To return to memories of the SS 320, click here.
To return to the main page of the SS 320, click here.

Memories of Abe Kern '53-'55

Here I am in 1955 and 2000

I was an engineman aboard the Bergall and there was a title I'll call Crown Prince of the Engine Room. That's when you qualify as a Throttleman while still an E3 or E4.    You now get to run the engines on Battery Charges and be your own slave (Oiler).    You would run the rock crushers for 8 hrs. a shift.   Just call me Crown Prince Abe.   According to my Throttleman, John Dykes, I was so on the ball that I had a concaved ass.   As you may know, the Bergall had GM 278s and they were as shitty as any one of us snipes can attest too.   I logged more time tearing apart those rock crushers (replacing cracked heads, pistons and con rods) as an FN than many E6s did on Fairbanks Boats. For whatever its worth we EB Built boat snipes were better ENs.   Fairbanks Morse engines server as clothes dryers, you could drape your laundry over the valve covers and let them dry out.   The GM leaked more oil than they burned so laying your clothes on top was never an option.    On a positive note, we never had a rust problem in the bilges.   Here's a shot of one of them that looks about right that's stripped down in the shop for overhaul.   Not the fire extinguisher for a size comparison to the pistons! We had nicknames for our GM-Wintons: Gravel Gerty, Big Bertha, Leaping Lena and I don't remember the name of the 4th . It was the port engine in the FWD room.

My Trim Dive

I can't top "TRIM DIVE" (from the war patrol opening page) but I can equal it!

I was responsible for a similar type situation in 1954 as FN. One day I was on the bridge as a lookout. The Diving alarm sounded and I cleared the bridge to take my station on the Stern Planes. Everything was cool and we leveled off at about 90 ft. We had a new Ensign as OD and Diving Officer. He wasn't Qualified nor was I.

The Skipper told the Ensign that we had lost hydraulic power. The Ensign reacted properly and instructed me and the Bow planesman to switch to Hand Power. I repeated the order and switched to Emergency Power instead of Hand power. In the process we gained an up bubble so I promptly put some dive on the Stern planes. With full power reacting to my putting on some dive, the planes jammed at FULL DIVE. By the time things settled down and the situation was brought under control we were at 400 ft I thought surely the old man was going to shit can me and send me to a Destroyer for my stupidity. Instead after questioning me, he decided I should be Battle Stations Sternplanesman I was permanent Battle Stations Sternplanes man even after I qualified and made E4. Capt Kunhardt was a LEADER not a manager . I will never stop admiring that man no matter where he is today.

Our collision with the USS Norris

October 31, 1954 we were rammed by our own destroyer, DDE Norris while on exercise Lantflex off the coast of Cape Hatteras.. A lot of Cans were in the vicinity and they were pissed off because the day before we penetrated a Hunter Killer screen and effectively sunk the Valley Forge the Flag ship of the Task Force.

Bergall was in the aggressor fleet. We were at periscope depth underway on our battery. When the skipper saw the DD coming right for us. He yelled out, "Oh My God she's going to hit us!", and sounded the collision alarm. To the credit of us well trained Diesel Rats we reacted just as sharp and smart as in a drill to show off to some big brass. I have never been afraid or panicked since. The section on watch at the time gave depositions and they read like we were coached which we weren't. The QM striker on watch saved the Skippers ass and put the DD skipper in deep shit.

I was the oiler in the After Engine room standing a cold Iron watch with Howie Waggoner as Thottleman. Norm Davis was the oiler in the Forward Engine room. My surreal memory was between me and Norm looking at one another's eyeball thru the watertight hatch peep hole. In my mind Norms eyeball was like a Salvador Dalli painting.

The Bergall was sent to Philly and Norris to Norfolk as they were the yards with available Dry Docks. It took about a day to get to Philly. The Bergall left for the Med in mid Nov 1955. I threw off the Bow line from the dock as I was detached that day to be discharged from the Navy.

As for getting credit for a War Patrol for that Murmansk cruise, I think the Navy couldn't do that as it was probably considered a BLACK OPERATION. The hull No was painted over and the rescue buoys were welded to the deck. The depth charge sleeves and hatches were installed in the After Battery. I don't remember if we did the same in the After Engine Room.  We were also entitled to have our bow painted Blue. because we had to have crossed the Arctic circle. I would consider it a privilege and an honor to be allowed to wear a Patrol badge under my Dolphins.

Some time in early 1955 on one of Bergall's deployments this happened. Our Corpsman Doc Webber and SCC Garrison insisted that we remove canned goods from cartons and remove labels from cans and mark the contents with china markers. This was done as a deterrent against roaches and mice. After several weeks at sea Ski Majchrzak, one of our better cooks, decided to make some Blueberry pies as a reward for some lousy event that escapes me. He went aft to get his ingredients out of the converted # 7 MBT (main ballast tank). The blueberries were the unsweetened kind and the cans were not marked as sweetened or unsweetened. SKI made several pies and served them as a special treat. The pies smelled and looked great. We couldn't wait for supper and desert that night. Needless to say they were a resounding flop and a source of ridicule of Skis' skill as a Baker. Doc Weber, who had a great sense of humor and was also a very good cartoonist and calligrapher and made an award on paper that he made to look like parchment adorned with a neckerchief . In his best penmanship he proceeded to create the " Magic Chef Award". It read as follows: (as best as I can remember) 'The Magic Chef award is bestowed upon E. Majchrzak for creative baking in that he has mastered the ability to turn good food into shit without passing it through the human body .'

(editor note, as a followup, a few guys have spoke up from off the DDE Norris and further commented on by Bergall family:)

My name is Lloyd Johnson and I was the petty officer of the watch when we hit you. We had lost contact for about 30 minutes and I set up the dead reckoning to locate the Bergall and as you know we found you. In combat we felt a thud and we all looked at each other kind of in a shock and saying did we hit her. I stepped out on the deck and there was a rush of bodies coming out of the forward sleeping compartment. As you can  imagine being asleep and steel against steel you can under stand the panic.  Later, at sun rise, we could see the damage with the sun in the back ground.  

I was not popular after that for setting up the dead reckoning and giving the bearing to the bridge. The reason was the ship went into Norfolk and not to Boston. I left the ship and  went back to Boston and was discharged a week later. It's been 54 years and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I just found this info in the last few months. I found E-mail address to couple of other members of your crew. I don't know if they are still with us for I did not hear anything back.
If you get this or any one else that might see this it would be nice to hear from you.

Lloyd Johnson
I'm Roger Bavoux.   Abe, Believe it or not -- it was pretty scary topside as well. Just nodded off after my watch in the aft ship-fitter's area. Next thing I knew -- I was on the deck with the upper two bunks on top of me (with my shipmates still in them) and the emergency "GQ" claxton screaming in the pitch black compartment. All the kids (me too) screaming for life jackets as we (like you guys had no clue what had elapsed). We finally mustered to our respective damage control lockers when they passed the word re: the collision and were looking for volunteers to swim into the flooded compartments to secure the lower hatches to isolate the breached areas. Five months later we experienced another heavy thud; but it was daytime --  we hit a large Right whale and damaged one of the screws (quite a jolt from a mere fish) -- back in the yards again for another month or so. To this day, I have not learned what caused the SUB accident or who was at fault -- lots of speculation only.

Abe, this not to minimize your experience -- but just to give you Bergallites the topside perspective.  Nice to chat with you, sailor -- glad we both survived and can discuss some 54-years later.
Best Regards,
Roger Bavoux
Abe adds:
I do recall from the guys that went topside after we surfaced saying  that the Norris was down by the bow and asking us if we needed help. Our periscope ripped a gash along her bottom from the chain locker  aft to a chiefs qtrs. That I believe should be well over 20'. The Norris was in a lot worse shape than we were. The depth of the cut on our Sail would indicate that the Norris came darn close to ramming the conning tower. Would that have holed and flooded the Conning Tower?

The Key Guys are; Moose,  Bob Anderson, Kenny Johnson, Tony Porazzo, Stern Planesman (?) the late Doc Weber. Chief of the watch (?), A ganger(?).
The Angler escorted us to Philly. That's the same Angler who escorted the Bergall to Australia after being holed by the Jap Cruiser in WWll.
And our Norm Dineen adds:
I was there and remember it as if it was yesterday.  Fortunately I was in the bottom bunk because when the Bergall rolled I was thrown out onto the deck. I jumped up to close the watertight door to the forward engine room but  those outstanding enginemen (like Abe Kern) had it dogged down.  I then then laid back in my bunk and said every prayer I knew.  Being only 19 years old I thought maybe I would never see 20 but I will be 74 my next birthday so the good lord is keeping me around for something.  I remember many more details but will not bore you with them.
Norm Dineen
From: Mrs Betty A. Travisano <>

Dear Abe,
I remember that day like it was today. I was busy taking care of our 2 little girls. Too busy to watch TV, but my neighbor, Rose Webber, (Doc's wife) heard the news and kept it a secret from me.  As I turned on the 6 o'clock evening news, she came over to tell me of the accident.   I'm sure that other wives can recall that day as well.  What a relief to hear that you were all okay!   I remember the cook Eddie Marchjrak telling the story that he had baked loaves of bread and was going down the ladder when that happened. His loaves of bread were scattered. but he was okay.   Thanks for sharing that story with us.
Take good care.
Love, Betty and Ben Travisano
Dear Betty;
After the ramming we heard that a rumor from Base Radio Command at New London put out the word that a Submarine was sunk in the area where we were operating. People assumed that it was the Bergall. We couldn't wait until we got to Philly to call wives and families that we were alive and well. When I called my wife she hadn't heard a word from any body. Did you know the truth prior to Ben calling you from Philly?

Ski Marchjrak was the closest to a casualty we suffered. He was making donuts and the hot grease spilled and somehow missed his lower body. A pitcher of water was in the hatch combing of the lower Conning Tower hatch and it spilled on Tony Porazzo who was on the Bow Planes at the time. That got his attention. Other than, after we set sail for Philly, we were amused by the whole incident.

16 Tons

This "Shit detail" took place toward the end of our stay in Portsmouth during March of 1954. 

Our COB was "Cookie" Cunningham and he volunteered the services of the Bergall's world class E3s (Norm Davis, Tony Porazzo, Wally Nelson and me) to load lead ballast on the keel inside the midships Main ballast tanks.   The lead consisted of 16 tons of pigs weighing 90 to 110 lbs each.   We formed a daisy chain to lift  them from skids on the dry dock bottom through the flood ports to another guy who passed the pigs to the 4th guy who placed the pigs on top of one another about 3 or 4 high between the frames. We rotated positions about once an hour and took an occasional break so that a "Yardbird" could strap weld the pigs to the keel.

We only knocked off for chow at lunch and dinner.   The mess hall pukes complained that we were too dirty to eat with the hoy poloy.   We ate at a separate table so as not to offend our shipmates sensibilities.   We started around 0800 and worked through 0200 the next day placing all the pigs among the designated frames.    We were informed by a supervisory "Yardbird" that we loaded 16 tons of lead ballast into the good old Bergall.   We were dog tired, hungry, dirty and feeling quite boastful of our 

It should be pointed out here that Tennessee Ernie Ford's hit song "Sixteen Tons" was at the top of its popularity at the time.

After our good days worked we retired to the barracks that we shared with the Marine guards on the base and at the castle. The 4 of us were in the shower room sitting on the floor naked as jaybirds singing "16 Tons" at the top of our lungs.   The jar heads failed to see our humor or appreciate what we had accomplished.   The MA called the MPs who accused us of being drunk and disorderly and called the duty officer on our barge.   The MPs were told to instruct us to pipe down, finish showering and go to bed.   The Marines were pissed that we were not put on the rack and Cookie gave us the next day off which pissed off the XO. Wally and I took off for a long week end in Philly.   Who among the Bergall elite can top 16 Tons?

Abe Kern

To return to memories of the SS 320, click here.
To return to the main page of the SS 320, click here.