One Man's Forever Heroes

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

They are shipping out by two’s and three’s damn near daily - My heroes… My forever heroes, the gallant fighting bluejackets of the World War II Submarine Force. The men who took the war to Hirohito’s back door and put damn near his entire seagoing inventory on the ocean floor.

The men who took their boats to periscope depth and slapped a torpedo spread into a Jap ship right below the water line and then went to 400 feet and sat in the yellow glow of battle lanterns and listened to Nip depth charges blow away pieces of decking and line locker lids.

Men in hydraulic oil-stained raghats and acid-eaten dungarees, who sat in semi-darkness after the filaments of the incandescent lighting were gone and listened to detonating explosives, the tinkling glass of shattered gauge faces, busted crockery, and the sound of water coming through the hull penetrations with blown packing.

They didn’t have to be there… Every damn one of them volunteered. In it’s entire history, the United States Submarine Force never forced anyone to go to sea in submarines. Submarine duty has always been an honor reserved for men willing to serve and able to meet the challenge.

The World War II combat-hardened boatsailor was and remains today, a very special breed apart. He is a man owed a special debt by the beneficiaries of his courage, tenacity and willingness to risk all for the opportunity to tie knots in Jap monkey tails.

Due in large measure to the effort of those fine gentlemen qualified to wear the Submarine Combat Patrol Pin… And who once wore cloth Dolphins above their right cuff… You… Me… And all Americans and a boatload of other Pacific residents don’t have to eat with gahdam chopsticks and eat carp eyeballs and rice.

Those men did more for submarine recruiting than all the posters and silver-tongued slippery slick recruiters all rolled up into one trick bag. Why? Because we wanted to be just like them. The closest we got was sleeping in their bunks and parking our butts on the same padded potato lockers they sat on listening to the click of depth charge arming pistols.

They were the heroes of our daydreams… The leading men of our young adult fantasy aspirations. I read the paperback version of Theodore Roscoe’s United States Submarine Operations of World War II behind a physics text in the 11th grade. The following year I was in sub school where one of my forever heroes planted his size 12 brogan in my butt on a regular basis.

I ended up wearing the silver Dolphins that made me a life-long member of a fraternity that allows me to leave beer glass rings on the same table as Arthur Gaines Smith and Ron 'Warshot' Smith… And be rewarded by their friendship.

I want to tell all of you World War II submariners how damn proud I am to wear the twin fish you… And you alone, put the meaning into and how proud and honored I am to be a part of the force you all belonged to.

I won’t be able to tell when you start pulling liberty on the other side of the Pearly Gates, so I want to get it done now… And I know I speak for every boatsailor who walked in the giant footsteps you left for us.

Thank you gentlemen. We came later… We put your boats to bed… And we were honored to uphold the wonderful legacy you handed down to us.

Thank you… From a downline bluejacket who’s highest aspiration in life was to throw his seabag aboard your boats.