Fair Winds and Following Seas

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

Gentlemen, I did my damnedest to be conciliatory. I figured that you would make allowances for the ravings of a lunatic. Stone should have posted a warning stating that the 'SURGEON GENERAL HAD DETERMINED THAT NUCLEAR POWER SAILORS WOULD GET HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND MAJOR HEARTBURN.'

I now remember the major problem I had with the moonbeam navy… Arrogance. When a certain individual on Ron's BBS tied my dislike of nukes to disrespect for the loss of 52 boats in World War II, I got caught up in the same crap I waded around in as a youngster. I am not numbered with the brightest of the species, but the stretch of THAT linkage was a mind boggler.

I rode diesel boats… They are all I know. For a variety of reasons, a number probably childish in retrospect - especially looking back over a forty year span, I never really connected my service with anything involving generations beyond Harder, Darter, Trigger, and Trout. I was not alone… We all felt that way. I say 'all,' meaning all the guys I ran with.

Case in point… Early 60s… Before Thresher went down… Submarine birthday dinner somewhere on NOB. Vice Admiral Elton W. Grenfell, SUBLANT… Big Pacific war skipper and great gentlemen. Tickets are big bucks for non-rated men to pony up. We went… Full dress canvas… Looking like we crawled off a "JOIN THE NAVY" recruiting poster. We even behaved ourselves.

Admiral Grenfell takes the mike, welcomes us and begins,

"It has been a wonderful year for our nuclear navy…"

COB got up, chugged his drink and said,

"Boys, we've bought tickets to a nuke pep rally. Anyone wants to join me, I'll be at Bells tossing down a few in remembrance of the Great Year in the Ping Time Boats."

Smoke boat sailors drifted out in twos and threes. In ten minutes, there were a helluva lot of empty chairs.

Recognizing that public focus was rightly on achievements like the quantum leaps we were making in submarine technology didn't make it that much easier. The family was celebrating before their ancestral element was dead. So we banded together… Did our diesel boat stuff and divorced ourselves from whatever was going on in parts of the force we didn't belong to. I was not alone… Somebody out there left an empty chair that night because Bells was packed with a lot of well dressed sailors up until closing time. We sung the Gitmo song, drank beer and yelled,

"Still answering bells on the battery… 400 feet, five down."

My stories were for those lads… Pure and simple. Has nothing to do with denigrating the memory of the brave men who paid the ultimate price in the Pacific. I will always burn candles in the altar of my heart to the members of those fine and noble ships. They gave me the legacy we held sacred. They put the meaning in my dolphins.

My stories reflected the myopic view of a lad who rode the worn out boats they left us. They portray a time when we cannibalized retiring ships for hatch gaskets and anything else no longer available in the supply pipeline… The stuff needed to keep us going. And we went… Month after month… Target time… Out and down… Snorkel time… We did it and did it well. Inside my little slice of the submarine service pie I got to sail with some really good men and am eternally grateful for that. We got no 'Answering bells on the battery dead air run' pins… No 'Get out of jail free' cards… No 'Look at me mom' attention. That's whining, and hell, we can only whine to folks who did it… But we can also laugh… We always laughed. Like a guy who gets his tallywhacker caught in his zipper… It hurts like hell but it's really funny!

I loved - and still love - my submarine service. Hell, I don't have a clue about the dead serious, highly professional, technocratic force of today. I relate to the 'happy-go-lucky' force of yesteryear. It ran on beer and bunker oil and left antler marks on every tree in the forest.

Gringo remembers… Cowboy remembers… Sid Harrison remembers… Doc and the magnificent RamJet sure as hell remember… And God knows Stone was there. For a time, there was another 'Camelot' where men danced with the devil and pissed against the wind.


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