The End of a Proud Lady

by Joe Roche
 
 

The other day, I came upon a photo on Sirago’s web site that stopped me short. It was Sirago tied up at some unrecognizable pier in Norfolk. The caption underneath stated, “Sirago in Norfolk just prior to being decommissioned.”

She was tied up by herself. No other squadron boats near her. She looked so forlorn as if she knew what was coming and bereft of any hope of being saved from the cutting torch. How could that be? How could a cold, black steel cylinder surmise her ending? But she does. If you look real hard at that photo, you can tell.

She put in twenty-seven years of duty. Twenty-seven years worth of thousands of young men who served her. Their hopes, their fears, their dreams. The thoughts of families and sweethearts ashore. Of children, going to school for the first time. A birthday missed. A wedding anniversary uncelebrated. Holidays missed. The death of a loved one, who died while we were submerged off the coast of some country whose name is long forgotten, but the pain of that death and the loved one, is still etched forever in the mind. Tell me she didn’t absorb the energy of those memories, somehow, into the steel of her hull.

Twenty seven years and thousands of 'Clear the bridge', 'Rig for deep submergence', 'Prepare to snorkel two main engines' and 'Lookouts to the bridge'. How about the excitement generated by making turns for home, after spending four or five weeks at sea. The thoughts of a hot shower and a cold beer at Bells. Setting the maneuvering watch. Damn, we’re almost home! Sirago makes a hard left turn into Pier 22 and glides smoothly (sometimes) towards her slot. A line handler hurls a monkey fist to the inboard boat or pier line handler. Stop bells ring on the engines. Quiet now, except for the inboard induction valves being spun shut. The heat from the just shutdown engines, radiating though out the engine rooms. Lockers, opening and slamming shut! Dress uniforms being hastily donned. White hats jammed down low over the eyes. Gangway! Make way for liberty call. Gonna see mamma and the kids. The J-50 sailors giving way to the 'Brown Baggers', so they can go home to their wife and kids.

Are you going to tell me she doesn’t have that energy stored somewhere in her black hull?

That energy, that helped drive her on, while her young men worked tirelessly to keep her in service. Begging, borrowing, or more likely, stealing parts to hold her together.

There was no money forthcoming from anywhere or from anyone that gave a damn about diesel boats. Their time was over. A new era was upon us and Rickover had a blank check for his nukes and made sure nothing trickled down to us. Someone even stole one of my engines out of the forward engine room, for a damn machine that could blow bubbles. I guess that was someone’s idea of a joke.

In human years, twenty seven years is very young. I guess submarine years are like dog years and that made her very, very old.

There isn’t a degaussing range anywhere in the world that can excise that magnetic field! With one exception… A welders cutting torch.

There she sits. Still forlorn. Knowing the end is near, without hope for a reprieve. Sitting there, with all that energy from all those years of memories, stored in some existential battery, hidden somewhere in her. No crew member ever saw that battery. But it was there, somewhere. That somewhere, is in the memories of every man who served on board Sirago. The energy that made Sirago who she was and who we are, will remain in the universe as long as one of us is alive. Because we are the ones who perpetuate her memory, by sharing those memories.

 

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