He Was Our 'Mr. Roberts'

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Every boat should have come with a Noel K. Schilling. He was our father confessor, voice in the wardroom, mentor and when warranted, collective ass-kicker. We loved him. He commanded respect because every raghat knew if he cut himself shaving he would bleed saltwater laced with diesel fuel.

He came from the ranks. The man had once worn thirteen button blues and had butt buffed barstools from Hell to Hong Kong. There wasn't any thought in a bluejackets head he couldn't read like a book. He knew every damn inch of the boat. God never made an Engineman who could hide a bottle of whiskey Schilling couldn't have found if he went looking for it… But he never did. Why? Because he was a submariner and he knew that that was what Enginemen do. That was what made Noel K. a boatsailors' officer. He was the kind of officer, who when he stood OD and a bunch of rollicking blind drunks returned to the boat playing leap frog across the brow would not make you stand topside for one of those stupid 'Gentlemen, just look at yourselves' lectures. He would just turn to the topside watch; shake his head and say,

"Don't let any of the dumb bastards bounce off the tank tops," and go below. That was Noel K.

At morning quarters when someone was giving you a rah-rah speech, the crew looked at Mr. Schilling to see if he had that, 'this clown is blowing smoke up your ass' look in his eyes. He could sort through the bullshit and find a gold nugget in a heartbeat.

Nobody lied to Shilling because it wasn't necessary. That is the mark of a fine officer. You don't tapdance with the king.

Schilling always got tagged with the first night in, duty and battery charge… Just Noel K. and the single guys in crew. Scuttlebutt had it that he got dumped on because he didn't have an Annapolis ring. Hell, what did we know? We just wondered why it was always Noel K. He wasn't a whiner. He was an 'Aye, aye… Let's get the job done and get the hell out of here' officer. The best.

And, he was one good-looking sonuvabitch. Hell, if I had had Schilling's looks and John D. Rockefellers piggy bank I would have had different lingerie draped over my bedpost every night. He didn't have that goofy goddam Don Winslow of the Navy, Annapolis recruiting poster look…he had that "mothers lock up your daughters" kind of good looks…tough, tan and bark at the moon good looks.

But best of all, you trusted him to figure out stuff.

Enlisted men always have a guy that they look to when things are going to hell in a handbasket. On Requin, when Chicken-Lickin told you the gahdam sky was falling you instinctively said,

"Where in the hell, is Noel K.? Gahdammit, somebody find the sonubabitch or we're gonna die!"

We all had'em, diving officers who could turn a perfectly good trim into a trip to Disneyland. One minute you could build a playing card pyramid on the control room chart table and next minute you were riding a maniac horror show, roller coaster from Hell. Mister Fruit-loops had the dive.

"Sir, Mr. Schilling could most likely figure this out."

"Just pay attention to your depth."

"Aye sir."

Mr. Schilling, like the cavalry, always showed up in the nick of time… Five seconds before bow buoyancy passed the screw guards… His arrival would come as a result of the old man saying,

"Noel go up and relieve Mr. So-and-so and see if you can put the gahdam genie back in the magic lamp."

Schilling would step into the control room… Take the dive and do his master 'trim tickle' and the quartermaster could go back to building toothpick towers on the chart table. The man was a frigging trim magician.

The enlisted men on Requin learned one thing early… Never bet on anything with Mister Schilling… It was the equivalent of throwing your wallet over the side. We all knew that if Mister Schilling wanted to bet you that the sun would not come up tomorrow, he had inside dope on the end of the world during the 12 to 4. Betting with Mister Schilling could be a painful experience. If you had some uncontrollable urge to wager with the wiley rascal, you'd better have your ass spot-welded to your spinal column because Noel K. would have it in his side locker along with everybody else's. I was racked out in my bunk one night and Stukey said,

"Dex you think God is giving Noel K. the straight skinny on everything?"

"Nah…I don't think God and Noel K. have had a conversation in a long time."

'"Never bet with Schilling' should have been tattooed on the eyelids of every E-3 on the boat.

He was Navy. Whatever else the man has done in life could never surpass his competency in submarines.

I remember having the topside watch one summer night and Mr. Schilling came topside and B.S.d with me and the topside watch on the Redfin then went below. The kid on Redfin said,

"That man sounds like a good officer."

"They don't come any finer… Word has it, he wrote the wave tit spec, but don't quote me on it."

Did you ever see the movie Mr. Roberts? Well if you stood Mr. Roberts up against Mr. Schilling he would be small bore. I can't visualize Mr. Roberts grabbing a Bengal tiger by the tail and flipping him inside out. Schilling used to flip five or six inside out before morning chow just to take bets from dumbass bluejackets.

I would like to leave you with this memory of the man.

The morning after a first night in battery charge, the off-going duty section got open gangway liberty at 0900. We waited around about thirty minutes then made our way up to Bells… For the 'breakfast of champions'… Beer, Slim Jims and a lap full of barmaid... A little juke box honky tonk and a shoe shine. Sometime after the animals settled in, Noel K. would show up… Toss his hat on the bar… Loosen his tie and roll up his sleeves… Shoot one game of dime-a-ball pool and shove off.

At Annapolis, this would be called crossing the line fraternization. That is pure maximum load bullshit. What it was, was reciprocal respect. The 'King of the Jungl' dipping into his personal time to visit his animals in their home habitat to show a form of courtesy and respect known only to boat sailors. He didn't get sloppy drunk… He didn't try to be 'one of the boys'. He never did that. He tossed down a couple of beers... Shot a game of pool, colleted his hat… Told us he would leave the porch light on so we could find our steel hull home, and left. He visited the idiot's treehouse as a way of letting us know that he gave a damn about his men… He cared. It was that, that made us love the bastard.

If Noel K. ever needed a kidney transplant there would have been an after battery rat free-for-all to determine what idiot got to be first in line. Or some jerk would have taken out his electricians knife… Cut a kidney out, tossed it on a mess table and said,

"One of you sonuvabitches haul the damn thing forward and give it to Mr. Schilling."

He may have never cheered at an Army-Navy game but he tore up the oceans of the world and earned both silver and gold Dolphins and the reverence of the men he led. The man could have made a gahdam fortune selling leadership in ten-ton loads to the U.S. Naval Academy. I know, I hauled a load off in my seabag when I shoved off…and I wasn't alone.

Whenever the old coots who rode Requin with Noel K. get together, we sit up half the night telling Schilling stories…some not fit for Sunday school but all part of his legend.

Submarines and Schilling made great sea stories. He was the damndest diving officer I ever saw… The old 'master trim tickler'.

Requin deck force humor, vintage 1960:

Mr. Schilling goes into a fancy cocktail lounge in London... Knockout brunette slips over to his table. Noel K. gets up extends his hand, smiles and says,


And she replies,

"No love, it'll cost you a lot more to get into MY knickers then that!"

Always good for an all around hoot.