USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)

The Story Of A Cold War Warrior

A ship that deliberately sinks...

What kind of guy volunteers for service in such a ship?  Probably the same kind of guy who'd agree with jumping out of a perfectly good airplaine (paratrooper).  The USS Casimir Pulaski was divided into two crews; a Blue and a Gold crew each with their own commanding officer, executive officer, engineer, navigator, etc.  The crew was a cross section of Navy occupations with a good chunk of the Navy's trades being represented.  Unlike the surface and aviation communities of the US Navy, the submarine force was strictly volunteer.  No one was here that did not want to be here.  This produced an espirit de corps lacking in a lot of units.  And if you needed some spring in your step while working on your prideful swagger, it didn't do any harm to know that your vessel was the most powerful weapon ever built by man.  Each Trident I C4 missile carried multiple warheads capable of reducing a target to fine ash in next to no time.  And there was capacity to carry sixteen of them.  Contrary to popular myth, the doors and hatches were quite generous and it was possible for overly tall or large men to serve onboard boats.  We had a handful of exceptionally tall sailors onboard at various times.  Standards were relaxed.  Anyone who wanted one, could have a moustache as long as it remained within Naval regulations.  This was unlike the surface Navy and it's authoritarianism.  Officers were different.  We addressed them as "Mister" and there was mutual respect.  You'd lay your life down for any of the officers and vice versa.  The captain was one of the most powerful men in the world when he put that key around his neck.  He had an open door policy and was the epitome of fairness, yet still in control.  The benefits of submarine service were equally lucrative.  Unlike sailors in the rest of the Navy, who received Sea Pay ONLY when they were physically at sea, submariners received Sea Pay all year round.  And then on top of that, there was the Family Separation Allowance and Submarine Pay.  This equalled several hundred extra dollars per month, which, in 1980's dollars, were a fortune. 

Then there was the infamous "FBM Deduction" on your income tax form.  One more way the grateful nation paid you back for keeping them safe at night.  Yessiree...we were part of the nation's defense.  Not just some average military grunts.  Local merchants extended free memberships to buying clubs.  Disney tickets?  Just ask.  We didn't drive the local economy; we WERE the local economy.  We all lived pretty much in the same apartment complexes and after returning from sea, there would usually be a new complex sprouting up nearby.  All competed viciously for our dollars.  There were clubs and bars all geared towards keeping us happy.  From Rivers Avenue to Goose Creek, there was Navy as far as the eye could see.  St. Mary's was soon referred to as "King's Bay," even though King's Bay was the name of the Naval base.  Rules were bent regularly.  Only submarine wives and children received free dental care.  The rest of the Navy was on their own when it came to their families.  "If we can squeeze you in" was the motto.  Not so for the submarine sailors.  Our wives commanded the same respect.  With their bumper stickers proclaiming "sub sailors do it deeper" and "my man takes the subway to work," they had the hardest job: not knowing.  Even today with sailors having email and pay phones onboard ship, the submarine sailor is still separated from all communication with his family.  The sole purpose of the boat's radio gear is to receive either an "all clear" message or a message saying "it's time to launch."  So the submarine wife/girlfriend does not hear from her man until he returns.  Submarine wife is the toughest job in the Navy.

Patches? We don't need no stinkin' patches...

The various ratings present onboard USS Casimir Pulaski were as follows (note that some of these jobs are no longer present in the US Navy):

Electrician's Mate - EM.  Responsible for the maintenance of the nuclear reactors and other power sources.  Attached to the Engineering Department.  Their work area was pretty much the whole ship.




Electronics Technician (Navigation) - NAVET.  Responsible for various navigational systems.  Attached to the Navigation/Communications Department.  The NAVET "shack" was located in Operations Upper Level, behind the Control Room on the Port side.

Electronics Technician (Nuclear) - ET.  Responsible for nuclear reactor systems.  Attached to the Engineering Department.



Fire Control Technician (Ballistic) - FTB.  Responsible for SLBM fire control and maintenance.  Attached to the Weapons Department.  FTB's worked alongside the Missile Technicians (MT) in the Missile Compartment and also in the Fire Control Center (FCC), located in Operations Lower Level.

Fire Control Technician (Guns) - FTG.  Responsible for torpedo fire control and maintenance.  Attached to the Weapons Department.  FTG's worked alongside the Torpedomen (TM) in the Torpedo Room, located in Operations Middle Level, forward.


Hospital Corpsman - HM.  The "doc."  The Corpsman is a one-man department all to himself, but for administrative purposes, falls under X Divsion, which is the second in command ("XO").  Doc's domain was Sick Bay which was located in the middle of Missile Compartment Middle Level on the Port side. 




Interior Communications Technician - IC.  Responsible for the phones and other comms.  They also maintainted the Sunstrand "radio" network for listening to music and most importantly - they were responsible for the movies and the VCR's and TV's onboard the Pulaski.  Attached to the Engineering Department.




Machinist's Mate - MM.  The mechanics.  The normal (non-nuclear) Machinist's Mates are referred to as "Auxiliarymen" hence their designation "A Gangers."  Attached to the Engineering Department. 

Machinist's Mate (Nuclear) - MM.  The nuclear mechanics.  Attached to the Engineering Department.



Mess Specialist - MS.  The cooks.  Attached to the Supply Department.  The cooks worked in the Galley which was located in Operations Middle Level, Port side.




Missile Technician - MT.  Responsible for maintenance of the SLBM's.  Attached to the Weapons Department.




Quartermaster - QM.  Tell us where we're going.  The "navigators."  In other branches of the military, "quartermaster" is a supply person.  In the U.S. Navy, the Quartermaster rate are the ones who assist the Navigator (along with the Navigation Electronics Technicians [NAVET]) in plotting the course of the vessel.  Attached to the Navigation/Communications Department.



Radioman - RM.  Communications and most importantly, receiving Family Grams.  The current U.S. Navy no longer has Radiomen.  They have been merged into other ratings.  Attached to the Navigation/Communications Department.  The Radio "shack" was located in Operations Upper Level, forward of the Control Room, on the Port side.



Sonar Technician (Submarines) - STS.  Responsible for all sonar equipment.  Attached to the Weapons Department.  The Sonar "shack" was located in Operations Upper Level, forward of the Control Room, on the Starboard side.



Storekeeper - SK.  Spare parts and ordering more spare parts.  Attached to the Supply Department.  The Supply office was located in Auxiliarly Machinery Room One, lower level on the Starboard side (I believe...).



Torpedoman - TM.  Responsible for the defense of the boat.  Attached to the Weapons Department.   The Torpedomen worked in the Torpedo Room, located in Operations Middle Level, forward.  There was also a three-man berthing compartment there for TM's/FTG's.


Yeoman - YN.  Responsible for virtually everything! felt that way at times...  Prior to computers, Yeomen could expect typing on five part carbon paper with tons of copies and changes.  Computers did away with alot of that.  The Yeomen are also tasked with handling mail and pay which are separate jobs in the surface fleet.  Attached to X Division.  The Ship's Office was in Operations Upper Level, forward of the Sonar "shack" and across from the Captain and XO's staterooms. 

To Shoot, Or Not To Shoot?

People always ask us boomer sailors, "knowing what you do about the effects of nuclear weapons and how much damage and death that they cause, how could you consciously carry out an order to launch them or allow someone else to do it?"  Well, the answer is easy.  Firstly, the US Navy's ballistic missile submarines are a defensive weapon.  So if the order did come in to "fire," then you have an all too sobering understanding that it means that the USA (including the base you just left with your loved ones at home) or one of America's allies/friends, has already been fired upon by another nation that has similarly used a weapon of mass destruction.  So in other words, it's payback time.  Bravado plays a part in the molding and shaping of any military man/woman and the submarine force was no exception.  There were t-shirts with mushroom clouds on them, post cards, bumper stickers, etc.  All glorifying nuclear destruction.  It was indeed no laughing matter.  But spin doctors hired by militaries throughout the world and throughout history have found that its easier to get people to enlist to kill other people when those "other people" are demonized.  The lessons of Christmas 1914 (when British, French and German soldiers made a truce and ended up playing soccer, decorating trees and exchanging gifts - as opposed to killing each other) were not lost on high commands in the United States and other nations.  So the cartoon mushroom clouds, cartoon missiles and cartoon death and destruction were all authorized and condoned.  Nuclear was not all fun and games but few would know that.  Or care to know that.  Petty Officer Jesse Ortiz, my grandmother's brother, was stationed onboard the tanker USS Calliente.  When his ship pulled into Hiroshima he left to go ashore, taking his camera.  He managed to take a photo of the devastation.  The ground was still hot and the smell of death was everywhere.  It's the most scared my uncle had ever been.  Although him and his fellow shipmates were pleased that the war in the Pacific had ended, the short time they spent in Hiroshima was sobering.  Whether or not Japan deserved their nuclear bombing or not, is neither here nor there.  The point is that there are winners in nuclear warfare.  So when the message to shoot comes in and is verified authentic, you must assume that your loved ones, your base and your nation are already dead and gone.

If that wasn't enough, sound travels underwater.  Fast.  So there were "estimates" of how many missiles a boomer could fire before being detected and hunted as the sound of a missile launching is pretty noisy.  Even from underwater.  And to push the point even further still, escape from a sunken submarine is, for the most part, fantasy.  So it's no wonder that the Pulaski's crew partied like there was no tomorrow when party time came.  The drinks were colder, the food was tastier, etc.  Why?  Because there was a good chance that you'd never see it again.  On a day unlike any other Navy day, the USS Bonefish caught fire and within seconds, three shipmates lost their lives.  We earned our pay every day.  There was a good reason why people said "man you're crazy to be on a submarine."  And there was equally good reason why we said "you're crazy not to be..."  It took a special breed of man to work in such confined quarters without cracking.  There would be occasional temper flare ups, but all in all, there were jobs to do (plenty of them!) and you knew which ones were your responsibility.  And then there was submarine qualifications.  Unlike the Navy's surface ship or air communities, submarine qualification was mandatory for service on board a submarine.  You had a time frame of one year or two patrols, with which to earn your dolphins or get thrown out of the submarine force.  Submarine qualifications taught you how to save yourself and others.  You would learn fire fighting, flood control and how to handle other submarine-specific emergencies.  Until you were qualified you were a liability.  Both to yourself and your shipmates.  So qualifications were one of the highest priorities and crew (both in and outside of your department!) took an interest in your qualification progress and how far you had gotten.  You learned how your boat operated, why it sounded the way she did and why certain things "just worked."  Submarine school had been just a coming attraction; a movie trailer.  After all, submarine school did not know which submarine or submarine class that you would eventually be assigned to.  So the curriculum was basic.  Rudimentary.  The nuts and bolts would come when you stepped foot onboard and moved into your division area.  You learned where you worked, how to get in and how to get out.  Quickly.  A list of crew that were experts was provided to you so that you had a good idea who to get help from when qualifying.  During my time on board the Pulaski, the Radiomen tended to be the most knowledgeable crewmen and as such, they made the best teachers.  This is how I met RM2 Pat King and his boss, RMC Belcher (photo courtesy of Pat King).  You studied systems and how they worked.  After you felt you knew the system, you would approach one of the system experts who would test you or walk you through it (hence the term "walk through").  Assuming they felt you were capable, they would sign your qualification card.  After so many system walk throughs, you'd have two major walk throughs; a forward one and an aft one.  It didn't matter which walk through that you did first.  

Nevertheless, regardless of which walk through you chose to take first, it was a long drawn out event.  The goal was not so much to get you a shiny pin for your uniform but to make sure that you understood what you did onboard and how to protect yourself and others.  The guy giving you the walk through might be passed out from a fire or drowning because of flooding and need to ensure that you know how to save him.  Following your forward and aft walk throughs, you studied for the main one.  But wait, the funs' not over yet...  The Captain is then given your results and decides whether or not to accept the "courts findings."  The Captain's Walk Through then took place with him deciding your fate.  Upon successful performance, the Captain shook your hand and signed your qualification card.  Yay!  Success!  Word spread throughout the boat that you had succeeded and all the crew shared in your success.  Once you were qualified, you were accepted into the brotherhood of the deep.  Then it was time to relax.  No more pressure and now people were free to make friends with you as they knew you'd be staying around a while and not get thrown off the boat.  Here RM2 Pat King and my last roommate, STS3 Steve Davis find something amusing in the control room (photo courtesy of Pat King).  At award ceremonies past, qualified sailors were thrown overboard after having their dolphins pinned to them.  Later permutations (keeping the water/liquid aspect) were the "drinking of dolphins" where a newly qualified individual had his dolphin pin submerged in the bottom of a beer glass (or beer pitcher) and the sailor then had to drink to the bottom to get his pin.  As this practice "possibly" contributed to alcoholic shenanigans and mischief (something sailors have no knowledge of!!), the practice was frowned upon when I was on board.  Though the "gentle" practice of "Tacking" was "okay..."  Go figure.  "Tacking" involved the Captain (or awarding authority) pinning your dolphins to your uniform and then your department would then "tack" your dolphins on by punching them.  The bruises were noteworthy and I had some good "shiners" when I took my shirt off later that evening.  Even more "cruel" at the next port call, they made me drink my dolphins as well...  No matter though, I HAD QUALIFIED!  (Yes I'm yelling) And that's all that mattered.  Not being that blessed with math or chemical skills I found the reactor, piping and signal routing aspects to be as foreign as (insert analogy of your choice here).  I pulled hair out wondering why a pump didn't start the way it should or why a signal wouldn't light the light even though I was flicking the correct switch.  My attempts to launch a torpedo were equally hilarious.  So many things I had little concept of.  But all of those trials were behind me now.  Waaaaaaay behind me.  I was an official "bubblehead" now!

At times the atmosphere onboard the boat resembled that of an exclusive men's club with fine cigars, relaxed conversation and all at a nice comfortable temperature due to the nuclear powered air conditioning.  This photo was typical of the atmosphere I'm talking about.  The only thing missing was maybe some brandy or cognac.  Here, ET2 Meyers, ET Juan Morales (sitting), ET1 Pete Benevega, ET2 Frank Hellenberger and RM2 King congregate in the Navigation Center (Operations Upper Level) sometime during a late year patrol (the patrol that I would end up missing)(photo courtesy of Pat King).  From the look of ET Morales, it looks like he might be "cranking" which is another incredibly fun submarine activity explained later in more gory detail.     












 Judging from the beards and long hair, this photo probably came from halfway night or close to it.  Of course, cigar smoking wasn't relegated to just the ET', TM2 Kenny ("Tiny") Boyd enjoys one of Havana's finest while on watch in the Torpedo Room.  Note also the purple stuffed-animal wrist watch sent to him in his Halfway Night package by his wife. 

And since it's bad manners to smoke alone...  I joined Torpedoman Boyd probably during one of my delivery runs...

Everyone will be pleased to know that my cigar smoking days ended prematurely...  Though I do miss the cigar/pipe smell which would carry all through the boat, after one or two of us had lit up.


Male bonding takes many forms.  Sports, hobbies, drinking...the usual.  Patrol was kind of like a forced friendship.  There was no racism on board a submarine at least that I was aware of.  There were 150 of you and you had all been separated at birth.  You'd lay your life down for your shipmate and he for you.  You kind of had no choice.  Training and patrol taught you that.  It has been said that a submarine is "more dangerous to it's crew than to the enemy."  And it was correct.  Flooding, poison gas, fire, chemical accidents...all scary but also a casual reminder of why you received special pay over and above what the average military person received.  Watch standing gets pretty lonely and soon, you're telling your deepest darkest secrets to the guy next to you.  Once back from patrol, you'll more than likely find yourself partying with that same guy.  Off-crew was the day you got off the boat and headed home.  In our case, back to Charleston, South Carolina.  But first, the change of command ceremony and one last time for the Captain to stand on "his" boat and give out some awards.  Here I am collecting a letter of recommendation from CDR William Schmidt.  We are tied up next to the tender USS Canopus at this point in time.  The ritual everyone is waiting for arrives: change of command.

The change of command ceremony took forever.  Always.  Either the priest was late or the squadron photographer forgot to put film in the camera or the flag was the wrong size...  Whatever.  Eventually, the two skippers will salute each other and then we head back to civilization which was Charleston, South Carolina and families and friends.  Spare a moment to consider our early shipmates who's "busaway" consisted of flying from the USA to either the United Kingdom (Holy Loch) or Spain (Rota).  If you were single, you were heading back to the barracks or heading away on leave.  After every patrol there was thirty days "R&R" time.  This was in addition to the standard thirty days paid vacation every year that the entire U.S. military got.  Kind of makes that long patrol worth while...  Once back at the base, you maybe had a new room-mate or you maybe had the same ones from last off-crew period.  Either way, it didn't take long for the party atmosphere to start up.  Here, STS1 Keith Post, ET3 Todd(?) Haley, ET3 Meyers, ET2 Frank Hellenberger and myself relax in a bar following a change of command ceremony.  On this day, we said hello to CDR Frank Walker and goodbye to CDR William Schmidt during a change of command ceremony.  The ceremony included liberal food and drinks equal to any black tie event you visited. 

The party atmosphere usually spilled back to the dorm rooms themselves.  Unlike some branches of the military, the Navy allows drinking in it's barrack's rooms (at least they did when I was in!) so once the bars closed, the partying could continue unabated.  And sometimes it did...  Here I am sampling some of Milwaukee's finest with one of our riders.  "Riders" were temporary guys from other boats that rode us to fill a need.  In our particular case, we were frequently short of an IC technician or two and this guy and another from the USS Francis Scott Key almost always ended up coming from their boats to do patrol with us.  He's wearing a Pulaski ballcap but he was actually from a boat I can't recall.  The other guy was Bloomenkamp from the USS Francis Scott Key.  Poor guy had more time on our boat than his own!  I wish I remembered his name.  We both played guitar so we'd end up in either of our rooms, blasting away.  As a funny aside, he was also heavily into magic tricks and one day he figured out how to do the trick where you have fire in your hand.  It was a case of putting a chemical mixture in your closed fist and then when you opened your fist, the air would cause the chemicals to ignite into a miniature fireball.  It was "cool" the first time you saw it...  Problem is, he did it everywhere, ha ha. name it, he "threw" fireballs everywhere.  One time we were at a concert and he scared the holy crap out of some kids next to us by doing that.  Another of our intrepid riders, IC2 Bloomenkamp and I also played guitar.  Then it was time for fun.  Or..."R&R." 

"R&R"  was one of the key benefits of submarine life: thirty days of leave off the record books.  So basically, I tended to spend my thirty days either with my girlfriend in England or visiting family in California.  Everyone tended to do major travelling during R&R, with many of the single guys piling into one car and driving to the "mom and dad" house of one of their group.  This made for some fun times.  The stories told when the crew returned were worthy of a good summer comedy movie.  Here I am in London standing outside the Tower of London doing my best to blend in and look civilian in my Navy issue black windbreaker.  And of course, in the 80's, having short hair just screamed "military" (or punk).  But who was I kidding?  I enjoyed the attention (didn't we all).    

One time, I managed to kill two birds with one stone (visiting parents and girlfriend) by flying my girlfriend out from England to Charleston.  After sight-seeing in the South for a few days, we both then flew to my mom and dad's place in California.  As Lisa had never visited the States before that was exciting.  After a while we returned to Charleston to end our summer vacation.  Also while in California, I participated in a neat scam called HARP duty where you sit with your recruiter for two weeks and attempt to get all of your old school buddies to join the military.  Only problem was that my hometown recruiter was not the recruiter that had enlisted me.  Oh well...the Cold War was on full steam and the Navy needed as many men as it could get by whatever means possible.  It was interesting.  But for most of the time I had on R&R, I settled for a trip to England to visit.  I preferred the colder weather after the sweltering heat of the Southern USA.  And of course that's where my girlfriend was...

Off-crew was time to catch up on everything that had been going on in the world.  Going through the ship's mail in itself took a good week or two.  Reading all of the newly released Navy regulations that had been issued while we were on patrol and transferring crew that were moving on were some of the other activities.  It was also time for awards ceremonies, reenlistments and other special occasions.  Here I am in the off-crew office, receiving a Navy Letter of Commendation from our Executive Officer (the "XO"), LCDR Richard Relue.  I do not have any photos of the previous Executive Officer, CDR Peter Selde or the subsequent XO who replaced him, LCDR Thomas Hunnicutt (he does show up in the reunion photos section but I never got to make a patrol with him).  We are in the Charleston, South Carolina off-crew office nestled on the bottom floor of the Group SIX building in Naval Base Charleston.  Although our "car" was in the "garage" at Kings's Bay, Georgia, our "house" was in Charleston, South Carolina.  At this point in time, Kings Bay was new and not yet fully turned in to the submarine base of all submarine bases.  Charleston Naval Base and most of it's commands closed their doors shortly after the Cold War ended in the mid 1990's and these places are all deserted now.  It is hard to believe that the patch of real estate just off of River's Avenue, housed the workings and doings of war machines the likes of which mankind had not imagined.  The off-crew

office is home to a lot of things.  Inside the Submarine Group SIX's building are offices for each of the SSBN's assigned to Submarine Squadron SIXTEEN.  The offices are the size of a small convenience store and are further compartmented to provide office space for each department.  At the rear was the ship's office, Captain's office and XO's office.  It was here that X Division, the Yeomen, updated regulations, retired/reenlisted sailors, transferred sailors and basically performed all the functions that lack of mail prevented onboard the boat.  I arrived onboard the USS Casimir Pulaski during off crew.  Prior to that, I worked upstairs at regular Group SIX while awaiting their arrival.  I had initially had orders and been assigned to the USS George Bancroft Gold Crew (SSBN-643), but like so much things in the US Navy, they send you where you're needed most and while signing in to the barracks I received notice that I would be going to the Pulaski Blue.  The main piece of admin equipment, the IBM Selectric III typewriter was a familiar site to me having just finished typing class at YN "A" school.  The off crew days were short; usually 7:00 or 8:00am until around 2:00pm. 

After that, there was a fight through the base traffic which was notoriously slow.  Naval Base Charleston was home to a major hospital command, a shipyard and several destroyer/cruiser squadrons.  Once home, it was time to call up shipmates and party.  Crew and their wives/girlfriends would usually congregate at the Airport Theatre on the corner of Rivers and Airport Avenue or mini-golf across the street from Ryans.  Po' Folks restraunt had just opened along with a new store called "Sam's Club."  Most of the time though, we all congregated at one of the many night clubs that catered to submarine sailors and their wives, girlfriends and families.  Here, my lovely wife Lisa and I, sample the beverages at one of the many such establishments.  The commands in general (though there were naturally exceptions) made sure that you have ample free time to spend with your family and loved ones as "a happy sailor is a productive sailor" or at least a "maybe-he'll-re enlist-sailor."  Hard to tell.  Those who had duty stood watch one day out of three or some equally liberal 

schedule.  Not bad.  That left the rest of the time for all kinds of fun and mayhem both with and without shipmates.  Card games, parties, you name it.  Here QM2 James Harper and TM3 Keith Longan discuss our next big party.  Mainly though, off-crew was a time to spend with wife, girlfriend, family and friends.  Off-crew is probably a lot different now.  After all, the 1980's were a different time.  Boy were they different!  I mean, how did we survive without cell phones and email?  Or the internet?  Or twenty four hour news?  Not that anything has changed much, news program wise.  And how did we function without reality television?  And how on earth did girls without body piercings and tatoos get dates?  There was no "don't ask, don't tell" back then; and no political correctness.  This is heady stuff.  Not idle ramblings.  Well, okay, maybe just a little ramble...