It Wasn't The Hilton

by Joe Roche

Serving on a WW ll vintage submarine in the early 1960s' was a wonderful example and testament of being able to 'get along' with others. The confines of these 311 foot sardine tubes did not allow for the same isolation or privacy that a Buddhist sitting meditation on some hilltop or in a forest may require. Onboard Sirago if you wanted privacy, you went to the head. That was it!

So it is with a sense of belonging that allowed young men to 'get along' with his shipmates. Sociologists should have studied the submarine force to see why these men were able to get along with each other with a tolerance that would have stunned them into unbelievability. Same for the psychologists. They just would not have understood, period!

They would have thought the grab assing, the hassling of some dink NQP, or the blatant sexual references to just about everything under the sun, would be the most outrageous form of anti-social behavior ever witnessed on one of the governments Ships of the Line and would have recommended immediate Section Eight discharges for almost every man on board.

What possibly could have been the reason that seventy people chose to live in a submerged pipe. Where the most elemental forms of hygiene were disregarded or not allowed. Where changing the "linen" meant turning your fart sack and pillow case inside out so often that Doc would point out to you that this is not a pig sty you're living in. To which most of us replied, "Really?" Where fresh water was as valuable a commodity as the fuel oil was to the running of the engines, but much more scarce. Where you're able to get two weeks at sea on one pair of dungarees, two pair of socks and four pair of skivvies. For us enginemen, a bucket of hot water in the lower flats was as close to a shower as you got. It's amazing how your perception is formed by the environment you live in. During our '63 Med cruise, (I think) Bob Carey arranged a swap with another MM3 from a tin can we were operating with. When he came back to the boat all he talked about was taking a shower every night. Talk about luxury.

No one seemed to mind though. For all intents and purposes we all were in the same boat, (pun intended.) Someone may have had a choice bunk in some out of the way location in the after battery. But Hogan's Alley remained a veritable pig sty. Dirty clothes piled in corners or hanging from bunk bags, paperback novels that were in worse shape then the Dead Sea Scrolls, still making the rounds, with certain very descriptive pages torn from them, sticking out from under pillows, awaiting the next reader. Who as he arrives at the place where the pages are torn out, will scream out a curse about "Getting to the best part of the book and some SOB tore them out." It wasn't until Doc Lay had 'titivate' ship day and the white lights went on, only then could the devastation of the compartment be seen.

The chow was the best - and the worst. We had mid-rats, as in midnight rations. But, ahh, mid-rats! A more appropriate name could not be found. Unless the cook made some fresh bread or sticky buns, mid-rats consisted of 'stuff' that defied description. Bologna had an aura about it. A greenish hue, that changed colors as you turned it in the light… First green, then yellowish, then - well you get the picture. The butter was covered with a scabrous inch-thick layer of brownish looking vulcanized… butter? Same situation with the mayo. But guys ate this stuff up as if it were their last meal.

For me, all the above adds up to one thing. I was where I asked to be. I spent some time on a bird farm. Now that was hell! Showers every night, uniform of the day after 1600, Masters at Arms running all over that ship looking for anything to write you up about, 25 minutes on the chow line, every meal every day. Insignificant cogs in a very large machine.

So we volunteered for submarine service. We lived crowded together in a steel tube. With no showers, some of us no beds, we hot bunked. We ate some of the finest chow the Navy ever provided and also ate the worst. We had no ship laundry, so we wore our dungarees until they could stand by themselves. We breathed some of the foulest air imaginable and some of the sweetest. Our eardrums were stretched beyond human endurance when we pulled a vacuum. We worked around the clock many times to keep Sirago on station. We didn't get paid overtime nor get an extra day off. We just got the feeling that maybe; just maybe you were playing an important part in something a lot bigger then yourself. But we were young and nothing was bigger then you when your twenty years old.

So, to the sociologists and shrinks I can only say, we were young, dumb and carefree and wanted to serve in and be with the very best the Navy had to offer. We did that of our own free will.

Forty years ago, this past February, I left Sirago and the Navy, but the memories remain.