Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Welcome to Submarines
It was July of 1963. John F Kennedy was President and the Cuban Missile Crisis was 10 months ago. I had just arrived at the Submarine Base in Key West Florida and was standing on the pier, with my sea bag, waiting for my “boat” to arrive from daily op’s. I watched in amazement as my new ship rounded the sea wall and was maneuvering to line up with the dock. Black smoke was coming out of both sides of the gray ship rumbling the presence of powerful diesel engines, as an office was barking commands, “All ahead one third, right full rudder”, then “Back full, rudder amidships”. I stood there in awe, taking everything in when suddenly a “Monkeys fist” [A round knot and weight attached to a heaving line] narrowly missed my head; but a large coil of thin line hit me in the head and knocked my hat off. Trying to figure out what was happening, some sailor on the bow hollered at me “Hey puke pull out the line”. I didn’t know what a “Puke” meant but I kinda remembered from Boot Camp that line meant rope. About this time, two sailors rode up on bikes, a truck pulled up and these sailors tied the ship up, pushed over a gangplank and started hooking up shore power, which I would later learn connected the sub to the real world with; electricity, telephone, freshwater. I hoisted up my sea bag and headed for the gangplank and was promptly met, by what appeared to be, the entire crew charging over the gangplank heading for liberty. I waited until all had left and then headed up the gangplank myself. I saluted the aft end of the boat, where a flag was flying, and then saluted the bridge where two officers were standing and talking. “Permission to come aboard Sir” I shouted still saluting. I patiently awaited the return salute that would allow me to terminate my salute. It never came. The two officers glanced at me and returned to their conversation. About this time a young sailor, who was strapping a Colt .45 on his hip, walked up holding out his hand and said, “You must be Dickson, welcome aboard the Picuda.” He had a small, Stainless steel, desk on a post that he now stuck into a hole in the deck. He then pulled a green book out of the desk and began writting in it. He then wrote my name in it with the time of my arrival. I waited until he finished his duty, pulling out his .45, releasing the clip, pulling the receiver looking for a round in the chamber, pointed the weapon skyward and pulled the trigger. The look in his face was that he expected the weapon to fire. When it didn’t, he calmly put the clip of live ammunition back in the pistol and holstered it. I then said, “What is a Puke”. “That’s what we are, non-quals or not qualified on submarines!” he replied.
I laid below, met the Yeoman who checked me in, then the Executive Officer, then the Captain who took me to the mess decks and turned me over to the “Chief of the Boat” “This is your new mother” the Captain said as he turned and left. What a strange place this, I thought, where officers don’t salute, seamen run around with loaded pistols, Commanding officers introduce you to enlisted men who are pretending to be my mom and every one I meet now calls me a Puke. The COB informed me that “Puke” was a term of endearment used by qualified sailors when they referred to nonqualified sailors. It wasn’t a term that he especially liked or used but what could you do. [I tried to keep that in mind, over the next few months, when he used the term as I was being reprimanded for falling behind on his schedule of qualifications.] I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it. The COB handed me my Qualification card, told me the rules, told me never to loose the card, told me I had 6 months to get it filled out, and if I didn’t get it done I would be kicked off the ship, a disgrace to the Navy. The COB informed me that besides being a “Puke” I was also a “Nukie Poo”, another term of endearment and I should try and not take it very seriously. He said it came from the fact that I was eventually headed for a nuclear powered sub but I was now in the middle of a bunch of “Smoke Boat Sailors” and most of them didn’t like “Nuckie Poo’s”. The Topside Watches words were ringing in my ears, “Welcome to the Submarine Service”. Think I’ll go find a phone and give Mom a call. I think she will be worried if I made it or not.
Tomorrow "Hot Bunking"