The Adrian Stuke Deck Force Philharmonic Orchestra

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I played chipping hammer… Fritz played paint scraper… Jack played bass chipping hammer and Adrian played locker lid wrench.

"What in the hell are you talking about, Dex?"

Well let me begin at the beginning.

I doubt that submarines have active deck forces today. Hell, they build the damn things out of color-impregnated kryptonite alloys that don’t rust, don’t oxidize and can withstand sea pressure twenty-two miles deep.

Smokeboats had pressure hulls made in World War II, out of stuff collected in scrap metal drives. At 412 feet, we all knew that the only thing between us and the entire Atlantic Ocean was a couple of inches of melted beer cans, horseshoes, model 'T' jack handles, baby buggies, whorehouse plumbing, and the diaper pins of future nuke officers. And on a dark night on topside watch, you could actually hear the rust eating the superstructure.

To fight rust and haul stuff heavier than a bank vault door, God created the 'Deck Force'. The only difference between deck apes and organ grinder's monkeys was that the Navy didn’t buy us little red suits and little tin cups.

We were the lowest peasants in the submersible kingdom.

On the USS Requin (SS-481), the leading seaman and shop steward of 'The National Brotherhood of Hull Pounders' was QMSN(SS) Adrian Stuke… Known simply as 'The Legend'. He was also the owner of the largest collection of erotic literature in the squadron… Books of absolutely no literary value whatsoever.

One of the greatest fringe benefits to being a deck ape on Requin was access to Adrian’s 'Aladdin’s Cave of Paperback Trash'… Books from the 'Fabian' and 'Nightstand' publishing companies. Books about female heroines who used ratguards for ankle bracelets.

Submarine Chief Petty Officers can’t stand the sight of an E-3 not engaged in what is known in official Chief talk as 'productive work'. The term 'productive' was improper… The U.S. Navy produces nothing beyond crazy Chiefs and lunatic JGs.

So at nineteen, you had to 'work the system' to survive. Working the system was a survival technique based on creating illusion… An illusion built around the appearance of furious engagement in hard work when in actuality you were heavily engaged in goofing off. Adrian Stuke could have made an obscene fortune teaching 'hard work goofing off' at the Harvard Business School level.

The Deck Force Philharmonic might well be his finest creation.

You can always find rust below the walking deck of a diesel-powered submarine… Smokeboat superstructures are to rust flakes what Iowa is to corn flakes. When the external topside surfaces started looking like the boat had just cleared the drydock after a full overhaul and there was no 2½ ton object that need to be jackassed to the pier, we got sent to 'get a handle on superstructure work'.

We grabbed some gear… Wire brushes, paint scrapers, chipping hammers, and two cans of zinc chromate. All this must be accomplished to loud complaining. Complaints must include derogatory comments about high ranking naval personnel located at least one hundred miles from your mooring lines… References can be made to the illegitimate links in the ancestral heritage of the Chief of the Boat… All the way back to Popeye, the Hun and the cook on Noah’s Ark.

You must cuss loudly… Cussing loudly is a professional occupational requirement for deck apes.

You must pack your foulweather jackets with choice literature from the 'Adrian Stuke Forces Afloat Sexually Explicit Library'… Titles like Biker Babe, Teenage Sex Kitten, Insatiable Amazon Women, Lust in the Dust, Swamp Girl, The Last Virgin in Texas, just to mention a few deck force classics.

Stuke only dealt in classics… Lesser literary works got pawned off in wardroom trades with everyone but LT Noel. K. Schilling, who could detect bogus wantonness two miles from the brow.

There are people that you instinctively know not to hand fabricated hokum to. LT Schilling was such an individual. He could unravel enlisted horse manure like Navajo’s read sign. Bullshitting Noel K. was a lot like playing Russian roulette with a revolver with the rotating cylinder fully loaded and winning the coin toss for the first trigger pull. We were stupid… But not that stupid.

Once we had had gathered our literature and working man's theatrical props, we would haul topside cursing the entire naval hierarchy from the Chief of Naval Operations to John Paul Jones sainted mother.

We would enter the superstructure from the forward escape trunk beartrap and work our way past the bow planes bull gear to a pleasant place located between the torpedo impulse flasks and the after bulkhead of the bow buoyancy tank and flanked by a double row of limber holes. The two-tiered rows of free flooding entry points allowed the gentle breezes wafting in from the Elisabeth River to make this location quite pleasant.

It was affectionately known as the 'Siesta Nest'… The nest part stemming from the fact that we padded the pressure hull with layers of loose corrugated cardboard and foul weather jackets.

We would get comfortably situated and take out our carefully selected reading material…

"Anyone wanna read Cheerleader Nympho?"

"Naw, read it in Halifax last year on duty night."

"Hey Stuke, is Peaches the Panty Princess any good?"

"Depends … If you’re into gang seduction by visiting football teams… County fair winners and most of the guys attending a regional Shriners’ convention."

At some point the orchestra conductor would assign the instruments comprising his orchestra.

"Dex, here’s a chipping hammer… You play alternating pressure hull and impulse air flask."

"Fritz… You play pressure hull and bow buoyancy with a wire brush handle."

"Jack… Whack the superstructure and bull gears with that paint scraper and I’ll bang away on the hull with this line locker 'T' wrench."

This is how a goof-off concert worked. Everytime you turned a page in whatever you were reading, you would take five or six whacks, bangs or thumps on some close by metal surface.

Adrian properly concluded that with the variety of instruments combined with a wide range of reading speeds, the noise created would give anyone in the forward torpedo room and the forward battery wardroom, the impression that heavy hull preparation was taking place.

We, for obvious reasons did not advertise the true nature of what went on in that small kingdom behind bow buoyancy tank. Belonging to Adrian Stuke’s topside gang was a lot like working for the Wizard of Oz or Jesse James.

Once you got used to the noise, the Siesta Nest wasn’t that bad… The Elisabeth River stunk like the armpit of a week old dead gorilla, you could get a weird limber hole sunburn if you used them for available reading light and peeing out the limber holes on the tanktops didn’t add anything to the home of the orchestra, but it sure as hell beat working. Down below, the exec would turn to the skipper…

"Ed, you have to hand it to those lads, they’ve been bustin’ their butts up there all day. How 'bout knocking them off early and giving them a head start on the Squadron…"

"Sound like a good idea."

There’s a bond that forms between co-conspirators who are forced by lack of respected status, to operate at toilet tank level in submarine society. It lasts for years… One of my proudest achievements in life was playing chipping hammer in the Adrian Stuke Deck Force Philharmonic Orchestra.

And one night, with me and Stuke on the planes, A.L. Conaty yelled down from the helm…

"Jeezus Kriste… I left The Lust Maidens from Island X, up in the Nest."

No one on the air, trim and hydraulic manifolds had any idea what A.L. was talking about… Just idiot E-3 talk.

But Stuke and I knew that at this very moment an enlisted literary masterpiece was probably gently floating around in the forward superstructure seeking egress through a limber hole where it could drift slowly to the floor of the Atlantic.

Many years later after the whiz kids of naval research had cracked whatever code it took to converse with porpoise so they could be used in military intelligence collection and mine location, the conversation went like this…

"Mister Dolphin, is there anything significant that you would like us to know about you?"

"Yeah… I read The Lust Maidens from Planet X thirty two times."

It was all long ago… When submarines had superstructures to dope off in and deck force idiots…

And of course, Adrian Stuke, with his amazing orchestral renditions.