Getting to Basic Enlisted Submarine School
Arriving at and living at BESS
Pay Withheld illegally
Church at SUBSCOL
Choosing a Career in the Submarine Force
The Diving Tower
The Marine Railway
Getting to Basic Enlisted Submarine School: I left boot camp in late March. I flew on a TWA 747 from Chicago to Pittsburgh. Going over Cleveland, the pilot swooped down to give us a better view when the plane hit another air pocket, similar to my flight from Ashland, KY, to Cincinnati, OH, on the way to Boot Camp. This one was not that bad, though the stewardesses did spill all their drinks. I spent about three weeks at home and headed out on a Greyhound for New London, CT. When we got to New York City, I had to change busses. I was told I "had" to check my "seabag". So, I followed their directions and walked into a room where there were probably 800 Navy seabags in a big pile at least 12 feet high. I plopped mine onto the stack and, miraculously, it showed up in New London as intended.
Arriving at and living at BESS: Arriving at BESS at the Naval Submarine Base in New London, CT, we quickly learned that the gates were guarded by United States Marines fresh back from Viet Nam and one did not want to mess with them. One Marine had a Congressional Medal of Honor standing Gate Guard duty. The barracks were old World War 2 type with about 80 guys per room with the bunks stacked double. Everything at "SUBASE NLON", as it is still known, was old at that time, except for the BESS school building itself and some new submarines down on the waterfront. There were mostly old diesel submarines on the waterfront, though I found out much later that another entire squadron of newer nuclear submarines was stationed at another facility just down the river a bit closer to the ocean. I walked through the Submarine Museum there almost every opportunity I had. This was even before they expanded it and got the USS NAUTILUS as a monument. Our classes were fun and interesting, but again, I studied exactly zero point zero while I was there. Mostly, I sat waiting for the 35 mm movie projector erel to fly off the machine and go rolling out the door and down the hall. That seemed to happen a lot.
Admiral Rickover: I enjoyed Enlisted Submarine School, but did not work at it. I finished just below the top half (i.e., in the bottom half) of the class. This later resulted in Admiral Rickover asking me why I did so poorly here, but that's another story altogether which I will address in my time at Vanderbilt University.
Pay Withheld Illegally: At SUBSCOL, as submariners refer to it, I went SOMEWHERE almost every night. On weekends, I went for what are now known as "day trips" to Boston, New York City and lots of other places, as I was able to afford to do. The Commanding Officer (CO) of SUBSCOL had quite illegally ordered that half our pay be withheld until we graduated. He defended this action by saying that we needed to save money and he was going to ensure that we did. My guess is that was why almost every single sailor went out and blew their money just to show him ( !! ) Stupid, but that's what young guys do. Thus, the CO's Kevorkian intervention in our respective demises had exactly the opposite effect.
Church at SUBSCOL: I went to church every Sunday, as I recall. I became friends with some New London Navy people who attended there. They often asked me to their homes and to go to restaurants with them and things like that.
Choosing a Career in the Submarine Force: Near the end, career paths became a consideration, just like at boot camp for the career field did. One day, a Chief Quartermaster came to tell us about life as a Quartermaster (QM) in the Submarine Force and how to become one. QM Class "A" school for submariners was right there in New London. It was eight weeks long. I asked the Chief, "So, if I sign up to be a Quartermaster, I stay here and go to school for eight weeks before I go to sea duty?" He said, "Yes" and I said, "Sign me up!!" and he did. A couple of weeks later, a Chief Sonar Technician (ST) came to class to tell us about what it was like to be a Sonarman on a submarine and how to become one. The school was fourteen weeks long in Key West, Florida, and so I asked the Chief, "You mean if I sign up to be a Sonar Tech I go to Key West, Florida, and go to school for fourteen weeks before I go to sea duty?" He said, "Not exactly, you first have to complete Basic Electricity and Electronics School (BE&E) which is an eight week school you have to pass before you can start Sonar School." I said, "Where's that." He said, "We teach it all together right there in Key West." So, I sad, "You mean if I sign up to be a Sonar Tech I go to Key West, Florida, and go to school for twenty-two weeks before I go to sea duty?" He said, "That's right." and I said, "Well, Chief, if you can get me out of the QM "A" School I signed up for, I'd much rather become a Sonar Technician!" He did and I did.
The Diving Tower: Probably the most fun thing that happened to me at Enlisted Sub School was going through the Diving Tower. The Diving Tower was an 80 foot high tower where they taught you how to do an ascent using a "Steinke" breathing hood from a submarine that would be stuck on the bottom of the ocean. You enter a pressurized compartment at the bottom, go through an air-lock into a 60 foot deep column of water and go to the top, hopefully without getting the "bends" (nitrogen asphyxiation). They had trained SEALS and a doctor in attendance along with a compression chamber right there in case anyone had a problem. One or two guys in my group lost their ear drums, but I never had any problem. I went through this and the Pearl Harbor Diving Tower a total of six times. It was a blast. In fact, I was actually in the last group to go through this New London Tower before it burnt down. It was about two years later on a trip from the PRECOMUNIT PUFFER that they sent some of us to New London to go to some schools for a few weeks. One thing was going through the Diving Tower. We went through it and later that night while we were sitting around in the "Transient" barracks, someone called out about a fire. We looked out and there it was in full flames. The tower was World War II vintage wood, so it went up like a dry matchstick and burnt down
The Marine Railway: The other great thing I did at SUBSCOL was stand duty, if you can believe that. We did the most interesting things. Sure, a lot of it was scrubbing floors, but we also did things like tend lines on the Marine Railway when the diesel submarines were being docked or undocked. The fun part was the undocking. The sub would start sliding down the railway and the lines would start running so fast that if you got your foot caught in the rope somehow, you would be dragged around the cleats and, basically, your leg would get ripped right off at the hip. There was an incidence of that actually happening while I was there, but I was not on duty at the time.
Visited New York City and Yankee Stadium
Buttered my toast (and a guy tried to punch me out)