I was a member of the commissioning crew on the USS Stonewall Jackson
(SSBN-634) at Mare Island Naval Shipyard from January 1964 through May 1965. In
addition to the new construction, shakedown cruise, and missile firings at Cape
Canaveral, I rode the Stoney J on five patrols. They called them "deterrent
patrols" in more politically sensitive times, but they were in fact war
patrols. We were loaded and ready for war.
This was during the early years of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's
"Mutually Assured Destruction" or MAD policy, and Polaris was a "city killer,"
designed to lay waste to cities and civilizations in retaliation for a first
strike from a Communist country on the U.S. or our allies. We didn't know
whether the next "Flash" message would be a drill or the end of the world. I
was on patrol when the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out, and we
thought, "This is It...." We stood ready to destroy the world, as we knew it,
in order to save it from Communism. It was a time of collective paranoia and
hysteria, and we all came far too close to that threshold of annihilation.
Bud Turner (right) and Val
Robichaux on watch aboard the USS Stonewall Jackson.
Aside from the geopolitics and technology of nuclear warfare, however, I found
the submarine service to be a training ground that supplied me with the skills
I would need in civilian life. Raised by my aunt and uncle, I was a product of
a broken home. My step-father was in and out of prison, and my early years with
him were "one step ahead of the law and a flood of worthless checks." Out of
high school and out of work, with little or no opportunity or desire to go to
college, and an accompanying draft deferment, I was headed toward the jungles
of Vietnam or down that lonesome road my step-father had followed. Only my
aunt's perseverance, and a $100 bribe, pointed me in the direction of the Navy
and the submarine service.
The submarine service taught me how to lead and how to follow. The "school of
the boat" taught me what I call the three A's—adaptability, attitude, and
accountability. These gave me the confidence and knowledge to manage any
situation life or the sea could throw my way. These were skills I have used
every day of my civilian life, in my marriage, and in my career. I earned my
Dolphins after a year of learning how to get along and work at whatever needed
to be done and for as long as it took to do it.
And those Dolphins, they leave marks on your chest, right over your heart, long
after the uniforms have been put away. Once you have earned them, you will
always wear them, and you will always be recognized as a submariner by the
—Bud Turner, now of Vacaville, California, spent six years in the submarine
service, from 1962 to 1968. In 1994, he rode the USS Stonewall Jackson on its
final voyage, from San Diego, California, to Bremerton, Washington, where it
was decommissioned and scrapped under the Submarine Recycling Program. He is
currently writing a book about the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine service.