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Kalahari Galloway! Any data to take?.



Chapter One.

“All I need are some tasty waves, some cool buds, and I’ll be fine.”- Jeff Spiccoli

SSBN 657 USS Francis Lightfoot Lee – 640 (Benjamin Franklin Class) FBM submarine- 

Blue Crew Missile Division- 4 section Duty List.

Tom Schwing. 9

Home. 9


A sea story.


By Tom Schwing, MT2 (SS) USS FRANCIS SCOTT KEY SSBN657 (BLUE) 1979-1981

To my former shipmates. The names have been changed to protect the heroes.


I sit here at my keyboard in the crest of a tidal wave of memories let loose by some pictures of old Francis at Facebook. Having been steered to Facebook, which I had earlier evaluated and later ignored as a domain of the superior sex, by my kinfolk at a recent funeral, I found a former shipmate and a photo album of the old girl there. This was a blessing in itself as my own Key memorabilia had been completely destroyed in a house fire in 1985, after my discharge, including my angles and dangles photography, and photos of myself and former shipmates.

You’ve surfed that nostalgic wave yourself I’m sure, unless you are still quite young.  Perhaps you’ve kindled this story after mastering the worlds of Dr. Seuss and Frank Baum or some other literary Sea Daddy. If this be the case, I congratulate you on your rapid advancement; it’s highly probable that you are the sort to earn his dolphins in one patrol. Welcome aboard Sea Pup! Glad to have you here. But you are not the targeted Constant Reader of this story. 

Or you may be one of the heroes yourself, or kin to the brave men to be found in this sea story. The bubbleheads, as they’ve tagged themselves, (though saying that to a diesel boat man might cost you a few teeth), the submariners, from the 19th century forward, are historically among the bravest sailors of them all.

You have begun to get your Qualification Card signed off, to qualify for the watch of Constant Reader, the first step toward earning the coveted Silver Dolphins.

Sea Daddy: “Qual question Sea Puke! How many types of ships are there?”

Sea Pup: “Two sir! Submarines and Targets!”

Sea Daddy: “You don’t have to call me sir Puke, my parents were married! Fetch me a blonde and sweet before you head for the TDU compartment.”

Sea Pup:”I don’t have TDU duty!”

Sea Daddy: “You do now!”


As George MacDonald says “A good story is always true, even if it is pure fiction.” Your fathers and grandfathers can point themselves out to you, should they care to, or you can be alert to those parts of the story which make them laugh or cry the hardest. You may catch him polishing up the old dolphins now and then.

The guys who won the Cold War are a humble bunch. So humble, it is left to me to claim victory for them, as it has never occurred to the men who’ve earned the honor to claim it for themselves. Every submariner is taciturn by nature, tending to classify and disperse information on a need to know basis, long after he’s hung up the old poopysuit and framed the silver dolphins. I know the nature of these men personally, as I had the honor of serving with them for a brief flash of time aboard the USS Francis Scott Key, the actual SSBN657. But as you will find, Petty Officer Third Class Tom Shore is the poster child for how not to conduct a military career. Everyone else in the story has been blended into the composite crewmembers you will meet on this patrol, based on the actual men. The story is salted for my former shipmates with family-gram codes that they are sure to recognize.

I was not one of the DASO crewmembers, Demonstration And Shakedown Operations for you skimmers out there, that fired the historic first C4 Trident Missiles, the granddaddy of the mighty D5 keeping the peace aboard boomers around the world today. My sea daddy went on to become a plank owner on the USS Ohio, which was spanking new out of Bangor, Washington in my day. We did get to do a 4 shot OT operational test, out of Cocoa Beach, summoned back halfway through what was my second patrol for the exercise. The real Francis carried all of the Navy’s best missiles from 1963 onward, backfit as required to stay ahead of the Soviets in the arms race. From Polaris to Trident, the Key carried them all. With quieter machinery and other improvements the Key belonged to the Benjamin Franklin 640 class, a separately distinguished class derived from the James Madison class built circa1961-1966. Lower sail planes are the distinguishing mark of the 640 class from her sister boats in the original 41 for Freedom fleet.

I reported in November of 1979 as an unqualified Sea Pup, with my shiny new MT3 crow, ordered to the Key fresh from the second graduating class of C4 Trident Missile “C “school at Virginia Beach. I had actually selected the Simon Bolivar on my dream sheet, which was in the yards for Poseidon to Trident conversion (backfit). I had actually received orders to her up in Portsmouth, but the orders were changed to 657 blue shortly afterward. I and four classmates reported aboard the Key, two of us to the Blue crew and the others to the Gold Crew. I reported aboard shortly after the historic DASO patrols that panicked the Communists into bankruptcy. Except for the heroic boat’s number, which is historically accurate, the rest of this tome is a sea story. Consult your favorite old Bubblehead about evaluating the authenticity of sea stories. 

I will refrain from excessive saltiness in my sea story as much as I can, on the chance that my Catholic kin or confessor may read the thing. Yeah old bubblehead Schwing is back home with the Roman Catholics now, frequently back-sliding as measured by the high Roman Catholic standard which is equivalent to the Marine Corps in my personal Christian chain of command. Most of the time I’m a mere rosary praying Christian in practice. On those occasions when Screwtape has accompanied me into the confessional, I have the Presbyterians to run to for comfort. Usually when I am seeking an excuse to dodge my Catholic obligations and sleep in on lazy Sunday mornings honoring my lovely Presbyterian wife.

I only had to walk up 12 simple steps to get back home to the Catholics, much to the relief of the Presbyterians. In my case it took 25 years for the man to be extracted from the punk, of the type whom Robert Heinlein says should be placed in a barrel and fed through the bung hole, than when he’s 21, drive in the bung.

I was led to Facebook at the end of a gray week in winter 2010, where I rediscovered Francis, thanks to the encouragement of my “cool” girl cousins, at Beloved Aunt’s going away party, after Mass at Saint Ann’s. Most of those lady kin are older than me, a few of them younger. Now, in womanly maturity, they have joined the rest of the Schwing women, in their capacity to induce babbling and red-faced awkwardness in yours truly, as they always have since the age of about 4. Having grown up sister-less, they are a class of woman I don’t normally have access to, but slowly the crust of salt is eroding, now that I’ve got one of my own for a daughter.  Had it not been for their enthusiasm I would never have run into the spark that lit my fuse to finally get this written. I’ll leave it to the ladies to argue about to which of them I refer here, but I invoke them now to keep Petty Officer Shore in mind of their presence when he describes his adventures on liberty.

That will make a great introduction, perhaps for a future edition. Ladies and young wheel-spinners be warned; this first edition is for the boys in the barracks, and off-watch in the racks of the missile compartment berthing and torpedo rooms, at depths exceeding 400 feet, aboard the noble ships of the United States Submarine Force.

Chapter One

“All I need are some tasty waves, some cool buds, and I’ll be fine.”- Jeff Spiccoli

Chief Larkin’s phone rang for the fourteenth time before somebody finally answered, that somebody being the Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate himself. The Trenton, NJ Navy Recruiting Station wasn’t exactly humming that scorching Friday morning of July 10th, 1978. They had a batch of new recruits wrapped up and ready for the train to Philadelphia, orders were cut for July 13, 1978, Monday AM. Chins were wiped, apron strings snipped from some of their reluctant mothers, and two recruit fathers, both of whom Larkin considered to be draft-dodging college boy pussies.

(Better go get your Dad kid, and see if you’ve got clearance for Navy slang, a language of men.) So he’d kicked out his two man crew of petty officers, and one young seaman home for RAP duty, with a well-done and an early weekend liberty.

“Chief Larkin, Navy Recruiting here, what can I do you for? “ he asked into the phone, as he rummaged through the gray omnipresent US Navy desk for a Sweet Jewel. He was expecting yet another recruit with cold feet, but he wasn’t surprised by a call from the Trenton Police.

“Chief! Sully here. I’ve got one of your boys down here in my drunk tank screaming about being AWOL. Hollering about being in the Navy’s delayed entry program, and that we have to extradite him to the shore patrol.”

“What’s he in for?” queried Larkin to himself, but not into the phone, firing up the cigar. The chief leaned back in his new reclining swivel desk chair, acquired in a scrounge from Sarge Baker over at Fort Dix, as part of Baker’s always outstanding poker debt. He inspected his aged yet flawless flight deck boots, crossed on the desk, and drew deeply on the Sweet Jewel. The weekend was here, and Larkin had no intention of claiming, prematurely, some recruit likely to cause him a ream of paperwork, thereby interfering with his charted course for the weekend. The chief had his weekend cross-hairs targeted on the bombshell Jersey girls native to the beaches of Wildwood in July.

“Chief? You there?” asked Sully, fearing for his own weekend plans, and looking to dump a headache.

“Hey it’s your dime, Officer. I asked what’s he in for.”

“His own good to tell you the truth, a real case of asshole-itis, this kid has. We picked him up streaking around the Greenwood Circle, drunk as a skunk, twirling his pants over his head and singing Anchors Aweigh. Seems he was throwing himself a going away party that started on the 4th of July. I can book him for anything from public urination to drunk and disorderly, but I’ll tell you the truth we’ve got bigger fish to fry. “

Larkin chuckled. The Viet Nam veteran had seen it all; he was not one to be shocked by the mere drunken antics of some wet behind the ears kid. He’d done his time in the Nam, on the Navy riverboats as a young seaman. Booze was the least of the evils faced by the armed forces of Uncle Sam in the war’s aftermath. He was also relieved, he had to admit, that he wasn’t going to lose another recruit to the drug epidemic. The civilians, adults and kids, were cutting the lines of coke on glass top coffee tables these days like they put out bowls of potato chips. And everybody smoked pot, a legacy of the sixties attitudes that made the stuff socially acceptable for folks other than hippies and jazz musicians.

“No drugs or felonies involved, Sully?

“Nah, but he smells like an old sponge full of Budweiser and cheap tequila after you clean the shitters with it. He ain’t got any ID on him, and his hair is way to hippy afro to be military reg. Says his name is Thomas Shore.”

Shore? Larkin had an asterisk in his head about Recruit Shore; they’d tagged him for the PRP. The kid had scored high on the ASVAB, and recruiting him had been like preaching to the choir. Shore had come through the door with a pen and a plan, ready to sign up with the Silent Service, no nuke school thank you; he didn’t quite have the math for that. No, Tommy Shore had his sights set on a job that would get him close to Polaris missiles. Polaris Electronics training after sub school and E3 pay after boot camp in sunny San Diego had been the only bones he’d had to toss the kid the previous April. The rest of this batch would be headed to Great Lakes Training Center. Larkin had pulled a few favors to get the San Diego orders, hooking Shore up with an unofficial bonus of excess cross-country travel pay, 22 cents a mile, between San Diego and Groton, Connecticut, where the kid would report for Sub School after boot.

As a recruiter, the chief admired the Boomer personnel “pipeline” that the Navy had set up to man its SSBN fleet of “forty for freedom” in these late 1970’s. There were still plenty of hard feelings toward the military, residue from the Viet Nam War, and the promises of the Advanced Electronics Program gave him a tool that made his job easier.

Recruits who fit the submariners psychological profile and volunteered for sub duty were sent for six weeks to Sub School in Groton, followed by Polaris Electronics “A” school in Dam Neck Virginia, where the third class crow was bestowed on the graduates. These new Petty Officers were sorted by class standing to their choice of Electronics Technician (ET), Fire Control Technician (FT) or Missile Technician (MT) C school training. Larkin knew he’d have to rescue the kid, or throw a monkey wrench into the pipeline. He’d had the kid down to ship out on August 28th, but the way Shore was going he’d be on the county work farm long before then. He’d lost more than one recruit that way. The streets of Trenton were full of peril for the young male “rebels without a clue” that he seemed to get through the doors these days. Larkin thought it’d be a lot better if they still had the draft, but could never voice such a counter-culture opinion like that these days. After the Viet Nam War, “draft” was a dirty word, and the lack of one sure cut into the talent pool for all the armed services.

“Can you kick him Sully? Send him home to his mama, and I’ll have him out of our hair and on his way to San Diego bright and early Monday morning.”

“Soon as he wakes up I’ll give him the boot, he’s sleeping it off now. Thanks Chief, I was hoping we could work this one out.”

Larkin cancelled his early weekend plans and began the paper shuffling process that would allow Tommy Shore to take his place, however briefly, as a crewmember on the ship that would win the Cold War. He hoped the brat would appreciate it. But than he thought, the Navy had hammered out men from boys with less raw material than he saw in the Shore kid, maybe they could do it again.

So Tommy Shore squeaked by, on the merits of a high ASVAB score, and not much more.

And for now we let sleeping dogs lie. Water under the bridge, or a story worth telling 30 years after the fact? I’ll need to hear from my shipmates first.

SSBN 657 USS Francis Lightfoot Lee – 640 (Benjamin Franklin Class) FBM submarine-

The contract to build Francis Lightfoot Lee was awarded to the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut on 13 July 1963 and her keel was laid down there on 5 December 1964. She was launched on 22 April 1965, sponsored by Mrs. Margaret Lee Borne and Mrs. Wilbur T. Reed, and commissioned on 3 December 1966.

Blue Crew Missile Division- 4 section Duty List.

MT1 Nelson Strongbow

MT2 Charles Gwynn

MT1 Wynn Gordon

MT1 Ike Benton

MT2 Barry Booker

MT2 Mitch Apple

MT2 Heath Newcomb

MT2 Sandy Quinn

MT3 George Kowalski

MT2 Larry Ronson

MT2 Terry Foreman

MT3 Ollie Wayne

MT3 Tom Shore aka Oar#1

MT3 Don Moore aka Oar#2

MT3 Dino Chaplin

MT3 Bob Wickers


Joining the Fleet

            Tommy Shore gunned his pearl green 1962 Oldsmobile down the Jersey Turnpike at 0130 hours on this drizzly night in November of 79, and made the first of many resolutions to quit drinking once and for all. He inhaled gently on a Marlboro, nursing four loose bottom front teeth.

            They were so loose they literally flapped in the breeze. He’d tell his new ship that it was a street hockey mishap. Maybe Dad is right, he thought, maybe I’m one of those guys who just can’t drink?      

            He’d gotten the worst of a brawl on his last night of leave back home in Trenton. After his umpteenth tequila at the 4 D’s go-go bar in the heart of the warehouse section on Clinton Ave, he’d mistaken some Puerto Ricans for Iranians. The hostage crisis pissed off the young sailor to no end, especially seeing as how the US had been training the Iranian sub navy up in Groton, before the Shah was given the boot. The ungrateful bastards. Fueled by tequila, Shore had considered it his patriotic duty to wade into the crowd of “Iranians”.

            Only the presence of his burly brother Tim and best friend Johnny had kept him from a real stomping outside on the street. The head Puerto Rican in charge was mollified by the very satisfying punch to the mouth that loosened the teeth, and a couple of head slams to the bumper of the Olds for good measure, when Tim liberated his Louisville slugger from the trunk. Johnny had decked a few of the Puerto Rican backup team just for the hell of it. The young Teamster moved furniture for a living, and liked to flex his muscles now and then.

            Shore laughed at the memory, already justifying the whole episode as fitting into the “two fisted sailor” profile he had been aspiring to ever since seeing James Caan in Cinderella Liberty. What he, and many of the boys of his generation, had really wanted was to be a WW2 hero. His father and uncles had fought there and in Korea, back when the country had its head on straight, and vets didn’t get spit on in airports. But that war had been won by the Greatest Generation, he’d just missed Viet Nam, and the only war in town was the Cold War against the Russians. He was drawn to submarines by Edward L Beach’s account of WW2’s Silent Service in “Clear the Bridge” and “Run Silent, Run Deep.”

            Way back in his altar boy days he had aspired to an appointment to Annapolis, but the aspirations were lowered every year, as his attention to his grades was diverted by girls and beer, and the adrenaline rush of a good fist fight now and then. Twelve years of Catholic school had left him feeling oppressed and rebellious, and the salty blunt male lifestyle of the US Navy was his liberator. They didn’t have porn, they had “fuckbooks”, which cracked up his brother and friends the first time they heard the term, earning Shore a few more points on his man card. He’d been the first to leave the nest, yet he liked nothing better than to run straight back home to carouse around Trenton in his uniform, enjoying his new manly status.

            Enlisted men had their own clubs for cheap drinking. Loose women abounded around the bases, grown women who knew how to take care of a man, not like the Catholic girls he considered to be immature teases. He’d gone to Mass once or twice in boot camp to ease his homesickness, but that comfort was forsaken when he realized that he could sit out by the barracks and smoke to his heart’s content while the company had church call on Sunday mornings.

            Shore and the pearl green Olds let Jersey slip behind as the car entered Route 13 South into Delaware. He’d ridden old 13 many times over the past year. After 6 weeks of Sub School up in Groton, Connecticut he had reported to “The Pig Farm” in Dam Neck, Virginia for Polaris Electronics “A” School.

            In the usual hurry up and wait fashion of the Navy he’d been in the transit division, swabbing decks from Thanksgiving ‘78 to January of ‘79, waiting to get into the school. Even that was a break, as the last month he worked at the Trident training office, where the launcher simulator was, and he got familiar with the single tube simulator on many fire and security watches. He’d also listened to the FTC who ran the place consult with an instructor buddy down in Charleston, concerning the crackerjack missile division of the Francis L. Lee, SSBN 657. His instructors could not stump them in the trouble-shooting drills. Like they had the immediate action books memorized.

            The clog in the pipeline of Polaris Electronics A  school was the setback system. If a PE A student didn’t pass the weekly test, he was setback for that week until he did, or was washed out. Mandatory study was dished out for less than 86%, 2 or 3 hours nightly depending on the score. Shore had spent the first nine or ten weeks on that list. Hell he had learned algebra for the first time in the pre-math prep week. At Saint Anthony’s he’d failed it, and a make-up night course at Trenton High had provided him an A for his transcript but little else as they were teaching math that he’d learned in seventh grade at Immaculate Conception.

             It would be the most demanding school of his lifetime, but he’d learned that he could direct his effort when he had to, after an ass-chewing or two, and got past a couple of weekly setbacks to graduate to the Trident C4 school across base. Actually Shore was glad looking back, as he and Moore, and Harito had all landed in the same A class together. A few guys washed out for PRP problems, drinking , drugs, and a few just didn’t have the math. Two of his bunkmates had already been weeded out from the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) pipeline, busted for marijuana use.

            Shore himself had remained squeaky clean since joining up. His bunkmates’ banishment to the skimmer fleet from the pig farm only reinforced his resolve to stay away from the stuff. Besides the E club was cheap and always open. He’d smoked his share of pot in high school, and really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Given his druthers, Shore preferred the potent kick of alcohol, a man’s drink.

            He’d been offered his first line of coke, by one of the honeys on this past leave, but he was so tanked when he tried it that he’d exhaled through the rolled up sawbuck and blew the line off its compact mirror, pissing off the compact’s owner. He’d made it up to her later. Now he was grateful for the mishap. He could report to the Francis L Lee with clean blood, clean urine, and the street hockey story would explain away the loose front teeth.

            As he passed through Norfolk he recognized the familiar landmarks, and realized that he was finally headed out to the fleet, after nearly a year in Navy training in Virginia. His garment bag held the uniforms with the shiny new Missile Technician Third Class crow. He’d almost ended up heading up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for duty on the Simon Bolivar in the yards, now going through backfit to carry the new C4 Trident missiles. Then, in the last week of C4 “C” school, his orders had been changed to the Francis L. Lee down in Charleston. Classmates Mike Bagley and Don Harito would be heading to the Gold crew, and he and Donny Ray Moore would be reporting to the Blue crew. As he swung the car on to 95 south and settled in for the long haul to Charleston, South Carolina, he wondered who would be waiting when he got there.


A square of ocean in the North Atlantic

USS Francis Lightfoot Lee SSBN 657- April 23, 1974

            While Tommy Short was in eight grade discovering the joy of Joanne Martucci, and drinking the church’s wine after serving weddings and funerals with his altar boy pals, the Francis L. Lee was busy dodging Ivan the Reckless, a tenacious and troublesome Soviet SSN. Her alert sonar team was always aware of the obsolete Alpha’s presence, and SOSUS was on Ivan as soon as he chugged out of the Black Sea.  Lee’s Captain Spritzer knew he was dealing with a rabid dog with this particular Russkie. Now old and built obsolete, the Russian captains assigned to the sub weren’t the highest caliber. Looking to move up in the ranks they tended to be crazier than the more elite of their fleet. He’d tangled with her before as engineer on his first Polaris boomer, The Patrick Henry, when she’d nearly been rammed in the middle of a DASO shot after backfit to the AT3 Polaris. Soviet SSN, contact profile 7723, or Reckless Ivan as the crew tagged him, was probably radioactive, definitely loud, and incredibly fast. She chugged easily at 22 knots submerged, had been clocked at 32 once, chasing down a DASO boomer for photos and reconnaissance of the missile launches.

            Commander Spritzer thought that the Soviets were still in denial concerning their incredible inferiority in the FBM arms race. They dogged any American boomer they thought might lead them to an opportunity to foul up a missile shot on the world stage. The Forty (later forty-one) for Freedom submarine fleet outclassed anything that the Soviets would float for the remainder of the 20th century and well into the next. The fact that these nearly undetectable subs were carrying the Soviet Union’s death warrant, and held the fate of every Soviet city in their 16 massive launch tubes, with new improved ranges every few years, caused Ivan to get a little cranky from time to time. And Russkie SSN 7723 was a tube-full of whoop-ass, a floating torpedo room with a reactor up its ass.

            Conn, Sonar, he’s coming around again.”

“Sonar, Conn aye. Diving officer make your depth 900 feet. Steady on course 275. ”

            The Diving Officer and planesmen glanced at each other, as they parroted their new orders from the Officer of the Deck, pushed forward on their aircraft style yokes, and smiled. Cranky Ivan usually started his creaking and groaning hull audibles at about 450 feet these days. The worn out Soviet sardine can was still lethal, but COMSUBLANT knew she was on her last leg. Spritzer intended to fight on his own turf, with the home field advantage.

            This particular Alpha had tried to dive with a Skipjack class fast attack boat off of Rota Spain and ended up doing an emergency surface when the American SSN “accidentally” sideswiped her at 600 feet. Apparently the nudge was enough to rattle some plumbing, as Reckless Ivan’s crew could be heard in panicky damage control, shouting, blowing tanks, and going to flank speed as she raced up while the sea raced in. Later, intelligence estimated that she’d suffered flooding in the engine room. When the Skipjack surfaced beside her, her HY-80 hull unblemished, the Russian CO came out on the sail and gave them the finger, atop his listing, rollicking, out of trim coffin, bobbing like a leaky cork in the Atlantic. The Soviet Captain’s attitude wasn’t improved by the appearance of the American fast attack boys coming on deck with there cameras to shoot pictures of the listing sub, bow up stern down like a two legged dog trying to paddle.

            The Lee nosed in to a 20 degree down bubble and plunged toward the murky depths of the Atlantic. Ivan completed his turn and came straight up his own wake. The Lee heard a belch of air from the Russian’s main ballast tanks, and Spritzer thought that they must have gotten their old Alpha sardine can galvanized at Kiev, because Reckless Ivan was plunging confidently down, in a suicide dive straight at them. Spritzer had had enough of this asshole.

            “Man battle stations torpedo! “ Ivan didn’t know it yet, but the rules of engagement had changed. Admiral Hymen Rickover was aboard for the DASO.

Tom Schwing





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