Vietnam Sub service
Mine is an unusual Vietnam story, one I seldom tell because of a life change I made later in life, but I served in the U. S. Navy for 5 years from ‘69 thru ‘74 as a nuclear trained electrician’s mate on a fast attack nuclear submarine. Fast attack boats had only a single ‘always aboard’ crew unlike the missile subs that had alternating crews. My boat was the USS Gurnard (SSN 662) out of San Diego. We performed several patrols of the western pacific (WestPacs) in the 3 years I was actually aboard. Each patrol lasted about 5 1/2 months and our common assignment was to find and then follow the (noisy) Russian missile subs. The idea was that if war had been declared that we would sink the other sub with a nuclear tipped MK45 torpedo before it could fire its nuclear missiles at the USA. We wouldn’t have to even hit the other sub as our warhead would create a huge steam bubble under water and the Russian sub would tumble into that void and be destroyed. Subs don’t float on steam!
Two memorable patrols we spent cruising the coast of Vietnam well within the 13 mile boundary of our war effort. We ran a game with an Air Force plane who would follow Chinese trawlers by radar (who dutifully detected the radar and stayed just outside of 13 miles ). The plane would leave when we arrived. With only our tiny periscope sticking up, we would take over shadowing the trawler optically. They would soon think it was clear make a break for the coast to unload ammo and supplies for the Viet Cong. Typically we called the South Vietnamese Navy to intercept and prevent the landing. We did this work during two different campaigns and I proudly wear my Vietnam Campaign ribbon with a star at my VFW hall and in parades. I like to think many soldiers are alive today because we stopped these resupply efforts.
I recall once we were near Guam and when we were alerted to join a search effort to find the crew of a B-52 that had lost its autopilot and had bailed out in the middle of a typhoon. We were one of two subs nearby that were diverted because of the weather and the 40-50 foot waves that were keeping surface ships in port. You might know that submarines have no need of external keels and so when we finally surfaced in the search area, we were tossed around like a cork. I recall every watch station had seasick sailors sometimes tied to their station and with big garbage ‘sick’ bags in front of them. None of us had surface sea legs as our ride is always fairly smooth and stable hundreds of feet down below any wave. But we were proud to be able to do something to rescue lives rather than prepare to take lives and no one left their station, sick or not. Between our two subs we found and rescued 5 of the 6 airmen that day. In those heavy seas we had to throw a rope from our sail to the airman who would pull in a heavier line and tie themselves to it. We then hauled them up the side of the sail and onboard thru the sail hatch which was the only part of the sub not washed over by the immense waves. The entire crew received a Meritorious Unit Commendation for this rescue. I am proud of my service and happy to have this opportunity to record some of what we did 50-odd years ago.