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

What a ride


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

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

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


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

He ain’t heavy, He’s my Brother

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

711 in the Bay_606626945_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac (AKA Big Mac)


USS San Francisco SSN 711 Homecoming Coins now available 1



DSCF41122014 Homecoming Coins are now available for sale.

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac

2014 National Convention

Love, your Son Butch ~ Father’s Day Memories 7



Today’s blog is from a book I wrote based on my Dad’s letters to his family during the second world war and the following year while he tried to make it back home.

I found the letters a few days after he passed away, and learned a lot about a man who I thought I knew pretty well.

San Francisco

The setting for this letter is that he was in California being processed out and it is really the first time that he talks about the future. He also had some interesting insights about the war which I would have never guessed from his later life. More later about that… here is his letter:

Tuesday July 2, 46

Dear Mom Pop.

Well, here it is the 2nd of July and I still don’t know anything yet. I just finished washing my clothes and I’m watching them now so that somebodies little fingers don’t get them. I might go on liberty tonight but I don’t know yet. Jimmy Dorsey’s band is at “Swedes” dance hall in Oakland so maybe I’ll go. I met a guy that I knew when I was a freshie at school. He is going to Alaska (poor boy). I’m glad my time is almost over.  The kid that used to work for me that was a 3/C SK is stationed here till Sept. and another guy that made Cook 3/c is on a ship. So I’m glad I didn’t get my rate. Medsger, the guy from West Newton is gonna stop in to see you, he just left this morning so sometime next week I suppose he will stop by.

Don’t mind the writing, but I’m leaning against a board and its kind of awkward. Did Burkhart see you yet, or didn’t he get home yet? I’ve seen all the latest movies and I’ll have seen them all by the time I get home, so I’ll be able to tell you the right ones to go to. Well, the street cars are on strike in town and it’s a long walk to anyplace. We took a taxi once to Frisco and never again – there too crazy a drivers.

I didn’t tell you this before but I was in a Jeep wreck about four days before I left Manila. Burkhart, myself and Ogie. Ogie was driving and believe me he is quite a driver, he turned us over and it started right up so you can see Jeeps can really take a beating. I’ll tell you all about it later. Its really funny what happened.

I was gonna get you all presents here in Frisco at the “City of Paris” a big store you have probably heard of it. But things are so darn dear it isn’t funny. I didn’t get paid as I’m trying to skim along on a little bit so I won’t regret wasting my money but when I get home I’ll get you all something.

What did you think of the Atomic Bomb anyway? I think it was a waste of a lot of time and money. I think the O.P.A. should have stayed on too. Did you know that an old car like my old one is worth 3 or 4 thousand dollars here? That’s not right I figure. Well, this will be my second fourth away from home so I don’t know what I’ll do. I got liberty that day but I don’t know. You know those cable cars that go up and down the hills in town are really fun to ride, they go real fast and stop on a dime. We rode one one night and I kinda enjoyed myself. Chuck Lanks and myself went to Oakland on Sun and went bycicle riding and then we rented a row boat and I rowed for almost two hours and was I dead. Sun bight we had a lot of fun though.

Its hard to find good clean fun in Frisco though. Either you’re bad or its hard to do anything. Girls (I mean good girls) won’t have anything to do with you. I can’t say I blame them much as the sailor has a bad reputation on California. I saw the picture the “Outlaw” and I thought it stunk out loud. I wouldn’t see it again if you paid me. No acting, no nothing, just plain lousy. I had a watch last night. Yes, I still get watches. I guess everybody is back home now and settled down. But I’m not, can’t figure it out. I guess they just don’t know who I am. If I wanted to I’d go up to the old man and tell him off, but I like it here (ha-ha) Chow is darn good. I had a piece of watermelon.

I haven’t figured out what I’m gonna do yet. I’d like to get back to the plumbing shop at the Tube Co. and go to Tech school at night in Pittsburgh and be a registered plumber but I don’t know. I’ll know better after a few days at home. I don’t know how I’ll get my diploma. I’m gonna see Dr. Larson and try and take some kind of a test or something. I think I can work it our some way.

That is one thing the Navy has taught me that there is nothing impossible. You can do it if you try and in the Navy, you don’t try, you do it. I suppose the ole town looks the same. The kids are still as bad and the neighbors are probably still thinking up crazy ideas. Well, I’ve got to eat chow pretty soon so I’m gonna close for now, but I’ll write again soon.

Love, Your Son


May God be with us always and give us strength to carry on.

Coming Home

So what kind of civilian did John turn out to be? The full story will have to wait for another time. He was a father to five children, a successful salesman for Mack Trucks, a loving and devoted husband to his wife Sue. In later life he came to see the reasoning and use for the Atomic Bombs. Their use was actually instrumental in him coming home since the bases in the Philippines where he worked were the primary staging point for the invasion which would have caused untold numbers of additional deaths on both sides.

The young man who served his country and wanted so badly to return to civilian life spent the rest of his days in service to that great country and its people. Deep in his heart, the young man they called Butch was and always will be a great American hero. His love of country never left him and on the day of his funeral, he was surrounded by the all of the saints who had gone before and those who are still working on their wings.

God Be with you always Butch,

Love, Your Son Bob



JCM Death Notice


Tony Letter

No excuses. 10

For some who follow my blog, I need to apologize but its been a hard week. Thanks to my friend Joey Sagnis, I found out well after the fact that one of the best sailors the Navy ever had passed away.

“Here is Silas’ phone number ***-***-****. He said he would appreciate a phone call. He misses the Big Mac.”

Those words were part of an email I saved from 2005 in a folder where I keep old shipmates info on. As soon as I saw the Facebook entry saying RIP to another shipmate, I felt a rush of grief and guilt mixed together. One phone call in seven years. I really can’t blame him since we have moved for work a lot of times and its been hard for many friends and family to keep up with us.

Like most people, I had good times and bad times in the Navy. Hopefully the bad times taught me something and the good times were certainly life’s rewards (even if I often didn’t deserve them).

The best times always had to do with people and I have many great memories from those days. There will always be one boat and one crew that I can always point at and say: that one was the best.

A _ 711 launch

The San Francisco (SSN 711) was barely in the water when I showed up to help put her together in Newport News. The crew was not all together but as time went by, the numbers got bigger.

Captain Al Marshall was the pre-com CO but since I was just a third class A-ganger, I rarely saw him. The Executive Officer was LCDR Bill Godfrey. He was well thought of by the crew and a really down to earth man. He and his wife were on a short trip in the Caribbean when the helicopter they were both riding went down. No one survived.

Most of the crew were shocked but the new XO, LCDR Mark Keef went about leading them back towards the mission at hand. I would have hated to have been him. To his credit, he added a level of professionalism to the crew despite the tragedy that brought him there. There was little time to mourn since the boat was already marching towards its place in the Navy’s new goal: A 600 ship fleet.

We made it through pre-commissioning with a lifetime of stories to tell. The days when an unexpected snow storm hit coastal Virginia and some of the crew was stuck in the shipyards for days eating food out of the machines and the geedunk. Traffic in that area slows to a crawl with one inch of snow so you can imagine the shock of seeing several feet of drifting snow around the area.

The crew grew to its full size and the day came when we finally opened the galley. We were fortunate to have some pretty good cooks on board as well as a seasoned supply department. Food on a submarine is probably the most important morale builder of all. Even at the end of a shipyard period, the exhausted crew looked forward to the many meals that would come from behind that little sliding window that separated the galley from its customers.

Our commissioning was awesome. Instead of a quiet little ceremony in the shipyard, they had us move to the Aircraft Carrier piers at the Norfolk base. The Secretary of the Navy brought along the Secretary of Defense and it was on this occasion that Casper Weinberger announced officially to the world that under Ronald Reagan, we were going to build our way to a 600 ship Navy. Even though we weren’t the stars that day, it did get us to the front page of most major papers and the evening news.


I stayed with the San Francisco for four years altogether. Most of the crew made the trip around to Pearl Harbor and continued to make a lot of great memories together through our ops and in-port activities. Our wives grew close, we celebrated the birth of many children, and we shared our wins and losses.

In December of 1983 I made First Class and received orders to the USS Ohio. The boat left for another West Pac and I asked Mark Keef to administer the Oath of Reenlistment on the Bowfin. The guys who had also transferred or were left behind all joined us for the ceremony.


Silas Hines MS1(SS) was standing just up from me on the brow of the Bowfin. I would only see him one more time in San Diego a few years later. He and his wife allowed a few of us to stay with them. Those days will remain a private memory. Nothing bad, just a private memory

Silas was from Oklahoma and lived life to its fullest. But he was also a man of many contrasts. As loud and rowdy as he could be, he lived his life with all of his heart. His favorite movie was Lady and the Tramp. That one kind of shocked me, but I also remember sitting with him on the mess decks late at night just talking about life. Plus he was kind to all of the guys that worked for him. No single guy ever had to spend a holiday alone when I knew him. After talking with his wife Kathy tonight, no one ever did after I knew him as well.

Silas was one of those guys who you expected to run into on submarines. A little crazy, a little serious, a whole lot of dedicated to his shipmates, and lived life better on the edge than in a ho-hum kind of existence. In the years I knew him, I never once thought of him as anything but real.

There is one thing I never got a chance to say to him. I never got to thank him for the meals he made or the joy he added to my life. So if you can read this Si, I know its overdue but here it is:

Thanks Si!

God speed shipmate… see you soon!

Mister Mac

Silas and Cathy

The moral of the story is that life is much shorter than you plan on it being… putting off a conversation with an old shipmate may become more permanent than you could ever believe. If there is someone in your life who meant that much, pick up the phone and call him. No excuses.


The Submariner’s Prayer

Almighty, Everlasting God, the Protector of all those
who put their trust in Thee: hear our prayers in behalf
of Thy servants who sail their vessels beneath the seas.
We beseech Thee to keep in Thy sustaining care all
who are in submarines, that they may be delivered
from the hidden dangers of the deep.
Grant them courage, and a devotion to fulfill their duties,
that they may better serve Thee and their native land.
Though acquainted with the depths of the ocean,
deliver them from the depths of despair and the
dark hours of the absence of friendliness and grant
them a good ship’s spirit.
Bless all their kindred and loved ones from whom they are separated.
When they surface their ships, may they praise Thee for
Thou art there as well as in the deep.
Fill them with Thy Spirit that they may be sure in their reckonings,
unwavering in duty, high in purpose, and upholding the honor
of their nation.

By: Joseph Sagnis

Joey S.

The Old Navy 4

Compared to some Navies around the world, I suppose the US navy is still in its infant stage. From my perspective, it has certainly seen its days of glory interspersed with rumors of demise. Those rumors of its premature death normally come with change. Sails to steam. Capital ships and sleek modern warriors. Cannon balls to missiles. One thing that never seems to change though is the adventurous spirit of those who choose a life of sea going service. Diesels to Nukes.

Old Salts 001

I have had the picture above over my desk for a number of years. My brother and his family sent it to us one Christmas and it somehow struck a chord. Tom and I served on the San Francisco (SSN 711) together for three years so we shared a seagoing experience and a lot of memories. The picture just struck me as a true depiction of what real old salts would look like.

Not long ago, I found a book that I use as a reference from time to time. It is called “Naval Customs, Traditions, and Usage” written by Lieutenant Commander Leland P. Lovette, US Navy. The book is a hardback copy and cost $2.00 postpaid in 1939 from the Naval Institute Press.

Naval Customs Traditions and Usage                Lovette

It’s a great book for those of us who love Naval History and was written shortly before Pearl Harbor. The book gives you the flavor of the Old Navy before the catastrophic attack against America in December of 1941. The influx of so many millions of Officers and Men during the war changed the character and the flavor of the Navy as it had never been changed before and citizen sailors of that period redefined what a sailor was.

In the book, there is an inserted photograph next to page 43 taken by Assistant Surgeon H. W. Whitaker (US Navy) taken on board the USS Mohican in 1888 of the four old salts. In fact, the card I have over my desk is a replica of that picture.

Old Salts 2

The Old Navy – Left to right: David Ireland, age 55; Gilbert H. Purdy, age 60; John T. Griffith, age 62; and John King, age 54

On page 43 is a footnote that explains who the mystery men on my wall were:

“This picture, ‘The Old Navy,’” wrote Captain J. K. Taussig, “depicts for us a rare combination of characters. We have here in Purdy the spinner of yarns and exploiter of theories – different from the usually accepted ones – but always of sufficient interest to guarantee and audience. In Ireland we have the serious minded listener – a man of character who loved his ship and who loved to stay on board preferring to save his money to spending it on a good time. King typifies the sailor of the stories; one who loved rum and who spent his money freely whenever he had the chance. He was the type that was absolutely reliable on board ship, but did not see that the beach was for any other use than a place where one could get drunk. Griffith shows us the old man who has matured in the service – the kind that acquired none of the bad traits, but all of the good traits of the old time sailor.” – US Naval Institute Proceedings, XLVII, no. 215.

USS Mohican

I can’t help but feel that I knew these guys. They have been the core of the US Navy since it first began. The only thing that kind of concerns me now is that I used to think 60 was old…

The Navy is going through a number of changes again. Based on comments I see on the Navy related boards these days, a lot of my former shipmates are worried we won’t make it through the fog this time. I can almost hear Gilbert Purdy now;

“Those young whippersnappers are gonna just ruin this here Navy, you mark my words. Why, I hear they’re even talking about putting bunk beds on ships now instead of hammocks. Yep, heard it from an old shipmate of mine. He seen it with his own two eyes down to the Philly shipyard. These younguns will be spoiled rotten.What won’t they think of next? This man’s Navy is going straight to hell, you mark my words, straight to hell!”

Then old John Griffith quietly replies; “Purdy, you just keep spinning those old yarns. I been around long enough to see the changes that came and went. Some stuck, some didn’t. In the end, as long as there are a few old salts around and the country still needs defending, there will always be a Navy. Might not look the same as when we had the helm, but it will always be the Navy.”

From the position of someone who is rapidly approaching Griffiths age, I reckon I agree with him.

Mister Mac

Make sure you check out the Plan of the day for October 3rd

for more of the back story on the Old Salts