USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)

The Story Of A Cold War Warrior

Taking Her For A Spin

Sea trials is the fruit of your labor.  These past few days have seen feverish replenishment and repair.  Now it's time to see what the old girl can do.  A three or four day "mini-patrol" is just the trick.  Some boats would use this time for Midshipmen cruises, Tiger (dependents) cruises and other tasks.  A last minute lengthy check of all masts and antennas to ensure that things raise and lower, etc.  A pilot is assigned to lead us out to sea and all that is needed now is the order to drop all lines and turn that prop! 

A tug boat stands by to pull us clear of the tender or pier if needed.  As this is the 1980's, female sailors onboard ship are still a novelty.  The only ships that they can at this time serve on, are non-combatants.  So it's no surprise that the tug's crew is all girl.  It's also no surprise that they will be the object of attention for Pulaski's single crewmen!  One of our intrepid single guys was dating one of the tender's female crew for a while. 

With most of our ship to sub lines dropped and the tender informed of our departure, we turn the reactor on and make ready to get to sea.  After a set amount of time, all systems will be ready to head out and make some wake.  All is in place and our orders are onboard.  All that awaits now is the final signal to get underway.  The topside gang awaits the word to drop the remaining lines. 

Once at sea we are joined by a dolphin or two.  Don't be fooled; they are there for the food!  Our wake and propellor kicks up fish which they feed on.  They will jump over us and race us, fighting for the best feeding position.  They are too quick for the camera.  Very few good shots are to be had.  Flipper's not very cooperative. Fast film speed helps but not quite.  Video camera's would have been great for this but sadly, those invented in the early 80's weighed a ton.

The racket made by the dolphins is always a welcome sound and there are speakers in sonar and in control to allow the crew (and occasionally riders) to hear the noise they make.  The chattering and clicking noises are a change from the machinery sounds.  The more dolphins the merrier and here we have a large group of them fighting for some choice fish pieces that the Pulaski is serving.

The acrobatics can be quite amazing and there is no shortage of cameras being passed topside for the lookouts to use in an attempt to capture the fun.  The pictures do not do justice to how fast all of this activity is taking place.  The fast creatures are above the water and back under in seconds.  Their speed defies the imagination.  The boat's main ballast tank vents are clearly visible in this view.

Sea trials is also a good time for local surface units to try out their ASW skills.  We get the added benefit of having a guarantee that there's nothing "foreign" in our diving area and they get to "shoot" at us all they want.  USS Paul attempted to find us and failed miserably.  We eventually extended our scope all the way out of the water and got in front of her.  Hopefully our Soviet counterparts are just as capable, eh?

It isn't just ships that want to get a piece of anti-submarine warfare training.  Here a Lockheed S-3A Viking from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise joined in the fun as well.  A jet propelled anti-submarine aircraft, the ten embarked on Enterprise were tasked with hunting us using their MAD boom and sono-buoys.  They had slightly better luck.  Here's a shot of one of them from scope number one.

When heading out to sea we were tasked by the squadron with a burial at sea.  A dearly departed sailor had requested burial at sea and his widow contacted the Navy.  Normally the Navy's Public Affairs Office will schedule the burial to take place on the next available warship heading out to sea.  The next available ship happened to be us.  Following time honored procedures we mustered topside to carry out the ceremony.

A chaplain embarked with us to read the service.  A selection of the crew mustered topside for the burial.  The captain then turns the ceremony over to the executive officer who will do the actual "burying" phase of the ceremony.  As all officers and chiefs have their hat straps on, it was a very windy day.  Also notice the canvas "top sider" tennis shoes worn on a submarine to give you a better grip.

The Corpsman presents the departed sailor's remains (ashes) to the Executive Officer.  STS1 Keith Post stands by with a flag that will be flown from the submarine and then presented to the widow when the submarine returns to port.  The ceremony can take place at any time of day and as it just turned out, dusk was the appropriate time chosen for the burial by Commander William Schmidt.

The Executive Officer ("XO"), LCDR Richard Relue, then takes the ashes from our Corpsman, HM2 Jason Budde and prepares to scatter them while the chaplain reads selected Bible verses plus follows the specifics of a Naval burial.  At this point in time we were told the sailor's name, duty history and normally some notes written by the surviving family members.  It was an honor to grant the final wishes of someone who served before us. 

The flag is then flown at half mast and the rifle squad prepares to fire a salute.  The proceedings are being filmed for presentation to the widow.  The widow will receive the video, a map of the location where her loved one's ashes were scattered, three empty bullet casings and the flag.  Photographs taken at this time by myself, will also be blown up to 8X10 format.  Everything will then be put in a nice package and sent to the widow.

Present arms is ordered as the Executive Officer commences the spreading of the ashes.  Our Torpedomen are the weapons handlers so they have been picked to fire the rifle salute.  Here FTG2 Randy Davis and TM3 Larry Hudson prepare their M-14's for the twenty one gun salute.  The Chief Of The Boat, ETCM Dennis LaPierre, will stand by to pick up the empty shell casings before they roll over the side.

The Executive Officer scatters the veteran's ashes as the chaplain delivers the eulogy.  The ship's bell is rung a set number of times and the flag will be lowered to half mast if it's not already there.  The Captain then read a brief history of the sailor's life and Naval career and the whole history of the Navy's "burial at sea" ceremony.  The deceased sailor was a destroyer man for close to thirty years.   

The first of the twenty one "saluting" shots is fired by the three gunners.  At this point, as the deck of a submarine is round, the Command Master Chief ("COB"), ETCM Dennis Lapierre or someone equally appointed is running to grab the empty cases before they roll overboard!  As stated, three of the empty shell casings will be provided to the deceased sailor's widow in the whole package.

At this point a tape of "Taps" is played unless you are fortunate to have an actual trumpet playing crew member onboard.  We did not, but this slide is from a burial at sea performed by our buddies on the Gold Crew later in the year.  At this point, there are usually no dry eyes.  While I was onboard the Pulaski we only did this one burial at sea.  The widow also received (as part of the memorial) a photograph of the USS Casimir Pulaski signed by our Captain and Executive Officer.

The crewman is standing in front of the AMR1 Upper Level access hatch.  The wire dangling over the side is part of our towed radio receiving equipment.  Our solemn, respectful duty finished, we spend another day on sea trials and then join some dolphins as they race us back to port.  The grainy texture of the slide was due to the speed of the camera being set disproportionately fast in the hope of catching the dolphins jumping.

Sea trials are never more than a week long (depending on mission), but the ocean is huge and even though we are only miles from home, it seems like an eternity when viewed against the empty horizon.  A lack of seagulls flying and other forms of life only magnifies that feeling of empty space.  Here you can see part of our flying bridge rigged out on top of the sail.  A little flag pole inserts into it when we're running on the surface. 

Sea trials are also a great opportunity for...A SWIM CALL!  The boat surfaces and comes to a complete stop.  While the cooks prepare a topside (or below decks, depending on the weather) barbeque (complete with burgers and hotdogs), those desiring to, can have a swim.  Here, the crew of an earlier 1980's Blue Crew, leaves shoes and shirts on the deck and prepares to dive right in (photo courtesy of Woodley Frampton).

Diving is not a problem as it's the ocean - there's not much chance of hitting your head on a submerged rock.  Some submarine captains have been known to allow diving from the fairwater planes.  Other crew are happy to just use the side of the boat.  Some crew will come up topside just for the fresh air and to break the monotony of being below decks (photo courtesy of Woodley Frampton).

And no swim call would be complete without the presence of the trusty shark watch.  This lonesome gunman prowls the deck with his trusty M-14, waiting for the appearance of anything that might endanger the swimmers.  Remember, our screw (propellor) kicks up and kills loads of fish and other marine life which is what the dolphins who follow us, eat.  So there's loads of food in the water to attract a large predator.  I can't recall us ever having to fire in anger at a fellow shark (photo courtesy of Woodley Frampton).

Here's another swim call photograph but this time from a patrol in the 1970's.  The moral boosting value of such activities is not overlooked by the Chief Of The Boat and the command's officers.  Topside barbeques are sometimes also a feature of the swim call - but again, depending on the weather.  Fishing has also been known to take place from the submarine's deck  (photo courtesy of Jim Wynkoop).

With her sea trials completed, the Casimir Pulaski returns to King's Bay for more patrol preparations and to reunite with wives and loved ones for some time in the local hotel prior to leaving for the rest of the patrol.  Although submarine movements were (and still are) highly classified, the wives and girlfriends would normally just hang out in King's Bay to wait for our return.  The small local economy loved that.  There's a few more hotels in the area nowadays...

Tugs pull us in to the pier (or side of the tender) where lines will be slung across to make us steady and secure.  Once alongside and docked, the shore power is connected and then the reactor is turned off.  Watch bills are being finalized at this time to determine who gets to go ashore and who will stay onboard and have watch.  Unlike World War Two submarines, there was no crew to come onboard and give the crew a rest.

Notice that the most important antenna of all - the TV antenna - has already been rigged out.  Missiles shmissles...there's TV to watch!  As wives and girlfriends came onboard after docking, this would help them pass the time as well, while waiting for us to pack our gear and get off the boat.  Again, notice the completely empty wilderness of King's Bay in the background.  Fifteen years later, you'd have to strain your eyes to see grass...

Base Marines off in the distance sit in their launch to make sure that no one interferes with the docking evolution.  Security is paramount at King's Bay and nothing happens on or near the submarines that the base Marines are not aware of.  Nowadays they have their own chunk of the base built up with barracks buildings, etc.  Back in the 1980's, it was a small collection of structures. 

Later that afternoon, our escort slinks in from her time out at sea.  This time, it's the Los Angeles Class fast boat, USS Key West.  She'll tie up for some well deserved R&R as well and then go on her way to other adventures.  The USS Key West (at the time) was based out of Norfolk, Virginia.  Notice how much smaller she is compared to the tug boat.  A small Marine launch is outboard of the tug.