|A sailor I once knew said there were
three kinds of shipmates: friends, buddies and military acquaintances.
Friends are with you for most of your life. Buddies are guys you raised
a lot of hell with in far off ports a long time ago and that you might
see from time to time. And military acquaintances are guys you stood some
watches with, shared some BS sessions over coffee, never see again and
rarely ever remember.
Unless there are circumstances.
This is a story of one shipmate that
I never forgot: Jack Luntsford of the submarine USS Alexander Hamilton
SSBN 617 Gold.
It was in the fall of 1968 shortly before
my last run on the 617 before going to Instructor Duty. It was noon and
I had gone to the Sub Base cafeteria for lunch. As he came walking toward
me I at first didn't recognize him in his CPO dress blues. He always did
seem ill at ease in a dress uniform anyway, and this was the first time
I had seen him since he had made Chief. He looked especially uncomfortable
like someone had tried to put dress blues on a refrigerator. I thought
his neck tie would pop at any minute.
We shook hands and talked for awhile
swapping the usual information that servicemen do when they meet after
being separated. A few inquiries about former shipmates were made and responded
to. I knew he was assigned to an engineering inspection team and traveled
some and I asked him how it was going. He didn't seem too happy with the
job, although knowing him I'm sure he was performing superbly. He always
did. I remember he told me that he wasn't cut out for administrative duties
and he had to get out of it. We finished our coffees, made some more pass-time
talk, shook hands and went our separate ways. That was the last time I
saw Jack Luntsford.
He was one of the truly tough guys that
I ever knew. Other than a beer-ball-game, I doubt if he had ever voluntarily
engaged in an athletic activity simply to work out. We have all, I'm sure,
known a man like that. A man whom it seems was born with naturally uncommon
strength and hard muscle. I remember him as a man of simple tastes and
simple pleasures and he was one of the hardest working and hardest playing
sailors I ever knew. I also recall him as not given to pretense or what
is today called attitude. With the passing of years I have come to think
of Jack as typifying a unique quality of submarining and submariners that
sets them apart from much larger military commands. I believe it is a quality
most often seen in specialized or elite units; those close-knit organizations
where a man's performance counts above all else.
To the submariner, competence means
more than monkey-skills in a narrow specialty. It is in fact, an institutional
obsession ranked above all other considerations. In submarines the word
competence takes on an extra dimension or meaning: the man who can be totally
and absolutely relied upon - one who goes the distance. Marginal sailors
and officers in larger units, aided by the barriers of their very size,
can hide behind a facade of rank and military pretense. Not so the submarine,
with it's confined space and intensely focused tasks the individual becomes
an open book to his shipmates.
Competence can be a saving grace for
submariners, who for the most part have a natural affinity for non-conformity,
harboring disdain for the "recruiting poster" superficialities of military
Jack Luntsford was a competent submariner.
There was a song years ago by the late
Jim Croce about "...you don't tug on superman's cape, you don't spit into
the wind..." And that verse ended with "...and you don't mess around with
Slim". That also applied to Jack when he was going full bore during an
upkeep period. The pressure of the cold-war boomer's 28 day upkeep was
often a sleepless blur of hard work. Both for the sake of the patrol's
mission, and to meet the challenges of the unforgiving sea it is critical
that tasks be done perfectly. I remember Jack going at it for long, unbroken
stretches - rarely even stopping to shave, sleep or cleanup. Stopping only
to eat, sometimes stretching out on a benchseat and going to sleep after
a meal where no mess cook dared wake him.
I wasn't a close steaming buddy with
Jack. Few could keep up with him. But Tex came the closest. Tex was a hard
charging Machinist Mate whom one should not cross.
One night during an upkeep when Tex
was assigned to mess cooking, he and Jack came rolling back off a rare
night's liberty. Embroiled in a heated argument they could be heard noisily
making their way through the boat down to the crew's dinette where it began
to get serious. Tex swung on Jack who pushed him away. Tex went down but
too hardheaded and too drunk to quit he kept flailing away. Reluctantly,
Jack, with his options limited weighed into Tex, pounding him until some
shipmates pulled them apart.
A few hours later as a wobbly Tex went
about his breakfast duties, his face swollen and his eyes nearly shut,
a crew member said something to him about the big scrap the night before.
Tex forced a smile past his split lip and mumbled, "That goddamned Jack
can sure hit".
Also Read Mike
Rankin Remembers Jack