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   New Construction

updated 04/07/09

04/07/09 - Hi - I am George Singer, recently finding this site and registering as a proud Plank Owner. I was the original Supply Officer and have finally accumulated a few notes about my time with the boat that I hope others find interesting, fun and give pause to reminisce.

Best Regards Shipmates,

George

Dear FRANCIS SCOTT KEY Shipmates,

At the tender age of 68 I am still working full time running a small startup in San Francisco. After my 7 years active duty I spent 32 years in the telecommunications industry and another 7 now in IT.

My time on the Key was probably the hardest working time of my entire life. I reported aboard in September, 1965 after 2 months teaching sailing at the Naval Academy, 6 months in Supply Corps School, Athens, GA, 11 months as Asst Supply Officer on the USS FORT SNELLING (LSD 30), and 6 months in Submarine School, New London. The hull was not even all together – they were still rolling the plates in that huge warehouse type building just in front of our ways.

 

 

 

I was very fortunate to be the 20th Supply Corps officer selected for submarine duty and that is one thing I have not only not regretted, but also acclaimed as one of the top highlights in my life. The years spent with both Blue and Gold shipmates were very, very hard during new construction and sea trials and just great for me.

When I reported aboard, we were using an old WW2 living barge (similar to the one on the left) that had been in the South Pacific as our office spaces. Naturally, as the junior puke, non-nuke, non-submariner (yet) I was given a former shower as my office. My desk rocked back and forth because the deck was slanted to drain the water and there was zero airflow though the space. I, therefore, spent as much time as I could somewhere else.

In trying to remember my supply crew which was made up of both Blue and Gold crew members, I had Chief Spaulding (Gold), SK1 Wilbur (Blue), SK2 Barker (Gold), Chief Commissaryman Dewey Lewis (Blue), CS1 Soupy Campbell (Blue), CS1 Sharpe – the donut guy (Blue), Chief Steward Cabalona (Blue), and a few others whose names I regrettably do not remember- I can see them in my mind, but no names are there.

When the crew finally reached the correct size, the Navy authorized us to commence serving meals in the galley and we became a working supply department. Thanks to the economy at the time and our position 1 mile from a lobster fishing company, we served fresh boiled lobster about every other Friday, if not every Friday. It wasn’t expensive then and really kept crew morale at a high. Before we started the galley operation I was getting a lot of complaints about the cost and quality of food for lunches (actually not many people talked to the lowly Pork Chop at the time, but they did talk to my cooks) and at their suggestion we built a great lunch café on the top, open deck of the barge. We had long lines for burgers, dogs and other quick food almost immediately that included a lot of shipyard workers. All of the money we made went towards the ships party upon commissioning and we made a bunch – I sort of remember that it was over $15,000 (1966 dollars). Well, the shipyard closed us down because their cafeterias were losing money because of us. It was great while it lasted and a lot of people, particularly junior cooks, got time to keep their hand in their trade.

As we closed out 1965 still in a state of barely being a complete ship and 1966 came in, I was fortunate to have a child. Well, 14 hours a day and a new baby were something else for me to manage and I truly learned what tired was. As I recall we had meetings in the Wardroom every morning with the Officers and Chiefs to go over the day and another meeting to discuss the “problem children” – those items holding up construction progress. The one big thing that was always mentioned will be remembered by the MTs because the shipyard dogs were ALWAYS grinding on the missile tube hatches. An unbelievable process to be sure - long, tedious, and necessarily exacting.

Finally, we made it to Fast Cruise – a 3 or 4 day period alongside the pier pretending we were underway, testing everything we could. Here again, we had an unusual occurrence. The Captain ordered a couple of reverse turns on the screw and the engineers rotated the steam control wheel and nothing happened. After a bit, someone decided to crank open the steam control some more and then the valve worked and we were off and running astern. We sheared off all of the gas lines and power cables and gangway and anything else that was connected as we charged out into the Thames River unexpectedly. Many hours later we were tied up again and back on our Fast Cruise before Sea Trials.

During our Eng Sea Trials, we had the “pleasure” of having VADM Rickover on board for the duration. He really liked Chief Cabalona and offered him a job in DC, but the Chief refused because he wanted to stay on the KEY. Rickover had a stupendous list of things that were supposed to be done for him to keep him in a pleasant frame of mind and the ship even drafted a Ship’s Instruction on what to do and how to do it just for his presence on board. From the Supply point of view, we spent many hours searching for the correct lemon drops, grapes, apples, oranges, and whatever. I remember driving a 2 ½ ton stake truck to an AFB in MA to see if they has the right things we were missing – yes I drove it because Navy Transportation would not check the truck out to an Enlisted guy for the designated purpose of the trip – Ha! A Pork Chop officer actually got to do some cumshaw on this one.

Now, here we are out in the Atlantic and doing all kinds of eng trials. I was diving officer and we were at flank getting ready to do an all back emergency. My instructions were to let the stern planes float free with the ship’s movement until we reached 30 degrees up bubble. I did and the resultant excitement and consternation and downright fear was unbelievable and hugely funny to those of us who knew what was going on. I have it on good faith that the Admiral was beyond pissed and quite afraid that we were out of control. Needless to say, that did not happen again, nor did it need to. As things turned out Rickover liked the KEY so well he came back for a 2nd visit which was something that never happened with any other new construction boat to my knowledge.

Another portion of sea trials was a trip to St. Thomas. We had a marvelous time there running acoustic trials and having liberty. I made LT there and was appropriately thrown into the ocean. Getting back aboard was quite the trial because I had to do it myself, without help, and that round boat didn’t have any steps on it.

 

 

 

 

 

After commissioning and the great party we had (after we had all thawed out - my feet and ankles have never been as cold as they were that day standing on that ventilated steel deck while so many, many people had to say their piece), we went back to work, but in Charleston and then the Cape. This was now Spring, 1967. During our DASO – Gold Crew was actually first to shoot a bird – we had many a great time in and around the Cape and finally shot our bird. I was Battle Stations and Emergency Dive Officer so I was at the controls on the way out. I kept telling the planesmen to relax and keep the sticks free and easy. I had an Admiral and a 2 Star Air Force Missile expert standing over my shoulder (I’m finally a very junior LT with railroad tracks at this point) and, in reality, who the hell am I to tell them to relax! Once again Murphy strikes. The channel going out of Cape Canaveral is about 120 feet deep. Once you hit the breakwater it is all ahead 2/3rds, prepare to dive, sound the diving alarm, dive, dive in that order and that fast. It was up to me to keep the boat off the bottom. Both planesmen looked up at me after trying to move their control sticks and said that they were frozen. I had to decide immediately if they really were and call of the dive, which would have called off the test, and I would have been an Ltjg on an amphib again tomorrow, or check the drag control. I had the COW check the fairwater one and I checked the stern planesman and in the background I have the CO – Capt Frank Graham, saying “Mr. Singer” because there is no depth control at this point.  Within another couple of feet in the down direction, we had the planes controls free and miraculously – I do mean this in every sense of the word – hit our depth of 62 feet. I’ve had some heart trouble in my life and I have to believe that this was the beginning – or it could have been those pork chops I ate for breakfast growing up in Virginia.

We went on to shoot and hit on target and then back to Groton for a final fitting out to get ready for 1st patrol – Uh Oh! It didn’t work out that way – Murphy shows up again!

We went out into Long Island Sound or just beyond it to do a ripple sabot shoot, testing every system in full. With everything ready we kicked it off and on the 3rd or 4th shot the entire ship shuddered terribly, the hovering system said to me as Diving Officer – what the heck – and I took over manually and the Captain ordered cease fire. The end result was another amazing event – we had tried to launch the launch tube. There was a faulty seal at the bottom of the tube and gas got in there and explosively sheared off a bunch of those huge bolts and the tube went up and cocked sideways in the missile tube. A huge failure and we did not want to be the first boat to miss their first patrol on schedule.

As the Pork Chop I would have normally been the one person to find a spare launch tube; however, THIS was a big deal, so the entire Navy Ballistic Missile Program went to GQ trying to find one of these huge things. Our problem was that we were one of the last boats and all the other tubes had been sold to the English. The story goes – and I cannot verify it, just verify its end result – that after a few days of searching someone told someone at Lockheed to go look in their storage yard. Lo and behold, they found the one last launch tube in the world under a tarp and shipped it to Groton and we were back in business. People, I am not kidding you about this stuff.

After a madhouse of activity at EB, the FRANCIS SCOTT KEY heads to Charleston for loadout. We had been having some water appearance problems (leaks) in the Missile Compartment and could not find the source for some time. Alongside the pier in Charleston it rained as it only can in the South and the leaks showed up. Here we go again – lagging gets removed and we see the water coming out of a missile tube weld. Suffice to say that the weld was repaired, the welder blacklisted forever, and somehow we shipped out on our first patrol on time. There was one other cute incident during this preparation time.

We were in Charleston and local rules said that we had to have and SEIS light when were on the surface (a rotating yellow beacon). We had one on our loadout list, but had never received it. The Captain said “George, if we do not have that light, we cannot get underway tomorrow morning – do you understand?” I said “Yes Sir”. I then told a couple of chiefs who had taken pity on me during qualifications and they said “don’t worry about it”. The next morning we had a short mast with a rotating yellow beacon doing its thing proudly on top of the sail and the Captain was pleased. Bo Bohannan, our XO was also pleased, which made a lot of difference to me.

When we arrived back in Charleston and caught up on the news in the Base newspaper, there was a crime report that stated that a yellow rotating beacon was stolen from a Public Works truck during the week – Oh! The wages of sin and the expertise and determination of a Submariner.

 

Picture: Departing on 1st patrol
Captain Frank Graham, on the bridge & under the bridge
Cooper River, Charleston, South Carolina
June 1967

First patrol was pretty uneventful other than getting people qualified and learning or re-learning what it was like to become a cohesive crew in the face of danger. The funniest thing that happened was that one of the messcooks tried to compress 3 #10 cans of beet juice in the trash compactor and we had exploded beet juice throughout the trash room and part of the galley, not to mention that the messcook looked like he had been shot. The red was ingrained in the blue tiles and grout and probably was still there until an overhaul.

One of the great things the Captain instituted was that a group of Officers or Chiefs would cook Sunday dinner. The Officers did OK, but the Chiefs were phenomenal. In particular, we had a Chief Pimentel of Hispanic background that brought his own food on board for one meal each patrol. I have never had better Mexican food that those meals.

After change of crews and 3 months in New London we were back at it, flying to Rota on Halloween. Between sea trials and 1st and 2nd patrols, we missed every holiday over 1967 and into 1968 – wives and families were not happy.

When we arrived in Rota and were walking down the long pier to the boat, I was met by the Squadron Supply Officer – a Commander, and a couple of other officers senior to me. They said, “come with me” – Uh! Oh! Here we go again. I was marched into the very large warehouse on the pier located just before you got to the CANOPUS, our Tender at the time. There in the warehouse along one wall was a huge row of pallets all loaded with the same kind of boxes.
I was then told that they were my fault. Well, what had happened was that the unit of issue for garbage weights had changed while we were on patrol and we submitted our requisition based on the old unit (1 ea) for something like 10,000 weights and they came in as 10,000 boxes of 10 each. It took ½ of a TAK load to get them there and that was enough for the entire submarine force for quite a long time. This was a very auspicious start to the patrol cycle.

The biggest deal during the patrol was a fire in the galley just as we were sitting down for Christmas dinner. We were really rocking and rolling (15-20 degrees in all directions) and some turkey grease spilled out into an oven creating the fire. The whole thing turned into a Chinese fire drill. My cooks had the fire out pronto and the smoke was going to clear out and be taken care of by our marvelous air conditioning systems and we could have remained submerged. That was not the decision and we tried to vent the boat via snorkel, ending up on the surface for quite some time (quite dark thankfully). Every damn dish, glass, and accoutrement we had out was smashed – not to mention the turkeys being covered in a fire fighting powder whose name I can’t remember. About 12 hours later we broke out steaks to feed a very hungry, tired crew.

On the way in to Rota a Russian ELINT ship tried to ram us, but our own Navy tugs from Rota prevented a collision for the final excitement of a very interesting and trying patrol.

Once alongside the pier, I found out I had won my Gold Supply Corps Dolphins and that I was on my way to COMSUBLANT Staff, ending my 3 ¼ years on KEY, and what a wonderful experience it was.

Interestingly enough, many years later, I was President of a long distance company in Seattle and hired Ron Dawson who was an MT3 on Key (Blue) as a Plank owner. A few months later I hired his son. They both worked for me for several years. Regrettably, Ron passed away about 3 or 4 years ago from complications from diabetes.