LT Noel K. Schilling, USN

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

He was, put simply, a submariner… Actually, a submariner's submariner. The man forgot more about submarines than most of us ever knew and he held all the patents on unauthorized behavior as an enlisted man. Rumor had it that the Department of the Navy commissioned him for the return of an aircraft carrier and a couple of tin cans the CNO lost to him in a poker game… It was probably true.

We… The animals aft, learned that when it came to 'games of chance' it was simpler to figure out what you could afford to lose… Take it out of your wallet and mail it to him. It saved you a helluva lot of time and the embarrassment of having your clock cleaned.

When Noel K. trimmed the boat, you could shoot pool on the deckplates. He was a manifold magician… He dealt in increments pumped to forward and after trim that were the equivalent of a humming bird parade. The man was a planesman's dream. In the old smokeboat navy, you operated the bow and stern planes by turning contraptions that looked like stagecoach wheels… With most diving officers, you spent four hours wrestling those oversize bastards and sweating up your dungaree shirt.

When Noel K. had the dive, he would compensate the boat to a point where you could maintain a zero bubble by blowing on the operating gear every fifteen minutes. He was good… Damn good.

We entertained each other by telling Schilling stories. They could be total bullshit, but every lad aboard knew he was capable of doing everything that was told about him. He was one of those 'larger than life' characters that bluejacket's barroom legends are built around. The man was one helluva submarine sailor.

There was a downside to being an animal on a boat with Schilling in the wardroom. The sonuvabitch always knew what you were up to before you had actually figured it out yourself. He could abort a stupid stunt still forming in the womb of mental deviousness… And a little voice in your head would say to you,

"Only some sonuvabitch who had successfully pulled off what you were going to do, would recognize the indicators."

The animals loved him… No erosion of respect. He commanded respect in the same way a master safe cracker would respect a guy who had picked the lock on Queen Elisabeth's chastity belt with a bluebird feather. He was good. Sailors always feel most secure when watching a master pulling rabbits out of weird hats.

I pity the guys who rode boats with lousy wardrooms… Musta been hell. Requin was a good boat forward and aft… Sure, we didn't ride a sea-going Sunday school… The wardroom was called upon to set us on fire on a regular basis… And we operated well beyond the limits of hormonal constraint… But it worked. Nothing hit the fan that we couldn't get out of… Or blame on some other boat.

Noel K. took time to square a kid away. I was 19… He pounded electrical and trim and drain quals into my low-level brain, encased in a tank turret skull. Anyone who could install knowledge between my ears was perfectly capable of teaching fleas to waltz.

I collected memories… Didn't know it at the time. At nineteen, next month was as far in the future as I gave a damn about. I was never growing old… My dad had the market cornered on that nonsense. No sir, I was going to master the panty elastic combination, keep the breweries working an extra shift and own the world someday… At 19, all of that seems possible… Old age was bullshit.

When it arrives, it is still major bullshit, but it is made much easier if you collected your seabag full of memories when you said,

"Screw the future… When's liberty?"

At 19, pissing against the tide is a full time job… And it helps to have a LT Noel K. Schilling there to toss you a heavie when it gets over your head.

Noel K. Schilling and James A. Buckner… Aces back to back… USS Requin (SS-481).

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