Sid's N T I N S Locker
One Diesel Boat Sailor's Story
By John Wynn
Posted around 2000
I was lucky.

Since I was a youngster, I was fascinated with submarines. The day after I turned 17, I was sworn into the Submarine Reserve Unit at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Within two weeks I was on my way to Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. I spent the summer of '58 in what was, to me, heaven. I learned all about subs and even had the privilege of going to sea on them. I had as much fun as a Seaman Recruit could have. I think I made a mere $78 dollars a month but who cared? Not me! I was going to be a Submariner!

I entered Sub School Class #159. My folks took a dim view of this because they wanted me to go to college. Dad had served in the Pacific on a Destroyer Escort during World War II and Mom thought that subs looked "evil." I kinda' liked that however. After Sub School, I returned to my home in South Jersey to finish high school.

In July of '59 after finishing my senior year of high school, I reported to the USS TENCH (SS-417) at the shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was all torn apart it seemed. We put her back together piece by piece. I took pride in my part of this effort. There were also other events that spawned fond memories. I will never forget the taste of the cold beer and pizza at the "Pump Room" in the basement of the sub barracks at the end of a long hot day of working on the boat in Portsmouth. We were all proud when we were finally able to leave the yard and take TENCH back to New London.

In September we left for Portsmouth, England, to take on fuel, equipment and some new people. Ah, England of '59! Bright skies, double decker busses, warm beer, raw meat hanging on hooks in the open air; it was quite an exciting trip "up North." We all learned a lot.

In December of '59, we arrived back in the States. I'll never forget how incredibly great I thought fresh, cold milk and crisp lettuce tasted after that cruise and having to do without them for so long.

I almost didn't earn my silver "Dolphins" on my final checkout in February of '60. I took my final walk through the boat and everything was going great until the Engineering Officer asked me to shift the AC motor generators, (ICMG's). I turned the boat off! No lights, no blowers, no nuthin'! I missed that switch-over point by a fraction of a second! I thought I was doomed to NQP Dinkdom forever!

This little 'accident" actually worked to my advantage in that I was able to bring the AC power back from a full shutdown, which was far more difficult than "simply" switching generators. After that incident, I was able to successfully complete my final walk-through without any other, shall we say, "distractions".

We were back at fun and games again in March. We headed north for ICEX '60 to punch holes not only in the ice, but in the boat. It became quickly apparent that future boats would need much stronger sails and decks. Ice is not as forgiving as water when you collide with it, as TITANIC proved and we verified.

On the way back to the States, we pulled into Halifax, Nova Scotia, in a raging blizzard. This was just what we all needed after an ICEX! We left Halifax in that same blizzard and almost rolled the boat over. The bridge had been secured for hours when a series of three huge waves rammed us from our port side. I was on radar watch in the Conning Tower at the time. I ended up hanging on to #2 scope and standing on the radar console in a position parallel to the deck. The Quartermaster yelled for "Left Full Rudder" which had the effect of pushing the stern down and effectively righting the boat. Some say we took a 72 degree roll to starboard. We then partially submerged with a port list as a result of water entering the port ballast tanks. There was a lot of damage throughout the boat and one crew member's legs were broken when the bench lockers broke loose in the After Battery and hit him.

We had some great adventures during the rest of '60, and we ended up at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard that fall. We came into the yard with all four engines on the line. The Old Man wanted to show the yardbirds that we were still in good shape.

Time came for me to get some "schoolin", so I was off to Fleet Sonar School in Key West, Florida. This was a nice change from Philly. I completed Sonar "A" school and found my way back to New London to the USS CONGER (AGSS-477) In September '61.

Of "Front Runners and River Rats"... These were about the only submarine divisions we had back then. They were harmless by today's standards. The TENCH was a front runner, to be sure. The CONGER was,...well,...a river rat. Although she had never been modernized, she had an experimental sonar system on board called the BRASS II. (Bottom Reflecting Active Sonar System) The COB told me that I didn't have to stand regular watches and that I would work with the sound lab guys we were carrying. Little did I know that they worked 12 to 15 hour days! The CONGER was a great boat, and we had a lot of fun on her even though we did shoot ourselves with our own Mk. 37 exercise torpedo. (You folks in charge of submarines should listen more carefully to your sonar guy!)

July of '63 found me heading back to Key West for Sonar "B" School. I immersed myself in almost 40 weeks of nothing but electronic theory. That education served me well for the years that were to follow.

I completed Sonar "B" School, and headed back to New London in July of '64, but this time to the USS TUSK (SS-426) at State Pier. She was a four battery boat. about cramped quarters!

We made a visit to Belgium and went up the Sheldt River to Antwerp. We actually passed through parts of the city in their system of canals and locks with only inches to spare. Some of the expressions on people's faces at seeing a submarine passing by only a few feet away were priceless!

I went back to Key West for Sonar "C" School in August of '65. I completed PUFFS School and returned to New London to join the USS SAILFISH (SS-572) at State Pier in February '66. After the TUSK, the SAILFISH seemed like a luxury liner. There was so much room to move about!

In July of '66 the Yeoman gave me a set of orders for shore duty at COMCRUDESPAC. "What's a COMCRUDESPAC", I asked? He didn't know, but said it was in San Diego, and that was all I had to hear!

So, it was off to San Diego for me that summer of '66. When I went through Iowa it was 109 degrees in a 64 Pontiac with no air conditioning. I spent two days in Georgetown, Colorado. (Ah, yes, the Red Ram Inn. Another story for another day.)

As luck would have it, my Sonar detailer missed my "SS" designator and I became the only Submariner to work for the Commander of Cruisers and Destroyers Force, Pacific Fleet, (COMCRUDESPAC) at the 32nd Street Navy Yard in San Diego.

I became part of a Planned Maintenance System Team that traveled around the fleet kickin' skimmer butts and takin' names! Now, THAT was fun! However, the novelty soon wore off and I was able to get a transfer over to the Sub Sonar Section of Fleet ASW School where I belonged.

I spent the rest of my shore duty there and won the Instructor of the Year Award in '68. I only mention this because it got a little embarrassing for them when they discovered I had never been to Instructor Training School.

I left the Navy in May of '69 as an ST1(SS) for the same reasons we all did...the demise of the diesel boat fleets and the birth of nuclear power. For with nuclear power came regimentation and military discipline unheard of in the submarine force. The boats became as small, submersible surface craft commands. The feelings of family and brotherhood were giving way to the strict discipline and militarism of the "regular" Navy. A large culture change took place. No one has put this feelings of change quite so perfectly as Roger Burleigh (RamJet). He said, "No time was spent teaching these lads how to be good submariners, ...just good nukes. The ships were effectively cut in half! This new power source was so dangerous, secret, whatever, that suddenly half the crew had no "need-to-know" and were excluded. They were actually kept out of huge portions of a ship they used to be expected to know in the greatest detail imaginable. A reactor scram alarm was the tone that sounded the death toll of the submarine service I had loved."

I look back on those diesel submarine days with the fondest of memories. I know I was at the right place at the right time! Nuclear power was the catalyst that forced my change to civilian life.

In June of '69 I started with Singer-Librascope in Glendale, California, as a Customer Training Instructor. One of my first assignments brought me back to New London to teach the Mk. 48 Fire Control System. I was also involved with the Submarine Acoustic Warfare Project Development Team and observed the same camaraderie I had seen on the boats. Things were to change..

At 0557, the morning of 9 February, 1971, I woke up crunched against our headboard, my body across my wife's. When I tried to get off my wife, I was tossed across the room! We were in the middle of the worst earth-quake to hit the area in years. We grabbed the kids and went outside on the lawn. The earth was rolling so violently, you could not stand erect. We were on all fours as the house next to us split in half, erupting into an explosion of glass! The next roller brought a wave of water down the driveway. The pool next door had been emptied in a single violent heave. What a day that was! We evacuated the house many more times as the aftershocks continued. To make a long story short, as soon as the freeways were cleared, I took my wife and kids to LAX for the first flight back to Boston. And that, dear reader, was the end of our "California Dream."

I followed my family back to Boston a few weeks later and was incredibly lucky to start a new job right away with the Raytheon Service Company in Burlington, Massachusetts. It helped that we were able to live with my in-laws because it was very difficult to sell our earthquake damaged home in Saugus-Newhall, California. Thankfully, there were "blue laws" in Massachusetts at the time because I was working three jobs simultaneously and Sundays were a true "day of rest!"

In September of '71, I went to work for GTE Sylvania in Waltham, Massachusetts as an instructor. This was a new venture for GTE as they had never been in the "Trade and Tech School" business before. We had a great time building that school system! We even bought out the RCA Technical Schools. I eventually became a School Director and ran two schools. One in Hempstead, New York and the other in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Soon, things were about to change, again.

GTE sold the entire school system and there was no room for Sylvania school directors with the new owners. As luck would have it, one of our night school students was a service engineer who worked on medical equipment during the day. I will always be grateful to him for recommending me to his supervisor. In July of '75 I started work as a Nuclear Service Engineer at Picker International in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For the next 23 years I installed and maintained Nuclear Medicine Diagnostic Imaging Systems in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. I was to see such a dramatic change from caring, honest people who felt deeply about each patient to the present when the only concern is "throughput" and working the machines and the technicians until they drop. I am finished with that 23 year journey.

I have come full circle.

It is only 18 miles from where I live in Old Saybrook to the train station in New London where it all began in the summer of 1958.