“My child is a submariner… I’ll sleep when they come home” 5

I will never forget that day in June 1972 when my parents came to Pittsburgh International Airport to see me off on my way to Boot Camp. I was not the first in my family to leave home (big brother went to a nearby college three years earlier) but I was the first to go into the military. Dad had proudly served in World War 2 and I did not want to miss the adventure that I knew lay ahead of me.

Back in those days, the families could go to the gate with no problems and Mom, Dad, and my high school sweetheart all came to see me leave to go to the faraway land of Lincoln where the Navy had one of its three Boot Camps. (I had asked for Orlando and San Diego so of course was sent to Great Lakes outside of Chicago IL.) There were a lot of hugs and a few kisses and then it was up the ramp. I turned just before I went through the door and saw them all standing there. The girlfriend was sobbing, Dad had his arm around Mom, and Mom just had this sad look on her face. One of her children was leaving forever and he would never be the same again.

The next six months were fast and filled with all kinds of new adventures. Boot Camp, Machinist Mate A school, and temporary duty when I failed to make the needed requirements for Nuc school. Somewhere in the whirlwind of activity, someone sat down with me and placed a pile of paperwork in front of me. Since I was no longer going to nuclear power training, there were some forms to sign and the need to refocus on a different path. One of the options was to volunteer to undergo submarine training and ultimately serve on a boat. I will freely admit that I didn’t give it much thought at the time. The idea of making an additional fifty five dollars a month seemed to be the biggest motivator at the time. The decision to volunteer would change my life. And it would change my Mom’s life, too.

I will freely admit that I have never been a Mom of a submariner. But I did have a Mom that had two boys on board submarines who would eventually serve for over twenty years. For nearly four of those years, my brother Tom was on the same boat with me.

I knew from the first minute I told them that Mom was worried. As a kid growing up, we were not allowed to have guns or motorcycles since they were too dangerous. She would wait up for me to come home from dates to make sure I was safe and no harm would come to me. I suppose that is what normal mothers do.

Mom used to worry, I am sure, but despite serving on a combined total of nine submarines, we both came home each and every time. The boats we served on had the highest level of quality of any that had ever been built. The training is and has been the finest in the entire world. Between Tom and I, I am sure that we went to over a hundred different schools and classes. The mission could be a bit dicey from time to time but the emphasis was always on safety.

Communications were not always easy back in the day. There was no internet and phone calls were pretty expensive. So we wrote a lot and called when we absolutely needed to. The infrequent visits home would be celebrations that we survived another mission. But I know now that the times for her had to be pretty hard. She was always enough of a patriot that she never complained about the life we had chosen. Like our wives, she was as much a part of the service as those of us that wore the uniforms.

So how did my Mom handle things?

While we were deployed, Mom worked with the veterans groups in the community and did her best to support active duty men and women with her volunteer work, contributions and activism. She focused on the things around her and remembered every day that her boys were volunteers that did so twice: once to become a United States Navy sailor and once to become a volunteer in the submarine force.

I pray for all of the sons and daughters who go to sea in submarines and ships.

There are no guarantees. But know that we have the finest Navy and submarine force anywhere in the world and their main focus is and should be on the mission to protect this country. But I also pray for all the Moms who sit at home and wait for their child to return safely home. When they do, you may notice they are a little different from when they were younger. That can’t be helped. They have seen and done things they will never be able to fully explain. But in their hearts, they are still your children and still love you for all of your sacrifices that allowed them to be who they are today.

Thanks Mom.

Mister Mac

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

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

What a ride

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Happy 115th Birthday to the United States Navy Submarine Force 3

Of the things I have done in my life, being privileged to be a Submariner is the one thing that stands out the most.

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Looking back in the mirror of over forty years, what made being a submariner so special was a combination of men, machines, methods and materials (as well as the environment we lived in).

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The men were bold and adventurous. In order to surrender your personal freedom and commit part of your life to operating in a steel tube (often for months at a time), you had to have a great sense of boldness. These are the men that forty years later I still call brothers. The shared sacrifice we made cemented that bond. They were the embodiment of trust and loyalty. They still are.

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The machines were part of this experience too. The ones we rode on are all special to us since they took us into the unknown and brought us safely home in most cases. Whether they were named after fish, men, cities or states, they were our boats. Some rode to glory in a haze of diesel exhaust and some silently lurked beneath the surface on an invisible field of power. What made them common was the pressure that pushed against their hulls when they were sent into danger.

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The methods evolved with the technology. The little pigboats that felt almost tethered to the shore were replaced by sleek combat vessels. Despite the horrific loss of 52 of them during World War 2, they emerged with more enemy tonnage sunk per capita than any other combat vessels. Post war, they ran picket duty against the new threat and became platforms for exotic missiles with a powerful projection. These warriors were at the front line of the Cold and Gulf Wars and although their stories will never be fully known, influenced the shape of the world for decades.

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Since Holland’s little boat first broke the surface, the materials have adapted for each new mission. Stronger, quieter, more adaptable to depths unfathomable in the old days, these boats are powerful voices in a world of threats.

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The environment continues to challenge our boats. Sea mountains, hurricanes, typhoons and classified threats to submarine operations will always be the wild cards that increase the risk. Any person who has ridden a submarine into the unknown without being able to see what is ahead knows what it feels like to commit your life to something greater than themselves. But our boats and our people continue to fight them and overcome the odds in the very face of the unknown.

 

Someday we will all stand and have to take account for our lives. On that day, I hope to still be wearing my dolphins. That is a sure way for St. Peter to know that I once did my time in hell and I am ready to come home.

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To my Submariner comrades, I wish you all a Happy Birthday

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/

 

Our Homeless Days are Over 10

For my regular readers, I must apologize about the lack of new content recently. Work has been very busy and we have spent most of our free time doing all the chores needed to prove to the bank that we shouldn’t remain homeless. Considering how many of my brother and sister veterans remain homeless, I consider my self to be very blessed.

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We have moved about twenty times in the past 32 years which is pretty incredible if you think about how many moves that truly is. I think the worst period was somewhere in the middle when we moved from Seattle to Hawaii to Scotland and on to Norfolk VA in less than 4 years.

Our new house is in the country with a rolling hill setting and a little pond in the corner. I suppose its not much compared to some, but for us it is a great chance to start over for hopefully the last time. Angus the dog has been for one visit and we are hoping he adjusts to the stairs.

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He had never even seen stairs in the inside of a house prior to where we are staying now so it came as a bit of a shock.

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Did I mention we are in the country?  During one of our early visits, we saw a ten point buck run across the lower end of the lot. A few days ago when I went to let the locksmith in the house I got there just in time to see the blue heron fly away from the pond. I also stopped at the nearby hardware store for a few of what I am sure will be many supplies and met the local security guy named Bob.

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 Bob is a brindle bulldog and very laid back. I think we are going to get along just fine.

Next door were a few bison and the male seemed somewhat upset that the other two were not stampeding. By the time I left, they were.

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Lots of work to do. The pool is closed for the winter and we are putting a new coat of paint and fresh carpets inside. But we are both excited about the possibilities. I will finally have enough wall space to put up all the plaques and pictures from all those years sailing the seven seas. We even have a zombie room which is a lot more fortified than I had hoped it would be.

One of the plaques will be from my days thirty years ago on the USS San Francisco (SSN 711). I am proud of all my boats but she will always have my best memories overall.

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Great crew, great ship. But as I read the news this morning, I saw she is in Korea helping monitor the crazy guy up in Pyongyang. God be with you guys as you sail in a ship that was built with dedicated hands. She has been maintained and repaired through many troubled times. I hope you don’t have to do anything other than just monitor. But I also know you will do your job with integrity and pride.

Me, I will be picking up some more supplies this weekend under Bob’s watchful eye. I’ll say a few prayers too. I am looking forward to country life and will not take kindly to anyone who screws that up.

Mister Mac

They Never Lost Their Will to Win–The Battle of Cape Esperance 2

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The Battle of Cape Esperance, also known as the Second Battle of Savo Island and, in Japanese sources, as the Sea Battle of Savo Island, took place on 11–12 October 1942, and was a naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and United States Navy. The battle was the second of four major surface engagements during the Guadalcanal campaign and took place at the entrance to the strait between Savo Island and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

From August to early October, the Japanese had made numerous attempts to dislodge the force of Marines from Guadalcanal and the surrounding islands. Their overwhelming naval and air presence made life difficult on the islands, in the seas surrounding the islands, and in the air. The Marines at that time were undersupplied and had quickly learned that the weather and mosquitos were as formidable an enemy as the persistent Japanese. Causalities mounted daily and the issue was in doubt many times.

What made the situation worse was the nightly bombardment from the Japanese fleet.

The Japanese sent ships down the “Slot” on a nightly basis and made sure that the airfield and surrounding areas were bombarded with deadly accuracy and frequency. It wasn’t until late September that TF 64 led by Admiral Norman Scott on the USS San Francisco offered a serious countermeasure to the attacks. The scrappy group of cruisers and destroyers took on the new challenge and finally gave the Japanese a barrier to success in the night seas around the islands. That mission came with a heavy cost though for the Americans.

San Francisco

The USS San Francisco was a well- built warship of the New Orleans Class. Weighing in at around 10,000 tons, she carried a full range of weapons including eight inch and five inch batteries.

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After the losses at Pearl Harbor of the main line of Battleships, the cruisers were the main surface ships left to carry the attack to the enemy. They proved their worth in the months to come as they battled a persistent enemy.

“On 7 October 1942, TF 64 departed from Espiritu Santo, the New Hebrides, and moved back into the Solomons to cover Allied reinforcements and to intercept similar operations by the Japanese. On 11 October, at about 1615, the ships commenced a run northward from Rennel Island, to intercept an enemy force of two cruisers and six destroyers reported heading for Guadalcanal from the Buin-Faisi, Bougainville Island area. The force continued north to approach Savo Island in The Slot from the southwest.

By 2330, when the warships were approximately 6 mi (9.7 km) northwest of Savo Island, they turned to make a further search of the area. A few minutes after setting the new course, radar indicated unidentified ships to the west, several thousand yards distant.

At about 2345, the Battle of Cape Esperance began.

Initial confusion caused both sides to momentarily check their fire in fear of hitting their own ships. Then, the battle was reopened and continued until 0020 on 12 October, when surviving Japanese ships retired toward the Shortland Islands. Salt Lake City, Boise, Duncan and Farenholt, had been damaged. Later, Duncan went down. Furutaka and a destroyer had been sunk during the surface action.” Two more enemy destroyers were sunk on 12 October by Marine planes from Henderson Field. After the engagement, TF 64 retired to Espiritu Santo.”

From that night on, the Japanese no longer owned the night. The sacrifices of so many men and ships paved the way towards ultimate victory in the South Pacific. Admiral Scott and the crews of TF 64 would not have long to celebrate their victories. The coming battles in November would bring the main action at Guadalcanal to a horrific climax under the night skies of Iron Bottom Sound.

Dedicated to the brave men  of TF 64 who fought under the most challenging conditions and never lost their will to win.

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Mister Mac

600 Ships – The Path to Victory started on the 711 3

After the upheavals in the Navy caused by the end of the Vietnam conflict, you can imagine how discouraged many people who wore the uniform were by the time the Carter years were at the three and a half year point. Blend in the miserable economy, high unemployment, interest rates never before seen and you can understand that the country in general was ready for a long stretch of misery.

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The fleet was limping along with limited growth and some of the key programs that were in progress (Trident and the Los Angeles Class submarines) were behind schedule, over budget and on the congressional radar for supposed savings. The entire military was in a sorry state and maintenance and upkeep programs on all types of equipment were falling away.

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Any hopes that the Navy would gain support by having the first Naval Academy graduate as President were swiftly dashed as the nation realized that Carter did not agree that communism was our greatest chief enemy. His policies were really directed to the arms race and support of NATO policies. The real vision for the Navy was to become nothing more than a bus service to troops that would be sent to Europe in case of an event in the central European countries.  According to Nathan Miller, noted historian and writer “ Naval strategists charged with this plan meant the surrender of the Pacific to the Soviets without a fight. “The Naval equivalent of the Maginot Line has been constructed,” declared Navy Secretary Graham Claytor, Jr.” From Nathan Miller’s The US Navy, A History.

History is not kind to the remaining part of the Carter administration as the Middle east proved to be too surprising and too confusing for the hapless administration to deal with. The fall of the Shah in Iran, the rise of fundamentalist Muslim groups in his place, the invasion of Afghanistan and perceived weakness of the US in almost ever corner of the world destroyed most of the remaining credibility the United States had on the world stage. Much too late in the game, the affects of cutting the fleets growth was being felt all around the world.

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Modern war ships are not built in a day. The logistics and planning for these vessels in peacetime are influenced by a great number of factors including politics. Vessels during that era were forced to undergo lengthy deployments with cutbacks in training and preparedness. Breakdowns and lack of crewmembers stretched the already meager resources to the breaking point as Carter was obsessed with the Iranian hostage situation. Morale was at a breaking point and so was the equipment. Neglect is a strategy that only pious old fools think will be successful.

Then came Reagan

Immediately after the inauguration, plans were revealed that would change the Navy back to a three ocean Navy, capable of defending the nation, ensuring freedom of movement in the world’s oceans, and check the growth of the Iranians and other rogue states that would challenge global peace. In the words of the Ronald Reagan, the vow was made to never again be humiliated by the Iranians or anyone else.

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The pre-commissioning unit for the Los Angeles Class Fast Attack was informed that their commissioning ceremony in April of 1981 had just taken on a new significance.

Instead of the usual commissioning that would be viewed by Navy officials and family, the whole world was about to be treated to the ceremony. Two important guests were coming and the new location would be at the aircraft carrier piers in Norfolk Virginia in order to house the press for a special announcement.

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John Lehman, Reagan’s new Secretary of the Navy and Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense would bear witness to this proud new ship’s introduction to the fleet. While there, they would announce the most ambitious and costly peacetime buildup of the military and the Navy in the nation’s history. Nearly 500 billion dollars was announced that would be used to build the Navy back to a three ocean Navy of six hundred ships by 1989.

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As a crew member on the ship, I can assure you it was a powerful day.

The arrival of President Reagan in the white house reassured a nation that a new day had come. We would not just drift off into the night as another country without direction and purpose. The enemies who vowed to destroy us would have to face a protracted struggle with a determined nation and a Navy that was once again on the rise. I was proud to be in my dress blues that day. I can assure you that most that I stay in touch with from that time frame agree. Every year on July 11, you will see us in the submarine chat rooms and Facebook wishing each other a happy 711 day.

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Many will say that the Cold War ended for any number of reasons.

My fervent belief is that the end of the Cold War started on that day in April 1981 topside on the deck of the USS San Francisco.

At one  point in the ceremony, the Executive Officer is directed to bring the ship to life. The crew then runs across the brows, down the hatches and up the sail as the ship’s whistle blows. On that day, as we ran, we represented the hundreds of thousands that would follow us in all the uniforms of the services. America was back and we were going to retake our rightful place in the world. This was the turning point that spelled the beginning of the end for the Soviets and the Cold War.

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This country has the resources to defend itself and protect and serve other nations that are not so blessed. We have the capacity to build the best ships (Like the San Francisco SSN 711 which is in its 32nd year of operations). When we have the right leadership, we can overcome any attack and any adversary. Most importantly, we have the right people to man those ships and face dangers from every quarter.

My prayer each day is that the Spirit of Ronald Reagan will speak louder than the people who want to surrender our moral imperative and authority. To assume that other nations will do well by us by out of the goodness of their hearts is ludicrous and flies in the face of history.

When I wish you a happy 711 day, it is with the wish that we do remember the goal of using whatever means needed to defend and protect this great land. The thought of living in a land of delusional fools who believe in the good will of our enemies is too hard to accept.

God Bless America, God Bless the United States Navy, and God Bless the men who have served in and on the USS San Francisco SSN 711.

Mister Mac

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As much as today (April 24) is a day of remembering the great things about the 711 Boat, I thought is was good to also reblog one of the earlier blogs about the heroic crew that saved her (and the one who gave his all).

theleansubmariner

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Seven years ago, an event happened on the USS San Francisco that serves as a reminder that even in this day of modern technology and science, the ocean is still mightier in its capability to test man’s limitations. On January 8th 2005 at 0243 GMY, she collided with a sea mount resulting in massive damage to the bow section, 23 were wounded as a result of the collision and the tragic death of MM2/SS Joseph Allen Ashley of Akron Ohio occured the next day as a result of his wounds.

Within a very short time of the collision, the emails of previous San Francisco lit up with passed along messages. Speculation was the name of the game which seems to ghoulishly follow all tragedies at sea. The first thought was an underwater collision with another boat but a closer examination revealed that the damage to the sonar dome and the forward…

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USS%20San%20Francisco%20(SSN%20711)%20patchA

Seven years ago, an event happened on the USS San Francisco that serves as a reminder that even in this day of modern technology and science, the ocean is still mightier in its capability to test man’s limitations. On January 8th 2005 at 0243 GMY, she collided with a sea mount resulting in massive damage to the bow section, 23 were wounded as a result of the collision and the tragic death of MM2/SS Joseph Allen Ashley of Akron Ohio occured the next day as a result of his wounds.

Within a very short time of the collision, the emails of previous San Francisco lit up with passed along messages. Speculation was the name of the game which seems to ghoulishly follow all tragedies at sea. The first thought was an underwater collision with another boat but a closer examination revealed that the damage to the sonar dome and the forward ballast tanks was consistent with a much bigger collision: a seamount that was not on the charts available to the San Francisco.

I spent four years on the San Francisco and as a new construction team member, I crawled through every tank and ever void on the boat. As a plank owner, I remember the thrills (and scares) of putting the boat through her paces for Admiral Rickover. I will never forget the added pressure that he instilled in the crew as we did the irregular maneuvers to prove the boat’s sea-worthiness. But we hit every mark and sailed her to Hawaii for her first serious set of tours.

When I heard about the crash, my mind went back to the days of sailing at a high speed transit from one place or another. You can feel the rush of the water down the sides of the hull, every turn results in a feeling of pulling in one direction or another as the boat reacts, and the feel of the boat reacting to the churn of the prop is very noticeable. Crawling into your rack, you push the obvious into the back of your head (if you think of it at all). What if something gets in the way? I am not a great physics scholar but I believe that in my life I have been a great believer in the big physics laws. An object in motion… an object at rest…

For all the patrols and special operations I made on various boats, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky. A few typhoons and one hurricane gave us some real scares (stories for another time), but generally, we made the runs with very few issues. I had confidence on the builders of the boat (having watched them and sometimes helping them). I had great confidence in our Officers and Nav guys. Some of them were a little quirky but then they probably thought the same about A-gangers too. But we always operated the boat with the confidence that comes from being as ready as possible.

Having said that, I can only imagine the terror of lying in your rack and suddenly, with no warning, feeling the boat come hard upon a large sea mount. You can’t see anything, all you can hear is the noise from the collision, feel the uncontrolled stopping motion and the out of control nature of such a hit. I apologize to the crew members that were on board that day because my description only comes from a mixture of memories of operating the boat and an imagination that can’t correctly describe what you felt.

I will not post the gruesome pictures that are plastered all over the internet. As I said, having built the boat, I can feel myself hand over handing the ballast tank and thinking that it was incredibly strong. I know we had to do some hull cuts at one point and I can remember clearly what it took for us to cut through the skin of the shark. I can also remember the fact that the precious air need to conduct an emergency blow is partially contained in those same ballast tanks. I have ridden the boat a number of times from the depths on the cushion of that air and remembered how thankful to know that it was there.

All of us had heard stories about the Thresher and her death ride. The thought of losing that air for any reason was one of my greatest nightmares. Every time I did a rig for sea, this was one of my most stringent tasks. No errors allowed and hand check everything that could be hand checked. If I close my eyes, I can still see the gages on the BCP hoping that 4500 PSI would be enough.

The fact that the crew was able to hold it together long enough to get her back to the surface and then back to port is the greatest example of submarine training I can possibly think of. I remain proud of all submariners for their day to day bravery. This crew demonstrated that what may have seem improbable was indeed possible. It would be an honor and a privilege to serve with any of you guys on any boat anytime.

RIP Joey.

God Bless the Crew of the USS San Francisco

MM2/SS Big Mac

Big Mac in TR SSN 711

(AKA Mister Mac)