Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brotherhood Chapter 14

Life got better, the crew was back in Norfolk with day to day operations. Spirits seemed to flow more normally now. The Skipjack's downtime would last a few months or so. The boat's sail getting a new hard hat and periscope, that was a top priority. These moments are frozen in time some fifty years later.  My sub family was important to me. Orders, transfers, and the changing times, guys would come and go. The other boats in the fleet needed qualified people too.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Tommy (two shoes) my mentor, had one shoe in his professional navy career. The other shoe in his lifestyle choices. He had to move back to California because of his other choices. He was not in step with the Navy, a very sad day. Shorty was from California. We were close, he and I had peeled a lot of spuds together. Shorty was sent to the USS Shark, another fast attack. We're still friends these many years later. The sub had Johnnie Red from Tennessee. He ran the boat's clerical services and kept us informed and out of trouble. George (whitey,)  he was a great electronic technician. Whitey was from Chicago town. He had some crazy black gangland ties back home.  Jay was from Alabama, the man who swung a mean grease gun in a pinch. Vic from Georgia, the mad hatter from engineering. He knew how to party and proved it on a regular bases. The boy from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Robert Lee beat all the windows out of his girlfriend's house, she'd said "no" to his marriage proposal. He did it with his fists,  still wearing the bandages back on the boat to prove it.  I was a part of this team and it worked.  Waldo left also, after chasing someone with a meat ax. The sailor had the nerve to complain about the mash potatoes. Waldo was here and then he was gone. The elite boat crew weren't all pirates. Their stories and sea tales still live in my memory.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The winter of 1968. I'm now below decks watch and control panel operator. Boat repairs almost done and party time coming to a close. The Skipjack is ready once again. We have some new crew members and some haven't been to sea yet. The boat is back on the pier. The boat was flushing primary coolant to a tank on the dock.  Young Sam is topside watch and I'm below decks watch. I called up from the control room to Sam, need coffee up there?  No answer was received.  I climbs up into the bridge area to check on him. The kid is gone from the sail plane station to the dock down the gangway plank. He's standing by the flush lines and is wet trying to connect a broken line. I scream don't touch that.. it was to late. I ordered him to stand on the pier and do not move. The next call is the officer of the watch. We then call the Hazardous Material team in the yellow suits.  The whole team must of showed up. Siren and lights flashing at least three big trucks and a dozen men were on the pier. Yosemite Sam is stripped and scrubbed down, his red hair scrubbed too. The radio active  cleanup and other measures to insure safety are in place. Its two o'clock in the morning and all hell is breaking loose. The kid had no idea, what was up. Thank God, it turned out okay, a freshwater hose break. Sam wasn't exposed to the radiation spent coolant. The outcome was the same, poor guy. The protocol not followed got Sam in hot water. This nuclear reactor is not a toy. We all wore film badges to check monthly radiation levels, all the time. The good news was he was alright. The bad news he was busted and transferred to the hospital for more tests. Those yellow suits were serious about their job.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 We had heard the Russian fleet got childless pay. Their sub sailors got to much radiation exposure from the reactors. Russian nuclear submarines had less lead shielding. We got better equipment, I was told. That said, my hair hasn't fallen out yet. The Candy man and I talked about the trouble up north and how we handled ourselves. I think we did okay, the bottom was closer than we figured on. That said, we were interviewed at length by upper brass and sworn to say nothing for twenty five years. I think now is the time to shine a light on what these men did for their country. Candy man was from New York another clerical clerk. He liked his coffee very sweet and lots of cream. I was studying for Second Class Petty Officer and finishing my boat qualifications.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The Interior Communications division was down to me and Bobby McGee, once we numbered six guys. That put pressure on both of us. Standing watch at sea, the control room required one of us on watch and that would be tough on a long run.  The year is now 1969, I just turn twenty years old. The shake down cruise behind us. the boat would be back on station soon. I passed the test for Second Class Petty Officer on January 31, 1969.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I get a letter from home. My cousin is now in navy boot camp. I remember those days being really tough on the new recruits and your scared of everybody. I hatch a plan, my letter from home supplies me with his address in San Diego. These isolated guys loved mail call. His fourth week of training is a lot of tests and career data. Eddie, the new recruit had always busted my chops when we were kids. I had a talk with one of my friends in clerical on the base. He supplies me with official navy letter head and envelope. My buddy types the correspondence and stamps it, Secret top priority. The return address being from the Department of Naval Affairs. The best part, I drove to Washington DC and mailed it. The post stamp was real. What are cousins for? Well I guess the navy does have a sense of humor. The letter is hand delivered by the base high command. Cousin Eddie sweating and wide eyed opens it up, reading how his test scores has put him into a special assignment. That the Navy needs him to perform these duties. The good of our country was at stake. He'd be reporting to a secret location. The pass word was cousin Benny. I never got in trouble for that action. My cousin, he never blew the whistle on me. Eddie was a special pirate too. We stole our first candy bars together. Eddie and I still talk and laugh about that moment in the military service.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Time is passing along and I finally get my dolphins from the captain. The date is March 18, 1969. Sixteen months it took me. I was afraid, they'd  transfer me off the Skipjack, just like the old boat.  I loved this submarine and crew, by slowing down the process. I stayed on the boat, a made man. The captain would not allow the crew to let me drink my dolphins. I wasn't twenty-one yet. I kind of missed that moment. We were "Family," those men guided me along. Yosemite Sam was back on-board and mess cooking again. The story of him trying to save the day, was well earned. Our orders had come in. This meant another long run patrol. Another night at Bells bar, here we come. The off duty crew reports on the dock were all smiles that morning at muster. The crew boards the Skipjack for a new patrol at sea. This time the spies go with us.

No comments: