catch hell about writing about life on submarines, specifically confining my
observations to diesel boat duty. There's
a reason for that. I rode leaky old
wornout diesel boats... Smokeboats
on the verge of scrapyard euthanasia. I
don't write about life on nuke subs because I've only been on two...
Walked through Nautilus and Toledo...
I might as well have been taking a guided tour through a dinosaur colon.
I didn't have a clue.
sailors are like cannibals and nukes are like college students.
We had as much in common as Hindus and Holy Rollers.
I write for the lads who rode petrolium-powered boats that collapsed
before reaching 1,000 feet (depth gauges stopped designating depth at 800 feet
because the law of physics would have a smokeboat crew shaking hands with marine
life at any depth below that).
thing you didn't see on a moonbeam boat pier were raghats walking around on a
hot day in red lead spattered dungarees with a pack of sea store Luckies carried
in a twisted tee shirt sleeve. Right
about now, old smokeboat sailors are smiling and moonbeamers are asking each
other, "What 'n the hell is he talking about?"
modern day sailor grew up in a world that fully understands the negative effects
of tobacco smoke. In the 'old
days', the navy sold cigarettes to be distributed at sea, in international
waters beyond the jurisdiction of all domestic tax authority.
In the late '50s, we got 'nickle-a-pack' sea store smokes that were
distributed from cases of cartons, stacked prior to issue in the forward torpedo
all hands... We have cleared the
international buoy and sea store cigarettes are being issued forward."
you arrived in the forward room, there was the Chief of the Boat...
Okay... Keep it down.
Gahdammit, get into line! Pall
Mall smokers up front. Jack, bust
open a case of them Pall Malls."
chief, how 'bout bustin' open a case of Camels? I'm out."
hell with you, hacksaw... Bum
a smoke off Stuke and get the hell in line."
you bastards smoke Raleighs? Nobody
in their right mind smokes gahdam Raleighs...
It'll take 35,000 Raleigh coupons to buy an iron lung."
chief, find out if anyone has Zippo flints."
Andrews... JGs hafta' stand in line
with the animals... You gotta be a
two-striper to go to the head of the line."
Andrews smokes Kents... I thought
they only smoked Kents at girl scout camp."
scout camp and the air national guard."
buy two cartons of Kents and you get a free pair of nylon panties."
the COB handed out the pre-purchased cartons of smokes to the animals lined up
in the forward battery passageway, men with armloads of cartons worked their way
a carton Camels, Pall Malls, Winstons, Marlboros, Philip Morris, Tareytons,
Kools, and Kents were picked up and hauled aft to be ratholed and squirreled
away in bunk and side lockers, above ventilation lines and tucked away under
flashpads on bunks.
boat submariners smoked. We lit up
on the bridge topside, at ordered depth, snorkeling, watching depth gauges when
operating the bow and stern planes, battle stations after the old man 'lit the
lamp', and at morning quarters. Smokeboat
the non-rated bottom-feeders (like me) passed through the boat emptying butt
kits, it was common to fill an empty sharpshooter bucket with discarded butts.
atmosphere of an American diesel submarine contained enough of what today is
called 'secondhand smoke', that the crews had to clean nicotine film off gauge
face lenses. Part of the signature
stench of a veteran smokeboat was recirculated cigarette smoke.
It permeated everything... Uniforms,
peacoats and blankets, to name a few. I
would hate to find out what percentage of our breathable atmosphere was oxygen
laced with incinerated tobacco gas.
complaints... No idiot aboard
enjoyed an 'authorized smoking lamp' more than I did... And I wasn't alone. There
was nothing any more relaxing or satisfying than a smoke and a cup of coffee,
strong enough to float three links of your anchor chain.
of my most wonderful memories are wrapped around recollections of 'coffee and a
smoke' conversations with my butt parked on a padded crews mess potato locker.
and nicotine seemed to facilitate discussions on very important subjects like
the effect of engine stroke, low and outside ball pitching, bust sizes, and sex
with fat girls.
may be the most opinionated rascals inhabiting the planet.
They could create controversy out of the 23rd. Psalm.
The clowns could argue about anything from the par value of monkey bones
in Palu Pango to the Statue of Liberty's panty size.
Most of the great discussions, debates, conversations, and heated
arguements, were held over cups of King Kong strong, 'bottom of the pot' Maxwell
house in a smoke-filled messdeck. We
solved complex international confrontational situations by applying the
universal submariner solution...
drop The Bomb on the dumb bastards."
our propensity for applying the 'bomb the bastards' solution, the guys
assembling nuclear ordinance would have had to put on a late shift.
came in 20 lb. cans. When we loaded
stores, we stored the cans outboard the main engines.
love coffee. In a situation where
priorities would require choices to be made, diesel submariners would have
traded 20 canned hams, their attack scope, the starboard screw, port bow plane,
four barmaid house keys, ten whorehouse rain checks, and their corpsman, for a
point needs to be made. Submarine
coffee is about as strong as coffee gets before it makes the metamorphic
transition to solid granite. Late
night, bottom of the pot, midwatch coffee was like liquid asphalt.
I came to consider regular restaurant coffee to be one step above iced
tea. Real coffee had to have hair,
horns and tree bark.
is fair to say, that the undersea service operated on coffee, diesel fuel and 'nickle
a pack' smokes.
to the value of sea store cigarettes...
Mediterranean liberty ports, cigarettes had a most inflated barter value.
It was amazing what a bum boat entrepreneur would offer you for a carton
of sea store Camels. One bum boat vendor had an ugly girl in his boat and was
pandering her services for four cartons of Luckies.
a bunch of eighteen or nineteen year old, redblooded American hetrosexual,
testosterone-loaded bluejackets who had spent the better part of four weeks
filling their lungs with snorkel air, this appeared to be a wonderful bargain.
That is to say, it seemed to be a heaven-sent transaction until the Chief
of the Boat showed up topside and announced that any member of ship's company
who ventured beyond our tank tops, would see no liberty for the next six weeks.
That, and a closer look at this offered darling killed all erotic desire.
She was old, had a nice crop of upper lip hair, scraggly unwashed hair,
and a face like Jack Palance.
will seem silly, irrelevant and of little or no importance to the uninitiated to
discuss the relationship of cigarettes and submarine sailors.
But to men who rode those old scrap yard cheaters, those beloved stinking
steel contraptions, there are wonderful memories associated with cups of joe,
burning a butt and watching God secure His day with one of those magnificient
sunsets. Memories of conversations about home, growing up, childhood
sweethearts, sports events, leaving blood on playing field grass, transferred or
lost shipmates, and mom's vegetable soup.
of you bastards remember when boats came with 'cigarette decks' aft of the
bridge, shears and radar mast? You've
got to be long in the tooth and drawing Polident and soft rations to remember
cigarette decks. If you are old
enough to have ventured topside at sundown to enjoy an 'after chow Camel and
coffee', you probably have a dinged-up Zippo in a dark, forgotten desk drawer,
that has visited a lot of seedy gin mills in faraway places you never mentioned
to your dear mother and sweet old aunt Margaret.
You can probably remember tossing a spent cigarette butt in the air and
laughing at the seagull that grabbed it in mid-flight.
You're also old enough to remember when the navy removed the deck guns,
waved a magic wand and made gunner's mates into instant torpedomen, constipating
the advancement process leading to a geriatric second class logjam.
are old enough to remember late night stores loading, tender paint locker raids
and sixty-five cent blind barber haircuts given by wardroom stewards for beer
money. You remember hemp mooring
lines and when the forward capstan was inappropriately called a 'niggerhead' (a
practice long since properly discontinued to the credit of the person or persons
who had the maturity and wisdom to shitcan the term).
You remember when the closed chock aft that had the stern light mounted
on it, was called the 'bull's ass' and officer's and chief's garrison caps were
called 'piss cutters'. In short, you don't have to show I.D. to get a senior citizen
and a good smoke go together... Nothing
better. Yep, thanks to chief Clear,
I've quit the habit. My lungs still
probably look like the inside of a locomotive firebox.
But if tomorrow, my doctor told me I'd be turning in my earthly issue in
six months, I'd head out, buy a carton of Marlboros, find a nice spot at the
beach and watch the sun come up with a coffee and a smoke, cuss seagulls and
shuffle through a seabag load of stories, lies and memories.
I would smile and restore my pride in having worn Dolphins and rubbed shoulders with the finest group of men I've ever known. A smokeboat Zippo is an Aladdin's lamp.