One last thought, p.1
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One Last Thought


  One Last Thought

  By Joe C Comb 2nd

  Copyright 2010 Joe C Comb 2nd

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  ~~~

  One Last Thought

  John was on the mess decks at the galley window handing back his dirty plate. Mid rats was over, the only people on the mess decks were John, Mike leaning in the scullery doorway, and a young kid cleaning the tables. The kid was the new mess cook, John hadn’t seen him before. As John set his plate down half the lights went out. John jerked his head towards Mike and they stood looking at each other waiting to hear the announcement.

  “Oh no, not another drill,” said the mess cook.

  “They don’t have drills on the mid watch kid, not on submarines,” said Mike. “Besides they’re testing that torpedo shape in the torpedo room, they wouldn’t interrupt testing for a drill”.

  Then they heard the announcement, “Loss of the port electrical buss, reactor scram. All reactor control personnel lay aft”.

  Then a few seconds later, the flooding alarm sounded. John took off running for the watertight door at the back of the operations compartment on the upper level. He knew the flooding wasn’t in the torpedo room, he would have heard it. The mess decks were in the operations compartment and he definitely would have heard that. No, the flooding would have to be aft somewhere.

  “The flooding is in the auxiliary machinery room upper level, starboard side,” came the next announcement “damage control party muster in operations upper level, backup damage control party muster in crews mess”.

  When John got to the watertight door, it was already shut and dogged down tight. John reached for the sound powered phones and put the head set on. While he was plugging in the phone cord, the rest of the damage control party was coming in.

  John spoke into the mouthpiece, “control: damage control party; the damage control party is mustered in operations upper level, senior chief Hughes is in charge”.

  The control room phone talker answered, “damage control party: control; aye”.

  Just an hour ago they had arrived at test depth to move shapes around in the torpedo room. You always do that when you go out the first time after being in a drydock or a shipyard. This deep dive, the third, was to do testing in the torpedo room. A valve in the auxiliary machinery room upper level failed. Then what was left of the valve was thrown across the compartment into the port electrical buss switch box, shorting out the port electrical buss. The power failed and that caused the reactor to scram. John was listening to what was happening as it was reported on the phones and telling the men in the damage control party.

  “The main seawater pumps failed to restart,” John said, “we’re going to do an emergency blow.”

  Everyone sat on the floor waiting to hear the rush of air into the main ballast tanks. After the air started into the main ballast tanks, they would feel the boat start moving towards the surface. They waited, but nothing happened.

  “Emergency blow failed, they’re sending “A”-gangers from the back-up damage control party to investigate,” said John.

  “They get the main seawater pumps back up yet?” asked Holloway.

  “Not yet,” said John.

  Everyone just looked at each other. Everyone except senior chief Hughes, he hadn’t taken his eyes from the watertight door since arriving and he hadn’t said anything either.

  “What’s that mean?” it was the mess cook.

  “What are you doing here, you should be with the cooks on the mess decks?” said Mac.

  “Mike sent me up to help you guys,” said the kid.

  “How long you been on subs kid?” asked Holloway.

  “Two weeks,” answered the kid.

  “You’ll just be in the way kid, go back to the mess decks,” said Mac.

  “Leave him,” said the senior chief.

  “What’s all that mean?” the kid asked again.

  “When we’re down this deep, we’re heavier than the water we replace.” it was Mac again. “We need to drive to the surface or blow to the surface. Main seawater pumps supply cooling water for the main condenser, which turns the steam back into water so it can cool the reactor and become steam again. No pumps, no reactor. The battery isn’t strong enough to drive us to the surface.”

  “Why can’t we startup the reactor anyway?”

  “Because you can’t, the safety systems won’t let us, and you can’t override this safety. Besides, if you did you couldn’t cool down the reactor and you’d have a meltdown,” Mac said.

  Mac, his name was actually MacKefir, was what the guys called “old navy”. He had been in the navy for a while, and he didn’t care much for navy politics. Mac wanted to successfully complete the mission and go back to port; he didn’t care about medals or any of that other stuff. Sometimes the men the brass liked looked good on a recruiting poster, but their lack of knowledge and skills could get people killed out here on patrol.

  “Flooding is contained,” John said. “The emergency blow valves are frozen.”

  “I knew we should have used our own air compressors. I’ll bet that shipyard high pressure air had too much water vapor in it,” Davis said.

  Davis was a machinist mate in the auxiliary division. These machinists mates worked with all the machinery that didn’t have anything to do with the reactor, they were known on the boats as “A”-gangers.

  “What’s that mean?” it was the kid again.

  “When we run the air compressors we put the air through an air dryer, kid. So it won’t freeze up the pipes. When we put do an emergency blow the air pressure is ten times the water pressure in the main ballast tanks. When air pressure drops that much it gets cold and the water vapor freezes. Too much water vapor and the small opening in those air valves will freeze solid blocking the air from the main ballast tanks.”

  “Well, at least they got the flooding stopped,” the kid said.

  “Ya kid, they got it stopped on the Thresher too,” Holloway said.

  “What’s the Thresher?” asked the kid.

  “USS Thresher. She came out of the shipyard on sea trials and sank,” said Holloway.

  “She had flooding, the reactor scrammed and the emergency blow valves froze up,” Davis said.

  “Thresher sank about a hundred miles from where we are kid,” said Holloway.

  Holloway was a quartermaster; he knew where the Thresher is resting. This wasn’t Holloway’s first time in these waters, and he got nervous each time.

  Everyone just sat still for a few moments, looking at each other. Then the kid got up and walked towards the control room. He came back about a minute later.

  “Mac, we’re a couple hundred feet below test depth,” the kid’s voice showed the first signs of fear.

  “We aren’t supposed to go below test depth, but we still have a few hundred feet before we reach crush depth.”

  “The captain is gonna get yelled at by squadron when we get back. Navy gets real touchy about boats going below test depth,” Davis was trying to make the kid feel better.

  What Davis said was true, but if they didn’t get the ballast tanks or the reactor back up they were not going back to port. Everything got quiet now. Senior chief Hughes was still looking at the watertight door silently, with his arms crossed. The rest of the damage control party was quietly not looking at each other. The boat was starting to make creaking and groaning sounds. Every few seconds they would hear a pop as something was crushed in the free flood space outside the pressure hull.

  “Do you understand what is happening, kid?” asked the senior chief.

  “I should have used those two extra weeks of vacation the boat gave me,” said the kid.

  It was already too la
te to save the boat. The sounds of the ship’s death were coming more rapidly and louder now. Then, just before they were compacted to the size of a doll by the ocean as the hull collapsed, John got it. He finally realized why they were still trying to save the boat. It wasn’t because they were afraid to die, they were. It wasn’t because they didn’t know the ship was going to be crushed, they knew. You practiced emergencies so much that it was all automatic, you didn’t need to think. Most of the time if you had to think you would be dead, thinking took too long. You had to react, that’s why all those long hours of drills. They practiced this stuff until their bodies reacted immediately and naturally, without thought, that is what kept you alive. Well, that was the plan anyway. And that was the last thought John had as the Atlantic Ocean rushed in on him.

  ~~~

  Author’s Final Note

  Fortunately, One Last Thought is a work of fiction. Since the loss of the USS Thresher April 10, 1963, the emergency in this story has not been possible. The loss of the USS Thresher and the 129 men aboard her (naval and civilian) is unique in the history of the United States Navy Submarine Force (because of the circumstances and the far-reaching permanent effects). The report of the board of inquiry pointed out that the Thresher class of submarines was cutting edge technology at the time of the loss of the USS Thresher, with major advances in speed, depth and all major equipment systems. This exciting submarine technology had advanced beyond our ability to understand or control all of the dangers involved in this new age of nuclear submarines, and this, we did not thoroughly understand until after the loss of the USS Thresher.

  The board of inquiry report (with its 55 opinions and 19 recommendations) became a benchmark for the United States submarine force that changed submarine construction and operations. Submarine sailors have a special reverence for the USS Thresher and the men aboard her. We know that hundreds if not thousands of us today are alive because of the lessons the United States Navy and naval shipyards learned from the loss of the USS Thresher.

  Untold numbers of submarines have survived emergencies because of changes made after the loss of the USS Thresher.

  Unknown numbers of submarine emergencies have been avoided because of changes made after the loss of the USS Thresher.

  For myself, I can tell you, that I know those Thresher inspired changes saved my life during an emergency at sea on more than one occasion. Not one April 10th in the last thirty years has passed without my thoughts going to those men, knowing that I will never be able to repay my debt to them. If you have a loved one or friend who is on eternal patrol on the USS Thresher, I want to say thank you. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my daughter, who would never have been born, if not for the sacrifice your loved ones made. I know that my words will never be able to reconcile their loss to you, but I want you to know that I will never forget those men. As my daughter grows into a woman and has a family of her own I will always remember the debt I (and my family) owe to the officers, crew and civilians of the USS Thresher. Thank you !

  Joe & Elizabeth Combs

  THE AUTHOR

  Joe Combs served in the United States Navy from Jan 25, 1980 to Nov 8, 1988 serving aboard the USS City of Corpus Christ SSN 705 and the USS John Marshall SSN 611. Joe also spent considerable time at sea on the USS Dallas, USS Philadelphia and the USS Boston. He now lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

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