Swinging from Limb to Limb

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

It's 0745 Monday morning and lads in foul weather jackets and worse for wear white hats are hollering stupid comments back and forth between boats as they take in lines.

"Hey, somebody take a ball bat and hold reville on the Runner's line handlers… Tell 'em the big boys are going out to play in the ocean."

"Hey Requin, just send some sonuvabitch over here with a ball bat and we'll send you back the poster boy for National Orthopedic Surgery month."

"Quit running your mouth and pull #3 off your cleat so we can haul the gahdam thing in."

"Jeezus H. Christ, am I the only 4.0 bluejacket in a world full of clowns?"

And so it went… All infused with the belching and growling of Fairbanks Morse and Jimmy 1600 hp rock crushers lighting off and blanketing the nest, half the pier and the poor idiots standing the Orion's quarterdeck watch (in fresh whites) in black smoke. Loved it… Hot coffee, a Camel coffin nail and fresh diesel smoke… It never got any better than that.

At some point following 0800, you heard the first three blasts of the 'backing down' signal as the first boat got underway and slid stern first out into the Elizabeth River channel.

"Hey, donkey dick…"


"You guys stayin' in?"

"Yeah, watcha need?"

"My gahdam laundry… Tell Hop Sing I'll make it good when we get in… Could you pick it up and carry it up to Bells? Tell Thelma to stick it behind the bar."

"Will do."

"Much obliged… Now, if it's not too damn much trouble could you loafing sonuvabitches help us take in the brow so some hard working sailors can go protect America's women and children?"



"Blow it out yer ass!"

"Nice talk sweetheart… Nice talk…"

More smoke… More backing down blasts… And Submarine Squadron Six went to work.

We didn't ride stuff that stayed down a complete college semester… They didn't operate at depths where you had to worry about running into the Titanic… And we wouldn't have recognized anything called a 'poopy suit' if it hopped up and bit us on the butt… But we were part of the submersible navy family tree. We may have been the hairy things that swing from limb to limb in that tree, but we were there.

I loved it… I never knew how much until I donated my issue to the lucky bag… Kissed my old faithful foul weather jacket goodbye… Climbed topside… Shook hands with the finest men I've ever known… And leaped into the briar patch of life.

I hear guys whine about their tour of military service.

"I was in the 346 mechanized, vulcanized and simonized pogostick infantry… In Bubblegum, Korea… Man, was that ever a jacked-up outfit… Hated every minute of it. Were you ever in?"


"What were you with?"

"Smoke boat service… SS-481… She was old, stunk and fell apart… Only had four leaks, though… Air, oil, water, and security… Loved every minute of it…"

That's a lie… Wasn't too crazy about the real cold wet parts… The times when you could pee in your heavy weather pants and an icicle would fall in your sock. The rain hit you in the face like it was shot out of a nail gun… Could've done without that shit. But all in all, the old smoke boat navy wasn't a bad place to be. In fact, it was a damn fine place to be.

There was a vast generational gap between our lads and the men that followed. I went to a Sub Vets, Inc. meeting once. Some fellow off some boat named for some state (Years ago, back in the Neanderthal '50s, the Navy provided each enlisted man a bible called the 'Bluejacket's Manual.' The BJM… After Moses crawled up Mt. Sinai and received the Ten Commandments… John Paul Jones followed him and picked up the first edition of the BJM. At Great Lakes we all learned that all you needed to survive in life was a Zippo lighter, a shot glass, a Bible, and the BJM. The BJM specifically states that battleships are named for states… Submarines are named for fish or 'Denizens of the Deep'… We used to say that only Rickover and six other guys locked in a mental ward thought George Washington was a fish…)

Where was I? Oh, yes… This modern day subsurface warrior was telling not yet fully matured sea stories…

"We were off the coast of Foosoe-Marango when Ivan pulled a perpendicular wiggle-waggle… We caught it on our super attenuated diafractic hydrogilator… You know, our SB 950-A… The Old Man ordered an over and under flim-flam with a reverse hyperjack in alpha drive… And ordered us to fifteen hundred feet…"

Fifteen hundred feet!! First thing out of his mouth I understood! You could hear diesel boat sailor's fanny vents pucker all over the room.

Fifteen hundred feet… At fifteen hundred feet, the entire crew of the boat I rode would have been heading for the Devil's tea party wearing their new pressure hull peacoats.

We were men with a joint heritage separated by terminology, means of propulsion, operating depth, living conditions, love of boat and attitude. We were fatherless bastards and the stepchildren of the fleet… You got Hyman the Big Daddy of the Nuclear Navy… We clearly got the best of that deal.

Thanks to Ray Stone I get to crowbar a lot of crap that has been stuck in my craw for years. It's really funny… Whoever thought an old chief and an old alley rat could team up and have so gahdam much fun pissing on the petunias? At first, we thought the discerning members of the nuke force would be wily old sharks… So we crafted delicate flies… Floated them out there and "WHAMMO!"… Nukes were hittin' em two at a time.

After six months of extended research we have come to the conclusion that the nuke navy will hit anything. We caught the limit the other day on a lure made out of a second-hand Tampon and two paper clips.

In the words of an old diesel boat philosopher…

"You show up at the O.K. Corral with a peashooter, you gonna be one dead sumbitch!"

Hemming, you have me worried. Did you actually see a gal so ugly she "Couldn't give it away to a messcook?" This is scary, when you consider that when we showed The Creature From the Black Lagoon, 'Fly' Brennan wanted to know if the creature had an unmarried sister… And it was rumored that the topside watch once found a bra marked 'PROPERTY OF LEPER RESEARCH PROJECT' in Requin's conning tower fairwater. Was she actually so ugly a diesel boat messcook would turn her down… Or are you making that up?