Torsk Work Weekend

by Mike Hemming

The smell, sounds and sights haven’t changed much in 33 years, so they won't keep me awake for much longer. Besides its been a long day, working part of it at my regular job, driving 2 hours, then chipping paint for a couple more. After dinner when the public tours of the USS Torsk were over, 10 of us moved 2 1000-lb torpedo skids around, in preparation for the loading of a Mk 14 torpedo for display. We have not done this kind of work for from 20 to 40 years, and it shows, we are tired.

These submarine sailors and others have traveled from Arizona to Maine and Florida at their own expense to volunteer to work on the Torsk in Baltimore, MD. We do this to help keep in shape one of the last WW II submarines, to remind others the sacrifices that over 4,000 submarine sailors have given, in the last 100 years. To point out the conditions we lived, fought and died under during our country’s wars both hot and cold. It is history without revisionism or sugar coating.

You will notice nowhere will I say ex-submarine sailors. We are and always will be submarine sailors.

"None of us has ever seen a pair of dolphins with an expiration date on the back", to quote a friend.

For ours is a brotherhood that transcends all else except patriotism. A brotherhood of shared training, close living conditions and danger. The whole crew participates in training all new men, because we will depend on him to do the right thing at the right time. Close living conditions that hardly ever allow any privacy and only minimal sleeping and eating space. Danger in that, all other vessels may be the enemy, even by mistake our own, and from the surrounding pressing ocean.

Not all of us are sub sailors. Some are surface sailors or civilians that are interested in what we do, or just want to help keep these old boats alive for a while longer. One man from Canada is the grandson of the famous "Fearless" Freddie Warder of WW II fame. His grandfather never talked to him much about the war or submarines. Because of the obvious respect "Gramps" had for sub sailors, he wants to learn about subs and their crews. As Capt. Warder is one of my heroes, I am glad to talk to him and look at all the pictures he has. We both give each other insights to our shared histories. One of things I learn from the photos is Capt. Warder lost a great deal of weight during his patrols, from the strain of command in combat.

In the meantime I find I can’t get to sleep, the snores are too much. Remembering a bunk in the ATR, I go there. With no one else in the compartment I can get to sleep here, in a snoreless place. The bunk of my intentions however is a typical sub bunk, no space for a normal sized human. Once in, and it takes several minutes to get in, a piece of machinery and a bracket allow only an 18-inch triangle of space for movement, just below my butt. Any turning over in this bunk will be done in place, but now sleep quickly comes. And turning over is done in my sleep, is done without waking up, some things are never forgotten, I guess.

On Saturday after breakfast, not wanting to chip paint anymore due to yesterday’s blisters, I help 2 others replace a section of decking aft. It’s a daylong job, hard and dirty. But it looks wonderful when finished, a coat of black paint and it will look good as new. The volunteers finish many other jobs that day and you can see and feel the pride in what’s been accomplished.

That evening after a cook-out on deck, the crew sits around telling new and old sea stories. Playing the "Remember Terry the Animal" and who was the guy that ran the motor scooter through the lawn party. Laughing, joking, teasing like many a warm night topside with beer or no beer in ports from Naples to Pearl to Perth. It makes you remember what was the best part of this life was, a crew. A crew, we have joined once again for minutes, hours or the weekend. For a short period of time, these men are Torsk Bandits, crewmembers of USS Torsk, regaining the one thing they miss the most. Belonging to a group of men that have done something and lived like most men can't, won't or are afraid to do.