Pirate Captain

A Tribute to a Boat Captain

by Chris Herst

I arrived on board the USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723) after a quick trip to Kings Bay Georgia for Sonar Suite upgrade school. I had the pleasure of knowing one of the finest submarine captains to ever put a boat to sea. In this modern day of rocket science and hi-tech gadgets, here was a man, that if you knew him, you walk through the fires of Hell to be in his presence.

The man knew how to drive a boat. Mr. Snead was a 'Good ol' boy' from Tennessee. He had a unique sounding voice and NEVER had a problem saying what was on his mind. My first underway with this 'terror of the high seas' is a very vivid memory. I say this because the man had a stylish way of letting the crew know what was up. If we did not conduct a fire drill correctly…he let us know in a 'gentlemanly' way.

Over the 1MC, "Gentlemen, that was F****d up!. We need to fix this! Carry on!"

Classic Snead.

I call him a pirate because of the way he carried himself. He would have fit perfectly on one of those old pirate ships. ARRRRGH! Getting to know this man was very easy. He was amiable. He wanted to be with the crew, get e feel for how they felt. He really made a difference. He smoked OP cigarettes. He would come down to the smoke pit in the machinery room,

"Someone give me a F***ing smoke." (five or six packs would appear).

"How's it goin' guys? Everyone all right? I can't wait to get back home. Thanks for the smoke, see ya later".

That was Snead.

However, his 'pirate side' would come out whenever it was time fight the ship. He would get this look in his eyes and everyone knew… Don't be the one to screw up.

We were on our merry way to the Florida area to conduct TRE. The Commodore of Squadron Eight was riding for a pre-eval and we went to fire control tracking party on an unsuspecting floating target. As transiting merchant ships have no idea we are even in the area, is very easy to use them as 'targets of opportunity'. Squadron is sitting in the corner, aft of fire control on the starboard side, watching intently and scribbling in his note pad. Sonar is manned to sardine capacity… Fire control is jammed with JO's… Here comes the man… It went like this...

"This is the Captain, I have the Deck, the Engineer retains the Con. Let me have the attention of the Fire Control Party… Here's what we are gonna do. We are gonna go to PD, scope this guy and then shoot this f***er! Any questions?"

Nobody had a question. I looked into the control room from sonar right at the Commodore… His chin was on his chest and his eyes were as big as plates. He even dropped his pen. I will never forget that. The main part of this has to do with a real life situation that turned funny. Just wanted to let you know what kind of 'funny' this is.

We were on station… Somewhere 'out there'. There were two boats with the same characteristics (equipment) in a certain area. We were the primary shooter for Tomahawk missiles and they were secondary. When the flag dropped, we were keyed up and ready to go. Observations… Downloads… Preps… Checks… Nerves frayed. It was very exciting.

When it came time to launch the bird, the fire control system had a dumb blonde in a conversation syndrome…


No more data in… No more info to the bird… Nothing. Needless to say, the Captain was not a happy camper. Our moment of glory… And nothing! The Fire Controlmen commenced troubleshooting, praying to God and Davy Jones and all things nautical that it was just a glitch. Nothing doing. With our 'tail between our legs', we pulled out and opened datum. Sent the embarrassing message off and the other guy moved into position to give it a go.

Snead made it abundantly clear that he was ready to FIRE the Fire Controlmen. Not one, but the entire Division! Then we got word the other guy had the exact same problem. It was a 'glitch' within the system. That led to a small boat transfer of some equipment in the open ocean. I was on the small boat handling team and got to witness this first hand. So what you are about to read is true. It went down this way.

The captain is still VERY irate about this situation. We surface, the small boat handling team musters topside, we wait. Snead is pacing up and down the side of the boat like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The six of us on the team are gathered together around the forward escape trunk (goes into the mess decks on a 688).

Someone asked the COB for permission to smoke; the COB asked the Captain who mumbled an obscene yes. We all lit up. Then it happened. Snead approached the group cussing a blue streak that went something to this effect:

"I can't believe this. I just can't f***ing believe this. I got a BILLION dollar submarine with millions of dollars worth of equipment and weapons and I can't even throw a goddamed rock at the f***ing enemy! Someone give me a f***ing smoke!"

He chose from the arrayed packs... Lit up… And proceeded to the back of the sail. All of us in the handling party were doing everything we could not to bust up when the COB noticed where the captain had gone. His eyes got big and he pointed. I looked and realized the captain was smoking right underneath the hydrogen discharge. Guess what we were doing? That's right campers… Discharging hydrogen overboard.

We all started calling the captain who finally asked what we wanted. The COB informed him that we were discharging and Snead moved rapidly away with a final tirade,

"Great… Just f***ing great! I can see the headline now! CO Blows Self Up!!"

That did it.

We all lost it and for the first time in three days, The Captain smiled. The pressure was off. We did what we had to do, finished a great deployment and laughed all the way home about the Captain blowing himself up. He is a great man and still the only CO I would EVER want to go to war with. I respect him, and almost wish that I had never served under another CO. it was never a dull moment when Snead was around.

Pirate Captain? Dammed right. Good thing we never mutinied… The world would never have been the same!