Living The Dream

by Mike Hemming

Most of us have said when remembering our service on Subs, "One more time". That is our dream to maybe do some of that stuff again, maybe with more showers and less chickenshit. But with our old smokeboats all gone now it's pretty impossible. Taking one to sea would be difficult at best even if they were in condition to do it. Any of those museum boats still around have no batteries or screws. And don't even think about getting permission from some government coveringhisass bureaucrat to sail one again. Remember when the US government wouldn't let us oldtimers sail the USS Razorback to Little Rock from Turkey? What a bunch of horse hockey that was, after letting some others sail an LST back to the USA.

But the dream is there, go out, dive, surface, rig for this or that, fire a water slug, whatever your job was, do it. But it ain't gonna happen.

Except for one thing. Some of our museum piece boats have one or more engines that can be run for a few minutes. To the delight of us all, you don't have to be a snipe to smell the smoke and hear the sounds of great diesel engines running. Most of us have seen the Utube videos of a museum boat like Silversides run an engine for a few minutes.

Ahhh, the sound, that wonderful sound, imbedded in our memories, that rumbling roar that told us all was well. That we were again on the surface, still alive and going somewhere.

The smell, that wonderful smell of diesel smoke, that saturated our hair, our clothes, our very souls. Even today it is our signature, even our name, most of us call ourselves smokeboat sailors. We will travel miles to stand on a pier to hear one of those big old rock crusher Jimmy's or Fairbanks Morse and catch a whiff of diesel burnt hydrocarbons in the salt laden air.

I'm as bad as the rest of you, I have said many times to old shipmates and my wife, "Just one more time". But I admit I said it only with a faint hope and very little conviction that it would ever happen again. But being left with just the memories wasn't all bad. Like you, I had "been there done that" with some of the finest shipmates that ever got salt spray on a dungaree shirt. Remembering a dream of the past now and then was not all that bad.

In July the USS Carp had its reunion in Manitowoc WI. Before I go farther the people of Manitowoc deserve a special place in our hearts and history. But right now I will leave that for another time.

The Maritime Museum there managed to get a hold of the USS Cobia as their signature piece. It is fitting, for they deserve the honor to honor WW2 submarines as much as any place in the country.

Before the reunion I had heard that the Cobia might let one of us light off one of their engines. I really didn't think it would be me, just being there watching a shipmate do it would have made me happier than I can say.

When the time came Jim Burkholder the reunion honcho said it would be me, I couldn?t believe it at first. The Cobia looks good she gets the loving care the old girl needs. I was impressed, as a snipe I know the difference between the good and the not so good.

So there I was talking to the museum guys (I am totally sorry I was so excited I have forgotten their names) it soon became apparent that they knew the book way of starting a Jimmy. As I shifted mental gears to remember the book, I explained that when we hit the surface the bridge wanted power asap. After a bit I gave them most of the chapter and verse. I'm sure I forgot some items, after all its been 49 years since I cold started an engine. Besides a cold start after extensive maintenance or an overhaul would be done from a check list.

But it was good to remember those things, I was excited but it settled me out and prolonged the joy. Lube oil and fuel oil priming pumps running, pressures correct, it was time.

Then the moment came, when I pressed down the air start, what they call muscle memory took over. I knew the exact time to pull up the throttle and finish the start sequence. It was all there, all senses alert, eyes all over the gauge board, ears searching in the cacophony of 16 firing cylinders for the wrong sound.

But it was all perfect, for a time I was back in another world from long ago. A nine foot tall and bullet proof 19 year old throttleman. But I was a small part of a crew that depended on each other all the time for our very lives.

Once again I'm indebted beyond repayment to my submarine brothers and a life I'll never forget.

For a time I again lived the dream, "One more time, just one more time!"