A Simple Ceremony

by Mike Hemming
 
 

My entry into the world of qualified submariners was yes, very simple. We were on one of those 'go to hell and back' Caribbean snorkel ops. Hot, boring and unpleasant is the only way to describe such a form of ocean travel. I had spent the last week finishing up, running around the boat checking this valve and finding another. Requin’s qual board had a habit of taking you into a compartment, blindfolding you and saying go find so and so. But after that, the engineering officer’s walk through was a snap.

I had finished with the engineer and was sitting in the mess hall with a cup of coffee, feeling somehow different. At least now I could watch movies and read a book off watch. As a fireman, I was still at the bottom of the food chain. But at least I was safe from messcooking from now on as a qualified man.

As prepared to head aft to my rack for a nap before watch the COB stuck his head in and said,

"Hemming, lay up to Control".

I thought now what?

I stood by the chart table, ignored for a few moments while the diving officer settled something. Then the Captain came down from the Conn and everybody in Control except for the planesmen, stood. Captain Frame handed my brand new shiny Dolphins to the COB and congratulated me. Then the COB pinned them on my filthy dungaree shirt. After several more congratulations, it was over. As I headed aft, the IC watch said softly,

"Take an empty cup back to Maneuvering when you go aft."

Going into the chow hall, I got several,

"Way to go, you finally made it."

"Well Hemming, now you’re a qualified asshole."

"Jeez, they let anybody wear fish don’t they?"

"Now, make rate so you can throttle too."

Heading aft, I got more similar comments and a light punch or two on the arm. Or getting a 'thumbs up' signal as I passed through a snorkel-screaming engine room. Stopping there, I realized I soon would be standing throttle watches here in this world of noise, heat and haze of diesel smoke. No longer would I be waiting to do the bidding of someone else, now I would have the responsibility. "What the hell, I can do it", I thought, finding a brand new confidence I never had before.

In Maneuvering, I was told to hold out my cup and a mostly clear iced liquid poured in. Sweating men in ragged acid-eaten or greasy torn dungarees raised their cups and said,

"Congratulations."

We all drank down rum and water with bit of lime in it. A drink that never tasted so good before, but to this day, it’s my drink.

And it was over, never repeated exactly that way again. But it was all mine, no one else’s. No photographers, dress blues, or saluting, just a quiet acceptance by men respecting your accomplishment in joining them. A relatively small club of men that you respect, honors you with their acceptance into their ranks.

Simple and not in keeping with today’s desire to turn everything into a major production for the local papers for publicity. Newspaper photographs would fade, fall apart and be thrown away, anyway. But I remember and who else would care, besides my shipmates and me. I wouldn’t change a thing... Nothing was better than that simple 'off the cuff' ceremony 60 feet down, snorkeling to nowhere through a hot tropical sea.

 

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