Kalahari Galloway! Any
data to take?
SSBN 657 - THE SHIP THAT WON THE COLD WAR.
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 Duty
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 be 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
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 pussies.
(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 patrol.
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
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
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