The one thing you can’t stop 2

Today marks the end of yet another year.

The world has turned 365 more times in its journey and I feel fortunate to have had more good days than bad ones during that time. I find myself in a much better place today than I did a year ago and for that I am grateful.

Time has a way of creeping up on you.

Even if you take the best care of yourself, the elements and time itself play havoc with what we try to preserve. This is just as true of the things we have made as it is to the people that made them. This year saw the 75th Anniversary of many of the most notable naval battles of World War II. Midway, Coral Sea, the seven battles of Guadalcanal, and many other important actions all marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

The ships that fought those battles were legendary. Against enormous odds in most cases, the American’s fought back against the Imperial Japanese fleet and stopped their progress. In 1942, that meant that mostly pre-war vessels and their crews fought back in battles that could have spelled doom for many if we had lost.

We have some remarkable nautical memorials

One of my passions is going to visit and learn about the memorial ships around the country that have been preserved. While I favor the remaining battleships as my primary destinations, I will willingly spend hours and hours crawling through everything from destroyers to submarines and the occasional aircraft carrier. We are blessed as a nation that many such monuments still exist and I strongly support the efforts of the many men and women who have volunteered over the years to keep the memories alive.

    

The ones we didn’t save

Many of the ships I would have loved to have seen preserved were active in 1942. It should not come as a surprise that the USS San Francisco CA 38 would be on the very top of my list. She was unique and had a very storied history before and during the war. This New Orleans class cruiser was commissioned in 1934 and saw the beginning of the war in Pearl Harbor. She quickly showed her worth as the fast moving battles of the first year unfolded. But nothing will ever replace her glory in the night battle of November 13th near Guadalcanal. She was the flag ship for Admiral Callaghan and a small force of cruisers and destroyers that went up against two Japanese battleships.

Out gunned and out maneuvered, she led her brave force into action and paid a ferocious cost. At the height of the attack, she came under close fire from the 14 inch guns of the Hiei and Rear Admiral Callaghan, Captain Cassin Young, and much of the staff were killed in a blinding flash. But the well trained crew, under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless and Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland continued to fight the ship and saved her to fight another day. 77 sailors, including Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, had been killed. 105 had been wounded. Of seven missing, three were subsequently rescued. The ship had taken 45 hits. Structural damage was extensive, but not fatal. No hits had been received below the waterline. Twenty-two fires had been started and extinguished.

San Francisco was sent home for repairs. When she returned, she would fight and serve through many harsh battles. She was one of many ships targeted by the dreaded kamikaze weapons the Japanese had mustered. But the Frisco Maru would beat them all and was part of the victorious fleet that finally subdued the enemy.

A Remarkable Record

The night battle of November 13th resulted in four Medal of Honors being awarded. Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless, and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt J. Keppler (posthumous). Admiral Callaghan was also awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous). San Francisco was among the most decorated ships in US service during World War II.

Despite her many accolades, the country ended the war with a surplus of ships. The Cold War was just a short time away from its official start but the cost of maintaining such a large fleet was unacceptable. San Francisco was decommissioned in February of 1946 and in 1959 she was sold for scrap. So were nearly all of her surviving partners. The only physical memory of her now is the rescued bridge section that was saved when she was rebuilt after the horrific battle in 1942. It was a point of honor for the crews of the subsequent USS San Francisco (SSN 711) to visit and pay honor when the boat was in port in the city.

I would have given anything to be able to walk her decks and stand where so many brave men gave their all in a battle that was so notable. So I do understand why so many people do their best to preserve the vessels that have survived. I wish there was more money and more public commitment. But unfortunately, time continues to exact a price and the public is easily distracted. No matter how important a mission may have been, preservation almost always comes down to a few people who do the lion’s share of the work.

Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant SC

I ended 2017 at Patriot’s point with a fellow retired Chief Warrant Officer. He and I served on the submarine San Francisco in the beginning and we have watched her over the past 37 years. She of course is infamous for a sea mount collision that nearly cost the country a crew and vessel. The loss of our shipmate MM2/SS Joey Ashley still affects those who loved him and recognize his sacrifice with a solemnness earned with such a sacrifice. The 711 boat is undergoing a conversion to a new mission as a training ship and we are all filled with a bittersweet feeling of pride in her continued life but sadness in knowing she will no longer sail the oceans and face unseen enemies.

Time takes its toll on everything.

I had visited Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant five years ago and toured the ships and boat located there. The USS Clamagore is a treasured part of the collection of diesel boats on display around the country. Her history did not include service in the war, but she more than made up for that through her conversions to several classes of GUPPY boats and her service helped to pave the way for the submarine technology that would aid the coming nuclear fleet.

How a Docking Officer views the world

Seeing her this week was kind of shocking. I should tell you that one of my roles in the Navy was as a Docking Officer on a floating drydock that primarily docked submarines. Whenever I see any vessel, I often do a mental calculation of what I would have to do to create the “build” for that vessel. The build consists of the blocks topped with wood that the vessel would sit on once the water has been pumped down. It is incredibly important that the docking officer builds a safe crib that support the keel of the vessel in such a way that it will not be damaged.

Like most docking officers, I know that each ship and boat has a docking plan. That plan includes the exact location for each block to ensure maximum safety for the landed vessel. Even an inch or two off the mark could have an impact.

As we approached the submarine, the first thing that was noticeable was the exterior damage near the waterline. While I understand that the damage may not be indicative of the pressure hull, I also know that in order to safely dock a boat, any compromise in the plan would have some impact. I felt kind of sick to my stomach as I saw her tied up next to the pier and couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time I saw her. To be fair, the inside tells a great story and you can see the work so many have done over the years. But time is catching up to her.

Can’t we save them all?

I know there is a lot of passion around saving Clamagore. Four of the boats I served on are gone now and both of my surface commands have long since been torn down and scrapped (except for some parts of the USS Los Alamos that are still in use in a civilian yard). All of them served honorable and several made marks on Naval history that should have automatically made them eligible for some kind of living memorial (USS George Washington SSBN 598 and USS Halibut her dual roles as a Regulas Boat and her remarkable role as a Special Projects Boat)

But time and events were not in their favor. They remain alive in the stories that have been written and the hearts of those who sailed on them. There will never be boats like these again. There will never be mighty warships like the USS San Francisco CA 38. But her impact on the war she fought will live forever in the halls of United States Naval history.

A proper remembrance

In a cemetery in Mount Pleasant SC just up the road from Patriots Point is a marker in a small cemetery for one of my greatest heroes. Captain Cassin Young was a Commander on board the USS Vestal, a repair ship tied up next to the Arizona on December 7th. He was awarded the Medal of Honor that day and his story is remarkable. I will be telling it in detail later this year in a special way. His body is not there however. He was one of those killed on the bridge on the morning of November 13 on the bridge of the CA 38. He was buried at sea along with many others.

It is fitting for a sailor to be buried at sea after such a death. I can imagine the grief the family felt but how much worse it would be to see the burned and fragmented remains that would have had to have been shipped back those many thousands of miles. The family would have a loving memory of their sailor in his glory days.

The future

I do not know what will become of the Clamagore. I hope some solution comes soon. I have to admit that seeing her in such a condition makes me sad for those who have worked so hard to save her. But time marches on. It is the one element that has never been completely mitigated. It makes me wonder about the remainder of the boats and what it will take to preserve them properly. Where is the strategy? What is the plan? Would it make more sense to view each from a bigger picture? Resources are not unlimited but the elements and the weather have no limits.

Every boat tells a story. Every boat means so much to those who have given so much to save them from the scrap yard or reef. The sad reality is that not all of them will be able to be saved.

I am sure there are probably a few diesel boat sailors that will start a “I hate Mister Mac” campaign after this is published. I am sorry for that. This is not intended to say let’s kill this or any other boat memorial. I do not have that power or ability. But I do hope that there is a strategy to remember the boat in a way that is respectful and memorable. I also hope we have a good long discussion about the other boats that are either going through the same challenges or are about to.

If someone does come up with a strategy for stopping time, please let us all know what it is.

Some of us are more interested than others.

Mister Mac

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

failure is not an option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Alumni Association

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I won’t be there, but my heart will Reply

News about the inactivation of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) has finally been released. It appears that it is coming in the next few months. The ship will be refitted and used as a Moored Training Ship (MTS). It had been a goal of mine to see her one last time while she was still a warship but that seems to be out of the question.

God Bless the men who have sailed her through good times and bad for the past 36 years.

 

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I won’t be there.

I remember the first time I saw you. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but you surely weren’t it. You were disheveled, ragged and covered with dirt and dust from the rough environment you were in. You were like a new child that hadn’t even taken its first steps yet. I watched you grow. Day after day through winter storms and a summer hotter than I could remember, you took shape. Soon enough, it was time to break free and become the part of most of our lives that would change us forever. I still see you with twenty six year old eyes and I still get goose bumps when I see you where you were always meant to be. Gliding through the water on your way to the dive point. The day you hit 1000 dives must have been very special. I remember your first. I remember praying that the men and women who built you did so with all of the care in the world. When you broke free from the surface and started showing your real gifts, it was the greatest adventure of my life. Looking around at the others who were with us, I could see the looks on their faces. Screaming through the water, diving up and down, turning so fast, it pulled men to the edge of their seats. It wasn’t my first time, but it is the one that I cherish the most.

You’ve logged a lot of miles. You’ve seen so many places. You’ve had challenges that would have broken others. And now your journey is almost over.

I always felt like you were my mistress. I married my Debbie the same year we met and so many times you pulled me back. I dream about you and I dream about the brave men who kept you safe even in the worst of times. I am grateful for their service every day and I thank each and every one of them. So many are not here anymore and in our old age, the list keeps getting longer.

They tell me you will be a school. That seems appropriate. You have already taught a few generations how to be submariners. It’s something you do well.

I wanted to come and see you one last time but I won’t be there. The thirty six years since we met has been hard on me too. I always say I left my heart on the San Francisco but the truth is that my heart is wearing out faster than you did. I pray that the surgeon’s hands will be as true and steady as the hands that built and rebuilt you.

I will be there in spirit though. I’ll be carrying a clipboard as I make my rounds throughout the boat. I’ll smell the cooking in your galley and feel the boat rising beneath my feet. As I enter a darkened control room, the boat will glide to periscope depth, rocking back and forth in the open sea. Somewhere in the night, the Dive is keeping the planesmen focused and the Chief of the Watch moves his hands like a maestro across the ballast control panel making adjustments. Everything will be performed flawlessly and the mission will be completed well. This is how I will remember you old friend.

Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra

“Big Mac” SSN 711 Plankowner

 

New Years Day 2015 3

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Thanks for dropping by.

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

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

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2015

This will be a very busy year I think.

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

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

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http://www.ussviconventionsteelcity2015.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks again for stopping by.

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

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

Mister Mac

 

 

The Submariner’s Wife 4

Navy wife… the toughest job in the Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, honey

Mister Mac

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

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

 

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Homecoming Coins now available 1

 

 

DSCF41122014 Homecoming Coins are now available for sale.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks
Mister Mac

2014 National Convention

A little respect… 42 years later, its still not that big of a deal 20

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indianapolis Commisioning

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

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

Mister Mac

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The Measure of a Man 6

McHales Navy

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

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

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

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

Take all you want, eat all you take

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

August 1972

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

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

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

MMFN MacPherson

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

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

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

Nothing good lasts forever I suppose

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

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

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

I am not overweight, I am undertall

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

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

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

Who’s your daddy?

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

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

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

Forty pounds later, the patrol from hell finally ended

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

Ohio LPO 2 Ohio on surface

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

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

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

Mister Mac

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

I made that. (Okay. I might have had some help) 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Submarines.

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

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

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SSBN 598 – The real thing…

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

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

San Francisco Precom Crew

A _ 711 launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mister Mac

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2014 National Convention