There is a bar in Springfield called C.J.Nickel's. Farther south it would be called a roadside honky tonk, but up here in the sophisticated Northern Virginia area, it's an establishment that offers brewed products and provides music at the Omaha Beach decibel level that will knock the fillings out of your gahdam teeth. The place is Ray Stone's alternate home… His sanctuary… A sort of refuge he seeks when Toots puts on war paint and gives him a healthy dose of napalm tongue.
One night when Olgoat and I were putting a few beer glass rings on a table top at C.J.'s and making a cursory inventory of barmaid butt configuration and tit development, Ray introduced me to Arthur Smith.
Ray was leaning over the table, blotting up beer suds with one of his obnoxious ties when this destinguished-looking gentleman walks in and waves a greeting. Ray waves back and says,
"Grab a chair Art and let me buy you a beer."
Art pulled up a chair and Ray signaled one of his waitress harems to bring Art a cold one.
"Dex, Art rode the Skate."
Skate??? Hmmmmm... The rascal looked a little long in the tooth to have been a nuke sailor but what the hell, Hyman was no gahdam spring chicken either… So this guy was a nuke, maybe?
"Dex, this old seadog was a torpedo pusher… Rode the 305 boat."
SS-305?? 305 would have to be a smoker… An old rockcrusher.
"When did you ride her Art?"
"Well, made six patrols on her during the War. Missed the last one, though."
Arthur Smith... Torpedoman First… Cloth Dolphins, fully-loaded combat pin… Depth charge-evading, Jap-sinking, Art… A gentleman who none other than Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pinned a silver star on, over his pocket for an incredible days work off a Jap-occupied Island. If you own a copy of Theodore Roscoe's United States Submarine Operations of World War II, turn to page 281. For those without a copy handy, it reads like this:
"The first successful submarine lifeguard mission was performed during the strike on Wake, made October 6-7 by Task Force Fourteen, under Rear Admiral A. E. Montgomery. This strike, a combined aircraft-cruiser bombardment, hit the island with hurricane fury. The enemy had been forwarned however, and a number of American planes were shot down. While the battle was at its height, the submarine assigned to lifeguard duty in the area accomplished several daring rescues. She was SKATE, under the captaincy of veteran Commander E. B. McKinney.
"SKATE's lifeguard patrol did not begin happily. At dawn on October 6, the day of the first strike, she was savagely strafed by an enemy plane. In this action, Lieutenant (jg) W. E. Maxon was seriously wounded. His wounds did not appear fatal however, and SKATE continued her patrol.
"At 0545 on the morning of October 7, Skate sighted several squadrons of American planes which were searching for the target island. Signals were exchanged and the dive bombers were informed as to Wake's direction.
"At 0915, Skate's bridge personnel were watching the furious bombardment. On the search for downed aviators, McKinney moved the submarine on a line about six miles offshore. At 1043, several heavy shells landed in the sea close by and McKinney ordered Skate under. When the submarine again surfaced at 1128, she received the word that three airmen were down.
"McKinney trimmed down and headed Skate shoreward in the direction given. The rescue party - Ensign Francis Kay; William A. Shelton, Gunner's Mate 3; and Arthur G. Smith, Torpedoman's Mate 3 - crouched on SKATE's bow as the submarine moved in. Japs on the beach opened fire and shells began to drop around SKATE, but the aviators were there in the water and the submarine lifeguard swam resolutely to the rescue.
"Lieutenant H. J. Kicker was plucked from a rubber boat. A few minutes later, SKATE was alongside an aviator who was struggling in the water. As the swimmer appeared exausted, Torpedoman's Mate Smith swam to him with a life ring. The rescued aviator was Ensign M. H. Tyler."
In Clay Blair Jr.'s Silent Victory, Art is not specifically named but simply referred to as 'a three-man rescue party that clung to the bow'… Page 521. Mr. Blair glossed over a very heroic deed performed by a young South Carolinian later personally decorated by the King of Jungle (Pacific).
Art Smith is our friend. More than that, he represents the best of what our Submarine Force was, is, and hopefully ever shall be. To give you some idea of the kind of gentleman we are talking about...
Not too long ago, Ray wangled us tickets to visit the C.S.S. Hunley in Charleston. In a world of wanglers, the Goatman is major league… He wangles like Minnesota Fats shoots pool. Ray says,
"Hey, got us all reservations to go see that bicep-powered contraption that still has the first torpedoman to sink a ship, inside of it."
So, Olgoat, Toots, Solveig, Art, and I wound up in a motel in Charleston. The next day, after a great seafood lunch at A.W. Shucks, we returned to the motel to get freshened up for our 4 PM date with the first boat to make a successful torpedo run.
We met in our room. Art was wearing a Rontini Sub Vets hat and his silver star. He said,
"Do you think it would be okay to wear my medal?"
This was like Jesus turning up at McDonalds and asking two jerks flipping burgers if it would be okay if he wore his halo.
You bet it was okay… More than okay. we were all honored. Seeing that gallant rascal wearing that 'Nimitz-installed recognition' and knowing that somewhere there is a Naval aviator who was given all of his tomorrows by a very courageous TM3, who risked his life to see that this pilot had a future.
When we arrived and our time to view the actual craft in it's holding tank came, we found ourselves in a defined group assigned to a guide who turned out to be a recently retired sub vet. When we assembled on the platform to view the rusted hulk that had once delivered the first ship-sinking torpedo hit, the guide took time to recognize Art's wartime boat service. It was the kind of thing submariners do for submariners… Made me proud.
Art is the kind of fellow who doesn't feel comfortable being the focal point of attention and is not one to embellish his deeds or call attention to his wartime service. It is just not his nature.
Ray and I have found that getting stories out of Art is a lot like extracting teeth from an overactive bobcat… Through his rectum… Ain't easy.
But, in the next week or so, Ray and I plan to sit Art down, oil the rascal up with a liberal application of fermented hop lube and pump his mental bilges for some of his 1941 to 1945 memories… The recollections of a man who served in a torpedo gang that once slapped their last two fish into the largest battleship ever made. A man who loved Japs so much he went out of his way to provide them many, many long distance swimming opportunities. Art Smith is a submariner who knows exactly why a lot of rapidly graying Japanese folks throw flowers in Tokyo Bay on Fathers' Day.
Arthur G. Smith. Fighting submariner, true, honest-to-God American hero… Friend to two damn near totally worthless diesel boat, later generation, bluejackets.
Art Smith... Coming soon to a ratbox near you… Stay tuned.