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Bill and Lorraine Whalen Bill Whalen with his wife Lorraine.
Bill Whalen
(back to Life on a Submarine)

The most exciting moment was when they fired the ballistic missiles. Each missile boat, when it was commissioned or came out of overhaul, would demonstrate that it could actually fire a missile. So we would go down to Cape Canaveral and launch the missiles out of the missile tubes.

It was one of the better rides you'd ever want to go on. The ship was a couple of hundred feet long, you were in one end of it, and they were shooting a rocket from the middle. When a missile went off, it was a lot like standing on a diving board while somebody jumped off the other end. The boat bounced and rocked a bit and then settled down, and everybody raised their coffee cups and toasted it.

On a submarine, everybody knows what is going on all the time. There are no secrets about what you're doing and who is doing what where. It was really exciting to see the whole crew come together and perform like that.

Bill Whalen Bill Whalen on Fleet Ballistic Missile patrol.

Two days didn't go by without a drill of one sort or another. About 80 percent of the crew was qualified, which meant that you could trust them to do practically anything in any compartment. So whenever an emergency arose, it was, I wouldn't say run-of-the-mill, but everybody had a feeling that whatever was going wrong, it was being handled by people who knew what they were doing. I think most people's concern in emergencies is that whatever is going on is out of their control. I don't think that on subs the crew ever has the feeling that they are out of control.

The SSBN had a nice controlled environment. We made our atmosphere, made our own water. The humidity and temperature were always the same. We always had really good food; the cooks really knew how to prepare it well. And the accommodations were not bad at all. I never felt claustrophobic or stir-crazy. Of course, there were quite a number of people on the crew, so sometimes I'd go out of my way to find some spot where I could be alone for a while. But that was my only problem: the number of people in the confined space, not the confined space itself.

—Bill Whalen served aboard the USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618), a Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine, and the USS Jallao (SS-368), a World War II diesel boat, between 1967 and 1971. He was a quartermaster, part of the navigation team. He resides in Dayton, Ohio.

Continue: Lee Steele

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