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My Bergall Stories
Memories of Michael Snodgrass
I served on the USS Bergall from April 1973 to April 1977. I was a nuke electrician and eventually attained the rate of EM1(SS). The following are some stories which I recall from my four years on board. Some are funny and some are serious. I cannot swear to exact details on all items since it has been over twenty years since some occurred but they are all true. There is no information of a sensitive operational nature in these stories and I do not remember exact dates.
My First Water Slug or That Aint How it Sounded on the John Wayne Movie.
When I first got on board the Bergall (and was still a novice to all the sights and sounds that one day would become all too familiar to me) a humorous incident happened. My first trip to sea, I was assigned a rack right next to one of the torpedo tubes (as Murphys law would have it). After we got out to sea, I was off watch and decided to catch some sleep before time to go on watch in training. I had just laid down when I heard over the intercom, Attention, the ship will be firing water slugs.. Well, I had no idea what that meant but I could tell some activity was occurring in the torpedo room so I figured it had something to do with them. I thought to myself, This will be neat, just like the John Wayne movies. Well, as anyone who has been on a submarine can attest it isnt a douche sound like in the movies. When they impulsed that ram, I thought someone had blown up my rack. I was standing out in the passageway checking my drawers. You can bet your ass, the next time I at least covered up my head with my pillow.
Thar She Blows
One of the first
things you learn when you get on the sub is how the sanitaries
work and when the A-Gangers were blowing them you do not ( I
repeat, do not) open the flush valve! There were several guys who
got sprayed down with crap because they failed to remember that
important lesson. Fortunately, I never got that opportunity. I
remember two funny stories related to this issue.
Once a chief was sitting on the john while they had the sanitaries pressurized and the flush valve leaked by. Little did he know but the tide was rising and all of a sudden it just dumped right out in his drawers. He said he looked down and little toodly balls just dumped in his skivvies. We laughed a lot over his telling of the incident.
Another time, one of the guys was standing at the mirror shaving (across from the toilets) after just having taken a shower. Well, one of the plugs on the toilets blew out and sprayed his legs. Needless to say, he had to take another shower.
O Say Can You See
We pulled into Annapolis one time to let the midshipmen come on board and get a look at a nuclear sub. We were allowed to get out into town and look around and even were given tickets to a Navy-Penn State football game (which I thoroughly enjoyed). Well, boys will be boys, and late that night after too many beers, some of our shipmates happened to be in the vicinity of the flagpole for Annapolis. Well, somehow or other, somebodys (his name was Arch) underware ended up, up the flagpole. When they came out to raise the flag the next morning, all full of themselves with pomp and circumstance (Im sure!) there was Archs drawers blowing in the breeze. They never found out who did it. The captain said, Dont do that again (with a smile on his face).
This Makes Me Feel Sick to Tell It
I found out early that I was one of the poor unlucky slobs who had chronic seasickness. I tried every remedy there was (both off the shelf and homemade) but nothing solved the problem and I suffered through it for the entire four years I was on board. I was OK as long as we were submerged and deep but when we were at periscope depth or on the surface I was in trouble. One time, in a severe storm we had to surface. Everyone on watch was walking around with plastic bags tied to their belts full of puke. You would just stop and barf in your bag and keep on going. I bet half the crew was sick. It was awful. Another time I was on watch in Maneuvering and was feeling terrible. A reactor operator by the name of Burgwald was making fun of me (he was one of the lucky slobs). It just so happens we had a coffee mess right outside the back door of Maneuvering and I jumped up and puked right in the coffee grounds. When that smell hit Burgwald in the face, he became one of the unlucky slobs. He never laughed at me again.
One time we had trouble with our periscope in that it was fogging up and you couldnt see out of it (which is no good when you are at periscope depth). One of our senior electricians and I came up with an idea to take the toasters from the crews mess, take the bottoms off, place them end to end, and put a fan at the end and, wallah, instant defroster. The captain thought it was a good idea so we set about to do it. Well, back then I was a lot skinnier than I am now so I was volunteered to squirm my way back into the scope well and place this contraption in the appropriate location so the the defroster could work. I was too dumb to be scared. Well, the scope well worked just like the old voice tubes and I could hear every word being said in the Control Room (about three decks up). Well, I heard the sons-o-bitches say Lower the Scope., and there it came. I managed to squirm my skinny ass out of there a lot faster than I squirmed in. I also heard the other electrician take off running and when he got to the Control Room he gave them a cussing they never forgot. No one ever said a word. (The defroster worked like a charm.)
Although swim call is fairly common and happened many times, two items come to mind that I recollect. The first time I had ever been snorkeling (in the Virgin Islands), I was thrilled at how clear the water was and how you could see the bottom 75 feet down. I was tooling around and then I looked over and there was a beautiful fish (just like the kind you see in the pet store and about 3 inches long). The only thing was this fish was about two foot long and looked like he weighed a hundred pounds. I thought, if that thing is that big then there is probably something out here big enough to eat him (and me). I looked up out of the water and I was about 300 yards off the beach. I must have looked like an outboard getting my ass back to the beach. Another time, in Roosevelt Roads (Puerto Rico) we had had a beer ballgame. That place is so hot and muggy you can sweat to death just thinking so you can imagine how hot we got playing softball. The hotter we got, the more beer we drank. Well, when we went back to the boat, one thing led to another and everyone started throwing everyone over the side of the pier. We didnt notice (or disregarded) the NO SWIMMING sign. Well, as Murphys law would have it, the captain of the base happened to drive by. Well he stopped his car and came storming out onto the pier. He demanded to see the Executive Officer. One of the guys looked around and said There he is., pointing into the water. The XO climbed out of the water (still in uniform) and stood in front of the base captain. The captain demanded to see our captain. Well, this is when I learned that rank has privileges. Our captain (who knew he was senior to the base captain) sent him up a bowl of ice cream and told him to cool off. I thought that was neat.
A lot of the guys on board sub would post Playboy pictures, etc. to remind us why we were out there. The same XO in the story above decided he would get on a self-righteous kick and ordered all girl pictures removed. We reluctantly complied (at least the ones he could find) but he didnt know who he was fooling with. Some guys on subs are just down right gross and nukes were smart, devious, bored and gross. One of our Machinist Mates just happened to have a full size picture of a guy who (how can I say this delicately) would make a elephant jealous. We waited until the XO was coming back to the Engine room and posted the picture. When you stepped through the watertight door from Machinery 2 into the Engine room there was an electrical board which was just the right size and location for the elephant mans picture. When the XO stepped through and looked up he was looking right at this monster. He never said a word. We laughed our asses off.
My Life Flashed in front of Me
I dont recall being scared too many times on the boat. But one time I was scared shitless (and Im not ashamed to admit it). I was in my rack and was just about asleep. All of a sudden I hear a faint voice over the emergency intercom say, Flooding in the Engine room.. He then said it again, real loud. Well, I just happened to know (as everyone else did) that we were at test depth which means you have very little time to respond. Every curtain in berthing opened at one time. Everyone was shook up. As it turns out , it was a false alarm. The guy had found a three by five card (this is the way we would start a practice drill) from a previous drill and had called it in. He didnt realize that you dont drill when you are at test depth (serious business). He just about gave half the crew a heart attack.
Smarter Than They Thought We Were
I found officers to be interesting people. They were all college graduates and somewhere along the line the Navy would brainwash them into thinking the enlisted people were dumb asses just there to do their bidding. Not all were this way but most were. I used to love the looks on their faces when they were trying to impress you with their knowledge of any subject (arts, sciences, sports, etc.) and they suddenly realized that the enlisted nukes could discuss any subject intelligently and at length. Most of the enlisted guys on the Bergall when I was on there had some college (some even had degrees). Most had joined the Navy to get out of going to Nam when they got drafted. Admiral Rickover realized the value of the enlisted men on the Nuclear subs and often pointed this out to officers. Capt Wyatt (who is the captain in the stories above) was a good officer and treated us with respect. He was very impressive and if I had had to go to war, I know I would want him to have been my captain.
Any guy who was married when he was on the boats will know what I mean when I say the honeymoons when you came home from a run were great. My wife and I never argued about petty subjects back then because we knew our time together was precious. The family separation is what drove me out of the service but I have never experienced that thrill of the homecoming since I got out.
The bravest thing
I ever saw in the four years I was on board the Bergall was
performed by an A-Gang chief (Chief Gagnon). The deed
stands very well in my memory. The engine room filled up with what looked like smoke
and we had responded for a fire. As it turns out, it was not
smoke but rather a hydraulic fluid leak (which when it became
airborne turned into what looked like smoke). The catch was that
it was a leak from a system at about 4000 psi which meant that it
would cut someone in two if they passed through it. This chief
went back to the hydraulic pump station, not being able to see
and not knowing where this leak was, and isolated it. I hope that
I told him then how impressed I was with his bravery. I
dont recall if they even made a big deal out of it (they
should have) but it sure stuck in my memory banks. I have made
light of life on board the boat but we knew when to be serious
and there were many more serious times than there were silly