Galloway! Any data to take?
Kalahari Galloway! Any data to take?
SSBN 657 - THE SHIP THAT WON THE COLD
All I need are some tasty
waves, some cool buds, and Ill be fine.- Jeff Spiccoli
SSBN 657 USS Francis Lightfoot Lee
640 (Benjamin Franklin Class) FBM submarine-
Blue Crew Missile Division- 4 section
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.
Youve surfed that nostalgic wave yourself Im
sure, unless you are still quite young. Perhaps
youve 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; its 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 theyve 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
dont 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 dont
have TDU duty!
Sea Daddy: You do
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
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
whove 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
hes 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 Navys 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 boats 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
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 Im 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 hes 21, drive in the
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 Aunts going away party, after Mass at Saint
Anns. 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 dont
normally have access to, but slowly the crust of salt is eroding, now that Ive 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. Ill 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
Chief Larkins phone rang for the fourteenth time
before somebody finally answered, that somebody being the Chief Aviation Boatswains
Mate himself. The Trenton, NJ Navy Recruiting Station wasnt 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
(Better go get your Dad kid, and see if youve got clearance
for Navy slang, a language of men.) So hed 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
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
wasnt surprised by a call from the Trenton Police.
Chief! Sully here. Ive got one of your boys
down here in my drunk tank screaming about being AWOL. Hollering about being in the
Navys delayed entry program, and that we have to extradite him to the shore
Whats 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 Bakers 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 its your dime, Officer. I asked
whats 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 Ill tell you the
truth weve 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.
Hed 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 wars aftermath.
He was also relieved, he had to admit, that he wasnt 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 aint 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;
theyd 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 didnt
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 hed 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 1970s. 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 hed have to rescue the kid, or throw
a monkey wrench into the pipeline. Hed had the kid down to ship out on August 28th,
but the way Shore was going hed be on the county work farm long before then.
Hed 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 itd 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 Ill have him out of our hair and on his way to San Diego bright and early Monday
Soon as he wakes up Ill give him the boot,
hes sleeping it off now. Thanks Chief, I was hoping we could work this one
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? Ill need to hear from my shipmates
SSBN 657 USS Francis Lightfoot Lee 640 (Benjamin Franklin Class) FBM
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.
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
They were so loose they literally flapped in the breeze. Hed tell his new
ship that it was a street hockey mishap. Maybe Dad is right, he thought, maybe Im
one of those guys who just cant drink?
Hed gotten the worst of a brawl on his last night of leave back home in Trenton.
After his umpteenth tequila at the 4 Ds go-go bar in the heart of the warehouse
section on Clinton Ave, hed 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
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 didnt get spit on in airports. But that war had
been won by the Greatest Generation, hed 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 Beachs
account of WW2s Silent Service in Clear the Bridge and Run Silent,
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 didnt 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. Hed 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. Hed 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 hearts 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. Hed 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 hed 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. Hed 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
The clog in the pipeline of Polaris Electronics A school
was the setback system. If a PE A student didnt 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 Anthonys hed 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 hed learned in seventh grade at Immaculate Conception.
It would be the most demanding school
of his lifetime, but hed 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 didnt 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. Hed smoked his share
of pot in high school, and really couldnt see what all the fuss was about. Given his
druthers, Shore preferred the potent kick of alcohol, a mans drink.
Hed 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 hed exhaled through the rolled up
sawbuck and blew the line off its compact mirror, pissing off the compacts owner.
Hed 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.
Hed 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 churchs 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 Alphas presence,
and SOSUS was on Ivan as soon as he chugged out of the Black Sea. Lees 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 werent the highest caliber. Looking to move up in the ranks they
tended to be crazier than the more elite of their fleet. Hed tangled with her before
as engineer on his first Polaris boomer, The Patrick Henry, when shed 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
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 Unions 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, hes 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
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 Ivans 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 shed 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 Captains attitude
wasnt 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 Russians 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
Man battle stations torpedo! Ivan didnt know it yet, but the
rules of engagement had changed. Admiral Hymen Rickover was aboard for the DASO.