In my mind, I can see back many years to a time of black steel boats that were powered by Fairbanks Morse diesel engines. Boats crewed by some of the best shipmates that anyone could ask to go to sea with and render his sworn duty to his country.
We saw a world that most people never knew existed. We would spend days putting the finishing touches on our steel beauty to have her in top condition for the job ahead. Torpedoes were loaded by sweating deck gangers and cursing torpedomen. Stores were layed below by all hands to feed a hungry crew and stowed in every available space that could be found. We lived on layers of cans. Once someone had stowed spuds in the After Battery topside hatch rather than the aft shower, by rigging a retaining net. Bets were laid on each potato pulled as to whether it was the "key" potato that would send the whole load crashing down.
I remember the night before we were to leave. Every man, not on watch, headed ashore for a final "touch of the land" until we would kiss the soil of the "Land of the Rising Sun" with our heavey lines.
The next morning I would head topside early, before muster, for my ritual cup of coffee and cigarette. Sitting there I would see the sailors start down the pier, coming back from a night of partying or returning from the warmth of home.
There were no loved ones to say good bye . The hull numbers were gone from our sail. We were a ghost slipping out unnoticed in the dark of night or so we thought.
It was time to muster the crew. Sing out an "aye" and listen to the skipper give a well rehearsed speech.
Then it was fall out and "prepare to get underway."
It wasn't long before that black lady came alive like a sleeping giant roused by a mortal threat. Men were topside on the deck and the bridge, with thier head sets on and ready to relay every command.
It all started with a word; followed by the sound of water being pumped from the overboard discharge roiling the oil streaked water of the harbor.
Then it happened --- the voice of those big Fairbanks Morse rock crushers thundered and echoed while billowing smoke gave notice that the by-god U.S. Navy submarine force was on the job.
There has never been a more impressive sound in the world than that of a diesel powered submarine begining her tour of duty:
"Single up all lines."
"Take in the spring lines."
"Slack the stern line."
All back one third."
"Take in all lines."
Followed by the loudest voice on the ship, the ship's horn, as it gave notice that we were underway, while the colors were being shifted.
The bow pushed it's way through the water as the wake we created came alive.
We were on our way.
The rest is a history that is retold in a thousand tales handed down from one generation of submarine sailor to the next in an oral tradition that is alive to this very day.
We are all proud to have served.
(Sid note: Image
was adapted from a photo by Jack Lohman
of USS THORNBACK)