Its hard to believe for some but there is an aging group of men bound together by smoke. Not the smoke people ordinarily draw into their lungs for a buzz, legal or illegal, but stinky old diesel smoke made by burning hydrocarbons. Its burned in great big old noisy diesel engines designed for railroad locomotives and transplanted into a submarine, of all places.
This smoke binds them together with wispy chains stronger than the finest hardened steel. Men that sit around remembering shipmates and times good and bad, their memories brought to them on grey blue clouds. Clouds of it shot out over ports of the seven seas, on lighting off for going to sea. Underway and across those seas the smoke settles to an efficiency haze, but the diesel smoke smell follows them. The smoke and sounds that shut down when reaching homeport after many days alone at sea.
Today, these old timers travel many miles to see, hear and once more catch that wonderful reminder of their youth. With tears in the eyes of some they lean forward to breathe it in. They take photographs of diesel smoke clouds belching from exhaust pipes of museum piece subs. Back home they show them to others and post video clips on the internet. Others sit and wait for those clips to download over slow internet connections, just to see that smoke and hear the sound.
It is said that the sense of smell brings back the strongest memories. If so then we are lucky ones, because our smoke is strong and memorable. Along with our smoky chains we have those memories and neither can be removed from our hearts.
Many a submariner says, One more time, just one more time. For some, that means to go out and make another dive, for others just to hear the roar and to smell that smoke. Me, Id like to yank a throttle lever, feel the deck plates shudder under my feet, hear the sounds, smell the smoke and be with those that are bound together by these things.
Just one more time and for a little while.