Recirculation

by Ron Gorence
 
 

My middle son, Mark, was born a healthy baby, but there were doubts after Sabalo received the delivery news via UHF radio. I was on the periscope peering at the coast and at Camp Pendleton.

Submerged, the ship ran on battery power and was completely divorced from the earth's atmosphere. When the last hatch was shut, air trapped within the hull was air-conditioned for the benefit of electronic equipment and continuously recirculated for incidental personal use. Whether a crew member had brought aboard faintly-lingering sweet scents or an overabundance of flatulence from last night's escapades, it was shared democratically. There was little which was not shared on the old smoke-boats, and most of it was filtered through the air conditioning ducts. An Engineman in the Forward Engine Room, standing on a toolbox with an ear to the vent, could eavesdrop on normal conversations in the Crew's Mess two bulkheads away.

We had cast the Beach Recon Marines off with their rubber boats from topside before sunrise, and I was giving instructions on periscope photography. We had taken some Polaroid test shots for exposure, and were clicking off a mosaic series with the 35mm camera when the Radioman handed me the message up through the Control Room Hatch, 29 April, 1967 Mark Gorence arrived 0922 Local. 8 ½ lb. Normal birth. Wife resting.

"Mary Ann have the kid?" Honeybee called up from Control.

"Yeah, an eight-pound boy," I hollered back, while focusing the image on the camera's ground glass. No surprise because we knew the baby was ready - just an instant of relief that it had gone well - so I finished the sweep. The shots had to be equally spaced so we could paste the positive prints together seamlessly. I stuffed the message into my shirt pocket, but its contents had already begun to recirculate.

We secured from Photo Recon stations about a half later, and just as we were replacing the normal scope faceplate, the 7MC mike in the Conning tower barked, "Chief Gorence, report to the wardroom on the double."

Just as I neared the wardroom curtains, the Communications Officer burst through them, at Battle-Stations speed, and headed aft toward the Radio Shack. I tapped on the bulkhead, and said, "Gorence." The Radioman who had given me the message pushed the drapes aside and motioned for me to stand next to him in front of the Old Man. He fidgeted with his white hat and poised somewhere between at-attention and full flight.

"I've just told the Division Commander to cancel the helicopter." The Old Man frowned at me, "Now. How's the baby?"

"Eight-pound boy, sir," I answered, confused. No helio's in our operations that I knew of.

"That's it?" I had never heard the Old Man never raise his voice, but I was certain he was about to, "What else?"

"That's all, sir. Wife's resting comfortably." I reached into my pocket for the crumpled message, which he took from my hand as I attempted to unfold it.

"This is the only thing you got from radio?" He looked from Sparky to me and back.

When we both nodded, he waved us away with his backhand, "That will be all."

We stumbled, dumbfounded, through Control and into the Crew's Mess where all mysteries are solved (and many, created).

Present were the mess cooks, whose main purpose in life was to maintain continuity as crew members from the Torpedo Rooms, Engine Rooms, Maneuvering, Conn and Control entered and left the current subject of interest. A steward from the Forward Battery, Officers' Country, was also in attendance.

During Photo Recon, there was little else going on for anyone not involved in maintaining periscope-depth or taking pictures, so any outside news was naturally devoured with gusto After all, every bubblehead's new-born male was a prospective boat-sailor. The air-conditioning had been humming along nicely. Now, there was great hilarity as they traced the evolution of my message throughout the ship.

The mess cooks had relayed information from the Control Room and Radio shack in bits as received:

"Gorence's wife finally dropped her kid."

"Boy."

"8 ½ pounds."

"Wife needs rest."

The word was carried in all directions, as each recipient finished his coffee or just got bored with the Crew's Mess and returned to his compartment.

After Engineroom knew the kid was male, pretty heavy, but not sure about his health.

Maneuvering Room and Tubes-Aft couldn't decide whether or not weight had something to with why the baby was dropped.

Tubes-Forward polished the report, and returned it to the Mess Cooks for final publication. They had not been aware of any new radio traffic.

The Forward Battery Steward, sworn to silence by the Officers, could only report in part that he had heard the Executive Officer inform the Skipper, "Gorence's baby had fallen on its head, and was in critical condition; the wife was hysterical and being treated with drugs."

The Communications Officer had taken it upon himself to radio ComSubFlot Two for a helicopter to evacuate the Chief to Balboa Hospital.

The Skipper never after gave me any sign that he remembered being so upset, but I never introduced Mark to him at ship's parties or gatherings - just to be sure.

Since then, Mark has survived automobile and motorcycle wrecks and broken a few bones when the traffic was against him. But like radio, this traffic I never knew about it until it was over. Maybe keeping your eye on the scope is like putting your head in the sand - works for me.

 

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