What Would You Take With You? 17

One of the questions almost always asked during one of my submarine life talks is about sleeping on the sub. Most people who have been around sub sailors have heard about hot racking and I will have to admit to doing so a few times in my career as a lower rated enlisted man. Getting qualified and getting a few extra stripes on your left arm are keys to being able to avoid this. Sometimes I think that in itself is the main motivator for a guy to advance.

That question always brings back memories of getting ready for patrols (or Spec Ops when on the fast boats). I would have to say that most people I know were very careful about what they would bring with them and for a very good reason. Up until the Trident Class submarine, the average sailor was limited to two storage areas for their stuff; the bed pan beneath their rack and a small foot locker which is really nothing more than a place to store shoes when not in use.

The bed pan was really your only “owned” space on the boat. If you are really lucky, your COB (Chief of the Boat) will have a list of suggested things you should bring with you. You quickly find out that your sea bag (as issued in Boot Camp) will probably not all fit in the pan. The one that I was issued had blue wool jumpers and bell bottoms (not very useful in the South Pacific) as well as the white cracker jacks. But if you did pull into a foreign port up north (Japan for instance) you may be directed to have an alternate set of uniforms with you.

The rest of the space needed to be carefully thought out. The bunk itself is fairly compact. At its longest, its about 6 feet, 3 feet wide, and about 2.5 feet to the bottom of the next guy’s rack (or the overhead stuffed with wiring and cables). The bunk pan itself was only 4 inches deep so you can see that you will have to be judicious. Once the hatch is closed, there are no stores on board the ship and you don’t typically pull into the Stop and Go Quickie Mart for a junk food fix.

Compounding that problem, most subs are limited in their laundry abilities. It is made worse if there is a “quiet” operation during your division’s time to wash.

There are specific Laws concerning stowage on a submarine that must be respected. This list is not all inclusive (and I am sure to this day they are still updating it). But here is what I believe were the Cardinal Rules:

1. If you bring it on board, you must stow it in such a manner not to annoy the COB or the XO or bring unwanted attention to your Chief.

2. Stowage space is in direct proportion to your rank, qualification status and your physical intimidation status. There are no appeals. This applies to the few “hooks” on the bulkhead where the ever present poopy suit hangs between watches.

3. You will not get it right the first time you sail. You may as well not even try. All of the older sailors will have filled you with typically useless suggestions if for no other reason to see your discomfort when you realize that canned soda takes up way too much space and there is free stuff on the mess decks anyway.

4. You will make continuous improvements each time you sail (unless of course you are under the impression you can somehow beat rule #1) In any event, your ability to plan and pack will be greatest on your last patrol before you leave the boat (which adds to the list of useless skills you have acquired).

5. Regardless of how many times you sail, you will not have everything you need. In fact, you can almost be assured that something you desperately need will come to your attention at the breakwater before the first dive. Hopefully, this does not include enough skivvies.

6. If you are married or in a committed relationship, you will lose some of that precious space to inanimate objects of someone’s affection to remind you of them for the entire patrol. They will invariably be drenched in some kind of perfume that renders them almost impossible to hide for very long. (Note to any former San Francisco Sailors from the early eighties: I have had several discussions with one of our old shipmates regarding a certain bear that went missing… thirty years have not erased the pain and as you fall asleep tonight, remember that… I’m just saying, sleep lightly dudes… you know who you are)

7. If any of your shipmates discover any intimate unmentionable inanimate articles you will face an inordinate amount of laser like harassment. These objects can and will end up as fodder for the traditional half-way night festivities. (If the “delicate unmentionables” are actually yours you will be pleased to note the coming change to the Navy’s DODT policy – but I would still wait for a bit before you put on your eye shadow and come out to the crew.)

8. If you smoked (back in the day that was actually allowed) you will never have exactly enough cartons of cigarettes to make the actual length of the patrol. Your best intentions about cutting back will disappear (in a cloud of smoke on the first mid-watch) and the panic that occurs to all who are addicted will continue to increase as your now inadequate supply dwindles. As the end of patrol approaches (especially on an extended run) you will find that you could fit quite well into the beggars colony of Calcutta and your soul is stripped bare of any dignity you have ever had.

9. Up until the advent of the IPOD and other mass storage devices, you would quickly discover you also did not bring enough personal music on board with you. Going way back before Sony perfected the cassette deck, some of us even thought it was a wonderful idea to bring aboard our shiny new eight track tape machines with the awesome Koss headphones (that vaguely resemble small coconuts on either side of your head.) These ultimately resulted in power supply wars (limited outlets in berthing) bargaining with the electricians to get the coveted “safety tag” and of course you could only bring along so many tapes. To this day, I am unable to listen to “Bread” and Summer Breeze makes me want to go screaming from the room to the nearest open hatch for air.

10. The only commodity on board which had equal or more power than cigarettes were “adult” magazines. I am not sure why they call them “adult” since it was mostly boys spending any time reading them. These dog eared magazines became a sailors best friend once the hatches were closed and the air was let out of the ballast tanks. Another sign of the changing times is that now, you aren’t even allowed to hang Miss September in public viewing areas like your bunk. Although the lights were off most of the time, field days would reveal a glorious display of all manner of flowery creatures draped in nothing but your imagination.

If you ever want to really know what its like to sail on a submarine for a patrol, gather everything you think you will need and try and stack it into a four inch high, three foot wide, six foot long area. No cheating now!

You may want to remember your soap, razors (no shaving cream… sorry… against the rules), socks, undershirts, skivvies, spare uniforms, candy, and much of the aforementioned gee dunk. I have to admit in retrospect that preparing for a run is actually an art. You had to be as lean as humanly possible or you would pay some kind of price for your lack of it.

As the years went by, I noticed some changes in my needs. The cigarettes finally went away, the music got infinitely smaller, and the need for reading material turned to things that were more age appropriate. Our needs as people change as we mature. We still have needs, but hopefully as time goes by the maturing process helps you identify what is really important and what is not.

If you were forced to prepare for a journey where you could only consume what you brought, what would you bring? What things in your life could you live without and what could you not live without?

Have a great weekend

Mister Mac

Reality Check 2

I have been enjoying submarine week on the Military Channel and I hope those of you who are “Brothers of the Fin” can say the same.

This post is a little different from my normal so if the only reason you come here each day is for boat stories, please feel free to take the day off. I will be back tomorrow with more.

Today was one of those events you often hear about but almost never actually become a part of. In late June, our lives were severely disrupted and it resulted in a wild swing in the way we live. When something like that happens, you have to rely on your faith to keep your spirits from sinking down to test depth. I have seen others that life dealt a hard blow to and the actual depth is actually a lot closer to crush depth (or beyond).

My wife and I had just left a meeting where some folks we know were sharing some stories about their lives. We drove to a nearby restaurant and on the way there talked about how some people’s lives were a lot worse off than ours. You know how sometimes you say stuff like that just because it seems like the right thing to say under the circumstances? You really want the words to mean what they are supposed to but somehow they still come out kind of hollow.

We got to the restaurant (one of those buffet places) and it seemed fairly empty. So we got our table and our drinks and I did a quick run on some of my favorite comfort food.  I was looking down at my plate anticipating that first bite of food when a commotion started that always kind of puts me in a bad mood. Kids. Lots of them. Five altogether with only the Dad present. As they approached the table RIGHT NEXT TO OURS, I thought to myself, “Really God… today???” The waitress was bustling about trying to get the tables put together and a high chair. The place was three-quarters empty and she had to put them right next to our table??????

It was about that time that I determined that I would at least not be the grump my wife accuses me of being when I looked over at them for the very first. You can imagine the shame that filled me as I realized that this young Dad (that’s what four of them called him) was trying his best to get his five special needs children settled in.

He was a well dressed young man and the kids were too. Two of the kids talked about Mom having a day to herself and how glad they were that she could have some quiet time. The oldest boy had one arm and a small stump where the other should be. He ended up doing most of the fetching and feeding for the youngest daughter in the high chair who only had two tiny little stumps where arms should be.

The next youngest girl also only had one arm but that one had a severely abrupt “flipper” at the end. She seemed quite skilled at using it to move her utensils as needed and she seemed pretty content with the food she had selected using her Father’s hands. One other boy had a single stump for an arm and he looked generally unhappy about something. It did not affect his appetite however as he maneuvered his plate with his remaining arm and a spoon cradled in his modified “hand”.

The last little boy had both arms but it was very obvious that his challenges, although not visible, were probably just as daunting.

Dad helped each child gather their food (except for the last boy – Alex – who went with my wife after she offered her help). Alex thanked her and after selecting his favorite foods said to her with an angelic smile “I’m really enjoying this”. Debbie told she him that she was too.

The family all bowed their heads and prayed before they ate. I bowed my heart. I am fairly certain the restaurant did not have any Humble Pie today (apparently my favorite brand these days) but I probably couldn’t have eaten it anyways. The words I had so flippantly said in the car on the way to the restaurant came rushing back to me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am for the gift I received today.

Through the whole meal, the kids were laughing and smiling (except for Mr. Cranky on the end) and were really well-behaved. The only slight exception was one little episode with Alex persistently wanting to raise his glass to “Cheer” everyone which seemed to annoy his older sister. I am not sure if it was because she was unable to raise her glass or she just wanted her little brother to stop making a spectacle of himself in public. You know how older sisters can be sometimes.

I wanted to help so badly but the Dad had a very good handle on things. I was firmly convinced that God was giving all  the help they needed for that moment anyway. Frankly, I was the one who really felt like I had the disability. We said goodbye and got some really nice smiles in return. As we were driving away, it struck me that God has an interesting way of helping us put our personal issues in perspective. If you have any prayers in you, please take a moment to thank God and ask for a blessing for this little family. I know I have.

Mister Mac

Too Big To Fail 2

I was only able to serve on five subs and two of those were 688 class boats so my viewpoint may be a bit limited. But I am under the opinion that the designers did a pretty good job making a machine whose sole purpose was to hunt and kill the enemy. The reactor and machinery spaces took up quite a bit of room, the weapons systems and sonar equipment were neatly packaged and there was just enough Lebensraum for the crew to sleep, eat and shower (even if some of that did have to be managed in rotating shifts). Generally, they were comfortable boats compared to some of the older ones but they were still missing one important feature.

uss-washingtonb

Despite helping to build the San Francisco and spending four years on board, I was never able to find the 1.5 mile PRT track. The George Washington and Halibut didn’t have one either but for some reason there didn’t seem to be any critical urge to prove you could actually run that far back in the early seventies. Maybe the realization that the boat was only three hundred or so feet long drove that point home enough to earlier generations. As long as you could race from the torpedo room to shaft alley in an EAB, that seemed to be quite good enough.

scan

We just sort of watched what we ate mostly and I can only remember one time having a sailor get stuck in the hatch at the end of a patrol. To be fair, Big John was big boned before the patrol started and he did spend quite a bit of time mess cooking too. It always seemed such a waste to throw away the remains of the ice cream so he was merely doing his duty. But I personally think they should have let him put the .45 belt on after he got topside when we returned to Guam. It was funny seeing the “closed” indicator light come back on though and made for quite a discussion after we turned the boat over to the Goldies.

The San Francisco was a thoroughly modern boat with many highly developed technological devices on board. In addition there were large rooms full of cabinets filled with machines that computed speed, distance, and all manner of information. In retrospect, it is kind of interesting that the laptop I am typing on probably has a more efficient operating system but at the time, it was all pretty impressive. What was more impressive was the amount of training and skills that the crew possessed. No matter what the rate or rank, each person brought many months and years worth of training to the boat. Even Auxiliary men (A-gangers) generally received at least a years worth of training to operate and maintain the equipment required to support the submarines operations.

scan

By the early eighties, physical readiness was beginning to creep into the framework of the Navy’s leadership. The enlisted men had shifted back from the fancy but hard to maintain suit jackets (which I believe hid much of the fat that bedeviled the leadership) and returned to the traditional cracker jack outfit. Frankly, the design is much less forgiving for someone who has spent too many hours hunched over a control console plotting a way to kill the enemy (who was assumedly doing the same thing to us). There seems to be a direct connection with how much time one sits and how bad one looks in formation with a polyester white uniform hugging their body.

Personally, I felt the PRT emphasis was also directed at me. First, it only became important as I started getting closer to the age of thirty. Second, it was directly related to my rank. I used to watch guys with absolutely no self control be advanced for many years before that time but suddenly as I became interested in getting more rank, it became a priority. Some of you who are older may have noticed but past the age of thirty, gaining weight becomes infinitely easier and losing weight becomes nearly impossible. Its as if the body realizes it is coming closer to the end and tries to preserve every ounce of fat to try and ward of the imminent end.

Complicating the matter is the type of food available. On a boat that stays under for months sometimes, the only way to keep morale up is to feed the crew well. If its fried, deep fried, or refried, its on the menu. Pizza night is a big must, sliders are a much looked forward to meal and the ever present deep fried shrimp that comes in large buckets to the hungry hordes each week. Whole milk, cheese by the brick, salted butter and gravy on everything round out the epicurean delights that pack on the pounds. To this day, I can still taste and smell the New York Strip Steaks so lovingly prepared on the grill by MS1 Silas with fried potatoes, onions and mushrooms swimming in a sea of butter.  Top that off with a sheet cake covered with butter cream chocolate frosting and you have the epic end of patrol meal that no living sailor can resist or refuse.

It’s ironic that all of the skills and knowledge I had been acquiring pushed me towards a more responsible position at the same time my body decided to start betraying me. The tape measure got smaller each cycle and the running seemed to take much more energy (and time). Frankly, a couple of the “jocks’ on board who helped the XO run the PRT probably snuck out at night and lengthened the course just to throw us off.

The most insulting part was that the course in Pearl Harbor was over by the Marine Barracks. I am sure some old Marine is sitting at a Legion Bar someplace regaling his bar mates about the time the “whales” showed up for their semi-annual run. It normally happened right after we had come back from a run so everybody was pasty white and of course, t-shirts and shorts can only cover so much cellulite. I am told that Hawaii experiences a large number of earthquakes each year that are only detectable by machines. I wonder if anyone ever tried to correlate a pattern between the small quakes and the return of a submarine crew to the “killing fields”.

I have a confession to make. I managed to stay one step ahead of the PRT police just long enough to get promoted from first class to Chief and then on to Chief Warrant Officer. It was tough and I swear, if I ever have to run again now that I am at my retired age, you may as well just go ahead and shoot me.

TTF Instructor of the Year

 

              Indianapolis Commisioning

 

There was only one guy who I ever met who managed to beat the system. I am not sure if it was because we were in Scotland (where the only people who ran were the sheepherders) or if it was because he was in charge of the unit where we were stationed. Maybe it was because he was so huge and frankly pretty gruff that no one dared to actually tell him he may have been over the limit. Of course, the XO (who I still regard as a friend) did me the favor of assigning me as the command’s PRT coordinator. This did much to endear me to the old boy and I can remember a number of delightful conversations leading up to the PRT over lunch.

Consumption was never an issue for the Captain. He had a lot to maintain so it was understandable why extra portions would be required. On the day of the PRT, he brought me his measurements scribbled on a piece of paper. I had never known anyone with a thirty inch neck before but I assumed he would know what his own measurements are and duly recorded it in the log as directed.

The rest of the crew ran a wonderful 1.5 mile route in the beautiful highlands of Scotland. I actually learned to enjoy that run since the air was always cool and the scenery was brilliant. Although I never actually saw the captain run, he apparently did it quite well, always managing to beat his age appropriate time by a few seconds. Pretty miraculous I would say.

Personally, I think that was the origin of the term “Too Big To Fail”.

Scotland England 1990-91_034               Rainbow

Fortunately, the tour came to an end quickly and before I had to monitor another PRT. My last tour was on the USS Hunley where I learned about the special exemption granted to Chief Engineers who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Apparently they were also not required to participate in the presence of others for our semi-annual fun run. I have to assume he also never located the 1.5 mile track on his previous commands. I ran with abandon during this tour if for no other reason I knew I would not see him anywhere near the field.

I retired with my dignity and have managed to climb up and down the scales a number of times since then. I am content with who I am now and manage to walk the equivalent of that 1.5 miles every day that I am able. I hope someone has corrected the design flaws in the most modern boats so that the boys (and now girls too I suppose) will be able to be better prepared.

The nation’s future probably depends on it! (at least that’s what I told myself at the halfway point of the run every time I did it).

Need a lift? Reply

August 8 1974 was the day when one of the most interesting events of the Cold War came to a dramatic point. On that day, the Glomar Explorer completed a journey and a mission that had been so well cloaked in secrecy, it is doubtful that we even know today all that transpired during the project that was known as “Azorian”.

 

glomar explorer

 

I need to assure you that even though I was a member of the USS Halibut during her final days as an operational US Navy ship, I have no personal knowledge or experience concerning any alleged role Halibut may have played. All of my references come from searches related to the FOIA activity surrounding the project. I have read in a number of locations that this particular project has generated more FOIA requests than anything since the start of the ability to do so. It makes sense why.

Having operated in some of the most state of the art submarines of their day, it still amazes me to think how hard it must have been to find the location of a submarine lost in the Pacific. The depths in which we often operated in are staggering when it comes to proportion and survivability. The pressures at those depths are also beyond imagination to the average person. Submariners are mainly aware of the pressures at great depths on the occasions when they find themselves operating there. I can assure you that in almost every case, I was happy to see the depth gages returning to a safer operating place.

The story has its real start in March of 1968. From the redacted CIA Report:

“The story of “Project Azorian” began on March 1, 1968, when a Soviet Golf-II submarine, the K-129 (the CIA history refers to the submarine by its pendant number – 722), carrying three SS-N-4 Sark nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, sailed from the naval base at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula to take up its peacetime patrol station northeast of Hawaii. If war had broken out, the K-129 would have launched its three ballistic missiles, each carrying a one megaton nuclear warhead, at targets along the west coast of the United States. But something went terribly wrong, for in mid-March 1968 the submarine suffered a catastrophic accident and sank 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii with the loss of its entire crew.”

golf_300

Not surprisingly, the CIA history does not mention the cause of the accident, mentioning neither how the agency came to learn of the sub’s demise nor the exact location of its resting place 16,500 feet below the surface of Pacific. This information was probably still Top Secret, and could not be included in the article at the Secret classification level.

The most fascinating thing for me was the information included about the three basic categories of lift that were being considered at the start of the project: total “brute force” or direct lift; trade/ballast/buoyancy; and at depth generation of buoyancy.

These methods are described as follows:

1. Total “Brute Force” Direct Lift was referred to as the Rosenburg Winch. This involved a series of massive floating winches with wire ropes of the needed strength to manage the total weight of the object which was thought at that time to be about 2,000-2200 long tons.

2. Using the Trade Ballast/Buoyancy method, buoyant material would be transferred to the bottom using excess ballast. The ballast would be jettisoned on the bottom generating sufficient positive buoyancy to free the target object and help lift it to the surface.

3. At Depth Generation of buoyancy would involve the generation of gas a depth to create sufficient buoyancy to lift the target. Some of the methods discussed included  electrolysis of sea water, cryonic gasses generation, and various types of chemical generation using active metals or hydrides.

Not surprisingly, the technical details of each suggestion were heavily redacted in the CIA papers. By late July of 1970, the heavy lift concept was clearly favored and from that point on it became the soul source of focus and activity.

 

glomar_color_300

Many articles have been written since about the event and the players. I found the stories to be very interesting and the key players who appear in the articles kept coming back to the fore front from the early 1970’s all the way up until now.

If you have time, here is a good link with some useful background information and redacted copies of the material used in preparation for the history of this project.

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb305/index.htm

37 years ago the following activities brought the project to its conclusion:

“The Hughes Glomar Explorer began lifting the K-129 off the sea floor on August 1, 1974, more than three weeks after the ship arrived at the recovery site. It took eight days to slowly winch the remains of the Soviet submarine into the massive hold of the Glomar Explorer, with the sub finally being secured inside the ship on August 8, 1974. The next day (August 9th, 1974), recovery operations were completed and the ship sailed for Hawaii to offload its haul.”

glomar_bw_300

Of course, as we now know the mission was not a complete success. Despite the expenditure of many millions of dollars, the critical components of the sub fell back into the ocean during the lift, never to be recovered. Its hard to say what we truly gained from the recovery. The Glomar Explorer was never again used for the designed purpose. But it is fascinating what could have been. Who knows, maybe someday the whole truth will be finally revealed.

Mister Mac

Disrespected Reply

Somewhere, Mrs. Stamps (my third grade teacher) is standing with her shoulders slightly slumped and shaking her head. She has just heard one of her students use a noun as a transitory verb for the hundredth time and feels like her mission of bringing proper English to the children of Mt. Vernon Elementary School has been a failure.

I am not sure where the word disrespected originally came from but I am quite certain it would not have been on any flash cards we would have been issued back in the day. The word “Respect” was of course. A powerful word which was meant to be used for elders, people in responsible positions, and leaders of almost any kind. Disrespect (a noun of course) was what you displayed to someone when you failed to show them the proper respect due to them. Disrespected has just crept into the lexicon and is used to express unfair treatment or actions towards someone.

I mean no disrespect when I say that it annoys me to see a perfectly good English word misused in that manner. Mrs. Stamps was just a very thorough teacher and I feel compelled to try and follow her example, if for no other reason out of my respect for her sacrifice.

I also mean no disrespect to the young former soldier who wrote an article about leadership in the Patriot News this weekend. Frankly, he has done much to serve this country with three tours in Iraq and I am grateful for his service. I just think he missed the mark about what good leadership should be in a functioning military unit.

The main subject was really about the high level of suicide for returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers. Statistics are very blunt about the number of soldiers who are coming home with problems. The number of unemployed veterans is higher than non-veterans statistically (just like it was after Viet Nam) and the medical problems are very much a real situation. These men and women do need our help and we as a nation must be ready to put our collective minds and resources together to help them.

The soldier’s main premise however is that one of the main reasons there are so many problems is the added stress caused by poor leadership. As he lists his examples of men being yelled at for not having their “cover” on quickly enough outside, you can almost feel the anger in his writing. He breaks it down in the final few sentences when he talks about being disrespected and having your rights stripped away. If only the Army would choose leaders who didn’t do any of this, the added stress would be gone and no one would be judged unfairly.

Anyone who has done three tours in a combat zone has my respect for his or her service. But even the most remarkable service does not make you a subject matter expert in any particular topic. While leadership has been discussed before in this series of writings, good leadership is not without its moments of demanding exacting standards.

I have never been in combat so it is unfair of me to say that I am more of an expert in that situation. I have been engaged with other units that could have been considered an enemy if not just an opponent. The tension during those engagements was very real and very stressful. When you are trailing a guy for a few weeks and every sound could betray your position or intent, stress never quite leaves the boat. Even out of the control room, there is a heightened sense of awareness.

As a Chief Petty Officer, there were probably a few times that I pulled a struggling young sailor through a small passageway he was resistant to travel through. Leaving them where they were was unacceptable and sometimes action needs to be taken to encourage and enlighten them. I once had an entire division that was struggling with respect for authority. Together we came back to a more traditional place but it was not by me giving up my leadership role.

I am not sure the military will ever be a place where we will completely eliminate stress. Frankly, when I am diving a 630 foot monster through a raging sea, I am not particularly focused on the feelings of one of my sailors. I want them to be laser focused on the mission at hand and be ready to react to any of the hundreds of things that could go wrong at any moment. The survival of that ship at that moment is paramount to completing our mission and we can worry about how we feel at a later date.

I have a confession to make. I probably raised my voice a time or two during my years as a Chief and even as a Chief Warrant. I am not necessarily proud of the moments, but at that time, I felt it was one of the tools in my pouch that was needed.

My belief is that the ultimate way of showing respect for the people who served under me was to teach them to demand better from themselves. Showing them that halfway measures were acceptable may have made them feel “respected” I suppose since I allowed them to give sub-par performance. But if it caused the loss of one life or the ship itself, it would have been the highest form of being disrespected (Sorry Mrs. Stamps, I truly am).

Mister Mac

Just a moment in time Reply

Like most of you, I am just trying to absorb the loss of our brothers in arms today in the fateful crash of the helicopter in Afghanistan. These man are part of today’s greatest generation and a reminder of how precious life itself is. They are not a number. They are not just a part of any team. Each and every one was a son, brother, friend, shipmate, a part of this honored place we call America.

They are a reminder of the awful terrible price of war.  They are a reminder of the cost of freedom.

God rest their souls.

The Surprise Reply

My family has had a tradition of volunteering for the service for about four generations (five counting my nephews on active duty now). Great Grandfather was underage but somehow convinced the Union Army recruiter to allow him to serve. Rumor has it that he had been sent home once before because of his age. He was a firm Presbyterian and could not lie so he was unable to fake his age. But he also knew the question he would be asked and found a unique way around it. He took a piece of paper and wrote the number 18 on it and put it in his shoe. When the recruiter asked him if he was over 18, he could truthfully say he was.

Great Grandpa and Grandma

Grandfather Mac was in the US Navy during WW1 and my Dad signed up for WW2 at the age of 17 in order to make sure he did not miss the war. He almost never talked about his service (which is typical of men from the greatest generation). He would put his uniform on once a year and march during the Memorial Day parades and participated in the Legion and VFW. But the stories were few and far between.

John Sr. Grandpa Mac Uncle Alec  Helen and Butch May 1945

Dad had his Mother’s heart and suffered heart attacks and strokes early in his life. I was at sea the day he passed away and I was in a fog for the four days it took to come home. Considering the fact that they made me stand EOOW (Engineering Officer of the Watch) for those four days, I really probably just operated the engine rooms on remote control.

Dad’s funeral was as memorable as any I can think of. He was involved with so many things in his life and all of those people came to say goodbye. We gave him a proper Navy send off and his friends even made sure he had a flyover.

JCM Obit

After the funeral, we stayed at Mom’s house for a few days and tried to help her start moving things around. I suppose that’s what people who are grieving must do. They pick up boxes and move things around in a search for what to do next. One of those boxes was a small box that had a packet of letters in it. I started going through the box and was surprised to find the story of his life that I never knew.

I asked Mom to let me have the box for a while (that was in 1993 which shows you I have no sense of the words “for a while”). Over the next ten years, I went through the box and started to get a sense of what he had gone through. There were pictures and maps, post cards and letters, Christmas Cards and some letters that had been returned unopened. The letters were all of the letters he had sent home to his Mother and Father during the time he was in the Navy.

I put the letters in order based on information I could determine on the faded envelopes and added enough content about the war in general to make a book which I gave to my family in his memory. We only made about fifty copies but each was passed out so the grandchildren could have some sense of who Grandpa Mac was during an earlier time in his life.

Liberty call                            John and John Sr. Boot Camp

The letters form August of 1945 were from the Philippines where he was part of the group preparing for the invasion of Japan. Large stocks of material were being prestaged for the planned invasion that would bring an end to the war. Each man knew that the earlier invasions had been bloody and brutal plus the ferocity of the kamikaze attacks had been drilled into them since the day they entered boot camp.

CV-19-Kamikaze

Then came August 6th and the use of the first nuclear device on Hiroshima. There are no letters from him on the days following but after the second bombing and the subsequent declaration of surrender he penned a letter which was to be the biggest surprise of all for me in the many things I learned.

Dear Mom – Pop

Well, by now you have heard the good news. Boy that’s pretty swell. Remember I used to say how I’d celebrate that great day when the war was over, (ha-ha) everybody kept on playing cards, everybody smiled but not much celebration of any went on here. I found a little booklet from Shoemaker so you would know something about that swell place. I’ll have some interesting things to talk about when I get home. We got a native talking last night and he told us the history of the island. I don’t know when I’ll get home or whether I’ll stay here or go someplace else. Nobody knows. I didn’t tell you but the salt water put a halt to my watch and the crystal came off. I was going to church this morning and thought I had lots of time but when I finally did find out it was too late. I wish you could send my radio. I’m gonna send half my stuff home when I get enough money to put stamps on the box. Well, be good. I’ll write later.

God be with you always and thank him very much for answering all of our prayers.

Love your Son

Butch

MacPherson, John C

End of the war

The simple words he used to describe the end of the worst war in the world’s history really stunned me. I expected that the men would have celebrated in a big way just like what you saw in Times Square in New York (minus the kissing thing since the nurses were at another base – another story for another time).

I guess despite all the romanticism about fighting the great war, the truth of the matter was, the people who made it all the way through just wanted to get home and get back to normal. Judging from the size of my generation, they seemed to do that pretty well too.

I thought about what the world would have been like had we ever been called upon to launch our weapons which dwarfed anything the world had ever seen. I am truly glad we never had to fulfill that part of our mission during the Cold War. I think about it every year at this time. The truth is, the bombs that were used probably saved my Dad and his fellow servicemen and women from facing the fury found on places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Of course without him surviving, I would not be writing this at all.

Thanks Butch

Love, Your Son Bob

You want me to do WHAT sir? 2

Most of us remember Newton’s First Law of Motion:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

A 688 class submarine operating submerged has a displacement of about 6900 tons. So it goes without saying that if it is motion, it will take some effort to stop it. If it is going really fast, it will take a bit longer. Even maneuvering on the surface at a slower speed dictates paying attention to Newton’s First Law. Underneath the surface, the consequences can become much more serious much quicker since you really can’t see anything in front of you (other than what sonar and your updated charts may have told you).

So it takes a great deal of faith and trust on the part of the planes men and the Dive Team when the Captain comes into the control room and orders the Officer of the Deck to take a twenty degree down angle and ring up all ahead full. It takes even more faith to respond when he says right full rudder. (Don’t try this at home by the way).

You can feel the boat starting to shake a bit as it responds to the increase in throttle. Your heart beats a little faster as you see the trim angle respond to the maneuver. You try to plant your feet on the rests in front of you as you push the yoke of the control planes  forward.  Faster and faster with each second and all around you are the small items that weren’t stowed for sea, rolling like marbles on a steep hill racing to reach the bottom. Time ticks by and the digital indicators are starting to whirl faster and faster. Without even thinking about it, you start to hope that something will be done to overcome Newton’s First Law. You know that the only something in this case is the man standing (or leaning in this case) over by the Officer of the Deck chomping on an unlit cigar.

He orders full rise on both planes and the boat shudders to respond. It’s right about then you realize that what seemed like a long time was less than a few minutes and you start to breath as the depth gage slowly turns positive.

Is it just because you were ordered to do it that you responded? Maybe to an extent. You would probably do it whether you fully trusted the guy or not, but if there is trust, all of the things that needed to be done before that dive were done in a way you had faith that they were done.

I was lucky to have some great Commanding Officers. Almost all were at the least very good, but a few stick out in my mind as great. Commander Bill Previty was one of those guys. He came on the San Francisco during the second part of my tour there and from the moment he got there the mood of the boat was lifted. It was obvious by his mannerisms and his presence that this was a skipper you wanted to go to sea with and probably to war as well. No offence to the previous captain who commissioned the ship, they were just different.

What makes a great leader? Why would you be so willing to do the things needed to shake out a submarine?

I am sure most people have their own answers but mine are pretty simple. First, I need to trust the guy. His training and background need to be such that I know when the unthinkable happens, he is not going to lose his cool. Next, he needs to be consistent in the routine. That means that in the day to day activities, he is not going to let things dangle or put to hard of a rope line around them.

We all have an expectation of what our leaders should be. Firm but fair. Criticize in private and praise in public. Remember that you are leading men not children. Give each man his due respect no matter what station he is in life. Remember that each man plays a role in the team and is valuable for his contribution. See the possibilities in people not their weakest points. And for heaven’s sakes if there are weak points, help the person with real encouragement not cynical badgering. In short, that person should be someone like Bill Previty.

Most of us have had leaders of the other sort as well. I always used to think that sundowners were abused as kids and it was the only way they knew to do what they called “leadership”. Everything is a crisis, every small affront is personal, only a few select people would be in their inner circle and everything was always the fault of some junior officer who had somehow failed to live up to their expectation. The crew were generally miserable and performed as best they could if only not to take a beating for failing to hit the marks the old guy set. The request for transfer box is always full and the Chaplain is kept busy on overtime.

Because the second type of leader often plays people against each other, trust is always in short supply. People are reluctant to stick their heads out of their holes for fear of getting them chopped off. Creativity is squelched and rewards are few and far between. Why in the world would anyone think this is the most effective way to lead? Experience has shown that if that person holds the reins of leadership so tightly, when the situation gets out of control, they do not have the tools or the support to survive the storm. In most cases when that happens, their response is to beat harder.

There is a third type of leader and I think they are the most dangerous of all. This type is the one who always has his eye on the escape hatch. They are already planning for their next promotion so they hate anything and anyone who would keep them from reaching their goal. The current assignment is really nothing more than a necessary stepping stone so they really don’t make much effort to get to know the men. Problems are for the other guy and delegation is not only an artful dodge, it is a mandatory skill.

With the third type of leader, most issues won’t surface until long after they are gone and the problems have festered into a huge blazing sore. Moral is completely shot, trusted leaders are betrayed by his ambition, and if something does go wrong, he is quick to offer up a human sacrifice. If there are conflicts on his own staff, it is easier to just “let them work it out” among themselves. The sad thing is that they seldom do. This type of leader also tries to surround themselves with people who will make him look better. But they quickly learn that there is no reciprocity for their contributions.

When the tough assignments come in, the third type of leader will often quickly volunteer if their name will be prominent. But when things get sticky, they have already groomed the senior staff to understand that they were innocent and someone on their staff had hidden the problems from them too.

If you are smart you will learn to survive both type two and type three. If you are even smarter than that, you will learn never to trust them and develop skills to work around them in order to get the job done. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to serve with one of the Previty’s of the world. I would have then and still would today fallow that man anywhere he wanted to go.

Mark Twain once said “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.”

Thanks Captain Previty.

Mister Mac

What a mess! Reply

Dolphins 1

Imagine yourself on the periscope of a submarine about to shoot a torpedo. You can feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins and there is an icy sheen of sweat on your forehead. You call out for the Quartermaster to take your mark and he rushes over to note the direction. The control room crew is quiet, only the sounds of the rushing water past the hull as you near your prey. You call out for fire control to take a final solution and say “On my mark, tubes 1 and 2 ….”

run silent run deep

“Mac, hey Mac… wake up buddy, its time for you to get up to the galley before the cook gets ticked at you.” And just like that you go from being a steely eyed killer of the deep to a steel wool killer of the grease.

I had a lot of ideas what submarine life was like by watching old WW2 films with John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart,  and Clark Gable. This was in the age before Tom Clancy so the WW 2 depictions were my frame of reference. Who can ever forget the tension between Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens as they each struggle to defeat the other in “The Enemy Below”? Or Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster wrestling for control of the sub as the captain obsesses on obtaining his revenge against the Japanese sub that sank his previous boat. And anyone who is qualified probably has their movie card punched for that cheesy classic by Ronald and Nancy Reagan – Hellcats of the Navy.

Or this exchange between Bogart and a young sea cadet on the Murmansk Run trying to dodge German subs:

Lt. Joe Rossi: These nights are killers, aren’t they?
Cadet Robert Parker: Yeah, I lie in my bunk with my clothes on and try to sleep, but every time that engine slows, my heart speeds up. In time, I think I can train myself to have an iron nerve, like you have.
Lt. Joe Rossi: Yeah, let me tell you something about my “iron nerve,” son. It’s made of rubber just like everybody else’s, so it’ll stretch when you need it. People got a funny idea that being brave is not being scared. I don’t know, I always figured, you weren’t scared, there’s nothing to be brave about. The trick is, how much scaring can you take? I got an idea you can take plenty.”

Meanwhile, back on the George-fish, there is a scullery full of dishes with my name on it. Mess cook duty normally went to the newest guys that weren’t Petty Officers (although they did make exceptions from time to time). I think the only ones that never cranked back in the day were the Nucs. (My nephew, Theo the Nuc informed me that that is not the case anymore. I just hope he knew the difference between cabbage and lettuce unlike his Dad but that’s another story). Obviously that caused a bit of tension between the forward and aft guys but it never bothered me since I figured out pretty quickly that I was in the lowest form of human life that could exist… a non-qual. Oh wait, I should clarify that: an air breathing food consuming non-essential lower than whale poop non-qual.

So off to the scullery I went. No poopy suits in there, only dungarees and white tee shirts. The scullery on the GW was a small place with barely enough room to move the dirty dishes and pans around.  You had to be quick during the main meals or the dishes would pile up at the window from the boys finishing their dinners. There was no garbage grinder so all that went into a round chute with a wet bag can underneath. The trick was to keep it as empty as possible to start the watch since many meals ended up producing a lot of waste.

You kind of developed a rhythm after the first couple of days. I actually think I learned some of my lean thinking from trying to figure out a better way to process the dishes. Batch processing always resulted in bottlenecks and those resulted in the right kind of dishes or silverware not being ready at the right time. So you learned to keep a balanced flow through the deep sink and the hot water rinse.

One other thing about the older boats, there was no dishwashing machine. You washed and rinsed everything by hand. The toughest part was retrieving the basket from the heated rinse sink. Man that thing was HOT. You had a pair of black rubber gloves (electricians gloves) and every once in a while at periscope depth you would get a real surprise when the water came in over the top of the gloves.

Probably the only worse thing than being the scullery maid was on garbage day. All garbage had to leave the ship one way or another and the TDU (Trash Disposal Unit) was the preferred method. Dry trash was compacted into metal cans and weighted to sink. Wet bags were also weighted and loaded during TDU ops. An A-Ganger would actually load and fire the TDU but the mess cooks assisted in getting things lined up so that the operation could be done swiftly and quietly.

From the Shipboard Pollution Control Regulations:

“Waste that is discharged overboard must either be pumped out against the ambient sea pressure or blown out using pressurized air. Waste materials are collected and periodically discharged. The potential impact on ship safety associated with opening valves to the sea and on ship detectability by running pumps or blowing tanks to the sea makes waste disposal operations a significant event. Mission considerations may force waste disposal operations to be suspended for some period of time.

Dry waste is consolidated using a trash compactor and then placed in special cans. These cans are fabricated on board from prepunched galvanized, perforated steel sheets, using a roller tool. The resulting cans are 28.5 inches long and 9 inches in diameter. They have metal tops and bottom caps. Metal weights are added to ensure that the cans will go to the bottom. The cans are ejected from the submarine using a trash disposal unit (TDU), which is a long cylindrical, vertical tube connected to the ocean through a ball valve. Several cans are placed atop one another in the TDU, the top of the TDU is sealed by closing a pressure cap, the ball valve is opened, and the cans ejected through a combination of gravity and air pressure.”

Sounds pretty simple right? As long as there weren’t any floaters, life was good.

The one day I learned to hate the most was the day we had to start getting rid of the fresh eggs that were stored in the torpedo room. The cool bilge areas in the torpedo room were ideal temporary storage places for the large gross of eggs that had been carefully loaded before patrol. But at some point, they would start reaching their “maturity” level and an evil popping sound led to a more evil sulphurous smell. Multiply that by a box with 144 of the devilish brew and you had a horrendous reason to get rid of the whole lot.

EAB

So the cranks would carry the reeking boxes up to that tiny little scullery room and start wet bagging them. For a while, you would try to show what a manly man you were and not use an EAB (emergency breathing device). But even the strongest among us finally weakened as the stench permeated the galley. The A-gangers also hated this task since it always seemed to take so long. But we finally managed to liberate all of them and face a few months of powdered substitute (which never in my memory actually stunk in the olfactory sense of the word.)

One side benefit of cranking was the mid watch tour. It was tough getting used to the change in sleep patters but considering the fact that we actually lived in 18 hour cycles most of the time, it wasn’t too bad. On the mid watch, the older guys who came off watch would watch movies and occasionally if you were really quiet you could sneak a peek or two as well. But about mid-way through patrol I noticed that a lot of the old timers couldn’t sleep so well so I always made sure I had some pie and coffee ready for them. You see, these were the guys who could teach me about the boat and after I learned it sign my qual card.

Sub Force Pac

I knew the only way out of this mess was to get qualified as quickly as possible. So I got up early and stayed up late and used every chance I could to learn all about the boat. To this day I can tell you where TD 598 was but for the life of me I have no idea why knowing where an isolation valve for a gauge was so danged important to anyone.

I qualified in less than 90 days but am proudest that my nephew Artie qualified in even less than that using my technique years later.

Some of the best days of my life were in that galley, I just took a while to figure it out. Like everywhere else on the boat, people were honest and could be counted on in a pinch. I learned that service to others is a pathway to higher goals. I thank all the Commissary men and Stewards who took the time to teach me those lessons.

Mister Mac

America’s Day Begins in “Guahan”… (that’s gonna take some getting used to) 8

Ah, Guam, garden spot of the Pacific. “America’s Day Begins in Guam” said the license plates of this little island paradise for many years. Guam (Guahan)  is an organized territory of the United States and has played a key role throughout its long history with the US. It was also a launching point for countless FBM patrols during the Cold War and still serves as a forward sentinel today.

Guam was discovered by Ferdinand Magellan and was a colony of Spain until the Spanish American War when it was surrendered to the United States. It was captured by the Japanese the day after Pearl Harbor and remained in their hands until 1944. There are many stories of the courage of the Guamanian people under the harsh hands of the Japanese invaders. July 21 is commemorated each year as Liberation Day. The last Japanese soldier actually surrendered in January 1972. One can only imagine the shock he must have felt at the sight of the hundreds of B52 jet missions taking off from Anderson.

Guam’s location made it an important part of America’s strategy during the Viet Nam and Cold Wars. Despite being in the path of Typhoon Alley, Guam was an ideal location for air and naval bases which is one of the reasons the US wanted it back from the Japanese.

As any tender or boat sailor who has ever been there can attest, there are only two seasons in Guam: Wet and wetter with an annual rainfall average that comes close to topping 100 inches. The coolest months are generally January and February and the humidity is probably the lowest then.

The military bases comprise nearly 30% of the island’s total land area. This makes it a key hub for all of the US military in the western Pacific. Despite the size of the armed forces and their dependents, there is actually no danger of the island tipping over.

How this Admiral kept a straight face during this questioning period is beyond me.

My first visit to Guam was on my way to meet the USS George Washington for my first patrol. We landed in a contracted jet plane at Anderson Air Force Base and busses took us to Polaris Point to wait on the USS Proteus for the ship to return. The stay on the “Old Pro” was rather interesting since I had never been on a naval ship before. The berthing area was cramped and it was kind of confusing figuring out where to go on the ship to eat.

Proteus early 70s

The USS Proteus (AS 19) was typical of all the early Polaris program support ships. She had been built for WW2, was decommissioned in 1947, and recommissioned in 1960 and modified to handle the Polaris missiles which would be part of the FBM program. For an old ship, she made the rounds. Holy Loch Scotland, Rota Spain, Charleston SC, and of course several long tours in Guam.

USS_Proteus_USS_Partick_Henry_HolyLoch_1961

When I first saw her in Guam, she had just completed an overhaul in Mare Island and a short stop in Hawaii to repair a boiler explosion. She completed a shakedown cruise and relived the USS Hunley in January 1973. She stayed for her final FBM tour until 1978. It is rumored that she was kept afloat all those years by sitting on the standard issue navy ceramic coffee cups that the boomer boys would throw over the side, but I am sure that was just a rumor.

Galley on Proteus

It wasn’t long before we discovered Andy’s Hut. This was a small outpost of entertainment on the harbor with a few types of entertainment and of course some cold beer. If I remember right, the two choices we mostly had at that time were Olympia and Budweiser and both tasted like they were chock full of vitamin formaldehyde.  But we were young and it was Guam. Andy’s Chateau By The Sea was also home to a number of small USO shows that were brought in to keep the sailors and Marines from remembering that they were on Guam.

The boys on the tender worked hard to keep the boats in shape. I think an entire book could be written about the memories of Polaris Point, but that’s for another day. I sincerely thank each and every one who worked so hard to keep us in good shape.

Proteus 80s

My favorite memory of Guam actually came in 1982 when I was on the USS San Francisco. We were in the middle of a West Pac and the wives were permitted to come to Guam and visit us during a pier side overhaul. My wife of a few years made the long plane flight from Honolulu and we were both looking forward to a great reunion together. As the plane circled the island, the pilot told them to buckle in for their approach to Guam. The wives looked out their windows and all said the same thing: “Where is it?” As the plane went lower and lower with no landing field in sight, there was a moments pause for all of the passengers. At the last minute, the plane dropped down on the coral packed runway and finally came to a stop in front of the small terminal.

I was waiting with the other husbands when the wives emerged from the plane and came down the ramp. The most beautiful blue eyed blonde I can ever remember seeing came up to me and said “Hi sailor, waiting for me?”. I held her tight and after a really long kiss she looked at me and said “When I married you I told you I would follow you to the ends of the earth. Well, I am here”.

We had a great visit together and we will always have wonderful memories of that time together. The truth is that many people who have been there over the years have come to appreciate the natural beauty and splendor of this little Paradise in the Pacific.

From a practical standpoint, Guam has once again emerged as an important part of our countries future. She is a forward base for air and naval forces once again and will stand at the crossroads of history for years to come. Just as I once prayed that we would never have to perform the mission of the boomers who sailed from there, I pray that we will never have to use her in future conflicts. Unfortunately mankind does not have a very good track record.

Hafa Adai

Mister Mac