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       Razor Blades and Ivory Soap

This article came to me via a good friend who rode both the diesels and the nukes.   Placed on my web site with Mr. Ron Waldron  :"he wrote me:" I am not Dex. However, it is all right to reprint any of his articles so long as you give him the credit for the writings.

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

There was a point in time... All you lads who rode submersible iron will recognize the point... A point where you could tell exactly how long you had been out by the diameter of the salt stain in the armpits of your last clean dungaree shirt. The point where all of your fellow inmates smelled like the inside of Olga Korbut's gym shorts.

At this point in the interest of human preservation and fear that his ship was taking on the internal atmosphere of the monkey house at the Chicago zoo... The Old Man would lift water restriction and allow 'white light' in the berthing compartments.

Men, who had lived and interacted in the dim glow of night vision-preserving red light, got a good look at each other for the first time in weeks. It wasn't a pretty sight...

"Jeezus, have I been living with these animals?"

The after battery looked like a garbage dump. Shredded ration boxes, stray socks... Magazines, loaded butt kits... Sour towels and a collection of dirty laundry that had matured to the point it was turning into limburger cheese.

It was a point far past the day we had wrapped ourselves around the last of the potatoes stored in the showers. The only visual evidence of their previous existence were the wadded up gunny sacks carpeting the deck of the after battery head and whatever=20 GDU-delivered peels the fish off Nova Scotia were dining on... The 'Idaho's=20 Best' rug in the sonar shack was the residual product of some previous=20 deployment.

For those of you who never rode Uncle Sam's underseas technological treats, a smoke boat shower was an aluminum box the size of a coffin designed for Mickey Rooney. It had a shower head that delivered semi-hot water at the rate of five peeing humming birds and a shelf for soap that could leave a very distinctive purple mark on your upper biceps if the boat took a roll during occupancy... And a deck drain... A hole through which amazing things could appear if anyone put a pressure in number two sanitary tank without shutting the required gate valve and quick throw.

Even though you had to Crisco your ass to turn around in the damn thing, it was the closest thing to heaven a diesel boat sailor came in contact with at=20 sea.

Everyone shucked his dungarees down to his skivvies... Grabbed a towel and his 'douche bag' (subsailor for shaving kit) and got in line. While guys rooted through sidelockers for their shower gear, towel fights broke out... Not Cub Scout towel flipping, serious heavy-duty towel popping. The kind that can take little chunks of hiney if you couldn't move and fend off the shot. Grown men laughing and popping each other with towels... Underseas = recreation at its finest.

After a two-minute soapdown, scrub and a rinse, men would lather up and scrape off weeks of beard accumulation. Lifers who never shelled out for razor blades would say,

"Hey = kid... How about seconds on that blade?"

Cheap bastards... Same guys that ran out of sea stores smokes after two weeks... Same guys who would wander around Bells filling their glass from any available pitcher. They are probably millionaires now and live by tax loopholes.

Bottles of Vitalis, Lucky Tiger, Mennens, Old Spice, Aqua Velva, and God knows what else, appeared from side lockers. In thirty minutes, the entire boat smelled like the parlor of the best whorehouse in New Orleans.

Adrian Stukey would = break into a Ray Charles song and do his aboriginal dance... He employed footwork only known to Stukey and three Congolese witch doctors. The man had moves Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly never thought of... Sort of reminiscent of an electrocuted orangutan, mixed with the mating dance of the Australian Dingo eaters.

By some miracle, clean white skivvy shirts appeared. Some with the names of guys, who rode the boat five or six years previously, stenciled across the back.

"Who in the hell is Garabaldi, D. L.?"

"How'n the hell do I know?"

"Musta been some boat sailor."

"Yeh, I guess... What's it to you... You writing a gahdam book?"

"Maybe someday... Who = knows?"

Nah... Who'd give a damn about reading stuff about this jacked up bunch idiots? Who'd believe it? Once upon a time, I lived among people who volunteered to live=20 like primates in an iron septic tank with lousy air, shared sleeping arrangements, had at least four leaks (air, oil, water, and security), made weird sounds, and agitated like a warped washing machine, for less money than you could fit into a gahdam gumball machine... Who'd read crap like that?

When the Goddess of Personal Hygiene looked down and blessed the residents of the roaming hotel SS-481... It was good.

It was also good to live among men who were right where they wanted to be... Nobody chloroformed them and hauled them off to New London. Nobody ever called their number at the Selective Service Board. They volunteered... Every gahdam one. Most of the world didn't even know they were there... Boats... Little primitive communities of the finest men I've ever known that lived in metal containers and took them to sea. There has to be a story in there somewhere.

The next time you see a Texaco tank truck rolling down the highway, just for a moment visualize it a couple of hundred feet underwater... Then picture thirty or forty happy-go-lucky half-naked men singing, doing silly dancing and towel fighting inside... And willing to do whatever it took to keep nasty = folks with weird political agendas from crawling through your bedroom window. Those lads were my shipmates.

Author's note: In the ensuing years, service under the sea has changed for the better. Lads today are not known as 'pig boat sailors'. Today's modern submersibles are more conducive to proper personal hygiene, grooming and gentlemanly attire. After a hard day of fission monitoring, switch flipping and gauge dickering, our present day subsurface bluejacket may attend a lecture on molecular configuration of high-density hydrocarbons emanating from the planet Mongo. He and soon to be, she, can opt for a live concert... Polo... Fencing or a little commingling in a hot tub... Mint Juleps followed by a shrimp cocktail precedes the evening meal after which those not engaged in ship's work or on watch are free to attend a visiting Broadway stage production or enjoy a Swedish massage in the crew comfort compartment.

Before retiring, he or she fills out his or her 'What=20 I like about Naval Service' questionnaire which is handed to the first or second class bedtime story petty officer... Then after a telling of the 'Three Bears and the Call Girl' story, they say their 'God bless Hyman Rickover' prayer, drink their hot cocoa and turn in to their Martha Stewart approved poopy sacks to dream of super computers in accordance with current prescribed force policy.

It's a helluva lot better these days.

    

 

Doc Riojas' note:   During my tour of duty with the U.S. Navy SEALs, SEAL Team TWO, we were TAD to the USS SEALION APSS - 315.     Although it was not the best way to travel in the ocean, it was not as bad as this article describes it.   Navy SEALs were allowed topside during calm seas, that did not set too well with the boat sailors.

 

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Gut Bandits and Belly Robbers

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong



Without question, we had the best cooks in the Navy and the finest chow. Did we tell the cooks how good they were? Are you kidding? Insulting cooks was the major form of recreation and crew entertainment. Thin-skinned cooks didn't last that long. A cook had to be both a great cook and have the hide of a Sherman tank.

In the past, we had a discussion of creamed chipped beef - On toast 'Shit on a Shingle,' 'Puss n' Scabs,' 'Foreskins on a Raft,' 'Mung'… A dear child has many names. I have to go on record… I loved the stuff. I literally ate tons of it. While my shipmates moaned and groaned, I scoffed it up.

My mom died when I was nine. I grew up eating institutional chow… Good cream chipped beef is good rib-sticking chow. Kids who grew up eating mom's traditional breakfast, entered the Navy considering Captain Crunch, Pop Tarts, Cream of Wheat, Cheerios and other stuff like toaster waffles, as what breakfast should be.

In most instances, they would have done one helluva lot better if they had thrown away the contents and eaten the gahdam box… Probably more nutritious.

If there are any old smoke boat stewburners out there, I doff my hat to you. I never ate better chow before of after my boat service. You guys dabbled in culinary magic and performed miracles with stainless steel pots, baking sheets and old worn out equipment. We handed you insult, you gave us great chow. There has never been a more lopsided return on investment.

We always knew when you loused something up… You always covered up with either canned mystery meat or gahdam macaroni and that Navy Velveeta cheese. That Velveeta cheese was at the extreme tail end of what could be remotely understood as acceptable chow. You could vulcanize tractor trailer tires with Navy Velveeta and you would eliminate all those recap chunks on the side of American highways.

That stuff never dissolved… It had a half-life on par with ancient Egyptian statuary. I still have a five pound wad of it stuck in my lower intestinal tract.

With all the asbestos we breathed and the Velveeta we ate, when they cremate an old smoke boat sailor, they are going to have to bust our lungs up with a sledgehammer and shovel a lot of melted cheese out of those cremation contraptions.

It was great food.

I remember standing topside watch in Halifax. It was cold… Had the 4 to 8… The after battery hatch was open. For an hour before dawn, the smell of baking cinnamon buns floated topside through the hatch. By the time I raised the below decks watch and got a load of fresh baked buns topside, my tongue was hanging out like 3 feet of red blanket.

I shared them with a boat watch moored outboard and the duty watch on a Canadian can. I hollered down for more but then ol' Rodney "Rat" Johnson came topside. He was wearing the professional vestments of his position… A dirty apron, a sweat-soaked shirt… And an inverted white hat.

"Dex… What 'n the hell's going on? Where are my night buns disappearing to?"

I yelled to the guys on the other ships…

"This is the guy who makes these great rolls!"

"Hey, Cookie… You want a job in the Royal Canadian Navy?"

"Hey Cookie, damn good buns!"

"Hey Cookie… What 'n the hell you doin' in the Navy… You could make a gahdam fortune sellin' these things."

Only time I saw Rat at a loss for words. He smiled and said,

"Tell the freeloading bastards I'll send up some more and make twice as many tomorrow night."

He didn't have to do that. He was a big part of what serving in the boats meant to a lot of us.

The commisaryman of the old sub force put up with a lot… I know, I pinned a lot of it on them. You could steal a couple of brownies and get chased back to the maneuvering room by a man waving a cleaver. You could have someone shake you awake in the middle of the night of your twenty-first birthday… To be greeted by forty-odd shipmates participating in a conspiracy to wish you happy birthday. The centerpiece was a birthday cake with 21 Marlboro cigarettes sticking in it and a sentimental inscription that read, "Dex, now you can buy a legal drink"

You old boat cooks were the best. In the Great Receiving Station in the Sky, Rat Johnson will be standing in a little galley that's tough to turn around in… He'll be feeding us all great stuff and yelling,

"If you bastards have any complaints… Eat down the street."

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Here's another of Dex Armstrong's laments about cooks on the old Diesel Boats. You'll get a laugh outta this one.

Resp. HOOT ----- Original Message ----- From: SSN584NUC1@aol.com

 

Gut Bandits and Belly Robbers

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong



Without question, we had the best cooks in the Navy and the finest chow. Did we tell the cooks how good they were? Are you kidding? Insulting cooks was the major form of recreation and crew entertainment. Thin-skinned cooks didn't last that long. A cook had to be both a great cook and have the hide of a Sherman tank.

In the past, we had a discussion of creamed chipped beef - On toast 'Shit on a Shingle,' 'Puss n' Scabs,' 'Foreskins on a Raft,' 'Mung'… A dear child has many names. I have to go on record… I loved the stuff. I literally ate tons of it. While my shipmates moaned and groaned, I scoffed it up.

My mom died when I was nine. I grew up eating institutional chow… Good cream chipped beef is good rib-sticking chow. Kids who grew up eating mom's traditional breakfast, entered the Navy considering Captain Crunch, Pop Tarts, Cream of Wheat, Cheerios and other stuff like toaster waffles, as what breakfast should be.

In most instances, they would have done one helluva lot better if they had thrown away the contents and eaten the gahdam box… Probably more nutritious.

If there are any old smoke boat stewburners out there, I doff my hat to you. I never ate better chow before of after my boat service. You guys dabbled in culinary magic and performed miracles with stainless steel pots, baking sheets and old worn out equipment. We handed you insult, you gave us great chow. There has never been a more lopsided return on investment.

We always knew when you loused something up… You always covered up with either canned mystery meat or gahdam macaroni and that Navy Velveeta cheese. That Velveeta cheese was at the extreme tail end of what could be remotely understood as acceptable chow. You could vulcanize tractor trailer tires with Navy Velveeta and you would eliminate all those recap chunks on the side of American highways.

That stuff never dissolved… It had a half-life on par with ancient Egyptian statuary. I still have a five pound wad of it stuck in my lower intestinal tract.

With all the asbestos we breathed and the Velveeta we ate, when they cremate an old smoke boat sailor, they are going to have to bust our lungs up with a sledgehammer and shovel a lot of melted cheese out of those cremation contraptions.

It was great food.

I remember standing topside watch in Halifax. It was cold… Had the 4 to 8… The after battery hatch was open. For an hour before dawn, the smell of baking cinnamon buns floated topside through the hatch. By the time I raised the below decks watch and got a load of fresh baked buns topside, my tongue was hanging out like 3 feet of red blanket.

I shared them with a boat watch moored outboard and the duty watch on a Canadian can. I hollered down for more but then ol' Rodney "Rat" Johnson came topside. He was wearing the professional vestments of his position… A dirty apron, a sweat-soaked shirt… And an inverted white hat.

"Dex… What 'n the hell's going on? Where are my night buns disappearing to?"

I yelled to the guys on the other ships…

"This is the guy who makes these great rolls!"

"Hey, Cookie… You want a job in the Royal Canadian Navy?"

"Hey Cookie, damn good buns!"

"Hey Cookie… What 'n the hell you doin' in the Navy… You could make a gahdam fortune sellin' these things."

 

 

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We Were Young... Long Ago

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong


 
One of the great things about crew reunions is the opportunity to rekindle associations with old shipmates and dredge up long forgotten memories of days when no one worried about the future because 'tomorrow' always took care of itself. It always did, and we all planned to marry beautiful girls who would never grow old and would live forever. Boat reunions have a way of torpedoing that horseshit. The wives have kept their youthful good looks, but your old shipmates have re-ballasted and look like they missed a few trips to the yard.

So what you end up with are a bunch of old coots who spend a helluva lot of time tossing down beer and saying stuff like,

"Hey, you remember that kid from New Jersey? Jeezus, can't think of his name… The little skinny kid… Electrician… The guy who drove that Mercury with more Bondo patches than original metal… Yeah, that's the one! The kid who left a present he bought for his mom in some gin mill in Hamilton and jumped out of the liberty launch to swim back and get it… Yeah, and he turned up at morning quarters soaking wet and smiling like he had good sense, holding up a water-soaked box of stupid earrings…"

"That's the idiot… Can't remember his name… We called him 'Sparky'… Good kid… Always good for a fiver 'til payday."

That's the only immortality worth a damn… Ol' smokeboat lads remembering you were a good boat sailor and a fine shipmate. Hell, we were all idiots… No sonuvabitch who could shuffle a full deck would intentionally crawl into something equivalent to eighty oil drums welded end to end just for the privilege of watching mites do acrobatic tricks in his breakfast cereal.

We never gained the level of sophistication that other folks who had far less international travel experience, gained.

Take wine, for example. Most of the stuff we got wrapped around had aluminum screw tops, was less than six months old and tasted like the byproduct of some industrial chemical process. Nobody ever had a corkscrew… If the jug had a cork, you drove the sonuvabitch down with the blunt-ended blade of an electrician's knife and watched it snorkel around in there 'til you drained the contents.

We never knew there were things running around in the world known as 'communicable diseases'… There were always a couple of duty containers of distilled spirits being passed around at every fleet landing in the wee hours. Didn't even matter what boat you were riding… Only qualifications were Dolphins and a mouth.

"Hey buddy… Have a drink!"

Bleary-eyed bastards heading back to the boats and weird, no-name booze in flat pints being killed and tossed off the pier.

How many of you reading this inane stuff ever saluted the tender quarterdeck with a flat pint of distilled spirits tucked in the rear of his blues, up under his jumper? Come on now, that couldn't be Requin-specific.

How many guys who had the duty ever shared a cup of coffee topside with a returning shipmate, that had been doctored up with something he picked up 'on the beach', that resembled paint remover or bore solvent? Anyone giving a negative reply will grow a Pinocchio nose.

One benefit the nuke navy has that we never had is the Surgeon General's Warning… In our day, stuff never came with "This shit will kill you…" on the label. Life was a crap shoot… The way you found out stuff would kill you was, you died. The smokeboat lads drank stuff the government wouldn't let 'em make today.

And another thing… Today, everyone is worried about the effects of second-hand smoke. Holy mackerel! I've seen times when we were buttoned up, making turns on the battery and the cigar and cigarette smoke was so gahdam thick, you could hardly see the needles in the shallow water gauges. The only times it cleared up was when the air got so damn dead it wouldn't support combustion and you couldn't light a match.

The Navy in its infinite wisdom, installed a circulating air system to make sure the entire crew could share and partake in the joy of floating atmospheric airborne crap. A cook could bust a blue egg on the grill and in 30 seconds, every poor bastard in every compartment got to share the unique olfactory stimulation with the rest of his shipmates.

There was so much junk floating around in the air inside of an operating diesel boat, it is a wonder our air compressors didn't spit out plywood.

At reunions, you recall all that stuff with men you shared it all with… No one else would believe it and if they did, wouldn't care. That is why writing this junk has been so much fun.

It is a shame no one with proper skills and the gift for making things socially acceptable could have recorded our history. It was a special time, but we went from World War II to the atomic era and nobody took the time to chronicle the twilight years of the combustion-powered submersibles. I guess folks could make a point out of the fact we never did anything spectacular… Never pulled any rabbits out of magic hats or pulled off the kind of stuff Tom Clancy writes about.

Was riding big ugly stuff, displacing salt water, fouling fishing nets, wearing out bar stools, scaring hell out of marine life, and playing ASW target all we were good for?

Well, we were there. Nobody came to get us… No one had to claw-hammer us out of society and force us to do what we did. We volunteered and it was rough duty… That's a fact. We made our equipment serviceable, did our job and were a proud bunch… We served with men we came to deeply respect.

It would be nice to be able to have a chronicle of those years as a tribute to the happy-go-lucky days before sedate professionalism gobbled up the life we lived. Now, the only folks we can share our times with are old barnicle butts and broken down barmaids… And guys with computers you never can share a bucket of suds with. Damn shame.

It was all so long ago. We were young… That was all there was to it… We were young.


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