestimating the enemy. The loss of life and the ships that were sunk is a constant reminder to all Americans. As a member of the Navy family, I have openly cried when I heard taps played at the Arizona Memorial. The names on that wall are more than just etchings of a stone cutter. They are members of my Navy Family who gave their all.

75 Years ago, in a far off place called Guadalcanal, Marines, Army soldiers, Coast Guardsmen and Navy Men did the unexpected and pushed the Japanese back after a horrendous struggle. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal will be remembered on November 12-13 as one of the greatest displays of heroism in our proud family history. An out gunned and out matched American fleet took enormous punishment and endured horrific losses, but in the end emerged victorious. From that night on, the Japanese forces were slowly but surely pushed all the way back to their homeland resulting in ultimate defeat.

Our Navy family played a critical role in that victory.

Yet even in the afterglow of victory, danger still existed. Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote in 1948

“Sir Walter Raleigh declared in the early 17th century that “whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.” This principle is as true today as when uttered, and its effect will continue as long as ships traverse the seas.

The United States possesses today control of the sea more absolute than was possessed by the British. Our interest in this control is not riches and power as such. It is first the assurance of our national security, and, second, the creation and perpetuation of that balance and stability among nations which will insure to each the right of self-determination under the framework of the United Nations Organization.”

All of this was tested in the Cold War. Korea, Vietnam, and a growing Soviet Fleet challenged our family to be able to respond. But respond they did, bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. That recognition for a strong Navy has never ended. Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost wrote

“When a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often asked by policymakers is: ‘What naval forces are available and how fast can they be on station?’

In the most recent conflicts, it has been a combination of all of the Armed Services that have served so well in defending this country against new enemies. But the Navy has been there. You only need to look at the ribbons of many in this room tonight to see the ongoing sacrifice that many have made to ensure our freedom.

Yes, these are the members of my family. These are the men and women whom I have been proud to stand together with in both good times and bad. We are forever united in our shared sacrifices. We celebrate not just an organization, we celebrate the people who have been bonded together for a greater purpose. I can never forget that our family includes the wives and husbands and children who wait for them to return from their missions. Their sacrifices are a large part of why we are able to serve the nation so well.

My uniform long ago joined my Grandfathers and my Dad’s in that old trunk. The sword my men presented on the day of my commissioning hangs on the wall near a case of emblems that reflect my passage through the ordeals that made me a Navy family member. But when I look out and see the young faces of those who are about to enter their own journey and become part of my Navy family, I can almost feel the years slipping away. I can feel the deck shifting below my feet and smell the salt in the wind swept air. The chance for one last adventure makes my heart beat a little stronger.

The reality comes back when I remember that my ship has sailed. I know my time now will be spent doing what I can to support my family that will man the watch. For those of us who are now standing on the shore watching you sail into your own history, we rededicate ourselves to making sure you have the support you need. The right ships, the right equipment, the right training, and all that you need to make sure America stays strong in the face of relentless enemies around the globe. Doing less ensures our own failure. That is not acceptable. That is not America.

We must also remember those who have suffered in body, mind and spirit in the fight. As a family we must still offer them comfort, hope and support. That is a sacred trust. That is what real families do.

The world has turned over 88,330 times since Congress realized the need for a naval service. From a small band of patched together frigates to the mightiest force the world has ever seen, the United States Navy has one continuous thread: Brave men and women who were willing to face any challenge and challenge any foe.

This is the United States Navy.

I hope you will share with me today and every day the importance of our outstanding naval family, and remember always what the United States Navy stands for through its resonant motto:

“Not for Self but for Country”

Thank you for the honor of being allowed to share my family story.

Bob MacPherson

President, US Navy League Pittsburgh Council (AKA Mister Mac)

Dedication Ceremony for the Submarine Service Memorial at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies 4

It was an honor today to be present as a Memorial Stone was Dedicated by the USSVI Requin Base Pittsburgh PA at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Pittsburgh.

The pictures tell the story.

Hand Salute!

Maintain Silence About the Decks 2

Maintain Silence About the Decks.

Life aboard any US Navy vessel is marked by a series of routines. Sailors quickly learn that there are expected behaviors during each of those routines. During refueling operations, the red flag is flown and the word is passed that the smoking lamp is out. Taps is another time of change where sailors try to respect their shipmate’s rest by keeping quiet and turning the lights out in berthing. But one particular routine is as old as the Navy itself. Honoring the Almighty and saying goodbye to a shipmate.

The Church Pennant is the only flag ever flown over the National Ensign at the same point of hoist. It is displayed during church services conducted by a Chaplain, both ashore and afloat. It is also flown when the ceremony for saying goodbye to a shipmate is performed.

Prior to the ceremony, ship’s company all don their dress uniforms and assemble on the appropriate deck. In this modern day and under the circumstances, there would be no way possible for all of us who knew Ronald Spurlock to gather. Based on the many notes of condolences sent in the past few days, I don’t know if we could find a large enough ship to render the honors properly. I would also imagine that many of us would no longer fit into those handsome uniforms we once wore. But I do know this. As a fellow sailor, he would appreciate the gesture.

From everything I knew about this man I never met, he was a patriot, loved his country and honored his time in the United States Navy. He shared his love with us on so many occasions and I always looked forward to his posts. But God knew his time was up and brought him home. I know with certainty that at some point we will all join him there. I am sad that I never got to meet him in person. I felt that I knew him. But I am happy to know we will serve again together in the great beyond.

“Now maintain silence about the decks” is the way all sailors’ attention is drawn to a time of respect. Shipboard life is hectic and chaotic even in its routines. But during this time, we should pause. We should reflect. We should take a moment to say goodbye.

Thank you Ron for your friendship these past few years. I will miss you. I know that your earthly remains are being cared for and those close to Tennessee will be there for your last farewell. But for those of us who can’t be there, I offer one last Naval tradition. When a sailor passes and the distance to shore is too far away, the most time honored tradition for burial at sea.

UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the deep; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

Condolences to the Family and God Bless and Keep you Shipmate

Mister Mac

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

The Wrong Donations – Some Tough Words on Disaster Relief Reply

This is a great reminder to all who really want to help the people in Texas and other places. Please share this message to all those well meaning people who have no clue about the extra work they cause by not thinking this all the way through.

My Best Laid Plans

I need to make a statement. I want to say it as kindly and gently as possible, but this message really needs to get out there. It’s important. Please hear me with as much grace as you can, because I mean it with all love and gentleness.

My children and I spent hours yesterday sorting the donations that are pouring in. That picture is the mountain we were faced with, and it was still coming. We’re not the only ones. Hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers all across our state are doing the same exact thing. Why? Because your hearts are in theright place.That’s why.

I want to make that abundantly clear. It is beautifully apparent that you are thinking about us and that you want to help us figure this thing out. You are doing anything you can, and that has brought such profound joy to our hearts. I personally…

View original post 1,093 more words

Shikumi: System Based Lean Transformation 2

Systems thinking

Thinking about systems?

Every once in a while, I see lean ideas that seem to come at just the right time. I have been preaching about the importance of a systems approach to successful lean implementations for years and found an article that gives an interesting take on that vision.

From the article: ” Shikumi signifies a system; more specifically a holistic system, composed of elements and aspects. Shikumi materializes certain underlying principles through the system’s tangible and detailed policies, methods, rules and standards. According to Frederick Stimson Harriman on LinkedIn’s “TPS Principles and Practice” group, Shikumi means setting up things so that they will react in a desired way in certain circumstances. This also makes it into a more organic system; a nervous or self-regulating system, which Toyota’s famed kanban system is also sometimes referred to. Shikumi-zukuri refers the creation of such a system.”

Here is the link to the rest of the article: http://dumontis.com/2017/07/shikumi-system-based-lean/#comment-13826

For any of my fellow lean practitioners, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Mister Mac

I grew into it 4

I grew into it.

When you are seventeen and the whole world is just outside of you front door, you can be a little anxious to get started. Some kids will go off to college, some will go to work in a factory or mill, and some kids find themselves drawn to something more adventurous. In my case, that was the military and more specifically, the Navy.

I convinced my parents to sign the permission slip and without much real thought on my part (other than the foreign ports I would hopefully see) I raised my right hand and said a bunch of words. At seventeen, I honestly had very little idea what the words meant or what I was obligating myself for. As we were lining up to say them at the Navy office, I seem to remember a serious feeling coming over the whole proceeding. Up until that moment, the kids that were in the room with me had been typical kids just kind of joking and being “brave”. Then we all said the words together…

“I… (state your name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the Officers appointed over me according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Yep. Seventeen years old and I just took an oath to support and defend a document I had barely read in school and understood even less. I was supposed to defend it against all enemies both foreign and domestic (whatever that meant) and I was going to obey the orders of a guy I have never met in person and a bunch of men and women who I had not yet met.

What was I thinking? I was only seventeen. I had only shot a gun a few times before and certainly had never shot at another human being. And orders? Holy cow, my Dad and I used to fight like two prize fighters over the stupidest stuff. Now I had to willingly follow the orders of some guy I hardly knew?

But I grew into it.

The Navy very wisely sent me off to boot camp where I met a large number of other bewildered young men. We marched, we got up at a certain time every day, and we learned about Navy stuff while starting to become men. We learned to look out for each other and give up some of our self. We learned about teamwork and sacrifice. We learned that there are consequences for bad behavior and we learned about authority.

On graduation day from Boot Camp, our parents and girlfriends came to see us march one last time. I was in the band and I still can’t remember a group of guys performing those songs with any more pride or talent. When the last note was finished and the announced that we were now US Navy sailors, there was a sense of completion and a sense of fear of the unknown ahead. What kind of sailor would I be? Would the task be more than I was able to complete? We had heard all the stories about brave men and ships being attacked by the enemy and to be honest I was not certain I would measure up.

But I grew into it.

The challenges would come faster and faster over the years. Technical schools, submarine school, the first of my five boats leading to becoming a Chief Petty Officer. But through it all, we learned our new roles and we were ready to do what we had agreed to do those many years ago in a small town Recruiters office someplace in America. We became the teachers and the mentors and the leaders who served this great nation in times of peace and war. Then the day came when our time was up and we had to relinquish the watch. A new generation would fill our billets and have to carry on the traditions. The nation would have to depend on them for protection. I wondered how they would do.

But you know what? They grew into it too. As the earth continues to turn and as freedom loving peoples still desire freedom, a strong Navy will always be needed. There will never be a shortage of enemies who would take that freedom away if they had the means.

I just pray as I look around the country now that enough young people will still be willing to raise their right hands and give themselves and the country a chance to grow into an even better place than when my generation were in charge. This modern Antifa movement is kind of frightening to me. Many of these kids are seventeen too and maybe aren’t sure what it means to attack your own country. There is a word for that: Treason

Mister Mac

 

SSN 590 – USS Sculpin – Cold War Warrior 2

SSN 590 USS Sculpin

Sculpin: A spiny, large-headed, broad-mouthed, usually scale less fish of the family Cottidae. Several species are found on the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America.

USS Sculpin (SSN-590), a Skipjack-class nuclear-powered submarine, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the sculpin.

Her keel was laid down on 3 February 1958 by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was launched on 31 March 1960 sponsored by Mrs. Fred Connaway, widow of Commander Fred Connaway, who was killed while commanding the first USS Sculpin during World War II, and commissioned on 1 June 1961 with Commander C. N. Mitchell in command.

Commander Connaway was killed by gunfire on the bridge of the first Sculpin before boat was sunk by Japanese destroyer. The ship was scuttled by her brave crew. Forty-two of Sculpins crew were picked up by Yamagumo. One badly wounded sailor was thrown back in the sea because of his condition. The survivors were questioned for about ten days at the Japanese naval base at Truk, then were embarked on two aircraft carriers returning to Japan. Chuyo carried 21 of the survivors in her hold. On 2 December, the carrier was torpedoed and sunk by Sailfish and twenty of the American prisoners perished; one man, George Rocek, was saved when he was able to grab hold of a ladder on the side of a passing Japanese destroyer and hauled himself on board. (Ironically, Sailfish — at the time named Squalus — was the same submarine Sculpin had helped to locate and raise some four-and-a-half years before.) The other 21 survivors arrived at Ōfuna Camp, Japan, on 5 December and, after further questioning, were sent to the Ashio copper mines for the duration of the war.

This story is about the Attack Sub named in her honor. Typically, the stories of the Cold War submarines stay secret unless they are outed by non-submariners. Doing research on the USS Sculpin, I discovered this article which was originally published in Naval Institute Proceedings. It was written an old friend, Admiral Charles Larson who was my Commanding Officer on board USS Halibut.

I share this story in his honor.

Mister Mac

 

Naval History Magazine 2008, Volume 22. Number 1

Admiral Charles R. Larsen US Navy Retired

Captain Clinton Wright, US Navy Retired

Paul Stilwell

The Sculpin’s Lost Mission: A Nuclear Submarine in the Vietnam War

“One would expect that Cold War “special ops” involving U.S. nuclear-powered submarines are shrouded in secrecy. Other American sub activities during that era, however, are also hidden, one for a very strange reason.

In 1971, after he had spent two and a half years of duty in the White House as naval aide to President Richard Nixon, Commander Chuck Larson was ready to go back to sea. He was ordered to be executive officer of the attack submarine Sculpin (SSN-590), under Commander Harry Mathis. For several months the boat went through workups off the coast of southern California to prepare for a deployment to the western Pacific. That deployment included active participation in the Vietnam War.

After leaving the West Coast in January 1972, our first assignment was a classified special operation that lasted about two months. It went very well. The mission helped us hone our ship-handling and intelligence-gathering skills and made us confident in our capabilities and feel good about the way the ship was operating. Although it is still classified after all these years, it’s safe to say that it was intelligence-gathering targeted against the Soviet Union. Years later, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew’s book, Blind Man’s Bluff (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), described Cold War submarine operations. Because of security concerns, I can’t specifically discuss the contents, but the book is a good read.

After the special operation, the Sculpin went into Yokosuka, Japan, for some liberty, and my wife, Sally, met me there. I had grown my beard while at sea and that, combined with my black hair and pale complexion after the extended period underwater, made me look—according to Sally—like Rasputin, the mad tsarist Russian.

In March, shortly after we began our second operation, patrolling the South China Sea, we were diverted for a specific mission. The U.S. government believed supply trawlers were operating out of Hainan Island, off the southern coast of the People’s Republic of China. They were running arms, ammunition, and supplies from the northern part of the Gulf of Tonkin down to the Vietcong in the IV Corps region, the southernmost portion of Vietnam. U.S. forces discovered this when ground troops caught the enemy in the act of off-loading a trawler on a South Vietnamese beach. The incident sparked a big firefight, creating the legend that the trawler crews were elite forces willing to fight to the death. It also initiated a concerted effort to stop the traffic by convincing the enemy that it could not succeed.

Each of the trawlers could carry about 100 tons of munitions. Several suspect ships were photographed, so we knew generally what they looked like, but as long as they were in international waters, we had no means to interdict them other than to turn them around by making low passes with a P-3 Orion patrol plane or a close approach by a surface ship. This was complicated by the fact that so many legitimate trawlers like them were in the area. Several gunrunners had been turned around, but this would not stop the at-sea resupply effort. To convincingly discourage the effort, it would be necessary to destroy them in the waters off South Vietnam before they could land their cargo. The plan that evolved was to use a submarine to follow one from Hainan to South Vietnam and finger it for our forces to destroy. We were selected for this mission.

The Pursuit Begins

We took up a patrol station off Hainan on 10 April. After referring to a book with images of the different types of trawlers and what we could expect, we picked up our quarry on 12 April. The wardroom was divided on whether she was a good prospect. However, the ship resembled photographs of other known suspects, and her projected track was taking her toward the west coast of the Philippines, which did not make sense for a fisherman. So we took off in trail. Not long thereafter, the trawler turned to the south, and that was the clincher for us. She had an extremely distinctive shaft rub and propeller sound, which our sonar men could easily discriminate from background noise. We relied completely on passive sonar to avoid being detected. The active sonar in the Skipjack – class submarines wouldn’t have been reliable because of the reverberations in shallow water.

The ship we followed was probably 200 feet long, a large trawler, certainly suitable for open-ocean fishing. We did, of course, identify her by periscope before we started to trail, but we weren’t able to follow her totally by periscope and maintain visual contact. We didn’t want to take the chance of having our periscope seen in the flat, calm waters of the South China Sea. Also, she was making a speed of advance through the water of about 11 knots. That meant that if we were going to do our periscope operations every now and then, get out radio messages, and do our required housekeeping evolutions, we were probably going to have to run an average of about 18 or 20 knots submerged to keep up with her. We also had to include time for ocean analysis and tactical maneuvering to make certain we were staying with the correct target.

One more challenge was that the trawler was heading south, right through the “dangerous ground.” On charts of the South China Sea, an area about 180 nautical miles wide and 300 miles long is simply labeled dangerous ground. Our charts had one track of soundings through that area—taken in 1885. We assessed that the terrain was fairly level, but the depth was 200 feet or less in most of this area. So we were in a position of running up to 20 knots in 200 feet of water, with between 30 to 80 feet under the keel at that high speed. Our ship could react very quickly to plane (control surface) movements, so we had only our most experienced officers of the deck, diving officers, and planesmen on station. Our chief petty officer diving officers controlled the ship’s depth by supervising the planesmen. They did a superb job.

As the trawler headed south, she vectored a little to the east and went into an area in the dangerous ground where we couldn’t go. Up to then, although we were in the dangerous area, we felt secure in knowing the bottom was fairly level. But now she went into an area that was littered with rocks, shoals, and shipwrecks. I wondered then if the trawler’s crew was smart enough to do what we called a “sanitization move”—go where even surface ships wouldn’t follow. She doubtlessly believed that if she went through there she would come out the other side well clear of any tailing vessel.

I was absolutely convinced that the trawler was unaware of our presence (that became clear later when we intercepted a radio message). We believed the ship’s course change was simply a safety move. While we were able to use our fathometer to plot the bottom and know the depth under our keel, the device looks only directly down; it doesn’t look ahead. We were genuinely worried about what we couldn’t see ahead—an undersea mountain, a wreck, or something else.

Lost and Found

When the trawler had entered the dangerous ground, we requested cover from an on-call P-3 Orion. Although we were under the operational control of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in Saigon, we had the ability to call the shots on the scene. We wanted the aircraft to remain covert, so it would not scare the trawler back into port by making low passes near her. During the ship’s voyage through this very shallow, wreck-strewn portion of the dangerous ground, the plane, remaining at high altitude to minimize the chance of being seen, kept track of her by radar and visual observation. We dodged around the area by hauling off to the west, then south, and finally back to the east, to an area where we predicted the trawler would emerge, still in the dangerous ground. As the P-3 turned the contact over to us, the trawler appeared just about where we thought she would. We picked her up from the distinctive shaft rub and propeller sound and got in close enough to get a good positive periscope observation. We then went back in trail.

As we headed south in the South China Sea, we approached a new hazard. We found a large number of oil-drilling platforms near the coast of Borneo. We first became aware of this hazard through the prolonged tracking of a diesel contact, which prompted the CO, Commander Harry Mathis, to go up to periscope depth for a look. We spotted an uncharted platform. If the rigs were operating, that was no problem; we could plot the location of their noisy diesel engines. We found some charted, some not, some operating and others not. Our concern, of course, was about those uncharted and not running. We made frequent periscope observations to avoid the platforms, which forced us to run faster to maintain the quarry’s speed of advance. We continued south at higher speeds for longer periods of time, sometimes with barely 20 to 30 feet of water beneath the Sculpin’s keel.

As our target passed between the Great Natuna Islands, we made an end run around North Natuna. After that, our quarry was on a beeline for the Gulf of Thailand, passing through the busy sea-lane between Hong Kong and Singapore. The density of the large shipping traffic in this lane was incredible. Crossing it was like running across a busy freeway. It was night time, and sonar was useless amid all the traffic noise, so we crossed at periscope depth following our quarry’s stern light, maneuvering to avoid the large ships bearing down on us from both directions.

The Gulf of Thailand presented a new challenge. The water was hot, 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and shallow, averaging 110 feet deep, and the bottom was flat. The surface was a dead calm mirror with fishing buoys and nets everywhere, not to mention small fishing boats of every description. It was also very hazy and so hot that the horizon was somewhat obscure. Such were the wartime circumstances that our operation order authorized us to operate in water as shallow as six fathoms. Who says nuclear-powered submarines can’t operate in the littorals?

How Invisible?

During this time we half-jokingly talked about “the hump.” We were trying to visualize what the Sculpin looked like on the surface, running at 20 knots, with maybe only 40 feet from the top of the sail to the surface. We visualized a hump—the water displaced above the boat’s hull—roaring through the South China Sea like a mini tidal wave, with observers wondering what it was. We assumed the ship left some sort of trail but were certain one would have to be very close to be able to see it.

An incident when I had command duty got my attention. I brought the Sculpin up to periscope depth and saw what I thought was a periscope going by. My first reaction was, “Holy smoke, there’s another submarine up here.” Then I realized it was a small water-saturated log that was floating vertically. Just for a moment I thought there were two submarines staring at each other and wondered which one was going to blink first.

As the trawler moved farther south, she made a distinct turn to the west and then to the northwest. We were absolutely sure she was a gunrunner, going in to land and off-load her ammunition. Then, two things happened. We were ordered by MACV to photograph our target and alerted to prepare to execute a provision in our operation order for us to sink our target with torpedoes.

The photographic mission meant leaving our trail position and speeding up ahead of the target to take pictures as the trawler cruised by. The risk of detection was great because of the flat calm sea and our hump as we repositioned at high speed. To avoid this, we had to go as deep as possible. Commander Mathis selected 90 feet keel depth, leaving 20 feet between the keel and the bottom. We limited periscope exposure to 6 inches for less than ten seconds. We did get good pictures and apparently were not detected, although one photograph revealed three men on deck looking in our general direction. The depth control skill of our diving officer chiefs was extraordinary.

Where’d She Go?

Immediately after the trawler made the northwest turn, and just before we communicated with higher authorities, we lost contact for about two hours. Up to that point, our target had been somewhat predictable, cruising on a straight course to the northwest near the center of the Gulf of Thailand about 100 miles off the coast of South Vietnam, with the familiar shaft rub being tracked by sonar. It was night with a full moon, and we saw her lights through the periscope. The horizon was indistinguishable. Suddenly, sonar reported she had stopped, and while the CO watched, the trawler turned off her lights. Blind and deaf, we then lit off the radar and made several sweeps that revealed nothing. This was not too surprising. When a radar hasn’t been used in months and is not tuned, taking it out and rotating it a couple of times doesn’t guarantee a high probability of picking up a small target. We were not sure whether she had stopped for the night or was moving away in a new direction at slow speed.

We reported the lost contact, which threw the operational command authority in Saigon into a panic. They had been moving South Vietnamese naval forces along the coast to maintain a blocking position based on our updates, so the whole operation threatened to unravel. Commander Mathis and I huddled and decided: “Well, we’ve got to assume that she’s making a run toward the border up there. Let’s just go down and run as fast as we can and get about 30 miles ahead of her predicted track and set up a barrier.”

So we moved up and waited for her farther up into the Gulf of Thailand. We made that sprint at 20 knots with 20 feet under the keel. At first daylight, we contacted our on station P-3 aircraft and described our quarry, particularly her white color. We requested that the Orion’s crew search the area from where we lost contact to the Vietnamese coast. They reported several widely separated contacts; only one of them was white. The CO authorized a low-altitude identification pass, and the P-3 made a positive ID. They reported to Saigon, and we closed the target. As we neared, we regained that familiar shaft rub and when we took another periscope look, it was her—positive identification, both sonar and visual.

Originally, MACV requested authorization for us to sink the target with our torpedoes, but this was not approved. For years I assumed that the National Command Authority in Washington, D.C., disapproved the request. However, several years later, Harry Mathis, who by then was a captain, was commanding officer of the Submarine Base Pearl Harbor. He regularly played tennis with retired Admiral Bernard “Chick” Clarey, who had been commander-in-chief Pacific Fleet at the time of our operation. Admiral Clarey remembered the operation very well because he and Admiral John McCain, commander-in-chief Pacific, had followed our progress closely in daily briefings. Admiral Clarey told Mathis that he had argued vehemently in favor of having us shoot, but Admiral McCain was not convinced it would work. Instead, South Vietnamese naval forces were called in to do the job on 24 April.

High-Seas Drama

The surface forces—led by a South Vietnamese destroyer escort—challenged the trawler, which hoisted a Chinese flag and an international flag signal designating they were fishing. The South Vietnamese commander was hesitant to take action because he was concerned about creating an international incident. Fortunately, we established communications with the U.S. liaison officer on board the destroyer with the UQC underwater telephone. His first question was whether we could verify this ship as our trawler. We told him, “Absolutely, this is the one without a doubt.” We then went to periscope depth to observe.

The trawler tried to convince the South Vietnamese destroyer that she was an innocent fishing vessel. We spoke once again with the liaison officer and with higher authorities and said: “We are absolutely sure that this ship came out of Hainan flying a PRC [People’s Republic of China] flag. We have tracked her 2,500 miles to this position, and in our opinion she is a gunrunner making a run toward the border and certainly is not a fisherman. We can verify who she is, which should allow us to take whatever action is appropriate.”

As we later learned from the intercepted communication, the trawler at one point said, “I think there is a submarine out there.” This was the first indication that the trawler crew was aware of us as we coordinated with the destroyer. Based on our identification, the destroyer escort ordered the trawler to stop, and when she failed to comply, began making intimidating runs at her, finally opening fire from a standoff position with her 3-inch guns. The trawler was hit and began burning, running in a circle as if the rudder was jammed hard over. We watched through the periscope, and our crew gathered in their mess to watch on the TV monitor. Suddenly, with a thunderous roar, clearly audible through the Sculpin’s hull, the trawler exploded and disintegrated as its cargo detonated. Flames leaped hundreds of feet in the air, accompanied by the cheers of our crew.

At this moment, Commander Mathis asked the crew over the 1MC for a moment of silence. Enemy or not, they had perished doing their mission. Later, we were pleased to learn that 16 of the trawler crew had been rescued and they spoke Vietnamese, not Chinese. The captain and the navigator were among them and able to provide valuable intelligence about their operations. One of the few casualties was the political officer.

Our communication with command headquarters, through the loitering Orion during the urgent final search, was vital. Only later did we learn that, because of atmospheric conditions, the communications link with Saigon consisted of the P-3 aircraft on station relaying to another P-3 revving up its engines on the ground at its airbase while parked next to a phone booth. A flight crew member would run out to the phone and relay the messages between Saigon and us.

One other significant factor made the mission possible. It could only have been done by a nuclear-powered submarine. That experience gave me great admiration for the diesel-boat crews and skippers of World War II. We had more margin for error than they did because of their speed limitations owing to low battery capacity. If we made a mistake on the Sculpin, we could make it up through speed and repositioning, which couldn’t be done with a diesel boat. Certainly our speed came in handy, not only in the basic trail, trying to stay up with a ship doing 11 knots and do all the things we had to do, but also during that period when we lost them. We were able to run quickly forward, reposition up the track, and get a chance to pick them up again. But that blackout period was a low point. We had trailed the ship 2,300 miles and thought we’d lost her.

Hidden Valor

The trawler’s crew verified that their ship was a gunrunner. They had on board enough arms and ammunition to supply the Vietcong in IV Corps for at least 60 days. Her destruction thus made a significant contribution to the safety of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops in the area and set back the enemy’s military operations there.

The surviving crew were North Vietnamese. They were split up, with U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence each interrogating half and their stories compared. It was determined that the navigator’s responses were credible because he provided interrogators with exactly the same track we plotted.

The United States learned much about the North Vietnamese at-sea resupply strategy. It also learned that the trawler crews were not elite forces that would resist until death. One engineer told of being at his station when the political officer came to the engine room hatch, told him the enemy had arrived, and ordered him to stay at his post. The engineer, no doubt considering the nature of the cargo, said, “I immediately went on deck and jumped into the water.”

It was an unusual operation. We spent more time submerged inside the 100-fathom curve than any U.S. submarine since World War II. Crew training, equipment reliability, ship control, navigation, sonar, communications, propulsion plant—everything and everyone performed superbly. We could not have asked for anything more. For that operation the Sculpin earned the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the only U.S. submarine during the entire Vietnam War to receive that award.

The Sculpin was also nominated for the submarine combat patrol pin, and our individual awards for the combat “V.” If that had been approved, she would have been the first submarine since World War II to get the combat patrol pin. Instead, the nomination was disapproved somewhere up the chain of command. I assume it was probably rejected by a World War II submariner who thought the operation wasn’t nearly as hazardous as what he did during his war, and it didn’t measure up. I can’t argue with that, but the crew had great hope that they could proudly wear the pin for their contribution, particularly to the safety of our troops. Another consideration, however, might have been that those pins would have raised questions and possibly compromised an operation that was still classified.

We covered a huge distance in trail during that operation. Someone asked me later how I slept at night. I said, “With a pillow under my head, up against the bulkhead in case we hit something.”

Admiral Larson went on to serve on active duty for 40 years. His senior position was as commander-in-chief of all United States military forces in the Pacific. Captain Wright served 26 years on active duty. He was commanding officer of USS Puffer (SSN-652) and operations officer for Commander Submarine Group Seven. Mr. Stillwell, the former editor of Naval History and the U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Program, has written the ” Looking Back ” column since 1993.

Cold War Records

This article is the result of merging my notes and recollections with those of Clint Wright, who stood a good many watches as Sculpin ‘s officer of the deck during the pursuit of the trawler. Clint also gained access to the unclassified versions of the submarine’s deck logs. Other OODs during the operation included Lieutenants Dick Snaider, Jim Gabala, Alan Beam, and Charlie Krupnick.

Getting our joint account through security review was an interesting challenge. Clint’s original motive was to publish an article, because he wanted the Sculpin Sailors to get credit for what they did. My motive was to try and get it cleared for my oral history, so at least part of our special operations could be made public to my family and to other interested people. We jointly pursued this effort, dealing with the director of Naval Intelligence and several people who used to work for me. The first thing we discovered was that there were absolutely no records of the Sculpin’s operations. They had all been destroyed.

This highlights weaknesses in the Naval Intelligence Command’s record keeping. As far as we can determine, the Navy had its standard Cold War intelligence gathering, what we called “special operations,” which were classified and compartmentalized. Those reports appear to have been preserved. But because the Sculpin’s Vietnam operation was not in that category—it was a more conventional, although extremely unusual, operation and didn’t have the protection of that system—the reports were purged at some point when the government discarded old records. There is just no official record of this operation.

In putting this story together and sending it forward for clearance by the Navy Department, I think we did a double service. We not only got it cleared so those who served in the Sculpin during this time can receive credit, but we made this operation public and prevented it from being lost forever. At some point, an old Sculpin Sailor would have wanted to talk about it, and there would have been no way to find the records. So I’m very pleased that we were able to do that for our fine crew.”

—Admiral Charles R. Larson

Charles Robert Larson (November 20, 1936 – July 26, 2014) was a four-star Admiral of the United States Navy.

 

Ordered: 18-Jan-57
Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding
Laid down: 3-Feb-58
Launched: 31-Mar-60
Commissioned: 1-Jun-61
Decommissioned: 3-Aug-90
Struck: 30-Aug-90
Motto: “Videte eos prius” – “See ’em first”
Fate: Entered the Submarine Recycling Program on 1 October 2000
Class and type: Skipjack-class submarine
Displacement: 2,830 long tons (2,880 t) surfaced
3,500 long tons (3,600 t) submerged
Length: 251 ft 9 in (76.73 m)
Beam: 32 ft (9.8 m)
Draft: 28 ft (8.5 m)
Propulsion: 1 × S5W reactor
2 × Westinghouse steam turbines, 15,000 shp (11 MW)
1 shaft
Speed: 15 knots (17 mph; 28 km/h) surfaced
More than 30 knots (35 mph; 56 km/h) submerged
Test depth: 700 ft (210 m)
Complement: 118
Sensors and BPS-12 radar
processing systems: BQR-12 sonar
BQR-2 passive sonar
BQS-4 (modified) active/passive sonar
Armament: 6 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes