Most all of my Navy time stories (Sea Stories) are always pretty much ‘Good’ memories that I have stowed somewhere within the grey matter between my ears, but there are many ‘Not So Good’ memories that do at times ‘surface’ and present their ugly faces…. Lets face it,… we all have them but refuse to mention any of them for one reason or another. I’ve heard people say things like “Just forget them and move on”….. I say ‘Bullshit’….. I would rather ‘deal with ’em Head On’. My way of dealing with most things good or bad is to put them all into written word using a dash of sarcasm and a sprinkle of humor….
I served aboard the USS Sailfish from November, 1971 thru June, 1975. During that period of time, Sailfish underwent extensive shipyard overhaul in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from the fall of 1971 to the spring of 1972. During that time frame, the boats hull was cut open in several areas and many shipboard systems were overhauled, repaired, removed, or upgraded. Unbeknownst at the time, Sailfish was one of several submarines built using asbestos as the primary onboard hull and systems insulator. Once Sailfish was decommissioned in 1978, she sat in isolation at Bremerton Naval Shipyard until she was deep water sank as a target in May of 2007. During the time that Sailfish was moored at the shipyard, no personnel were allowed onboard without wearing protective suites and breathing apparatus’s. This was the environment that many servicemen stationed aboard the USS Sailfish lived within – only without the protection of the special suits and breathing apparatus’s that were required once the vessel was decommissioned and deemed a contaminated hazardous material site. Apparently, there is now proof that asbestos is also a contributing factor to High Blood Pressure which I have suffered with for many years.
During the shipyard overhaul period in Pearl Harbor in 1971 and 1972, I can vividly recall numerous instances when many of the crew – myself included – were required to crawl into tight areas including tanks and bilge areas in order to chip and clean hull surfaces. Once these surfaces were cleaned, we were then ordered to paint these same confined spaces using “Red Lead” paint without any safety gear – especially breathing apparatus’s. It was as if no one really cared about the real health or safety of anyone back then since the only focus was to get the boat completed and ready for sea duty on a specific date.
When the boat was finally out of dry dock and ready for sea trial testing, she was taken out for her first “Trim Dive” off the coast of Oahu. No matter how hard the diving officers tried to submerge the boat, she just wouldn’t sink…. A submarine that wouldn’t submerge….. Go figure…. It was decided that during the shipyard overhaul period, much of the weight that was removed from various systems offset the negative buoyancy of the boat, so the fix was to add more weight to the boat. Back in port, the shipyard began installing tons of lead bars on the ‘TOPS” of the hull directly under the vessels top deck structure.
Back out for dive testing and the boat was then able to successfully submerge and operate normally until the “Emergency Surface” test was performed. When all of the tanks were blown in order for the boat to make a quick “Emergency” surface, those lead weights on the tops of the hull along with Sailfish’s oversized Sail structure resulted in the boat actually breaking the surface and immediately tipping over 90 degrees laying on its side. I vividly remember jumping on the side of one of the main engines and standing on it looking at the engine room deck to one side of me and the seeing the overhead manually operated engine exhaust valves to the other side of me….. We were on our side – all 350’6” of Sailfish was rolled over on its side off the coast of Hawaii….
Being a ‘Not yet qualified in submarines or as a submarine sailor. Typically a 'newbie' or a 'rider'.” on the Sailfish was no picnic either. There were several of the crew who were constantly involved in what was called “Greasing” non-qualified (Not yet qualified in submarines or as a submarine sailor. Typically a 'newbie' or a 'rider'.) personnel. I was warned the minute I was picked up by the boats duty driver that I should expect to be jumped, my britches pulled off and grease slapped between the cheeks of my ass and that I shouldn’t fight back or say anything, or else things could get “Bad” for me. Within the first twenty-four hours, I found myself face to face with three crew members while I was entering the shower area of the barracks, and since there was no grease available, those three dudes wrestled me to the floor and took my tube of toothpaste removed the cap and shoved the metal end up my ass and squeezed. All I remember (other than the faces of those assholes) is one of them saying “Welcome Aboard Not yet qualified in submarines or as a submarine sailor. Typically a 'newbie' or a 'rider'.!”….. From that day forward, I swore I’d never have anything to do with any of those jerks. It’s one thing to slap a little grease between the cheeks of someone’s ass, but a totally different thing to have a tube of toothpaste shoved and squeezed up your ass. Soon after that time and to this day I have suffered with internal anal fissures (internal cuts) which will never heal – not to mention occasionally trying to fight these same dudes off in my sleep.
When Sailfish left San Diego in December of 1972 for deployment to the Western Pacific, three of its four main engines suffered blower failure and the vessel was re-routed to Yokosuka Japan for repairs. During the three to four-week repair period, the large blower units were removed and disassembled in the engine rooms. The large blower units were also insulated with an asbestos material that had to be mixed and applied by hand. I have photos showing myself and fellow engineman Russ Bogar standing in one of the engine rooms with this white substance all over our hands since we were the two low men on the totem pole and were given the nasty task of reapplying the insulation back onto the blower housings. Little did we know what we were dealing with at the time. Just a few years ago, Russ Bogar suffered a major heart attack and is no longer with us.
During one of our West-Pac deployments, Sailfish accidently hit an underwater obstacle and damaged one of its (I believe #5) torpedo tubes. The outer door of the tube was definitely smashed in. The jolt forward was so severe that many crew members suffered cuts and bruises when they were thrown forward in their compartments. An immediate all back full shuddered the boat so badly that it was as if we were attached to an automatic paint shaker. The boat immediately headed back to Japan for dry-dock so that repairs could be made. Not only was the outer door to the torpedo tube smashed in, the port side screw was also severely damaged.
During the West-Pac deployment of ’72-’73, Sailfish operated inside the Tonkin Gulf during a 30-day deployment to the South China Sea. It was during this time that several crewmembers reenlisted. Our entire crew were also awarded Vietnam Service Medals, free postage on any mail, and tax free pay. Upon arrival back to the states, our service medals were ‘revoked’ since President Nixon declared that the official end of the Vietnam conflict was to be on March 29, 1973 – I still have the original paperwork that shows a line drawn through the award documentation. Thank You for your service……. Well Kiss My Crest Filled Ass…. Thank You Mr. President…
Not all things were bad on Sailfish, there were some fun times too. It just doesn’t seem right that the excessive hazing – done only by a few – could have such an effect on any one person’s attitude toward ‘Service’ to his country….. especially when the country itself didn’t recognize the sacrifices that were made and instead decided to revoke any history of our contributions or existence during the time we spent in the Western Pacific. More importantly was the role that no one even to this day has recognized – our contribution to our Nations security during the ‘Cold War’. It is this war that has hardened the souls and spirits of our former undersea warriors….. Without ‘Formal’ documented history, we were ‘Never There’….. Thank You for your service…… Well Kiss My Red White and Blue Star Spangled Ass…. Thank You Government Politicians…..
There was a point in time shortly after my return from our second West-Pac cruise that I thought about joining the VFW. I filled out the appropriate paperwork and several weeks later was refused acceptance to join because there was no proof of my service during Vietnam. I have never again stepped foot into or around any VFW building again. Thank You for your service….. Well Kiss My Undeserving Never Been There Ass….. Only this time from others who have served…. Thank You Former Serviceman…
So now that I’m retired and getting older I’m constantly asked if I have my VA card when I’m wearing my Submarine Veteran hat at Lowes or Home Depot….. I just smile and tell them “No, I just like wearing the damn hat”…. No need to go into any detail – it really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore. Besides, I will probably never go to the VA for anything anyway – I just don’t trust them.
It wasn’t until I served aboard my second Diesel Submarine – USS Gudgeon (SS-567) that I realized that what took place on Sailfish wasn’t necessarily the norm as far as Not yet qualified in submarines or as a submarine sailor. Typically a 'newbie' or a 'rider'. hazing was concerned. I can recall no instances of any physical hazing taking place onboard that boat and did enjoy my time serving aboard her as an engine room console throttle man. The Gudgeon was a great boat with a great crew.
All these things may not mean anything to anyone else, but it wasn’t until I turned thirty-five before the sourness in my stomach began to ease and I decided to finally registered to vote. I still to this day remember the toothpaste incident every time I squeeze a tube of toothpaste in order to brush my teeth. I think that the only person who has ever truly recognized me for my contributions to my country was the one person who was never there – my wife Connie. She’s the one who has for the last 40 years put up and deal with my occasional night time ‘instances’. She’s the one who has listened to my stories over and over and over again yet still appears interested in them even though she really isn’t. She’s also the one now who has to deal with all of my health issues….. But most importantly, she believes me and doesn’t need the proof of any medal or ribbon to know that my contributions to our country during my time in service actually ‘meant’ something. It is her, and only her “Thank You” for my service that means anything at all to me…. Everyone else can just ‘Kiss My Thank You For Your Service Ass’!
My kids and grandkids at times ask me if I want Military Honors at my funeral once I take that final dive….. “No” I tell them….. “Just stick a ham bone up my Crest injected ass and let the gahdamn dogs drag me off!!”….. God Bless America!!!!