Many of you, our classmates, served in the military after graduation. This web page has been created for you to share personal stories related to your service. If you have a story you wish to share with the rest of our class, please send it to me, Earl Buckingham, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our classmate, Bill (L) Sullivan was killed in action in Vietnam. Bill was the only one of our classmates to die in that war. He served as a 1st Lieutenant of Infantry. He was a Unit Commander in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, US Army-Republic of Vietnam. He was killed on July 4, 1970. He was 27 years old. On that day, Bill volunteered to go on patrol, substituting for a comrade, who had just completed a patrol. Bill went in his place so his friend could rest and recover. This incident is discussed by Nancy Nersessian, the sister of David Nersessian, in an interview documented in the Favorite Poem Project. To see and hear the interview just click here. Below is a rubbing of Bill's name engraved on Panel #9W, Line #120 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. To see the Vietnam Memorial Virtual Wall, Click here.
John Tuthill served as a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot and flew in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He wrote the following about a signature moment he experienced in August 1981. John's call sign as an F-4 Phantom II pilot was "Ironside." The article was published in the April 1986 issue of the Marine Gazette. John graciously gave permission for the posting of this article on our website.
Written By: Ironside – A Veteran for Veterans
August 6, 1981 – Another move. Is this our thirteenth or fourteenth? Let's see – Ithaca to Quantico is one; Quantico to Pensacola is two; Pensacola to Meridian is three; Meridian back to Pensacola is four; Pensacola to Beeville is five; Beeville to Cherry Point is six; Cherry Point to Beaufort is seven; Beaufort to Key West is eight; Key West to Vietnam for me and Key West to Ithaca for my wife and son is nine; Chu Lai, Vietnam to Beeville is ten; Beeville to Dallas is eleven; Dallas to Detroit is twelve and Detroit back to Dallas is thirteen. I might want to move again just to get off old number thirteen.
Moving is always painful for the friendships that you leave behind yet is exciting in the anticipation of the new friendships that will develop. Penny, my wife of fifteen years, has always taken each move in stride and quickly adapted to our new surroundings while getting all three of our children immediately involved in the activities of our new community. I always seem to manage to be busy with my new job – it minimizes my picture hanging chores.
This move to Dallas, however, was one we both looked forward to. When we left Dallas in 1976 to go to Detroit, we felt we'd probably never return. We knew we wanted to, but GM rarely returns managers to the area from which they came. When the opportunity presented itself, we didn't hesitate a minute – off to Dallas as quickly as we could. This, certainly, is no reflection on Detroit, for the friendships we developed there were as close as any we have had anywhere we've lived.
The area we selected to move to in Dallas is one which we admired when we lived there before. It's an area called Canyon Creek in Richardson, Texas, a suburb just north of Dallas. It's a great family area. The only drawback was that the house we purchased hadn't been lived in for over a year. Penny was less than enthusiastic about the house, but price was my only concern, not that it had to be completely overhauled to be livable. Penny could handle that while I dove into my new job as Zone Manager for the North Texas area. So, off to work I went while Penny unpacked, got the kids enrolled in school, hung the pictures and on and on and on!
Early in this move-in process, Penny had to do a wash so we could have clean clothes to wear. The washer and dryer are always the first items to be hooked up and put to work. When a house in Dallas hasn't been lived in for over a year, strange things can happen – like root systems find their way into every drainage pipe. The wash was just about finished, and the water was being drained from the washer. This is the normal process; however, this is where normalcy departed the scene. The water did drain from the washer, but it came up through the toilet adjacent to the kitchen and flooded the entire kitchen with about two inches of water. This one simple act of fate was about to change our day and our lives.
I found out about this minor problem when Penny called me on the phone, slightly hysterical and in tears, to tell me in detail about the flooding of the kitchen. This same phone conversation evolved into a description of my abilities to find a house that was suitable for family habitation. In very clear and distinct terms, my judgment came under – let's say – severe scrutiny. Those of you, who have moved several times, I'm sure, can figure out the wording of such a conversation.
I rushed home and did the only sensible thing I could do. I called a plumber. AAA Plumbing was first in the yellow pages so they got the first opportunity to aid me. Surprisingly, they never answered – and on a normal workday to boot. In a fit of panic, I somehow remembered Roto-Rooter. I called, and they promised a serviceman would arrive in less than an hour.
We finished cleaning the kitchen; I consoled my tear-filled wife and dealt with my teenage son's unhappiness over leaving his friends in Detroit. To my relief the Roto-Rooter serviceman arrived in less than an hour. I went out in the driveway to introduce myself, describe the complexity of the problem, and gain his sympathy for my plight.
As we went through our introductory conversation, I related how this move from Detroit to Dallas was our twelfth or thirteenth move, and we were experiencing the normal family trauma. To my surprise he had, only six months earlier, also moved from Detroit to Dallas. He was in search of a new environment and a job.
As we talked I told him most of our moves were military related. They occurred while I was in the U.S. Marine Corps as a student pilot and an operational combat fighter pilot in the F-4 Phantom. He, too, had been a Marine; however, he was a ground pounder in the Forced Recon. His active duty tour overlapped mine, and we discovered that our tours in Vietnam also overlapped. Immediately, a strange bond developed, one only former military men with common experiences can understand.
Our conversation took on a new meaning and increased significance. Our focus on each other became intense in interest as we probed for common names, places, and events. DaNang, Phu Bai, Hue, Khe Sahn, Quang-Tri, Pleiku, Tuy Hoa, Chu Lai, Cambodian invasion, Que Son Mountains, Au Shau Valley, all these names out of the past leaped to my conscious as if they were yesterday. The washer, the flooded kitchen, the family problems associated with a move were instantly forgotten. Our conversation became the center of our world – it's as if no one else existed or mattered. We were alone, alone in our knowledge of Vietnam and alone in our feelings about Vietnam. The rest of the world didn't matter at all – and the rest of the world didn't understand then, so how could they understand now? We Vietnam Veterans were used to being alone and here we were again – ALONE!
We discussed our feelings about Vietnam, we discussed the "chicken shit" regs of the Marine Corps, the buddies we lost, the exhilaration of being an American, a Marine, a person who served with those who gave their all – their best. No service rivalry here, just respect for all American Servicemen who served and survived and died in that hell called Vietnam. Marines always bitch, and only a Marine or former Marine can bitch about the U.S. Marine Corps' "chicken shit" regs. There are no ex-Marines, only former ones; Once a Marine Always a Marine! The espirit de Corps, the togetherness, the team spirit, the motto – Semper Fidelis – Always Faithful – are unmatched in the American culture. And here, with the Roto-Rooter man, all that was past – being an American, being an American Serviceman, being a Marine, and being in Vietnam – came alive again.
I had never talked much about Vietnam to anyone, not my wife, not my family, not my friends. Occasionally an associate, a Navy pilot friend at church, an ex-Air Force pilot at work, an Army gunner at a customer's place of business would cause a short conversation, an understanding, a release of tension, to occur. We'd talk, we'd smile an understanding that others listening would not sense, and we'd end with a handshake, a touch that formed a bond of understanding forever, even though we may never meet again.
Our conversation found its way to the 365-day tour. How we both counted the days. There were special, explicit calendars that you could use to mark off your tour. We talked about how all anyone wanted to do was to do his 365 and go home. All was focused on "going home." I related how as a close-air support pilot, dropping snake and nape – 500 pound snake eye retarded bombs and napalm – in support of U.S. Army and U.S. Marine ground pounders, I found satisfaction in knowing that maybe I could help someone survive his 365-day tour and go home.
As an example, I began a story about a day when I was standing "Hot Pad" duty – duty in a trailer next to fully loaded F-4 Phantoms – where four aircrews were ready to brief for emergency missions and be airborne in less than five minutes. On this one particular day, the horn sounded, and my wingman and I rushed to our planes to start the engines and be ready to taxi and take off as soon as our RIOs, Radar Intercept Officers, arrived with the target briefing information.
The RIOs sat in the back seat of the F-4 Phantom physically, but to me and all the other F-4 pilots I know that flew in combat in Vietnam, these guys became a part of me and I a part of them as we coordinated our efforts on a combat mission to achieve the highest degree of success. My roommate was a RIO, today a Lt. Col. in Hawaii, and we flew about 180 of my 233 combat missions as a team. We knew each other so well that sometimes words did not have to be spoken. Only a sound, a flip of a switch, a breathing change would signal a coordinated change in mission tactics. George and I still talk every six months or so – it's the same yet different. I know, and he knows we're both alive today because of a special sound or motion, done without nervous emotion, kept us from flying into death's arms.
As George ran towards the plane with the target briefing information, I called the tower for taxi and takeoff clearance. Approval was swift, and George was barely seated as we started to move. We taxied out to the runway and were airborne in less than five minutes. As I got the plane up and started our turn out over the water and headed north towards DaNang, George advised me that our mission was in support of troops in the mountains just south of DaNang. My wingman joined up in combat formation, and we proceeded to target.
Less than five minutes out of Chu Lai, we were in contact with the Air Force Airborne FAC, Forward Air Controller, who was in contact with the ground troops and would spot the target for us. Eight Marines were being pursued by an entire company of NVA troops and in eminent danger. Helicopters had gone in twice in attempts to extract these men, and twice they had been repelled by intense enemy fire. The enemy had closed within 50 meters of the Marines, and without immediate action, their survival was in doubt.
As we circled under dense overcast skies and in mountainous terrain to spot the "friendlies", I lost my radio and had to use hand signals to relinquish the lead to my wingman. I had no transmission capability and only intermittent reception. The airborne FAC asked for quick low-level action due to the severity of the situation. Dropping ordinance at 450 knots on top of a mountain within 50 meters of "friendlies" is difficult at best. If short of the target, you're way short, and if long, you're way long. It's a case of hit the target or these eight Marines don't get off this mountain, let alone go home. They marked their position with smoke bombs, and the enemy position was described relative to the smoke.
I watched my wingman roll in on the target and drop his snake and nape 50 – 100 meters right of the smoke. I rolled in on the target right after him and heard the FAC say, "Same place, right on target." It was easy to see where to drop after I rolled in and got the target in sight. The top of the mountain lit up like sparklers on the 4th of July as the NVA filled the sky in front of me with intense small arms automatic weapons fire. I zeroed in on the muzzle flashes and released my nape to land right in the middle of the area where the muzzle flashes emanated. I passed over the target at 500 feet altitude, pulled off hard left at four to six Gs, and turned my head back towards the target to see if we got a hit. Right on, right on. Three more passes by both of us emptied our load of ordinance. We joined up and headed back to Chu Lai. We landed and refueled, the planes were reloaded with more snake and nape, and we went back to the "Hot Pad" to finish our time in the barrel.
Back in the trailer we heard that ten minutes after we pulled off target, the "jolly greens" had gone in to pick up the eight Marines and did not take one round of enemy fire. Eight more men survived one of their 365 days – one more day closer to going home. No champagne, no great celebration, just a knowing smile to George, and our wingman, and his RIO that another mission was successfully accomplished. Another 269.
Not a day has passed since I came home in June 1970 that I haven't thought about those who served those who survived, those who died, and those whose lives I took on a day like that. Col. Cochran, Col. Howard, Joshua, Snake, Bug, Peanuts, Nasty, Kahuna, Paul, Sugar – Peter, Kosher, Blade, Diablo, Leopard, O.S.O.D., Hawk, Jim, Beans, Irish, A.B., Max, Ray, Quiet Man, Apache, Roadrunner, Gordie, Ugly American, Filthy, Animal, Pete, Rounder, Jim, Mac Mad Dog, Count, Ben, Minderbinder, Pistol, Ram, Dallas, Bill, Hammer, Fearless, Iceman, Billie, Rick, Deacon, Davy, O.J., Rich, Tom, Horse, Mike, Peck and Kurt. Most survived; some didn't.
As I finished, the former Marine I was talking to became obviously emotional about my story. He asked the location of the action, he asked about the plane I flew; he asked if it had a blue sword across the fuselage. All questions I answered, now with an emotion equal to his. Yes, we had a blue sword across the fuselage; we were the Crusader Squadron. Yes, the time of year for the action was the same as his. Yes, we were together again, eleven years, 12,000 miles, and it was us – alive, living, with families – we could hardly talk!
We only conversed long enough to further confirm it really was happening and it really was us. I asked if all eight got out. Yes was his simple answer. He did relate how he could still hear the bombs and napalm rip through the enemy and also their terrible screams. We dropped so close that some napalm splashed over on the arm of one of the Americans. No harm and they all went home.
We could talk no more. I quickly went into the house, told my wife I was going for a drive and that I'd tell her later what it was all about.
I stayed away long enough to be sure he was gone, and I'm sure he finished his job as fast as he could so we wouldn't have to meet and talk again. What had happened was over, and the impact God had intended was there – but what did it mean? It would take me over three years to figure it out and a chance conversation with a stranger to put it in words.
We all pick up burdens as we travel the road of life, and the Vietnam Veteran has more than his share. These burdens look like boulders on life's road behind us. We can't remove those boulders from our past, all we can do is recognize them for what they are, accept them, and be watchful that we keep life's road ahead of us clear. God doesn't want us to forget the past. He want us to understand it, to accept its unchangeability, to learn from it, to remember our friends, to look at those boulders as sign posts to help keep us and others from creating more boulders because of a focus on that which we cannot change.
That one event in August 1981 helped me understand that I'm O.K., he's O.K., and so are all of us who served in Vietnam. GOD don't make no junk!
Ironside – OUT!
Bob Blean served in the Army as an artillery officer. He sent the following comments after reading John Tuthill's story posted above.
I never did spend any time in a normal Army unit. I was always training to be an officer, training to go to Vietnam, and in Vietnam. Then back to civilian life. A very interesting several years.
I spent a year and a half in Vietnam as an artillery officer. My battalion (175mm guns) was embedded in the Marines at Camp Carroll, up near the DMZ -- the only Army unit anywhere near there, so I got to know the Marines. Interesting bunch of folks :)
I enjoyed John Tuthill's story. Certain parts of it resonate and bring back memories. Partly the attitude that comes through. Partly that many of the place names in his story are sure familiar -- my battalion shot in support of the men in many of those same places, although a couple of years earlier than John's experience.
His story reminds me of talking with the Marines about close air support. There was no doubt that the Marines on the ground very strongly preferred close air support to be done by Marine pilots. It was not just Semper Fi, pride in the Corps -- they felt that the Marine pilots understood those on the ground better and were therefore safer to be around. They gave me a couple of good examples to illustrate their point.
I think I can somewhat understand John's feelings about those eight Marines. I was the night shift battalion fire direction officer and I remember how good it felt to get those thank-you notes saying something along the lines of "Hill XXX could not have held out last night without your guns."
One effect of those times which I notice these days is that whenever I look at someone doing an important task and they look young to me, I think of what age we were and the responsibilities we had in Vietnam.
John David served in the U.S. Navy after High School. He was trained as a Fire Control Technician on the very new Terrier surface to air missile system. After he completed technical school, he served over two years on the USS Dahlgren, DLG-12, a new (at the time) guided missile destroyer. He wrote the following about experiencing rough weather at sea.
I went aboard my ship, USS Dahlgren, in November 1962, just after she returned from blockade duty during the Cuban crisis. I had spent a year in technical school studying to be a Fire Control Technician or, as we called them, an “FT.” I had been trained to maintain and operate a brand new analog computer that was the brains of the fire control system that targeted, launched, and controlled one of the first surface-to-air missiles deployed in the U.S. Navy, the Terrier Missile. The USS Dahlgren was state of the art at the time and had only been in commission for just over a year when I went aboard. She was about 500 feet long with a beam of 52 feet. Her displacement (the weight of water she displaced while floating) was 5,900 tons. She had a crew of 370 men and officers.
When I reported aboard, I found out that, in addition to working on the computers on which I had been trained, I had other duties assigned to me on the “Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill.” Among the additional duties I had was an underway watch as helmsman, steering the ship for four hours twice a day when we were at sea. This turned out to be both one of the most boring duties and one of the most exciting duties I had while in the Navy. It was boring while on watch from midnight until four in the morning in calm seas with no course changes. Ho Hum! But, when we were involved in antisubmarine exercises, chasing a submarine at high speed and making drastic course changes, the four-hour watch went really quick.
I never saw combat in my Navy career so I have no personal experiences such as those told by our classmates John Tuthill and Bob Blean. I did, however, experience some terrifying times (to me, at least) while at sea. My ship was home ported at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, so we spent most of our time at sea in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. As you know, hurricane season in those bodies of water runs for six months, from June through November. In the latter part of September, 1963, we were operating in the Caribbean when Hurricane Flora came through. We, at the time were in harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico having just completed a missile firing exercise on a range at sea near Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The path of Flora was projected to pass right through Puerto Rico so we left harbor to ride out the hurricane at sea where we could maneuver. To prepare for the storm, anything that was not permanently attached to the ship was tied down and lines were rigged in all passageways for the crew to hold onto when having to move around the interior of the ship. We left port in the early morning and as we cleared the harbor, the sea was already up with waves about five to six feet high. Lunch that day was our last hot meal for two days. Once we had cleared land, we set the underway watch which meant I would stand helm watch eight hours a day in two watches of four hours each. The seas grew to somewhere between 15-30 feet as we tried to maintain a course to minimize damage to the ship. Being the helmsman, I just responded to the helm orders given to me by the officer of the Conn. I stood on wooden grating at a console with a gyroscopic main compass, a magnetic backup compass, and a helm/rudder indicator on it. I held onto a large brass wheel that was the actual helm, controlling the position of the ship’s rudder. We were receiving green water over the pilothouse and bridge while I was on watch between 12:00 PM and 4:00 PM. Our bow was submerging into the waves and rearing up like a horse only to sink back and start all over again. The crew not on watch was ordered to stay strapped in their bunks to avoid injury. There was no food being prepared and the only food available (if you could get to it) was sandwiches stacked in containers on the mess deck. As we maneuvered to keep our bow into the wind, the ship would roll 15 to 30 degrees from vertical and, from my position, hanging onto the helm; I could look “down” and see the water out the bridge wing door porthole. I had to hang on to keep from sliding down the pilothouse deck towards the bridge wing. At one time, the inclinometer on the bulkhead indicated a roll to starboard of almost 40 degrees. I didn’t think we would recover from that one. Several members of the watch slid down the deck and would have fallen into the sea if the bridge wing door had been open. The wooden grating I was standing on slid out from under me and went crashing into the bulkhead. I was hanging on to anything I could grab on the consol just trying to keep control of the rudder. The ship slowly rolled back to port and, as we passed through vertical, the speed of the roll increased significantly, tossing everyone towards the port bridge wing. The ship finally recovered when we settled on the new course. I later learned that the ship lost all of the lifelines on the starboard side and the 26 foot motor whale boat was washed away. After being relieved from my watch, I carefully made my way back to my berthing compartment, grabbing a couple of sandwiches on the way. I strapped myself into my bunk and waited the eight hours before my next watch at midnight.
I served on five submarines between 1965 and 1985. All of them operated in the Atlantic so I did not experience combat. I took away from my sea duty two major concepts:
1. danger is inherent in operating small ships on (and in) the ocean, and
2. young sailors accomplish amazing things in the middle of the ocean when something has to be fixed and external support is not available.
My first ship was USS SEA ROBIN (SS 407), a WWII submarine, at least 21 years old when I reported to her, but the design was sound and for the most part she had been reasonably maintained. The design allowed changing propulsion electrical “lineups” depending on the speeds desired when operating submerged (powered from the two batteries, 250 volts DC each). The connections between the batteries and the propulsion motors could be adjusted to provide 125, 250, or 500 volts to each motor. Normal submerged operations were conducted with 250 volts across each motor. For very slow ship speeds (and longer time before the batteries needed to be charged) the connections were adjusted to provide 125 volts across each motor. For very fast ship speeds (and also rapid battery depletion) the connections were adjusted to provide 500 volts across each motor. After WWII the alternate lineups were generally not used except for special tests.
I was the Diving Officer of the Watch (responsible for supervising the sailors who operated the diving planes and other watchstanders in the control room whose actions affected the submerged attitude of the ship) during an Operational Readiness Inspection. We were operating at 200 feet below the surface (the ship's “operating envelope” was from the surface to 412 feet). When submerged we normally ran at 1.5, 3, or 5 knots (nautical miles per hour - a nautical mile is slightly longer than the statute mile we use on land).
The Commanding Officer ordered the connections shifted to provide 500 volts to each propulsion motor, followed by Ahead Flank (essentially “make best speed”). As our speed was approaching 16 knots, the stern planes did not respond to the control wheel used by the stern planes operator, who was attempting to prevent the bow of the ship from rising. I told the Officer of the Deck (who was in overall charge of the watch section) what was happening as the stern planes operator followed procedures and shifted the planes to emergency hydraulic power. He still could not change the position of the stern planes. In accordance with the next step in the procedure, I ordered him to shift to hand operation. As he started that process, the stern planes rapidly changed position to full rise, and the up-angle of the ship increased rapidly. The procedures for that emergency (stern planes jammed on rise) were implemented, but fortunately the electricians controlling the propulsion lineup had not waited for the casualty announcements - as they felt the ships bow going up rapidly they realized something was terribly wrong and moved their control levers to disconnect the batteries from the motors. When the announcement of the stern planes emergency was made the ship's up-angle had became so large that the electricians could no longer move the control levers. Fortunately their actions had already reduced the effect of the stern planes and limited the up angle (the Squadron Engineer, who was part of the inspection team, looked at the inclinometer as we broke through the surface - it showed the bow was pointing 54º above horizontal). The Division Commander (who had been looking over my shoulder the whole time) commented "It looks like you have earned yourselves a shipyard period."
Things had been thrown all over, but no one was badly hurt and the ship remained on the surface. If the electricians had not taken independent action before the announcement the angle would have been larger, creating more chaos in the ship. Also, it is very likely she would not have stayed on the surface, but would have plunged stern first to dangerous depths. Once back in port, shipyard workers came to the ship to figure out what had happened. Apparently the stern planes hydraulic cylinder (which changed hydraulic pressure into force to move the stern planes) had been rebuilt several years before using rings that were harder and more brittle than was specified. At least one ring had broken during re-assembly or during use, and the pieces ground away the piston so that the hydraulic fluid washed past the piston head rather than pushing against it. It worked satisfactorily at normal submerged speeds, but could not handle the forces on the stern planes at Ahead Flank. [During the process of changing to hand operation there is a period with no hydraulic pressure applied - that is when the planes moved from near neutral position to full rise.]
Two examples (among a great many) of the ingenuity and persistence of sailors:
The first occurred on a ballistic missile submarine on patrol. Our primary orders were to be on station, maintaining continuous communications, ready to launch some or all of our missiles if the President ordered, and to avoid being detected.
The propulsion installation had at least two of almost everything, arranged so that if anything went wrong with a section, that part could be isolated while the rest of the system continued to operate. For technical reasons the turbines that turn steam energy into rotating mechanical energy are mounted on frames that can move slightly relative to the hull. The condensers, which turn spent steam back into liquid, are mounted directly to the hull. To accommodate the relative motion between each turbine and its associated condenser, the steam connection between the two is made by a large molded piece of rubber called a boot. On this patrol a split had developed in the rubber boot connecting one of the propulsion turbines to its condenser. Each ship carries a spare, to ensure that the correct one is available if replacement is necessary, but the official procedure for the replacement requires the ship to be in port while shipyard workers lift the entire turbine after loosening the connection between the boot and the turbine. With the turbine raised, there is ample room to remove the damaged boot and install the replacement. The turbine is then lowered and realigned.
Because of the leaking boot, we had to isolate half of the steam system. That meant any significant problem in the half that was operating could leave the ship without normal propulsion or electrical power - only the battery and the small output of the emergency diesel, which is quite noisy (and thus easily noticed by anyone looking for a submarine). As the Engineer Officer and Commanding Officer considered informing our operational commander that we had to abort the patrol, the Chief Petty Officer of the Machinery Division told them that he and the other senior machinist mates were pretty sure they could replace the boot without lifting the turbine - but it would require using a non-standard procedure. The CO said to give it a try.
About five sailors crawled into very tight spaces, the smallest sailor literally being held by his heels as he wriggled into position (head down) to disconnect some of the boot fasteners. They figured out how to get the boot out without damaging it further, then reversed the process to maneuver the replacement into position without damage. They repeated their contortion acts as they fastened the boot in position, about a day after starting the replacement effort.
We let steam into that section of the system very cautiously. The boot held, and we resumed normal operation. We did not have to break radio silence, and we completed our assigned patrol.
[Several months later when I described the evolution to another submariner, he added some perspective to the accomplishment. A ship he was on had a similar problem while they were conducting testing or training near their home port. Their torn boot was replaced in port by a shipyard team, using the standard procedures. Something did not line up correctly the first time they lowered the turbine; it was re-raised and the installation done over. The whole process took about a week.]
The second example occurred on an attack submarine on routine operations. It involved a broken part on a "CO2 Scrubber", a machine that removes CO2 from the air in the ship. Each modern US submarine has two scrubbers installed. Normally one scrubber is running continuously while the ship is submerged, and the second is turned on as needed to keep the CO2 concentration at an acceptable level. With only one scrubber, the ship would have to ventilate (exchange air inside the ship with air in the atmosphere) once or twice a day; an uncomfortable situation since ventilation requires being at the surface and making a lot of noise.
Each nuclear powered submarine had a small lathe installed, and at least one of the machinist mates had attended an 8 to 10 week training course on operating a lathe. We also carried various types of metal bars that could be turned on the lathe to make some replacement parts. This capability was seldom used. However, the part that broke was a simple oil pump that was not expected to fail, so we did not carry spare parts for it. We were in the middle of the Atlantic at the time, and did not expect to pull into a port for over a month.
The failed part of the pump had been machined from a metal bar, with several drilled oil passages. We did not have fully detailed drawings of the pump, but the sailor who knew how to operate the lathe thought there was enough information in the scrubber technical manual that he might be able to make an acceptable temporary replacement. He was taken off his normal duties, and started to work. He had almost finished the piece when a drill bit broke off as he was drilling an oil passage. We did not have anything on board that could be used to remove the broken bit. He puzzled over it for several hours, and figured out an alternate location that would carry oil between the same two cavities and not intersect the broken drill bit. There were no further problems in finishing the piece.
The part he created was installed, and the repaired scrubber worked as it was supposed to. When a temporary part is installed, the crew is supposed to obtain a proper repair part and put it in place. We took to heart the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and did not replace the temporary part with a standard part. When I left the ship over a year later, the scrubber was still working well with the "temporary" part in place.
Ron Volbrecht went in the Navy directly from graduation in 1961 until his discharge in 1967. Ron was trained as a Radioman and served at remote communications stations in Morocco. The bases at which he was stationed are gone now and Ron believes they have reverted back to desert.
I was stationed both in Bouknadel, Morocco, a Transmitter site for the Mediterranean and Sidi Yahia, a Receiver site for the same group. In Bouknadel, there is a specific schedule for the direction in which the antennas are pointed, based on wave propagation. They are in one direction during the day and another at night. As one can imagine, the transmitters are very high-powered FRTs, made by the Technical Material Corporation in Mammaroneck, New York. When a transmitter's antenna is to be changed, the unit has to be taken down, because you aren't supposed to have an unloaded output. The method of change is a very simple wooden t-bar arrangement with the output wires attached like clothesline to the top of the T. All you have to do to change the direction of the signal is to remove the T bar from one antenna and move it to the other. One night, while I was doing this job, someone forgot to shut down one of the transmitters. Sparks flew all over, but because everything was made of wood, I received no shock, just a very big scare.
Another story of my time in Morocco is related the King who was there at the time. Since I was there from 1961 to 1963, King Hassan was the ruler. Our group performed a communication operation from the grounds of the palace in Rabat, but didn't get to see the king. He was in the United States at the time, talking to President Kennedy.
A third story from that time was when we were out during the day digging in the ground for something, that at this point, I don't remember what it was. One of our Moroccan friends who helped us on the base was helping out. He was a big bruiser of a guy, who you would not want to get on the wrong side of an argument. When he uncovered a scorpion, he ran like a scared rabbit. I never saw anyone so frightened of that little creature. He knew they could be deadly and wasn't taking any chances.
The forth story is a combination of events that took place with our various USO shows that were presented while I was there. One of them was a singing group from the college that my sister was going to in Alfred, New York. I didn't even know they did USO shows. The other one was with a performer who was rather new to me. A 30 something Joan Rivers did one of our shows. She was very funny.
I also remember that the same days that I was checking into my duty stations, some Ithacans were checking out to go back home. I don't remember exactly who they were, but that might be something to find out about on Veterans Corner web page too.
My wife of 47 years and I were married 2 days before I graduated from Cornell in'65. She was a junior and wanted to graduate from Cornell, so we stayed in Ithaca and I took a job as credit manager of the local Goodyear tire store. The number ten is indelibly ingrained in my mind since the 10th of December 1965 I received my draft notice to report to the Syracuse induction center for a physical as my "friends and neighbors" at the local draft board saw a different use of my time and talents. Ten days later I received another letter informing me that I had passed and that I should again report to the Syracuse induction center on February 15, 1966 for induction into the US Army. I immediately went to the local Army recruitment center (since I had been asked to leave the Cornell Naval ROTC program after a sorority panty raid caper, and had later quit the Cornell Air Force ROTC program) as they seemed like the only option where I might have any leverage at all. They agreed that if I enlisted and passed another battery of tests that I would be guaranteed officer candidate school in the branch of my choice. I signed on the dotted line and chose Armor as that seemed to be a lot thicker than a fatigue jacket if I was going to draw any serious fire. We have called Valentine's Day, the Last Supper in the Franklin family since as I took my wife to dinner on Valentines Day and the next morning she drove to to Syracuse where I was placed on a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky after being sworn into the service of my country.