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A Patrol Sting

(1998) by Sid Harrison ETCM(SS) USN(Ret)

He was the only four-striper I ever served under on a submarine. Captain Harvey Lyons, a formidable presence to be sure. He sometimes would stand in that area between the BPS-11 and the NavPlot when we were rigged for red at periscope depth and make the ships control party very nervous as they would glance at the command pin and the cigar glow. He had salt and pepper close cropped hair and did his workouts in his cabin every evening. Some said they had seen him doing one-arm push-ups. That may be. The crew liked him mainly because he would stop and chew the fat as he made his rounds but they liked him mostly because he scared the hell out of the officers. He found out a lot of things that way. Information he used to "test" randomly selected officers the next morning. It got to the point where some officers would just slide by the crew's mess and grab something rather than risk a shot from Harvey over their scrambled eggs in the wardroom. Our Weps was LCdr H. and despite his youthful appearance he was among the few officers rarely caught off base by the skipper.

Our junior yeoman Tom C---- had wrestled for three years in a North Carolina college and he had that unique ability to lay on the good old boy southern charm and humor and was well liked. Most importantly he got along well with Captain Lyons. Tom was an original kidder and as is almost always the case, if you get a reputation as a kidder...then somewhere, sometime you will get kidded. So it went with Tom.


It was the end of March. We were in the middle of a patrol and active minds had been at work. That night LCdr H. according to plan had the conn as the JAP was executed. Before the days of PC the word to describe this type of caper was the great submarine JAP. This particular JAP had required the efforts of many creative submariners to put together and it was flawless. Carried out in secret, a recording of the General alarm had been made of an earlier Battle Stations Missile. Then everyone who slept near Tom in crew's berthing was drawn in to the plot. Tom's poopy suit and shoes were hidden, the lighting in crews berthing was further reduced and the control room was rigged for black with just enough light for watch standers to function. Then....zero hour. The time of the JAP.


Tom bounced out of that rack when he heard the tape recorded alarm and was milling around looking for his poopy suit as voices out of the dark corner told him to get out of the way and get a move on. Resignedly he took off for his battle station on the periscope stand. Barefoot, in his regulation skivvies Tom pushed his way into the dark control room where someone handed him a head set and he plugged it in. In a few moments he said the set wasn't working and he couldn't hear any one and at that moment every light came on. Tom froze, with his head set hooked to no one , standing there in his drawers and blinking in that white light. Practically every guy who was not on watch was packed into that control room. Mr. H. was leaning over the rail doubled up with laughter as Tom, now beet red and spluttering in a moment of serious denial. As we laughed and hooted he tore that head set off and dragged his shred of dignity out of there.

One by one, still laughing at Tom's embarrassment we drifted off to card games, division work or to the rack and in a few moments routine was restored. A couple members of the audience still lingered around the MK-113 and critiqued for the third time what they all had just seen. Bang! that door by the plot flew open and there he was, fists on hips, chin stuck out and glowering. All the air suddenly seemed to be sucked out of there. The planesmen stared straight ahead, the chief of the watch began to take an uncommon interest in the BCP and the QM bent over that plot like we were transiting shoaling water. Lyons took two steps toward the conn as Mr. H. stood like a deer in the headlights. It started like a low rumble; eyes locked on Mr. H. he spoke first to the control room in general, reminding us of the seriousness and immense responsibility we had and how we had acted in a lowly, childish and immature manner and were unworthy of our positions. Making a quick sweep around he snapped back to H. giving him a look that must have physically hurt. H. who had never been known to cower before the Captain - now stood and absorbed that seering lecture about irresponsible behavior and setting an example. After what seemed like a very, very long time the skipper with a snort turned and left.

No one uttered a word. We didn't know if we had dodged a bullet or had just caught one. LCdr H. , normally a very talkative man quietly disappeared into his chair as everyone else suddenly had something to keep them busy.

Then that door bounced open again and there was the skipper holding a mug of coffee - very deliberately he looked around and then flashing his best Burt Lancaster toothy grin said simply, "April Fools!"

Dammit!    Tom had won again.