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Skip's History

First Racecar
1961 Studebaker Lark

V8 Engine, 4.11:1 rear end, 3 speed manual transmission, 4 dr sedan. Quarter mile times for the Lark were in the mid 16 second range. The car fell into NHRA P/S class. I won my class the first time I ever competed at a drag strip. That was in Pocatello, Idaho. There was only one other car in P/S that day, and I beat him and came home with the trophy. That was the start of my drag racing career. That was the Summer of 1967.

But that's getting way ahead of the story. I was born and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida. Home of the Daytona 500. Back then, it was the Daytona 250 and it was run on the old Beach & Road Course. The cars would race North for two miles on the beach and turn and head South on Highway A1A, which was two miles of two lane highway all the way to the South Turn, at the inlet, where the pits were located. I loved Grand National Racing ( The forerunner of NASCAR) as a little boy I thought circle track was the only real racing. I attended many 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile races around the state when I was little.

There were not many black racers back then in NASCAR (nothing has changed). In 1951, Wendell Scott, a black Grand National racer, drove one of three Mercury Outboard sponsored Chrysler 300's in the big race. Wendell did not finish the race, but one of the other Chrysler's won that year. It was the first time a black racer ran at the Beach & Road Course in Daytona. The local black racers had their own little circuit in Florida where they competed against each other in different cities, mostly on small dirt tracks.

Mr. Albert McLeod Bethune,Sr., son of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, took me to many races. My dad did not like racing, but he was a policeman and could get tickets to any event that I wanted to attend at any nearby track. "Mr. Bert", as I called him, was one of my dad's best friends and he loved racing. I loved to go to the track with him because he drove a new convertible Lincoln Mark I and I could ride in style! Mr. Bert owned and operated one of the local funeral homes in Daytona Beach, so he had the money.

I was introduced to drag racing when I attended Navy Nuclear Power School in Windsor Locks, CT in 1963. I had joined the Navy in 1956 directly after graduating from high school. Connecticut Dragway was just a few miles from the school, located just outside of Hartford, CT. A few of my classmates tried to talk me into going to the dragstrip. My response was, "What fun is there to watching two cars go straight"?

When I finally attended a race, I could not wait to get back out there every two weeks when the track opened. One of the instructors had a 1963 Ford Galaxy 500 with a 406 engine that ran in B/S. He was real hot at the track until Ford introduced the 1963 1/2 Fastback Galaxy 500 with the 427 engine. Boy, was he upset! Because of factory horsepower ratings, both cars ran in the same class and his 406 could no longer compete with the quicker, more powerful, 427 engine cars.

When I graduated and was sent to Virginia, one of the guys that I had gone to the track with in Connecticut was stationed on the same ship with me. He had a 1964 Fairlane with the Hi Performance 289 engine. He asked me to be his pit crew at the track. The track was located in Emporia, VA, about 75 miles from Newport News, VA where we were stationed. At Emporia Dragstrip, we came up against some factory sponsored Fairlane's just like his, but they had one big advantage. They came on a trailer and the drivers did not have to drive their cars back home and to work every day. My friend would not take his engine to the limit and therefore we lost every week. Up to that point I had never been down the track, but it was exciting just to be associated with a race car.

After a few patrols on the nuclear submarine, USS Von Steuben (SSBN-632), that we built in Virginia, I was sent to Idaho to be in charge of the Electrical Division of the newly formed Maintenance Training Group. This was a Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit where sailors learned how to operate Navy nuclear reactors. I made Chief Electrician's Mate (E-7) during the first few weeks I was up there and life suddenly got a lot better. Being a "Chief" in the Navy is like making it to the top of your profession and becoming a superintendent. That was in early in 1967.

One of the young men that worked for me was Petty Officer 2nd Class Electrician's Mate who owned an original 1967 Shelby GT 350 Mustang. He was also into drag racing. One of my other crew members was a 2nd Class Shipfitter (welder), who owned a new 1967 Camaro, with a 350 engine. "Ed" was a dragracer from his heart. He had won many trophies and was a very aggressive competitor. Today, Ed drives a very competitive Top Sportsman car and lives in Pensacola, FL. Ed and I still see each other at No Problem Raceway occasionally. The Shelby GT was more show than go, but Ed's Camaro was at the track every time the gates opened (every two weeks). We also had another shipmate that had a 1967 Dodge Super Bee with the 440 engine. He went to the track a couple of times to see what it would do, but that was it. I did not have anything that I could take a chance at running, until I purchased my "fishing car", the 1961 Studebaker.

Pocatello Dragway was about 60 miles South of Idaho Falls, ID and located along a highway that I traveled to go fishing. I passed by that Sunday and saw all the cars and decided to stop and watch for a little while. When I got to the gate, the young lady asked, "Are you going to race it"? I laughed and said, "This thing"? She said, "We have a class for everything". All she wanted me to do was take the hub caps off. I paid for a tech card and the rest is history. I left with a big class trophy and a big smile on my face! My first ever trophy! The car did not go fishing very much after that. I started my life-long pursuit of more horsepower and quicker times.

When I left Idaho, I had won many class trophies and had won a few rounds in Stock Eliminator. As a going away present, the drivers at the track gave me a "Most Courteous Driver" award and a very nice pen & pencil set. By the time I left Idaho in 1969, on my way to California and Vietnam, I had traded my P/S Studebaker for a 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne, with a 283 engine that ran in Q/S class. I will always remember those first days of racing and winning in Idaho.

Skip's Drag Racing - Part 2

After leaving Idaho, I was transferred to San Diego, CA and assigned to the USS Snook (SSN-592). There I teamed up with a 2nd Class Electronics Technician named Ron Valacorsa. Ron was a single sailor that had lots of extra money and he was one of the best poker players that I have met. Later I will write about my poker playing days.

Submarine Periscope Photography and Racing Photos

After being transferred to San Diego, CA in late 1969, I was sent to Japan to catch the USS Snook (SSN-592). I was away from home for over 7 months. During that time I was pressed into service as a Periscope Photography while on submarine patrol off the coast of Vietnam. We took photos of everything that came within range. It was a very exciting part of being a submarine sailor that I had never experienced. We have all seen movies of submarines in combat and someone (normally the Captain) spinning around the periscope and directing the action as he looks out of the scope. All of that is true, but when it comes to taking photos, the Captain rarely takes the photos.

After returning from that patrol, I was sent to a one-on-one periscope photography class where I was instructed to take the ship's cameras and "Just shoot anything" and come back and develop the photos. I had the best photo equipment that money could purchase and all the ASA 400 Tri-X film that I could shoot and I was suppose to just go out and shoot! I headed for the local drag strip and the old Carlsbad Drag Strip in Carlsbad, CA., which use to be just North of San Diego, CA. Not only would I go there, but I went to the old Orange County Raceway just South of Los Angeles and up to Fontana Drag Strip,
outside of Oakland, CA. All of these tracks are long gone now.

When I would go to the track I would take photos just as I do now, but instead of posting them on the internet, I would print them and take them back to the strip the next week and give them to the drivers. At first the drivers would think I was trying to sell them the photos, but I just gave them their shots and would walk away. Many of them has never seen a photo of their car with the wheels up in the air, or of them lined up out of the groove before making a bad pass. Some would spot problems with the way the car was set up, but they were all happy to get the photos. Back in the early 70's, not many photographers were at the local tracks.

I had been interested in photography since I was nine years old and my cousin Edward talked me into putting my allowance with his and purchasing a Kodak 620 box camera. He was older than me and he got to take most of the shots. Of course he make me split the cost of developing the photos!

I have never won any awards for any of my drag racing photos, but I have a wall full of Navy Commendations from photos that I shot through the lens of a submarine periscope, many of them were Top Secret and I am not allowed to talk about. I served as Periscope Photography Officer on three submarines. One submarine on the West
coast and two more on the East coast. I had to learn all the tricks of the darkroom, using safe-lights, mixing chemicals, working with photo paper and doing all the tricks to improve a sometimes awful shot. Today, with improving digital cameras, Photoshop and other excellent photo enhancement software, anyone can take a good photo, or at least take enough photos to at least have one good shot. Just as in the old days, when we were told to take at least three shots of everything, bracketing what you thought was your best shot, today we can shot a lot of digital photos and hope we catch "Just the right one".

Submarine Duty    Pt. 4                

I entered the Navy in June of 1956, just before the 4th of July holiday. After completing Navy Boot Camp at Great Lakes, IL in Sept. 1956, I was sent to Electrician's Mate Class A School to learn all about being an electrician. All my life I had wanted to be an electrician and now I was getting to go to school. While in that school, I applied for, and was turned down for, submarine school.

At the time, orders for your next station after school was earned by the position you finished in your class. I finished 4th, out of 15 sailors and I was behind my high school classmate, Billy Watkins, the # 3 finisher. The top two men in the class got automatic orders to serve in White Sands, NM, for a top secret duty. So that meant I would pick 2nd overall. All of the orders were put on the board and I spotted the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier out of Mayport, FL. Mayport is about 125 miles North of my hometown of Daytona Beach, FL. But before I could pick, Billy Watkins selected the carrier. What a letdown! When I got up to select, the instructor informed me that I was going to New London, CT to Submarine School! Of course I stated that they had turned me down for that school weeks ago. The instructor told me he had my orders in his hand and there was nothing I could do about it.

Inside, I was very happy about going to submarines. Although I had never seen one in person, I wanted to go to submarines. While in high school, I had watched "Run Silent, Run Deep" and some other submarine movies and had fallen in love with submarines. When I got to New London, and went down to the docks to visit my first "Boat", I was shocked at the small size of everything. Movies make them look like there is lots of space, but believe me, it was tight! I started having second thoughts about serving on submarines. When we started school, the course was very demanding and they did not play around. Many sailors started the school, but only a few finished. We learned all about the USS Becuna (SS-319) class sub. A WWII guppy conversion sub. We also had to survive the Escape Tower and the Decompression Chamber. Many sailors quit sub school before they ever got a chance to ride on a submarine. Then after the first trip to sea, and that first dive, many more quit.

The Escape Tower was an approximately 150 ft. high, round tower where all sub sailors had to make a mock escape from a submarine using the escape gear that was the latest at that time. You had to make two escapes from 18 ft. to learn how to do it. Then you got two chances to make it from the 50 ft. level. There were qualified divers in the water and at the top to rescue sailors that did not make it. I did OK from 18 ft., but on my first attempt from 50 ft., my hands came apart above my head, which was the signal we were given to let them know you were having trouble, and I was snatched away and put into a safe chamber to watch the rest of my class make their assents. I was more embarrassed than anything else, because there was nothing wrong. The divers and my instructor continuously asked me if I wanted to quit. That would have meant getting out of submarines. I said no, and asked to let me try it one more time. That time I made it. All sub sailors are suppose to re-qualify at the Escape Tank periodically. My next time in the tank was about 15 years later and I could remember that first experience as though it was yesterday. That time I made it on the first try.

After completing submarine school, I was sent to Norfolk, VA to the USS Runner (SS-476). The Runner was a WWII submarine with two batteries, 4 Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines and 4 General Electric motors for propulsion to the two big screws. The "Boat" had ten, 21" torpedo tubes, 6 forward and 4 aft for armament. The Runner had a crew of 72 men and 8 officers. The electrical gang was one of the largest on board, due to the fact we had so much equipment to take care of. My first day on board, as a lowly Fireman Apprentice ("Fireman Deuce"), I was asked by the First Class Electrician if I knew anything about Electrical Machinery History. That is the set of records that all submarine electrical departments are required to keep. I said, "Yes Sir, I learned that in school!". He pointed to about 6 big books, along with some smaller log books and a few other books that I had no idea what they were, and he told me to take they down in the After Battery Well and not to come out until those books were up to date! I discovered that the books were about 6 months behind and the log books were not in any better shape. When I complained about not having all the information that was needed to fill in the books correctly, I was told to "raise the antenna on my pen and fill in the gaps!". Saying that was not legal did not help my acceptance into the gang. After finishing my update of the Machinery History Books, that became my permanent assignment. Those books were never wrong or behind after I took over.

Being sent into the battery well on my first day on board was an introduction to where I would spend the majority of my time on the Runner. That class of submarine had what was called, Closed Ckt. Ventilation. This proved to be one of the worse arrangements for submarine battery ventilation ever designed. The batteries were constantly grounded and had to be cleaned by hand, sometimes daily and sometimes more than once per day. The electricians were responsible for both batteries and no matter what was going on, if a battery was grounded, we had to go down and clean until the ground readings were sufficient to allow the batteries to be charged. The only persons that were exempt was the Chief and First Class Petty Officers.

Electricians were in charge of the Maneuvering Room, where the main propulsion motors were located and the "Sticks" that controlled the 4 diesel generators and the motors to provide propulsion and charge the batteries. It was very exciting to watch the "Controllerman" work while maneuvering the ship. All orders for ships speed and direction came down to the Maneuvering Room from the Bridge or the Control Room from the Officer of the Deck. The two Controllerman worked as a team, each one controlling one propeller, to give the correct speed and direction to the ship. I wanted to be a Controllerman very bad, but only Petty Officers were allowed to be qualified as Controllerman. I use to get up and go back to the Maneuvering Room whenever there was an opportunity to practice, and that was during "Man Overboard!!" drills. I became very good at the "Sticks" which got the attention of the Chief.

When I was detailed to Mess Cook duty, which all non-rated sailors had to do, the Chief went and talked to "The Chief of the Boat", or COB, and he got me off with only one month of the normal three month tour of mess cooking. I had been on board about 18 months at the time, but I was still a Fireman Deuce (E-2). The Chief asked me one day, "When do you go up for 3rd Class (E-4)?" My response was, I can't go up for 3rd until I make Fireman (E-3). The Chief stormed off and when he returned, he told me I was scheduled to take the 3rd Class test next month and oh bye the way, take those Deuce stripes off and put on your Fireman stripes. I did not ask any questions, I just started to study for the E-4 exam. At the time, 3rd Class Electrician was wide open, and everyone that went up, made the rank if you passed the test. I passed my test and became a Petty Officer 3rd Class Electrician's Mate and a qualified Jr. Controllerman on the same day.

When a new person came on submarines, they were given 7 months to become "Qualified in Submarines". I completed my qualifications in 5 months after being assigned to the Runner, and earned my "Dolphins". The Dolphins are the submarine insignia that is proudly worn by all submarine sailors that have completed submarine qualifications. By the time I left the Navy, with the event of larger more complex submarines, sailors were given a year or more to complete their qualifications. I qualified on 7 different submarines.

Qualifications consisted of learning every departments duties, all about each compartment, all the equipment on the ship and how it operated. You were required to learn all watch stations that are manned in port and at sea, and all of your departmental duties. At the end of learning all of those things, having completed your qualification card by getting it signed by many qualified personnel, you were required to make several walk-through Q&A's with qualified enlisted personnel and officers. Your last requirement is to pass a Qual Board consisting of at least three persons qualified in submarines, selected by the Engineering Officer or Qualification Officer. During the "Board", the persons assigned can ask ANY QUESTION they want about the ship. It does not matter if you are an electrician, torpedoman, cook or officer, we all get the same qualification procedure. When you are designated "Qualified in Submarines", you become eligible to serve on the Qual. Board. On submarines, everybody knows everyone else's job.


Several months before I left the USS Runner (SS-476), I was in the normal sailor mode of counting down the days before I got out of the Navy. By then, I had a wife and two children, but I had only been in the Navy for just over 3 years. My Chief, Senior Chief Electrician's Mate Stanfield, asked me if I planned to "Ship Over", Navy slang for re-enlist. I told him, "No Way"! The Chief asked what I planned to do when I got out. I said I was going back to Daytona Beach and find something. I just know I won't be in the Navy! The Chief offered me a free week of vacation to go home and look for a job and then come back and tell him what I found. I packed up the wife and kids and headed home to Daytona Beach, Florida. My father had been a Lieutenant on the police force in Daytona Beach and had retired. At that time he was teaching history at the local high school. When I got home, Daddy told me he could get me on with the police force. I wanted no part of law enforcement. I looked for a job that would support my family and could only find positions in the hotel & motel and service industries in Daytona Beach. The local electricians were all union, and they would not let me into the local without going through apprentice training. I could not afford that with my family. None of these options were very satisfying to me. So after a week, I went back to the ship and started to think about re-enlistment.

Now Chief Stanfield was very smart when it came to getting the most out of the Navy. He informed me that I should never re-enlist without making the Navy give me something good. Always make the Navy give me something above the money that they pay for re-enlistment bonus, such as a special school or a very good assignment. He also informed me that as a qualified submarine electrician, I could go to Interior Communications Class "B" School, which was 42 weeks long and I would learn a lot of things that other electricians did not know. The school taught electronics, gyroscope theory and repair, intercom system theory, automatic telephones, installation and repair of automatic phonograph players, dead reckoning analyzer indicator (tracking systems) and much, much more. The Chief had completed this school himself. When I left USS Runner (SS-476) in 1959, I was a Petty Officer 2nd Class (E5), and qualified in submarines (SS). I had 3 years and three months service.

I followed the Chief's advice and re-enlisted for IC "B" School. The things I learned in this advanced electronics and communications training school built a strong foundation for solving many problems that I encountered in the ships I served on and even later in my civilian career. Before completing that school, with just under 4 years in the Navy, I was promoted to Petty Officer First Class (Slick Arm First)! Upon graduation, I was assigned to my second submarine, USS Argonaut (SS-475). I served almost three years on that ship before going off to another advance training school. In 1962 I applied for Nuclear Power School and was sent to Bainbridge, MD for "Nuc. School". I just got in under the wire. I was in the last class that accepted 1st Class Petty Officers.

It may seem as though I spent a lot of time in schools, which was true, but I also got to see a lot of the world. One of the first trips I took was to LaHarve, France, where we were allowed to take a 4 day trip to Paris. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre and The Palace at Versailles. I have been to many of the islands of the Caribbean, and I have a daughter that was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I spent a year in San Juan during 1957-58 as a part of the crew of a missile guidance submarine. The USS Runner (SS-476) was outfitted with missile guidance equipment and this was my introduction to high technology systems. Our guided missile submarines would launch a Regulas Missile and it took two other submarines to guide the missile 300 miles down range to the target. Back then, the missiles were not very accurate and very short range. Today, submarines launch and guide their missiles more that ten times the range of the old Regulas and can hit a target the size of a postage stamp.

While in San Juan, I also served in one of my most enjoyable tours of duty in my Navy career. Playing softball on the San Juan Navy Base softball team. It started out when our ships softball team played against the base team. After the game, in which I had several hits and made some good plays in the infield, the coach of the base team asked if I would like to play for his team. I told him that was impossible because I was on the submarine and not allowed to play because of my duties on the ship. The next day, the Captain of the base (an Admiral) called the Captain of my ship (a Commander) and asked him to assign me to the base so I could play softball for his team. That same day I was transferred to the base recreation department for the duration of softball season. This was just the first time that my softball skills got me some good duty, or out of hot water.

Back at home, during my high school days, I played on the baseball team. I played 1st Base, and was a fairly good hitter. I played well enough to play for a team in a small semi-pro league. Another of my high school teammates, Clifford Taylor, played for the same team. At the time, two or three of our much better players played for the local black baseball league (sort of the big leagues too us). One of my best friends, Eldridge Jeter, was a fireballing left hander that got a try-out with a Cleveland Indians farm team. Clifford and I were not as good as those guys, but we were just one step away.

When I went to Interior Communications Class "B" School, I had never studied any electronics. The first 8 weeks of IC "B" School was electronics. I passed he first three weeks of school and failed week 4 and week 5. When I failed week 5, the Chief Warrant Officer over the school called me in for a talk. In the past, most sailors failing two weeks were sent back to a sea duty assignment. But in my case, the Chief Warrant Officer was also in charge of the IC "B" softball team, and I was his star 2nd baseman! He agreed to send me back to week #2 in the school and I would repeat weeks 2-5. After that time the season would be close to complete and if I failed one more week, I had to go back to sea. The school was 42 weeks long and I never failed another week! I was number 13 out of 13 that finished. Twenty sailors started the class.

I spent almost three years on the USS Argonaut (SS-475), another missile guidance submarine, before going to Nuclear Power School in 1962.

After completing Nuclear Power School I was assigned to my first and only Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine, USS Von Stueben (SSBN-632). After new construction in Newport News, Virginia and commissioning, I made two missile patrols. That was enough for me! I did not like leaving home and returning to the same place without visiting any ports! After all those years on the old submarines and going to all those good ports and having lots of fun in different cities, missile sub duty was very boring.

My next 5 submarines were all Fast Attack Nuclear Submarines. One on the West Coast, USS Snook (SSN-592) and three on the East Coast, USS Shark (SSN-591) twice and USS Sculpin (SSN-590). I served in the commissioning crew of the USS Parche (SSN-683) before the Navy sent me to Pensacola Jr. College to get my Associates Degree in 1976. While serving on the Shark for the 2nd time, I made Master Chief Electrician's Mate (E-9). It was the first time I took the E-9 test and I was the number one selectee of all E-9 electricians selected in 1978.

Let's go back a few years to Submarine School. As a young Fireman Apprentice, I was assigned to clean up the chapel on the submarine base. The chapel has 52 pews (at that time), each dedicated to a submarine that was lost during WWII. There are two pews named for submarines named Shark, USS Shark (SS-174) and USS Shark II (SS-314) . After the loss of Shark II, the Navy decided not to name any more submarines Shark. I said to myself, I would not want to serve on any submarine named Shark and promptly forgot about it. That was 1957.

In the early 60's, the Navy decided to build another Shark (SS-591). Again I said to myself, "I would not like to serve on that sub". In 1968 I was assigned to the USS Shark (SSN 591)! I only spent about 6 months on the boat before getting ordered to go the Maintenance Training Group (MTG) in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

MTG was quite an experience. When I was ordered to go there, I told the Executive Officer on the Shark that I was comfortable, I liked the ship and my family had just settled down since we had only been there for six months. I was told that I could not turn down the orders, these orders were from Admiral Rickover, the father of the Navy's nuclear program. The Executive Officer did not know why, but I had to go out to the Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU), where MTG was to be located, in Idaho. When I arrived at NPTU, the people in the personnel office did not know much more than the Shark's Executive Officer had told me. All they knew was, I was suppose to start qualifying at on one of the three nuclear plants at the site. Since I was from submarines, I decided to try something different and qualify at A1W, the aircraft carrier nuclear site. That was a great experience. I had never been in the engineering spaces of an aircraft carrier.

NPTU is where they train sailors for engineering duty on nuclear power submarines and surface ships after they complete their first 6 mos. of classroom training. They have 6 additional months of training before they can be assigned to a submarine or a surface nuclear power ship (if they complete the training successfully). After a while, I found out that I was a part of a hand picked unit of 35 sailors that would teach the trainees how to do maintenance on nuclear powered ships. I was to be in charge of the electrical division. When I arrived I had taken the test for Chief Electrician (E-7), but had not gotten any results. After being their about a week, I was informed that I had been selected for Chief Electrician's Mate! Oh Happy Day! I had only been in the Navy for 11 years and 3 months and had already made "Chief".

The three years I spent in Idaho was very rewarding. The Maintenance Training Group was made up of the most elite group of individuals I had ever worked with, before or since. Each of us was one of the best at their position in the Navy. If you did not know it before coming there, you certainly found out quickly. A lot was expected from us and all of us gave a lot. We not only trained the young students, but we performed all the maintenance and repairs on the three nuclear power plants on the site. I was in charge of a group of 8 nuclear trained electrical and electronic technicians. None lower than the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer. I had in my crew, one Chief Electronics Technician, 2 First Class Electricians and 2 First Class Interior Communications Technicians, one 2nd Class Electrician and one 2nd Class Electronics Technician (who supported George Wallace for President). There was nothing we could not do. We were given our own building, with state-of-the-art equipment and any resources that we needed to get the job done.

If you liked to fish and hunt, Idaho was the place to do that. There was not much of anything else to do. My family did not like it at all. There were only 55 black persons in Idaho Falls, and 7 of those were in my family! My wife and kids had a very hard time up there. Since all members of MTG had arrived at about the same time, we were given the option to start leaving from two and one-half years to 4 years of service. I opted to leave after two and one-half years.

The next three years was a very mixed situation for me. I was stationed in San Diego, CA, which is one of the best cities in the USA. Being stationed on the USS Snook (SSN-590) was not any fun. The ship was old and in bad shape, we operated all the time and the crews moral was very bad. In those three years, we failed one nuclear Operational Readiness Safeguards Exam (ORSE), which bought weeks of 16 hour days, hard work, misery and training before we passed a re-test. To top that off, the ship was only in San Diego for 54 days out of the three years I was assigned to USS Snook. This was during the Vietnam conflict and we spent three, 7 month tours of duty, in Vietnam waters. As a result, I got my first divorce in California.

While on the Snook, we visited many nice ports, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Philippines, Taiwan and Alaska to name a few. We hit many of these ports multiple times. The normal trip was 7 months long and we took 3 of these "Westpak" trips. When the ship was not in the Western Pacific, we were somewhere along the West Coast in a shipyard being repaired or refueled. All of this away time had a major influence on my marriage. My wife ran off with a Marine and she is still married to him. But God has a way of fixing things...

After completing the tour of duty on USS Snook (SS-590), I was sent to Pensacola, Florida to get my Associates Degree at Pensacola Junior College. That only took me 18 months. While there I was selected to make Senior Chief Electricians Mate (E-8). Making Senior Chief had taken me approximately 7 years. This was due to my lax attitude toward study and hard work that resulted from the divorce and other factors. The past 5 years were a real low point in my Navy career. My second wife, whom I married on the eve of going to Pensacola Junior College in 1974, was..., well let me just say, it was a trip!

After leaving PJC, I was sent back to the USS Shark (SS-591) for the second time. This time I just knew my time had run out. The only ship that I had been assigned to twice and the only one that I said I never wanted to serve on! My time on the Shark this time presented one of the happiest times in my career, I made E-9 (the first time up), traveled to South America and got to go to Uruguay, Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Ipanema Beach), Venezuela, Trinidad and Curacao. That was a part of a UNITAS operation, joint operations between the South American Navy and the U. S. Navy. My Electrical Division Officer, LT. Phil Graham, would later play a major role in my career as a civilian. I left the Shark in 1977.

The USS Shark (SSN-591) was put out of commission, never having any serious problems and being one of the most decorated submarines on which I served.

After a brief tour of duty at Commander Submarine Squadron 6 in New London, CT, I was asked to take over the electrical division on USS Sculpin (SSN- 590). This would be the 3rd of the four submarines in that class that I had served on. During my duty at COMSUBRON 6, I worked for Commander Bud Collier, who would also play a major role in my career after the Navy.

The last submarine that I served on was USS Sculpin (SSN-592). When I went on board, the ship had a green "C" for communications excellence, a red "E" for engineering excellence and a white "E" for battle efficiency! Talk about good operating ships, this was the cream of the crop. The crew moral was excellent and it was one of the best ships I ever served on. I made my first and only Mediterranean Sea trip on the USS Sculpin in 1978. I got to see Barcelona, Spain; Athens, Greece and Rome, Italy. I retired from the Navy, after serving two years at the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, VA on October 31, 1980. I served 24 years and 4 months, day for day.

To be continued...

 

Disclaimer: Oliver A. Holbert, Jr.