|Discussions often arise as to whether
we honor the LOST BOATS or our departed fellow SUBMARINERS in our memorial
ceremonies. The writings below are not about memorial ceremionies but they
do illustrate, I think, the fact that the two are inseparable: CREW and
BOAT. It has always been so since men first went down to the sea.
The passing of USS JAMES K. POLK is of course not one of the "lost boats" for whom the bell tolls during our remembrances. But then she was not just another ship decommissioned and sent to the scrapyard either. She WAS a part of some submariners' lives for a time. She IS a permanent part of their memories. So as sailors do she is remembered in that special way; a way not clearly understood by landsmen.
I selected these two from-the-heart essays as being typical of how we all remember our boats from a time in our youth that we spent in them.
|This past Saturday the last piece of
USS James K. Polk (SSBN/SSN 645) left PSNSY for recycling however they
reuse old Boat's steel. Parts of her will be going to St. Mary's Submarine
Museum. Other parts will be included in the Smithsonian's Cold War exhibit.
James K Polk was my first Boat and the one that I Qual'ed on. I rode her from November of `67 to Spring of `70. I was in the gold Crew.
This evening at 2130 Eastern time, we Polk Alumni throughout the country virtually shared a drink in her memory. Thanks to "Bodega" Bob Homme who gave us a heads up via email. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who had a catch in his throat.
While I had my drink I thought of those Jimmy K alumni who had departed on Eternal Patrol. There are about a dozen who now serve on the staff of the Supreme Commander.
In particular my thoughts were of 4 alumni. First was Jay Kernan TM2(SS). He was one of the first to welcome me aboard. He and I later became best friends and running mates. I even brought him home to my wife's (then girlfriend) sister. We later married those two girls. Thirty years later I still remember the times we had.
Jay received his orders for Eternal Patrol shortly after we attended the Polk Reunion and Deactivation last January. At the time he was in poor health and I like to think he had enough will to make it to the reunion. He is missed.
I also thought about Larry (Fred) Butterfield. He was my (and Jay's) LPO on Polk. A more rowdy SOB you'd never meet. He was a "Steamer Extrordinaire." He too will be missed.
I also remembered John "Doc" Lanuza. As you might guess, he was our Corpsman. As fine a "quack" as you'd ever know.
I also thought about Michael Patrick Keane. He was our Leading Seaman, later Aux Fwd. I didn't know Michael all that well, but he is also of my era on Polk.
There are others. I didn't know them. Some were before me, others were after me. But they were all shipmates.
As long as there are Polk alumni around, Jimmy K will still live on in our hearts. Does that sound trite? Probably. But it's true.
There's a certain attachment to your first Boat. I went aboard as a "hot running" TMSN, ready to take apart the Torpedo Room and the Missile Compartment and rebuild them in about 15 minutes. I left as a seasoned technician with attitudes that I still carry with me to this day.
A lot of those attitudes come from the Qualification process. I learned from the best. When I teach my students, there's several TM1's and TMC's standing behind me.
Well, I've waxed maudlin enough.
Thanks, Shipmates for listening to me natter on.
Join me in wishing the Grand Old Lady well. She'll be missed.
Remembers the Jimmy K.
I was fortunate enough to board the Jimmy K. twice in my life - first time was when she made one of the notoriously rare boomer appearances in Groton in the late 70s - a classmate and fellow spudsmeister was crankin' on her - I was destined to the Daniel Webster, a 616-class.
There are several similarities between Ben Franklins and Lafayettes, with the major noticeable difference being in the location of the fairwater planes - higher up on 616's, more at the center of the sail on 640s.
Fast-forward 20+ years, USS James K. Polk, now known as SSN-645, was inport Norfolk Naval Station for decom. ceremonies. I too, was rapidly approaching decom status - my Fleet Reserve/retirement leave start date was but a few weeks away. But, being the nostalgic-type that I am, I authorized myself a few free moments on a Saturday afternoon, and headed pierside.
Lo and behold, there she was - moored port side to - bow out. I walked up and down the pier a few times, thinking back to when I was a young-pup non-qual, bent on earning my fish.
A youngster was just finishing up turning over Topside Sentry to his relief. He was more than ready to head below, as it was typical Norfolk weather - clear and bright, but with a pretty strong breeze that made it feel pretty chilly. Yep, these things will never change, not as long as we have a United States Submarine Force.
I crossed the brow, went through the drill, requesting permission to return aboard. A quizzical look "RETURN aboard?" Yes, said I. You see - I had done some time on her before you were born. I too, had done my Topside Sentry tour, enjoying that very same dose of chilling wind, knowing that I was in a very small and to most people, invisible way, helping to defend freedom.
The off-going watch looked me up and down, and guesstimated I was truly a crusty old Gold Crow, and asked if I wanted to see how she looked below.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to return to my favorite platform - I quickly slid down the AMR1 hatch, automatically heading forward into ULMH. She looked pretty much the same in the after group - the barber chair was still there between tubes 11/12/13/14, cruise boxes, valves, the whole bit was the same, even the Eau de Boomer... 20 years on.
I was too busy thinking about "then" vs. "now" as this newly minted (just got his fish 2 days ago) MMFN showed me around - true A-Ganger to the core. We got to the forward group - a missile tube access hatch looked different. Then I was told of the modifications made for the Jimmy K's second career, that of the capability of delivering equally dangerous munitions of a different persuasion - United States SEALs.
Yeehaw factor kicking in hard, I went through IC Alley, Control, Mess Decks, Torpedo (yes, the pool balls are still in the same place, color, and number), Crew Berthing, etc. Everything looked about the same, until I got down to MCC. Uh-oh, major change. Instead of certain equipment being in certain spots, none of which needs to be discussed further, things looked WAAAY different.
When told that this was now a Crews Training and Recreation Area, I was this side of flabbergasted. Heck, I'd done time with the topsiders - a.k.a. the Skimmer Community. You know, the guys we love to see - through the cross-hairs on the Nr.1 scope... all jesting aside, this space was larger by far, than most destroyers had available!! Wowskers, there was definitely a change down here.
I finished my tour below decks, returned topside.
I walked forward underneath the fairwater planes, the deck felt the same, yet I knew that although she was still the same Lady on the outside, her interior heart had definitely seen change. I strode down the brow, looked back but once, thinking of all the things and places she had gone over the years... before my time, during my time, and now, too, at the end of her time.
Fair Winds and Following Seas Jimmy K. SSBN/SSN 645.
JDawg sends... Submarines Once... Submarines Twice