Shipmates & Friends: Only those of us that rode submarines can appreciate the following experiences. I know that there is not one of us that would not jump at doing it all over again. A little long but brings back memories.
I liked popping the hatch at the top of the sail (submarine’s bridge) at
sunrise and being the first to savor the scent of fresh air for the first time
in 8 weeks… watching dolphins race in the bow wave on the way back home to
Pearl… the tear-drop hull of the boat beneath me silently slicing through the
I liked the sounds of the submarine service (sounds that we alone could hear,
as we were the Silent Service where others were concerned) – the ascending
whine of the dive alarm sounding, and the haunting echos of “Cayooogah,
cayooogah… Dive! Dive!” from the boats yesteryear, the gruff voice of a Chief
headed aft… “Down ladder; Make a Hole!”, the indescribable creaking sound of
hull-steel compressing at depths that remain classified to this day.
I was impressed with Navy vessels – bracketed in the aperture of Periscope #2,
the crosshairs gently rising and falling across their silhouette on the
horizon, while obtaining range, bearing and angle off the bow.
I liked the names of proud boats of every class, from the “pig boats” of WWI to
the sea creatures of WWII, like Barbel, Dorado, Shark and Seawolf, and the Cold
War boats that bore with honor the names of these and 48 others that are “Still
on Patrol.” Boats honoring national heroes, statesmen and presidents:
Washington, Madison, Franklin and more. Whole classes of boats honoring cities
and states: Los Angeles, Ohio and Virginia.
I liked the tempo of opposed piston diesels and the “pop” in your ears when
equalizing to atmospheric when the head valve first opens to ventilate and
snorkel. I miss the “thrill” of riding an emergency blow from test depth to the
top at a nice steep bubble.
I enjoyed seeing places I’d only dreamed of, and some of which I’d heard from
my grandfather who had seen them under very different circumstances and
conditions… places like Pearl Harbor, Guam, Truk Island and Subic and Tokyo
admired the teamwork of loading ships stores, the “brow-brigade” from pier to
boat, and lowering them vertically through a 24” hatch to the galley below. I
relished the competition of seeing who could correctly guess how many days
underway before the fresh eggs and milk ran out and powder prevailed upon us
I loved my “brothers,” each and every one, whether their dolphins were gold or
silver and regardless of rate or rank. We shared experiences that bonded us
evermore, and knew each other’s joys, pains, strengths and weaknesses. We
listened to and looked out for each other. We shared precious little space in
which to live and move and work, and we breathed, quite literally, the same
After weeks in cramped quarters, my heart leapt at the command, “Close All Main
Vents; Commence Low Pressure Blow; Prepare to Surface; Set the Maneuvering
Watch.” When safely secured along the pier, the scent of my sweetheart’s hair
evaporated the staleness emanating from my dungarees.
Exhausting though it was, I even liked the adrenaline rush of endless drills,
and the comfort in the knowledge that any dolphin-wearing brother had
cross-trained just like I had… not only on basic damage control, but to the
point of having a basic working knowledge of every system on the boat, such
that when real emergencies inevitably arose, the response was so automatic and
efficient they were almost anti-climactic.
I liked the eerie sounds of “biologics” through the sonar headphones, the
strange songs of the sea in the eternal night below the surface of the deep
I liked the darkness – control room rigged for red or black, the only
illumination that of the back-lights compass and gauges of the helm and myriad
of buttons and indicator lights across the BCP. I liked the gentle green glow
of the station screens in the Sonar Shack and Fire Control. I grew to like
coffee, the only way to stay awake in the numbing darkness of the Control Room
with the constant rocking of the boat during countless hours at periscope
I liked “sliders” and “lumpia” and pizza at “Mid-rats” at the relieving of the
watch. I liked the secure and cozy feeling of my rack, my humble little “den,”
even when it was still warm from the body-heat of the guy who just relieved me
of the watch.
I liked the controlled chaos of the Control Room, with the Officer of the Deck,
Diving Officer and Chief of the Watch receiving and repeating orders; the sound
of Sonar reporting: “Con-Sonar: New Contact, submerged, designated: Sierra 1,
bearing: 0-1-0, range: 1-0-0-0 yards, heading 3-5-0, speed: 1-5 knots, depth:
liked the rush of “Man Battlestations; Rig for Quiet” announced over the 1MC,
and the “outside of my rate” role I played as CEP plotter during war games, and
later… SpecOps – the window to another world that I was allowed to peer
through… the tactics, stealth and tenacity of our Captain making prompt and
purposeful decisions to see us safely and successfully through the mission.
I appreciated the fact that I was a 19 year old kid, entrusted with operating
some of the most sophisticated equipment in the entire world, and the challenge
of doing those tasks in a 33’ x 360’ steel tube, several hundred feet below the
surface, in potentially hostile waters.
I admired the traditions of the Silent Service, of Men of Iron in Boats of
Steel, where you were just a NUB until you were “Qualified” and had EARNED the
respect of the Officers and crew. I revered past heroes like inventor John
Philip Holland and innovator Hyman G. Rickover. Such men and those that
followed, both Officer and Enlisted, set precedents to follow, standards to
uphold, and examples of bravery and self-sacrifice like the world has seldom
seen. We were taught to honor these traditions. Somewhere far below the ocean’s
surface, I became a man… and not just any man. I became… a Submariner.
Decades now have come and gone since last I went to sea. The years have a way
of dimming things, like looking at the past through a smoky mirror. I went, as
many others, my separate way… raised a family, and moved on… but a part of me,
my Sailor’s Soul, will always be underway… somewhere… in the darkness, in the
deep, making turns for twenty knots and a pushing a hole through the water.
Jody Wayne Durham, MM2/SS
USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), ’85 – ‘88
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