Blast from my past in nuclear submarines

BUT THIS COULD BE COCOA BEACH, FLORIDA

Where we stayed when we worked for the navy.

Well, my EMPLOYER, Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physical Laboratory did contract work for the navy, and people from the lab were always going to Florida to participate in testing for the submarines, and write the report.

If you were there for a three week DASO, the Lab put you up at a condo on the beach if you chose – cheaper than a hotel room.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I live at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), and it’s chock full of fascinating men and women with amazing histories in finance, academia, business, the military, … you name it, we’ve probably had one.

There is a small but active community of ex-submariners, and, because of my first job after grad school, at JHUAPL, where I did computational work for the Navy re subs and missiles, I have a tiny membership in the real community.

We worked for the Navy, but as civilian contractors, and I had the interesting job at APL for three years, during which time I participated in DASOs (Demonstration and Shakedown Operations) on various submarines down at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Eastern Test Range.

Most of the jobs for a DASO were day jobs: you showed up at the boat before the Captain got on, because the minute he did, the gangplank rolled up behind him, and anyone not already on board was out of luck; you got off when the boat came back to port in the evening. DASOs lasted three weeks; then the boat went back to base and switched crews – but the APL contractors usually didn’t do both halves.

A favorite for newer contractors was to ride back from underwater tests in the conning tower, and if you were lucky you got fluorescent and flying fish in the bow wave.

One of the boats I was on was the USS Ulysses S. Grant.

Today, through a real submariner who lives in our retirement community, I have in my hands that ship’s log book. He has stories – he was in the Navy for a full career.

An interesting read – which never mentions the lowly help (why should it?) – but lists important visitors, different crews, commanding officers – and anecdotes contributed by the crew.

But it brought a whole piece of my life back – as if I were standing on the dock.

BTW, if you were not ON board when the captain arrived in the morning, you were out of luck: they rolled up the gangplank after him – and away we went to sea.

**********

Another story: Standing on the deck of a nuclear submarine coming back to the dock at night, watching the launch of a Delta rocket at night against the dark sky.

And another: my husband, who did research in Top Secret submarine stuff (my clearance was only Secret) came to visit me at the Cape once, and he got to go on a tour of the sub I was working on – on family day – as my spouse. His only time on one of them! At the dock.

And a third: I first heard The Gambler, Kenny Rogers, going out to sea in the Fire Control room – one of the crew was playing it.

One more: being aboard a British nuclear submarine for a missile launch: the Eastern Test Range had the equipment to follow the instrumented, nuclear-warheadless missile on its flight, so they tested in the US. Imagine the reaction when the whole submarine went a small distance down into deeper water as the missile went into the sky – conservation of momentum, and equal forces, but very unequal masses.

Memories are funny.

Some of the above – though MANY years ago – kept purposefully vague.

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Leave your own stories to share.

5 thoughts on “Blast from my past in nuclear submarines

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    One of my uncles (one of my mother’s brothers) joined the Navy at 17 after Pearl Harbor and ended up on a submarine in the Pacific. He spent 34 years in the Navy before retirement and held every rank all the way to Lieutenant Commander. All I know, he was involved with radar.

    Another Uncle (my dad’s brother) was on the U.S. Hornet (CV-8) when it sunk during WWII. The only story he shared was about the aircraft carrier rolling over and hundreds of crew members running off the flight deck and along the hull as the ship rolled until they were sitting on the spine of the ship waiting for destroyers to rescue them.

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  2. acflory

    lol – nothing to add here, I’m afraid. I’ve been on one boat that was actually moving, and the trip lasted for less than ten minutes, much to my relief. I have great respect for the ocean, and prefer to stay out of it. lol

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  3. Chris

    Lovely stories! And I didn’t know you’ve done work for the navy 🙂

    I don’t have any relevant stories of my own to share, but I do recall a wonderful thing that’s been going around the internet in one form of another and, it’s so bizarre, I would believe it might just be true. So, here goes:

    “I was once on a US military ship, having breakfast in the wardroom (officers lounge) when the Operations Officer (OPS) walks in. This guy was the definition of NOT a morning person; he’s still half asleep, bleary eyed… basically a zombie with a bagel. He sits down across from me to eat his bagel and is just barely conscious. My back is to the outboard side of the ship, and the morning sun is blazing in one of the portholes putting a big bright-ass circle of light right on his barely conscious face. He’s squinting and chewing and basically just remembering how to be alive for today. It’s painful to watch.”

    “But then zombie-OPS stops chewing, slowly picks up the phone, and dials the bridge. In his well-known I’m-still-totally-asleep voice, he says “heeeey. It’s OPS. Could you… shift our barpat… yeah, one six five. Thanks.” And puts the phone down. And then he just sits there. Squinting. Waiting.”

    “And then, ever so slowly, I realize that that big blazing spot of sun has begun to slide off the zombie’s face and onto the wall behind him. After a moment it clears his face and he blinks slowly a few times and the brilliant beauty of what I’ve just witnessed begins to overwhelm me. By ordering the bridge to adjust the ship’s back-and-forth patrol by about 15 degrees, he’s changed our course just enough to reposition the sun off of his face. He’s literally just redirected thousands of tons of steel and hundreds of people so that he could get the sun out of his eyes while he eats his bagel. I am in awe.”

    “He slowly picks up his bagel and for a moment I’m terrified at the thought that his own genius may escape him, that he may never appreciate the epic brilliance of his laziness (since he’s not going to wake up for another hour). But between his next bites he pauses, looks at me, and gives me the faintest, sly grin, before returning to gnaw slowly on his zombie bagel.”

    😀

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