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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Never Trust a Sailor

By Jim Filer of Brain Waves

The last eighteen months of my ten-year, naval “career” were served in the Mediterranean, land-based with intermittent temporary duty assignments. The job there concerned monitoring foreign communications and most of my colleagues were often placed aboard aircraft deliberately flying over areas where it would attract attention.

I possessed no fear of elevation, but nonetheless also had no desire to put my life in the hands of some over-zealous pilot pursing such mission. It was, indeed, music to my ears, therefore, when my dental situation blocked my eligibility to engage in that activity; and then, for whatever reason, just as my status was soon to change, the powers that be approached to ask if I would volunteer for submarines. My response: “Let’s make a deal!”

During the remainder of my tour, as a small unit attached to the regular crew, I and others would board three different boats, each occasion growing in length in our time at sea. From the moment my feet climbed down into the belly of that first one, though, in spite of being cramped for space, a love affair took root in my heart.

It was like living and working in one of those tube affairs that children erect for their pet hamsters. If you stuff all the passage-ways and sleeping compartments with supplies and all the essentials necessary for an extended stay under water, throw in weekly twelve-hour shifts, a continual poker game, and a galley always open for self-service, you might be close to a true mental snapshot of the situation. Still, it was heaven to me.

The duty did have its share of incidents. We were once actually depth-charged by Russian war-ships, my memory yet quite clear concerning the white of my supervisor’s eyes expanding to the size of saucers upon hearing the explosions. No funnier, however, than my own personal reaction to the firing of “water slugs”.

It was my second venture into this world, the first having taught me that our engines could be utilized as a vacuum to suck oxygen into the interior if we just “popped scope” above the surface and angled its lens. That process made the entire vessel “shiver”, so the chief’s explanation of “slugs” producing “slight vibrations” didn’t alarm me at all.

Playing cards on the mess deck and facing the aft torpedo room, I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

Air pressure is utilized in the discharging of such weaponry, accumulating within the chambers until, if not “ex”-ploded outward, it must be “im”-ploded inward. The two older members of our foursome, of course, were aware of this truth, but chose to bait their junior compatriots who now sat unsuspecting of practical joke in motion

“Va-ROOOOOM!” Such sudden in-rush of violent force blowing in upon us through the open hatch sent me and another fellow frantically climbing each other’s neck to about three feet above the deck. I remember thinking “God! This is it!” and believing we had hit an under-sea mountain or something.

Both chiefs were choking in laughter, fully entertained by our complete loss of dignity. Another lesson learned on my part.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Jim, I would have chosen the aircraft duty. I get claustrophobia just thinking about being underwater for months at a time. You are a rare, but brave guy.

lol Great story! I'm well familiar with life on the "boats." My ex-husband was a submarine sailor during the Viet Nam War era and had lots of really funny stories to tell about himself and his shipmates. He was a sonar tech in the Pacific out of Pearl Harbor. And yes, I know the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale! lol


I really enjoyed your story and must tell you how brave I think you are to volunteer for submarine duty.

We once took our grandson to see the Intrepid in New York harbor and also toured the submarine next to the carrier. There was a cutout at the entrance to the sub and you had to be small enough to fit through the cutout to be able to board her. We all made it through but I was very claustrophobic once aboard and could not wait to get out of there.

So, I never fail to thank people like yourself who were brave enough to spend months in those conditions to serve your country. Thanks again for your service and your story is terrific.

Mr. kenju was on a sub during his Navy career, so I have toured them. They are hard on a tall person!

My brother was in the submarine service during WWII in communications. He always wanted to go out on a sub, was scheduled to do so a few times, but at the last minute his services were needed on land during critical times in the South Pacific. I'll have to send him your story. From all his accounts, you Navy guys took great delight in stories like the one you told and the new guys were the brunt of the jokes. Thanks for sharing your story! Can only imagine how you must have felt at the implosion time, but what relief afterward. ;-)

Thanks for the comments, all. The experience of sub "duty" is hallowed memory. My time at sea, however, was merely mission trips of 4, 6, and 12 weeks on the last run, and all served in the Mediterranean. My younger brother did 20 years and made the boats his life. There is, indeed, a sense (even in my only having been aboard as an extra member for short times) ofhaving been part of a special group of men. Not a whole lot of space on board. Being extra personnel, we were assigned bunks that one man owned for twelve hours and then it became mine for twelve. They were stacked like hammocks one on top of another and if the guy above you was in his, the canvas of his bunk was nearly touching your nose as you lay there. Sardines in a broom closet, but I loved it, all the same...

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