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Patrick Householder Patrick Householder
Patrick Householder
(back to Life on a Submarine)

The morning before the Cuban Missile Crisis broke, I was standing topside mid-watch—midnight to 4 a.m. at the brow (gangplank)—when I noticed lights coming on at various buildings along the waterfront at the Key West Submarine Base. Then cars and trucks were seen whizzing about, going to each submarine tied alongside a pier. Presently a car came alongside the USS Chopper, and a hassled-looking officer asked for Chopper's duty officer, who was then instructed to recall all our officers and crew, to stand by to take on 30 days of patrol supplies and be ready to depart by 8 a.m. All submarines were apparently given the same instructions. Not long afterwards, a large truck roared up to Chopper, and all hands on board commenced loading boxes of food, foul weather gear, spare parts, and fuel.

At approximately 8 a.m., most of the submarines had their engines roaring, and the smoke hung heavy over the waterfront as the first of SUBRON 12's submarines got underway. [SUBRON stands for SUBmarine squadRON.] One submarine had been in minor overhaul alongside the pier, with her propellers removed, and in the haste to make ready, the propellers were re-installed backwards. As they tried to get underway, the "all back 1/3" became "all back 2/3," "all back FULL," as the submarine drove ahead and slowly plowed into the seawall. They rejoined the squadron at sea later.

Patrick Householder Patrick Householder in the Maneuvering Room of the USS Chopper.

By 10 a.m., the entire squadron was in formation on the high seas. From my vantage point as port lookout, the sight of each submarine doing a "trim dive," one after another, was quite a sight to see. The Chopper then turned northward, and the Captain then informed the crew about the impending Cuban Missile Crisis blockade. The Chopper steamed at top speed to Mayport, Florida Navy base, where we took on fuel and an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) before returning south to take station off Cuba. While we refueled at Mayport, some crewmembers, including myself, took the opportunity to use the phones on the pier to call our families to urge them to leave their homes and head for the countryside, as many were convinced nuclear war was in the offing. As soon as we were spotted on the phone, however, one of our officers ran up and made us leave the phones "for security reasons."

The "special team" was kept relatively isolated in the forward torpedo room, but Chopper's mission, as I understood it, was to deliver the UDT to a place near Havana harbor, where they would "lock out" of the forward escape trunk and swim into and sabotage ships and facilities in the harbor, should we receive orders to do so. Chopper then took her position in the blockade.

After a week or so, Russia withdrew her missiles, and the Chopper returned to Key West. Later that year, President Kennedy made a visit to Key West Naval Station and boarded the Chopper. He spoke to the Captain and officers, thanking them for doing their duty, and departed.

—Patrick Householder served as an Electricians Mate between 1962 and 1963 aboard the USS Chopper (SS-342), a diesel-snorkel GUPPY boat. [GUPPY stands for Greater Underwater Propulsion Power.] He now lives in Issaquah, Washington.

Continue: Bill Whalen

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