Impressions of a Diesel Boat Sailor's Ride on a Nuke

USS Jefferson City Submarine

by David Eberhart
Historian and Storekeeper
Topeka - Jefferson City Base
United States Submarine Veterans, Inc.

Submarines have always been a thing of beauty to men who ride them. We all have our favorites. My friend Art says that anything without a fleet bow just isn't graceful. I prefer the Guppy 3s while others lean towards the SSNs. Personally, I always felt that fast attacks looked like a half-sunk barrel with a fin glued on the top. Sure, I knew the specs and was impressed with all the numbers, but they just didn't seem real to me. That all changed on April 2Oth.

7:45 AM. I and about 18 other people dropped down a hatch into a new world for most of us. I even remembered to call "down ladder" much to the amusement of a young man standing at the bottom ready to assist any in need. He just grinned and politely let me have my moment.

The first thing that hit me as my head dropped into the atmosphere of the hull, was the air... it was submarine air. The familiar and homey diesel smell was very, very faint but there nonetheless. The dominant smell was one of men and equipment in confined quarters. The smell of a war machine. I felt we were intruders into a very private domain, but the crew made us feel welcome.

I could rattle on for hours about this adventure, but I will keep it brief with a few touch and goes.

I was a Sonarman... more than thirty years ago. I walked into the Sonar shack and immediately recognized three things: the sound powered phone, a coffee cup holder and the chairs. The rest was science fiction.

I was fortunate enough to be in Control for the angles and dangles. It was was an array of input culminating in a single point of command resulting in the highly precise control of a two billion dollar piece of machinery.

Ordered depth, ordered angle and ordered course always landing on the nose. The ease with which these young sailors handled their jobs brought back memories of cold, warm, deep and shallow ops. True, they missed the opportunity to slap a rag over their mouth when a V-16 failed to light off in 28 degree waters and a cloud of carbon floated through the boat, but I'm not sure they regret it.

As serious as they were about their tasks, they were relaxed and absolutely sure of what they were doing. My wife and I were standing by the Fire Control panel during a thirty degree down angle. The Fire Control man slowly slid down the deck backwards to another monitor he had to check. He had a big grin on his face. He was enjoying the moment.

Another highlight occurred in the crews mess when the senior qualified man (a WWII vet) pinned dolphins on a newly qualified crew member. There was more than sixty years of history in that moment.

What I discovered in that 8 1/2 hour trip was that the beauty of an SSN lies hidden in the vast technology tucked into every nook and cranny of the boat. It lies hidden in the speed and depth ability and the deceptive ease with which she accomplishes the commands that she is given.

But it shines in the eyes of her crew and it rings in their voices as they explain their jobs, describe the systems for which they are responsible, and as they talk about their fellow crew members, their COB and the Wardroom. The beauty of a submarine and the pride of her crew is as true today aboard the USS Jefferson City (SSN-759) as it has been throughout the history of the submarine force.

When the sailors of SSN-759 get their copy of this newsletter, I personally want to to say thanks for all and to all for what you gave us... THANKS!

And to all you smokeboaters tried and true, think big-screen TV in the wardroom, and big-screen TV, DVDNHS, 650 movie videos from which to choose, and a salad bar, buffet, soda and a juice machine as well as a working ice cream machine, all in the Crew's Mess.

It's different but every bit a submarine with a mighty arsenal of power, ready to defend America against all comers. And they must be doing their job, for Americans have never been safer than they have following the days of World War II, the longest period of peace in our history.