As soon as that hatch shuts, you know you are divorced from the real world; it
just has nothing more to do with you. It's kind of liberating in a way. Your
car could be getting broken into and driven away—you don't know. There is no
point in worrying about it. I was never married so I never had that
is-my-wife-going-to-be-there-when-I-get-back anxiety, but I imagine it had to
be pretty much the same thing for them, too, because it's the same situation.
There is absolutely nothing you can do about what is going on, and you don't
know what is going on, anyway.
All we would get were these little news flashes. We would be out to sea for two
months, and every so often they would copy radio broadcasts just for general
information—this is what is going on. That is how we found out about Three
Mile Island. Huge headlines would get reduced to 25 words. There would be six
or seven news items, and they would come off the radio-room teletype with a
bunch of misspelled words and spaces where they didn't belong and transmission
codes and time codes.
in his days aboard the USS Archerfish.
I was a prankster on the Archerfish, along with this guy we called Weird
George, who was another sonarman. We had a teletype, and we used to type up our
own news flashes and post them on the bulletin board. We would try to make them
pretty outrageous, but after two months at sea, guys would actually go for
them; we would have takers. We had one about alleged U.S. military involvement
against Vietnamese refugees in Louisiana. The U.S. denied any involvement, but
various radical groups had accused them of sending in military advisors, and
there was rioting at Kent State, Berkeley, and Annapolis. Nobody bought into
that one, but a couple of the officers were upset that we said that there was
rioting at Annapolis, that we lumped Annapolis in with Kent State and Berkeley.
But, of course, that's where the joke was.
Anything to break the monotony. I have gone for as long as a week sleeping 12
hours a day and standing watch for six. A lot of us would sleep for six, get
up, eat a meal, go back to bed, and sleep for another six. Then get up, eat a
meal, stand a six-hour watch, eat a meal, go to bed. Sleep six, get up, eat a
meal, go back to bed, sleep six. I have done that for as long as a week, until
I just couldn't sleep anymore.
There were also practical jokes, tons of practical jokes. I've never revealed
this before, but I used to slip into the officer's quarters every now and then.
If I had a little special somebody that I had a bone to pick with, he might
find a little powdered sugar in his sheets. You can't feel it, but after you've
slept in it, you wake up feeling like a glazed donut, a really awful feeling!
—Lee Steele was a First Class Sonarman when he left the USS Archerfish
(SSN-678) in 1979 after four and a half years of service. He lives in Mountain