(back to Life on a Submarine)
I would recommend that anybody who wanted to try the submarine service do so.
If it's not suited for you, you'll find out long before you go to sea on a
submarine. In the first place, they give you a serious battery of tests to see
if you are suited for the submarine service, and I can say without any qualms
that the Navy has excellent psychological exams. They will weed you out in a
If they think you're suited, they'll send you to submarine school in New
London, Connecticut. That school might run for 12 to 14 weeks, every day from 5
a.m. to late at night, and they'll teach you submarines inside and out. Now,
say there are 50 guys in your class. Before that 12 or 14 weeks are up, maybe
50 percent of those people will be gone. They'll find that it's just not for
them. I graduated in Class Number 116, and we had 22 graduates.
If you get through submarine school, then you get assigned to the fleet. Which
doesn't mean you're a submariner yet. You still have to earn your "Dolphins,"
which is a pin like a pilot's wings that qualified submariners proudly wear.
Non-qualified submariners are called pukes. If I am a qualified submariner, as
soon as I get off watch, I can play cards, sleep, do anything I want.
Non-qualified pukes, on the other hand, spend the next four hours studying the
various systems on the boat. Depending on the ship, you have up to six months
to a year to qualify, otherwise you're out of the submarine service.
Tippy D'Auria working on the stern light of the USS Trumpetfish in
To qualify in my day, you would have to learn every job on that ship. [Editor's
note: The same holds true today.] I don't care whose job it was: the diving
officer's, the electrician's, the radioman's, the engineman's, the torpedoman's
job—you would have to learn every single system. Let's say I went into the
engine room. There's a distilling plant there that converts saltwater into
freshwater. I would have to learn how that device works, what each valve did.
When I thought I had that memorized pretty well and could draw that system on a
piece of paper, I would go to a qualified submariner, an enlisted man, and tell
him I wanted to get checked off on that item.
We had a qualification card that had to be signed off by four people. The first
person to sign you off was an enlisted man who was qualified. (Qualified
personnel are the only ones who can sign the card off; even officers who are
qualifying have to be qualified first by an enlisted man.) Once I could operate
and draw that system to the satisfaction of the qualified submariner, he would
sign me off.
Then I would go to the division officer, and he would take me through
everything. He would say, "I want you to draw the freshwater system. I want you
to draw the high-pressure accumulated air system. How do you start the engine?
How do you do this, how do you do that?" When he was satisfied that I knew it
well enough, he would sign me off. On your final qualification, the Captain and
Executive Officer would take you through the boat. Once they signed you off,
you were qualified, you received your coveted Dolphins, and immediately after
you were dismissed from quarters, somebody would grab you, and you'd be duly
tossed overboard as a rite of passage. You were now a Submariner.
—Tippy "Salty" D'Auria was an electrician aboard the USS Trumpetfish (SS-425),
a diesel-electric attack submarine, from 1954 to 1958. He lives in Miami,
Continue: Paul Benton
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