My Bio

My Navy Bio

Ah, the Cubby-Bear1; This little lady was my sea-going home for three and a half years. I enjoyed most of that time, although there were moments when I wished it was over. From age ten on, I had collected and studied every submarine book, picture, and magazine article I could find. Submarines and diving were the most enduring preoccupations of mine until the Russians orbited Sputnik, when I shifted for a time to a strong desire to take part in the space exploration effort.

After high school graduation, faced with the fact that there were few jobs paying well enough to finance a first year at ASU in Tempe, my buddy Steve and I enlisted in the U.S. Navy one Friday, much to the chagrin of our mothers. Our fathers were ecstatic.

After boot training in San Diego, I was selected for ET school at Treasure Island. Steve’s skill with a camera landed him in Navy aerial photography. He was sent to the training center at Great Lakes, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since then.

In late April, 1963 during a morning class in AC circuit theory, some forms were distributed that asked for volunteers for various special Navy forces, including submarine service. It stated that electronics rates were critical to the modern Navy and that every effort would be made to provide "special" considerations in duty station selections.
I called home and told Mom the news of my volunteering for subs. My ear rang for an hour from the sound of the phone hitting the floor beside her. "Are you crazy? Didn’t you hear about that sub (USS Thresher) sinking off the Atlantic coast last week?" , she cried. I had, but I’d been too busy chasing girls and learning to drink in the south bay area of San Francisco for it to register as something threatening. It was sad, but far away, and I was only seventeen and a half.

I finished ET school at the end of November. My orders had not yet arrived, and through a personnel error I was assigned temporarily to the base command as a mess cook. After a week this was corrected, but one evening during this time I met my future first wife, Penelope Anne, on a blind date.

Finally the orders came and I had a week to say goodbye to Penny before taking off to New London. After sub school, orders said, I was to report, along with twenty other graduates, to the USS CUBERA (SS347) in Norfolk, VA. In the military, a new billet assignment is like starting a new chapter in a book. U.S. Navy Submarine School was a three-month chapter in which I made yet a new set of friends, learned how a sub works, and was physically and psychologically assessed capable of duty aboard a sub. We went to classes and roll-played various situations, ascended in the famous 100-ft escape tower, first from the 50-foot chamber, then from the 100-foot level using the new Steinke Hood. Later we actually went to sea in a boat one day, experiencing operations in each of the 8 compartments.

I arrived in Norfolk on a Friday, found my barracks and stowed my gear. None of my classmates had yet appeared, so I went on down to the pier to see my new boat; well, she was new to me. Chief "Dusty" Dean, the COB (Chief of the boat), a career navy man on his fifth hitch, had the duty that night and out of boredom, he showed me around. I must have exuded too much enthusiasm, though, because he decided right away that I was perfect to take over as lead of the deck gang.

The deck gang is the closest the Boats come to having a Boatswain’s Mate division; it’s typically made up of all the newest unqualified seamen below petty officer rank unless there aren’t enough, in which case the junior petty officers are included, too. Their responsibility is to maintain the exterior of the submarine, from the waterline up to the top of the snorkel masthead.

For the next seven to nine months we scraped, primed and painted the superstructure, sail and deck; maintained the safety lines; handled the mooring lines; stood lookout watches; and in our spare time, studied every switch, valve, and pipeline in every compartment in order to earn our dolphins signifying, similar to a pilots wings, that the wearer is "qualified in submarines".

In October of 1964, I finally got up the nerve to say I was ready for my qualification walk-through. The officer assigned to administer the test was chosen at random by the exec, but I had heard that the engineering officer, a large, quietly powerful Lieutenant who had worked his way up through the enlisted ranks, loved to rake the non-engineering strikers over the coals, expecting them to come up lacking in all things mechanical. It was he that I drew. Unknown to him, I had been fascinated with the workings of the enginerooms, hydraulics, and electrical propulsion systems. So, with a cursory start in the forward torpedo room, he quickly worked us through the forward compartments to the enginerooms.

Like Br’er Rabbit in the thorns, it was here I was most at home. During those nine months, I had spent many hours there while at sea, feeling the throb and listening to the clatter of those great sixteen-cylinder diesels. Lt. Andrew told me to cold-start an engine...and I did it, as I had helped the engine men do many times before. As I efficiently worked my way about the compartment, starting lube oil systems, checking hull valves, setting up the exhaust cooling, and so on, he began to realize I knew what I was doing, and a smile crept across his broad face. When number one roared to life, he was chuckling merrily. We sat across from the gauge panel and listened to the big Jimmy rumble. Lt. Andrew fondly gripped my shoulder in his beefy hand and said, "Now I’ve seen it all - I wouldn’t have washed you out if you needed a little help, but I never expected you to get it going all by yourself!" He was so proud, he gave me a set of Dolphins that night, that hard-earned badge. I had to promise not to show them until after the formal presentation at morning muster on Monday. The presentation by the Captain was a proud moment, and was followed by the mandatory toss over the side after changing back into work dungarees. That evening ashore, of course, the newly qualified had to "drink their Dolphins"; a less-than-solemn ceremony in which the pin is dropped into a pitcher of beer which is then emptied in one drink until the Dolphins drop into the initiate’s mouth!

Hurricane Isabelle

1964 hurricane season started early and was busy harassing the Atlantic all year long. While returning from our part in Operation Steelpike, circling south of fading Hurricane Isabelle in 1964, Lt Andrew and I rode it out on the bridge, chained to the gyro repeater stand. Remember the storm scene in "Das Boat"? That was me. Waves would smash over the foredeck, come up through the bridge deck slats and up through the legs of our foul-weather gear. The warm Gulf Stream swells were a half mile apart and over 100 feet deep. In the bottom, it was relatively calm, and gulls collected there to feed and shelter. Cubby would surf down the sloping windward side, then coast up the concave lee of the next wave almost up to the crest before plunging through the frothy green wall into screaming havoc just beyond the wave top. Occasionally the Lieutenant and I had to hold our breaths for thirty seconds until we broached on the other side. Through the curved plexiglass wind screen of Cubby’s bridge, we could see kelp and fish in the the thinning emerald wavetops. At the crest the howling 100-plus-mile-an-hour wind pelted us with rain and spindrift that stung like handfuls of gravel even under the windshield. The gray back of the wave resembled chipped flint. I was grateful for the track we took through the tepid Bahamas area. But I have to say, once you have ridden a category 4 Atlantic hurricane for six hours on a 300 foot steel log, nothing else life can throw seems to worry you!


1 Cubby was originally a sobriquet intended to provoke CUBERA sailors in bars. We adopted it, so it backfired.


Last modified: 19Jan2020