Thursday, October 30, 2008

Old Subs and Ships of my Past

With the Commissioning of the USS New Hampshire ,I felt compelled to put down a few memories of my old boats and one ship.

It is odd for me to be able to say that I have been part of the decommissioning of all three sea going commands that I was stationed. Two Submarines and one Submarine Tender. I got my sea legs and qualifications on the USS U.S. Grant SSBN 631G. Your first boat just seems like your only boat you have ever truly served, hence the reason we always make statements like " that's not the way we did it on the USTAFISH." I had a little over 3 years on the Grant, being one of the last Boomer crews to do patrols out of Holy Loch Scotland. Looking back now, it was a great experience. Like stripping parts from Building 616 to get under way on time? Even to this day I miss Ferries Fish N Chips and I think it was the Argyle hotel pub or something and another place called the Dolphin Inn were us Missile monkeys got our pints of lagers, Bitters, Ales and Stouts. My recollections are not that good so maybe some others that read this might have better memories of Holy Loch and Dunoon.
When I left the Grant I cross decked over to the USS H.L. Stimson SSBN 655B in Charleston S.C. Not even a year later I took the Stimson around to Bangor and Puget Sound Naval Ship Yard for the same fate (SRP, Submarine Recycling Program) as my former boat. At my first chance, I went over to the dry dock were the Grant sat with what I think was the John Marshall and took a tour.

It was a sad sight to see for a boat that I sailed on for 5 patrols. The interior was almost completely stripped. Massive hull cuts had been made in several sections of the boat for equipment removal. I remember there was a walk out platform like a porch were a hull cut was made off the crews lounge. The missile muzzle hatches had been removed, and the hull split at the reactor machinery room one area.
It was a mind numbing sad experience for what they say is true, ships are alive with their own soul. And the soul had been taken from this old friend who faithfully served its country for over 3o years.

The Stimson was placed in a aircraft carrier dry dock with 3 other Boomer boats for disposal. They had to use a bunch of divers and laser sighting gear and 18 hours of maneuvering watch to sit all 4 boats on the blocks at the same time. Quite an amazing feat. I also remember we got in some trouble with the Yard Birds for some premature locker removal while we were sitting up at Sub Base Bangor after Strat -Offload. We were bored and felt we were just giving the yard a head start. Violated some union contracts or something with PSNS. Go Figure..

Then I was off to the USS Canopus in Kings Bay for two years were one of my new shipmates met me at the quarter deck and said welcome to Hell. Now Submarine Tender duty is definitely different than sub duty, but once you get use to the way the surface guys do business it's not all that bad. I found it somewhat like modified shore duty. But it's Still Surface Ship Duty. Surface Sailors are an uptight bunch. You actually have to use all those skills you learned in boot camp and be held accountable for them. There is a MAA in every passageway that is more than happy to correct your military bearing and appearance. They might even insist on writing you a fancy ticket that you have to go give to your Chief just to make sure your deficiency is properly corrected. Flashback to the Ustafish parked next to the Simon Lake, I remember the COB on my first boat would just throw the things in the trash and say "Go get a F*&^$#* hair cut!!"

One of my first days aboard said surface ship we had a fire drill. Over the intercom they Announced the fire at some compartment and frame number. I asked my new shipmates were that location was so I could head to the scene to assist with damage control. "Relax new guy! We have fire parties for that." So that's what the red shirts are for. Who knew?

No matter what command I was stationed, I always ended up RPPO as in supply.

So as the Canopus started to offload for decommissioning and people separated to move on to their next commands, I slowly assumed more supply tasks until I was the default Weapons Department Supply Officer. I had to document, transfer or dispose of thousands of Items, equipment and tools. I signed so many supply chits, I still have twitch in my hand to this day. I think I developed the fastest unrecognizable signature in the Navy.
Just before I assumed all the other weapons departments leftovers, I was just documenting and transferring equipment for the W-4 Missile Division. The Division Officer had to sign these chits as well. "These better be right Petty Officer Ryle or you better pray we don't share the same cell in Leavenworth!" So this is a good segway into the next part of this story....

So I find some old missile testing equipment and gear that ended up being from the Polaris missile era. I had a magic book for instructions on disposal of SSP equipment (Missile related stuff). If I remember right the magic book had the old Polaris gear still documented as being on board. So that was a good start. Dont want any missing warheads or anything. The instructions deemed these items cleared for disposal at DRMO. A month later or so the rumor mill had it that these items ended up on a boat that was headed to China. Guess who the "G" men(DCIS) come looking for? You got it, yours truly. "Petty Officer Ryle, report to the T-Shed Supply Office!" So I look over and see these guys in suits, badges and guns and I'm crapping my pants scrambling for my magic book. The SSP magic book would be my only savior. So nervously I show the "G" men I did exactly as instructed. Once they saw my paperwork they put their guns away and called off the black helicopters and said carry on.(Ok, thats a little embellished, they were actually nice but still intimidating.) I expected to have more inquires after that even when I went to my next command, but I guess those were the only assets the Chinese were lucky enough to get their DRMO sniffing hands on. I'm sure it was customs that stooped them from taking the stuff. Like I said before, it was pretty old antiquated useless junk, but one mans junk is another mans treasure as they say.

The Canopus Decommissioning Ceremony was a Grand event with much Pomp and Circumstance, trimmings and fanfare. Officers and Sailors in full dress uniform as far as the eye could see. They even had veterans from the first USS Canopus scuttled in WWII. Great remarks were made by both of that currently served and served on board in her past. A fitting tribute to a once proud ship.

Days after the decommissioning ceremony it seemed ghostly to walk her decks. There wasn't very much crew left and you could feel once again a soul was leaving the ship. So I guess that's how it has always worked over our long and proud Naval History. Out with old and in with new.
Thanks for taking a short walk down memory lane with me. Perhaps some of your experinces might be the same.


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Lou said...

I did one of the last patrols out of the Loch on the 645, I remember the 631 barge sitting next to the Simon Lake the entire time we were there...

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