Jim Dunn was scrubbing the deck of a seaplane tender at White Beach, Okinawa, when a submarine docked on the other side of the pier.
Submariners were volunteers, he said. They received incentive pay, ate better than anyone else in the Navy, dressed in civilian clothes when they went on liberty and stayed out as late as they wanted.
It was 1958, and Dunn was 21 years old. When he had liberty it was "Cinderella liberty" - he had to wear his uniform and be back at midnight.
"I decided I was in the wrong Navy and volunteered to be a submariner."
He had to pass psychological tests, pressure tests and enter the bottom of a 100-foot diving tower and "blow and go" bubbles until he reached the top.
The air pressure at the bottom of the tank was 50 pounds per square inch, he said. The higher he went, the more the air expanded inside his lungs. Blowing bubbles kept them from bursting.
Deep water exerts a lot of pressure, he said. A line tied across the inside hull of a submarine will droop halfway to the floor when it dives to 1,000 feet. Submarines would implode if they went too deep.
The first submarine Dunn "rode" was the Gudgeon, a diesel, fast-attack submarine built after World War II.
It traveled 5 or 6 knots an hour at 400 feet, he said, had to come to periscope depth twice a day to vent exhaust, and it dripped hydraulic fluid onto the bunks. But he liked it because on a submarine, officers and enlisted men "were all the same."
"In the words of Admiral (Bruce) DeMars: 'We belonged to a very elite group,'" Dunn said.
Even the Soviet crews that they followed were considered brother submariners.
Dunn had to learn every job on the Gudgeon to qualify to be a submariner. It took him more than six months.
A submariner has to know everybody's job, Dunn said, because when something goes wrong, there usually are only seconds to respond.
Dunn also qualified for and served on four other subs during his 16 years as a submariner: the Tiru and Pickerel, diesel submarines built at the end of World War II; and the Flasher and Tautog, nuclear-powered submarines. Dunn served on the Tautog for more than five years.
Nuclear subs could travel 25 knots an hour at a depth of 1,000 feet and stay submerged for months at a time.
"As long as we had food - that was the big thing," Dunn said.
Dunn was a quartermaster, a term the Navy once used for a navigator.
On the Gudgeon, he had used maps, stars and the LORAN-A navigation system, which measured the time interval between three or more low-frequency, land-based radio transmitters to determine the position of a ship to within 10 to 15 miles.
By the time he was assigned to the Tautog, he was using satellite trackers.
Life on a nuclear sub was very, very secretive, Dunn said.
Crew members could never tell their family and friends what they were doing or where they had been.
And living inside a machine-filled, metal tube 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean required some adjustments.
"When you worked on a submarine, you bathed before you left," Dunn said, "because fresh water was always in short supply."
Their water was distilled from sea water, he said. Even their oxygen was manufactured from sea water.
There were never enough bunks, Dunn said. Petty officers had their own bunks in the "mole hole," but the rest of the crew lived with "hot bunking." When one submariner was on watch, another slept in his bunk.
Dunn was assigned to the Tautog in December 1969 as lead quartermaster.
The Soviets had a submarine base at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the North Pacific, he said.
"Between 1945 and 1991, there was always a U.S. submarine submerged off the coast of Petropavlovsk 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Dunn said. "But no one would talk about it."
In June of 1970, the Tautog was two weeks into an eight-month-long West Pac (Western Pacific) tour when its crew discovered a new Soviet Echo II, K-class guided missile submarine about 14 miles west of Petropavlovsk.
The Tautog followed the Soviet sub for 1' days while it did its sea trials - moving back and forth, doing figure-eights, sharp turns and dives, with the Tautog right behind.
Suddenly, about 2 a.m. on June 24, the Tautog's sonar operators lost track of the Soviet sub.
Dunn had just finished his watch and was sleeping when he heard the sound of grinding metal and was thrown into the corner of his bunk.
Barefoot and half dressed, he scrambled up the ladder to his station in the control room. Broken coffee cups covered the floor. The captain was in his bathrobe.
Damage reports poured in: The Soviet sub had collided with the Tautog's sail (the part above the deck), ruptured the Tautog's top hatch and flooded the trunk of the sail.
If the Tautog stayed in the area, it would have been scuttled or forced to surface, Dunn said.
"There was only one thing to do."
The captain ordered the sub to drop to 1,000 feet and head south.
Dunn was calculating the track when he heard the sonar man say that it sounded like the Soviet sub was breaking up. Dunn pushed the thought away; he had too much to do.
Later it hit him, Dunn said. The Soviet sub would have gone down with as many as 130 submariners on board.
"I felt horrible," Dunn said. "I had problems sleeping for years. I would try to go to sleep and have weird dreams that I was in a coffin, and someone was trying to push the lid down when I was trying to get out." Read Entire Article from the Casa Grande Dispatch
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Water pours from ports on the bottom of the Pickerel during an emergency surface. Crews filled ballast tanks with seawater to dive, Dunn said. During an emergency surface, they closed the ballast tank valves on the top of the submarine and forced air into the tanks, which pushed the water out the ports, causing the submarine to shoot to the surface.