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Lee Steele Lee Steele
Lee Steele
(back to Life on a Submarine)

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.

Lee Steele Lee Steele 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 View, California.


Continue: Bob Berry

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